It's been a long, long wait to get to the second half of Season 7 on Doctor Who, and "The Bells of St John" is not a bad way at all to start back up again. It's a fast-paced, thrilling story that has begun what I am sure are a long series of subtle nods to the past of the show as we head toward the 50th anniversary.
The big question of course is just who or what is Clara Oswald, who we have seen die in both "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen." Now we're dealing with the proper, modern-day London aspect of the newest companion in her "Rose" episode, and Jenna-Louise Coleman is already establishing herself as a brilliant and wonderful companion. Her delivery is machine-gun fast, and she's cute as underoos without any of the schoolyard-crush aspects that marred both Amy and Martha.
Steven Moffat apparently decided that people in the world, particularly in surveillance camera-happy London, weren't quite frightened enough of the all-pervading web of electronic information that we walk around in thick as bacteria. Now people are finding themselves mysteriously killed, their souls uploaded to a bizarre and hidden Wi-Fi network that serves as a digital hell. Clara is the latest of these victims, discovered just as The Doctor finally tracks her down across time.
Collection of these souls is handled by the Spoonheads, a fleet of robotic Wi-Fi base towers that use memory to camouflage themselves as humans but reveal their true nature by turning around to show the concave scanners in the backs of their heads. As far as villains go, they're pretty average. Honestly, they're really just another version of the Smilers from "The Beast Below." Slick computer work aside, they are menacing but otherwise forgettable.
You might notice that I'm not talking about The Doctor overly much, and there's a good reason for that. If Matt Smith's Doctor has any real flaw, it's his tendency to allow himself to become a sidekick. He was utterly defined by Amy's perception of him, which is why consequently his best moments were often with Craig Owens or off on his own for Christmas.
His passionate desire to save and protect Clara, clearly born from guilt over the loss of Amy and Rory and mirroring the sadness of his fifth incarnation over the death of Adric, is both noble and sad. He has seen so much pain and loss recently, and he is once again searching for that day when everybody lives that we haven't seen in so very long. In that regard, Clara acts as an intense focus of energy that The Doctor loses himself in.
It's not a bad thing, and both Smith and Coleman make it work. The two gallivant around London, and even onto a crashing plane, with a casual impetuousness that makes for fantastic television. When you see them cavorting around on a motorcycle doing their best to re-create Roman Holiday in present-day London, you will feel the thrill of what makes Doctor Who such an amazing show.
There are moments that bring it all alive, such as when The Doctor reprograms a Spoonhead to act on his behalf as he casually sits drinking coffee in safety. These are the kinds of things that make us love The Doctor's brand of heroism, but they also show off a failing that must be addressed.
Remember in "The Eleventh Hour" when he faced down the Atraxi with only some choice words and his personal history? That was the single greatest moment in the whole show, and what made it special was how it all formed around the character of The Doctor.
Now we're once again on a path where we see The Doctor only mirrored in the eyes of his young female companion. He's once again the sidekick in his own story.
I like Clara. She's already near the top of my favorite companions. I like Matt Smith as The Doctor. I've come to realize that he makes for wonderful stories. But this year is where we celebrate the singular and magnificent entity that is the Time Lord. It's when all the 50 years of history come together and remind us what made it all possible.
Apparently The Great Intelligence will be our overreaching villain for the rest of the season. Good on it, as it's nice to see an old nemesis that isn't the Daleks or the Cybermen come front and center. I just hope that as we watch Doctor Who throughout 2013, we don't forget The Doctor.
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