‘Doctor Who’: ‘The Bells of Saint John’ spoiler-free review

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Meet Clara Oswald for the first time. Again.

Whatever the explanation for Miss Oswald reappearing across time, what’s impressive is that, including ‘The Bells of Saint John’, Steven Moffat’s now managed to introduce essentially the same character thrice, but always kept the curtain-raise interesting. Each first meeting with Jenna-Louise Coleman has been wrapped in just enough mystery and thrills to make something familiar seem brand new.

And that same ‘first time again’ feeling is a good way to describe everything about the episode. It’s a series opener that, like ‘The Eleventh Hour’, stands as a perfect example of the regenerative excitement that blasts through the show and audience when new talent jumps aboard the TARDIS. The familiar made new through fresh wide eyes. New era, same old expectations.

That feeling isn’t entirely down to Jenna-Louise Coleman – who really should just save reviewers a job and change her first name to ‘the wonderfully talented’ – but her presence undoubtedly enthuses Moffat and Smith’s work as much as it does The Doctor’s. Perhaps it’s the change of threads, or the desire to both impress and protect a new companion, but Smith’s performance is injected with new energy, his Time Lord with new enthusiasm. He’s as close to being a new Doctor as you can get without an Artron face-lift.

If there’s a weak link it’s the malicious Spoonheads, and their Wi-Fi-based plan that’s as patchy as an internet connection on a train. Don’t fret over the weird science of the Sci-Fi-Wi-Fi, or the fact that the villains’ physical tricks will remind you of at least two other of Moffat’s creations. Just enjoy the madness, for contained within their actions is a heavy message about how our technological reliance is our great weakness. It is, in short, Black Mirror for the Saturday teatime couch crowd.

Yet there’s such an impressive pace that there’s no time to grumble. Like Clara we’re forced to hold onto The Doctor for dear life as we zoom through a plot where money’s been spent in all the right places. Not once, but twice, Moffat presents us with an ambitious action sequence, the second of which is so joyfully bonkers that only the 11th Doctor could get away with it.

And amid the motorbike-nimble dialogue and action there’s a distinctly British flavour too. Rather than the present day setting constraining the storytelling, ‘Bells’ uses modern London to its advantage; not just with director Colm McCarthy’s glorious filmic shots of the capital’s landmarks, but by folding the geography into the story. Maybe it’s the Skyfall effect of patriotism seeping into the show (or our perspective), but Doctor Who has never felt more proud of belonging to Blighty.

And we’re certainly proud to have Doctor Who back on our screens. If the first half of Series 7 left you slightly apathetic with its maudlin focus on Pond life, this is the moment where a new journey starts down a mysterious path toward adventure, portent, and November’s 50th Anniversary special.

So welcome back Doctor. Welcome back Clara. It’s great to see you in action together for the first time. Again.

Airs at 6.15pm on Saturday 30 March on BBC One.

> Order Series 7 Part 2 on DVD on Amazon.

> Buy Series 7 Part 1 on DVD on Amazon.

Are you looking forward to ‘The Bells of Saint John’? Let us know below…