30/03/2013 22:28 | By Hilary Wardle, contributor, MSN TV

Doctor Who 2013: Bells of Saint John's sex appeal

TV review: The Bells of Saint John was a triumphant return for Matt Smith's Doctor Who and his new companion.


Doctor Who's Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman (© Doctor Who's Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman. ImageBBC)


Summary

Doctor Who, starring Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman, returned to our screens with a relentless, breathtaking episode that featured killer wi-fi, low flying planes and an audacious motorbike stunt.

Highlight

If The Shard was built for the sole purpose of having the Doctor drive up it on an anti-gravity motorbike before crashing through an office window, the cost is more than justified.

Lowlight

The tinkly, emotional music played whenever new companion Clara was on screen wore very thin after a while. And by a while I mean 'one second'.

Full review

Quick question, what's the most dizzying programme on TV? Nope, it's not chair-spinning extravaganza The Voice - although those poor judges (OK-OK, coaches) must end up feeling quite poorly.

It is, of course, Doctor Who. Series opener The Bells of Saint John took off at a pace that would have left Mo Farah struggling to keep up.

"A pace that would have left Mo Farah struggling to keep up."

It carried on sprinting for 45 minutes at a speed that made it very hard to see the various twists and turns coming.

The pace was so fast, you'd also be forgiven if you didn't notice that the premise of an alien life-form lurking in a piece of technology and using it to stockpile people's souls isn't a new one.

In the David Tennant-era episode The Idiot's Lantern, an electrical life form called The Wire (no relation to the US cop drama) uses televisions to steal people's minds. A bit like Simon Cowell, really.

The Bells of Saint John recycles that plot, replaces The Wire with The Great Intelligence (played by a ghostly, electronic version of Richard E Grant) and swaps televisions for the wi-fi 'data cloud'.

The Wire used TV screens to capture souls (again, a bit like Simon Cowell), but The Great Intelligence and his corporation use 'Spoonheads'.

Not to get all technical, but they are robotic effigies of humans with the backs of their head scooped out and replaced with a cyber interface that zaps unwitting victims into the data cloud.

This is a huge improvement on the original concept. Doctor Who isn't complete without a scary robot-monster, after all.

It also wouldn't be complete without a trademark twist from Steven Moffat, Doctor Who lead writer and executive producer.

The sinister, 'Exorcist'-like way the Spoonheads turn around to reveal their true nature is particularly creepy. Not quite as chilling as the Silence or the Weeping Angels, but certainly spookier than a Cyberman.

It's even spookier when the Spoonheads hide in plain sight.

Halfway through the episode, we believe new companion Clara is talking to the Doctor, but it's actually a cyber-version intent on downloading her soul. You should probably check the backs of your parents' heads, kids!

In praise of the Doctor and Clara

Ah yes, Clara. There was so much action in The Bells of Saint John, it's easy to forget this entire series is built around the mystery of her continuing existence.

She first appeared on our screens a year ago as Oswin in futuristic episode Asylum of the Daleks. Then she died.

She next appeared as a Victorian in Christmas episode The Snowmen. And she died again.

Here she is once more in present day London. And yes, she also dies in this episode. Luckily the Doctor is on hand to break her out of the data-cloud and back into her own body, meaning that comparisons to Kenny from South Park can be put on hold (I'm looking at you, everyone on Twitter).

To crack Clara out of cyber-hell, the Doctor used the previously mentioned technique of driving a motorbike up an iconic landmark, then - twist alert! - we see he's not the Doctor after all, but a hacked Spoonhead version capable of downloading the baddies into the cloud.

It was a typically bombastic and over the top move, and it was as fantastic as ever. Who cares if a story is recycled when it's so very well done?

Steven Moffat is at his best when he's delivering these kinds of outrageous and imaginative concepts.

He has previously described his stories as 'roller coasters' and it's particularly apt here; I definitely felt a swooping, whooping feeling of pure and utter delight, especially when something was revealed that I didn't see coming.

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It was akin to that initial rush of going over the drop at a theme park. He should really start charging a £40 entrance fee.

The big highlight is the chemistry between Jenna-Louise Coleman's Clara and Matt Smith's Doctor; it popped off the screen and into my living room. It was that potent.

It feels like stating the obvious to praise both leads for their performances, but Matt Smith is owning this role and Jenna-Louise is a pert and perky breath of fresh air.

But who is Clara? And who gave Clara the Tardis number? She said it was a 'woman in a shop'. Could it be River Song?

And the book in Clara's house (Summer's End) was written by none other than Amelia Williams, otherwise known as previous companion Amy Pond. Is it simply a nice touch, or does that have deeper meaning?

As the Doctor himself would say: 'I can't tell the future, I just work there.' We may have to wait until later in the series to find out more, but if you've got any theories feel free to comment. One thing's for sure, I'm already hooked.

  • Verdict: The Bells of Saint John was an exhilarating ride of an episode.

    Star grade


What other reviewers said

The Mirror - "Jenna-Louise Coleman is great, but The Bells of Saint John required a bit more heart."

The Independent - "We were promised amazement and wonderment but I was left with disappointment."

What people on Twitter said

@jonathan_pitman - "#DoctorWho was truly epic! Quintessential quirky adventure, established great chemistry and really played upon modern day fears."

@meegat - "Well that episode is an instant favourite. Although Matt dancing like a grandad at a wedding was inspired! #DoctorWho"

‏@clairabellejp1m - "Enjoyed #doctorwho but didn't think there was enough peril. Not exciting enough for me I'm afraid."

The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft

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