Review: Dr Who – The Bells of Saint John

Last night’s episode of Doctor Who, The Bells of Saint John, was always going to be about how Clara Oswald becomes the 11th Doctor’s new companion.

Fans of the BBC show, which turns 50 in November, have known for a long time Clara, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, would replace Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan.

Pond had travelled in the 11th Doctor’s time machine the Tardis since Matt Smith assumed the role from 10th Doctor David Tennant in The End of Time in 2009.

But we knew Amy’s days were numbered when Coleman appeared as a girl fatally trapped inside a Dalek travel machine alongside her in Asylum of the Daleks last September.

It was a protracted farewell, ending six episodes later with Pond and her husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) being zapped back in time in The Angels Take Manhattan.

In the poignant closing scenes of that episode we were reminded that for all its thrills and possibilities, travelling through time and space aboard the Tardis, a time machine disguised as an archaic police call box, with the last Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey can be fatal.

At Christmas, in The Snowmen, we saw the Doctor land in Victorian London where he mourned his friends and ran into a governess called Clara Oswald, again played by Coleman, who had no knowledge of her previous encounter with the Doctor and his arch nemesis the Daleks.

Clara died at the end of that episode too, causing us to wonder how executive producer and Emmy award nominated writer Steven Moffat would have her appear again when Doctor Who returned to our screens this month.

Moffat’s one to sprinkle clues throughout the season and reveal the answer in the closing episode, or next season, depending on how the mood takes him.

When you’re running one of the BBC’s highest rated shows and millions of people are tuning in around the world every week you can do that.

The teaser to this episode stank of Doctor Who. Only Doctor Who will take something ordinary, like wi fi, and turn it into a chilling weapon.

Then there were the revamped opening titles. These have changed over the show’s five decades more times than the Doctor’s face and the latest version takes all the best bits of previous versions and melds them into something new and fresh.

Particularly exciting for long-time fans is Matt Smith’s face emerging from the stars – something introduced back in the 1960s after Patrick Troughton was hired to play the second incarnation of the Doctor.

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Celia Imrie, who has appeared in everything from Calendar Girls to Star Wars Episode I, was a business like and efficient puppet to the main villain but we knew her days were numbered as soon as she targeted Clara, the woman twice dead, who inexplicably phones the Doctor’s mobile phone when she has problems with her wi fi connection.

This script has Moffat’s fingerprints all over it, the episode’s title referring to the phone built into the Tardis which also carries a St John Ambulance sticker. It took me a few minutes but I worked it out.

I particularly enjoyed references to previous episodes such as Victory of the Daleks subtly laced into the episode with the Doctor’s placing of Jammy Dodgers biscuits besides a recuperating Clara’s bed.

In Victory of the Daleks the Doctor had fooled his captor into thinking that a Jammy Dodger was a trigger for explosives which would have destroyed their ship.

The Doctor’s heading into the Tardis’s garage to fetch his anti-gravity motorbike must surely be a hint of an upcoming episode this season, Journey to the Centre of the Tardis.

His goggled ride through modern London, Clara on the back, was reminiscent of Biggles – the RAF pilot of a century ago who was as British as bulldogs, cups of tea and that other great British institution James Bond.