Doctor Who – “The Bells of Saint John”

There were a lot of TV “events” this weekend, like the season finale of The Walking Dead and the season premiere of Game of Thrones, but the one I was most excited about was the season premiere of Doctor Who. The premiere picked up right where the Christmas special left off with the Doctor still enjoying his new life of obscurity, to the degree that he’s now living as a monk… until he gets a phone call from the 21st century that prompts him to don the ol’ bow tie once again and hop in the TARDIS.

Matt Smith has been the Doctor for quite a while now, and given the fact that we’ve all been conditioned by the internet to have the attention span of the average house cat, it would seem he would have his work cut out for him in terms of keeping the character fresh and interesting. Fortunately, Smith’s Doctor is a frenetic mass of energy and enthusiasm, so while I expected to be bored with him, I wasn’t. Just the opposite, in fact — for the first time I’ve felt that he finally isn’t living in the shadow cast by the wonderful David Tennent.

What’s helping Smith keep things fresh is how the dynamic of the character has changed; during his tenure, the Doctor has transformed from “the most powerful warrior in the universe” to a traveler living in virtual obscurity — truly Doctor “Who”?

In this episode, the world’s WiFi network has been infiltrated by a force who use it as a tool with which to enslave humanity, sort of like The Matrix. The Doctor gets involved when Clara, who is poised to become his newest companion, calls the Doctor unwittingly seeking help with her Internet access. Clara is soon captured by this force, and the Doctor goes to work to take down this newest threat to humanity.

The premise is great because it touches on a vulnerability that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the civilized world — our dependence on the Internet and WiFi networks. It’s an interesting idea. Could the Internet be used as a weapon against us? Some would argue it’s already been happening for years, but this episode leaves no room for subtlety or innuendo — it’s an overt threat. In the end, though, it’s handled easily and the threat never really seems all that authentic. It’s just, “OK. How’s he going to figure it out this time?”

That’s OK, though.

The real purpose here is to develop the chemistry between the Doctor and Clara, the woman who’ll be his companion for the season, and the story is simply a means to that end. As tired of her as many claimed to be, Amy Pond left some big shoes to fill, and so far I’m liking what I’m seeing of Clara. She’s sharp and witty (at one point she refers to the TARDIS as the Doctor’s “Snogbox”), and she seems more than capable of keeping up with the Doctor’s very fast-moving brain. She’s also thrown the Doctor, and everyone else, for a loop by not jumping at the chance to become his companion. Either she’s not as impressed with what she’s seen so far, or she’s very good at not letting her emotions guide her actions, which alone will establish her in contrast to previous companions like Amy and Rose.

So far, I like her. And I’m anxious to see what she brings to the series.

I wouldn’t rank this among the classic episodes that I’ll watch again and again, but it was a solid start to the season. It’s great to have Doctor Who back with new episodes, and there was enough in this premiere to make me interested in what’s in store for us.

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About canonball

Canonball enjoys complaining about Portland, drinking fake egg nog, checking books out from the library and not reading them, and taking part in various types of online nerdery like contributing to The Fwoosh and The Short Box.