New Show Recap: Doctor Who, “The Bells of St. Johns”

It’s a fresh new day in the Whoverse, with a spritely new(-ish) companion for our Raggedy Doctor. Let’s get to know her after the cut.

As Doctor Who fans both Classic and Nü know, as soon as you grow to love a particular Doctor or companion, they will be wrenched from your heart in some devastating way. While big chunks of the Internet may disagree with me, I loved the Ponds. I loved their relationship with each other (especially in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” which has made me uglycry all three times I’ve watched it) and I loved their relationship with the Doctor. I don’t agree with the arguments that Amy is a character who things only happen to, because Ms. Pond-Williams proved over and over again that she was resourceful. No matter which unfortunate situation she managed to land in the middle of, Amy habitually figured things out. Regardless of how any of us felt about her, however, Amy’s story is over, and it’s time to get to know Clara “Oswin” Oswald, living embodiment of a Jammie Dodger.

White text on a blue background reads "Doctor Who."

Like the companion most likely to be a Persephoneer, Donna Noble, we met Clara before she officially became a companion in “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Snowmen.” In each of those episodes, which took place in different eras of time, Clara/Oswin died, which gives us a companion with a built-in mystery. This isn’t new, even in modern-day Who, Amy came with the giant-crack-in-the-universe-and-her-bedroom-wall mystery, and we’ve been working through “Who is River Song?” for over five years now. Clara/Oswin is also another in a long line of sassy Nü Who companions, including Rose, Captain Jack, and that unfortunate woman on the space Titanic. So while Clara/Oswin herself is new, she brings enough companion tropes with her to be comfortable for the audience. It doesn’t hurt that Coleman is undeniably adorable, without going all the way over the line to a dreaded MPDG.

This episode was rife with fan-bait, which I honestly have no problem with. One of Clara’s charges was reading a book by Amelia Williams (yay Amy!), and Clara pointed out that as great as the tenth chapter was, the eleventh was even better. (Aw, we get it Moffat, WE CAN LOVE THEM BOTH.) The title-as-question bit was repeated exactly eleventy-one times. Even the episode title is drawn from the sticker on the front of the TARDIS for St. John’s ambulance service.  We’re clearly supposed to make some frantic fan leaps about the woman in the shop who gave Clara the Time Lord Nerd Herd Tech Support line. (River? SALLY SPARROW!? Jenny? Rose?) This isn’t an out-of-step choice for Doctor Who, every time we meet someone new, either companion or Doctor, we get little Easter eggs about those we’re leaving behind. I’m sentimental, I eat this shit up.

All this brings us back to our Raggedy Doctor, who is clearly even lonelier than usual. Matt Smith wears the Doctor’s grief like a very heavy cape, even as he was gleefully romping through Doctorized James Bond adventures, like landing the TARDIS on a crashing commercial airliner and riding a jaunty motorbike through the streets of London. Giving him a time-hopping, quirky Cylon of a companion who has a habit of dying seems especially cruel to our favorite heart-broken Time Lord, but with Rory gone, someone has to suffer, this is Steven Moffat we’re talking about.

For a Big Introduction (sorta) episode, I think “The Bells of St. John’s” did exactly what it needed to do, in a very entertaining and fast-paced package. While it’s not going to make my top 10 list of Best Ever Episodes Ever, it did warm me to Clara, and it endeared me even more to Eleven.

What were your thoughts, readers? Are you excited or meh about Clara? Let’s keep spoilers hidden in the comments (including info about the 50th anniversary episode) by using good old fashioned HTML. Wrap any spoilers in font tags, like so:

<font color="white">SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!</font>

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[E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

2 thoughts on “New Show Recap: Doctor Who, “The Bells of St. Johns””

  1. I saw this post earlier this evening, remembered I had.. er… downloaded this episode, but hadn’t watched it yet, then promptly had my dinner in front of it.

    Honestly, I was not particularly impressed. Ten holds me heart and Eleven has his highs and lows with me. Some episodes he seems clever and witty- some he just crosses the line into hokey. This was one of those times. And nothing really seemed to happen… I didn’t get the same Doctor-in-grief vibe that Selena did; Clara seemed more mercurial and less interesting than her past two appearances (where I *loved* her); and the “Doctorized James Bond adventures” (which, yeah, totally) came off as bumbling and weird to me.

    I am hoping for better things next week, but the preview doesn’t have me convinced yet. There’s always that new-companion-learning-curve to get through….

    1. Much as I wanted to love this episode, I just couldn’t. The “pop” music, the product placement, the zippy motorcycle ride through London. . . I was just waiting for the adorable musical interlude as Clara tried on an assortment of cute outfits at the local Top Shop while The Doctor looked on in bemused delight. Bah humbug.

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