It may well be technically true that The Bells of St John was a mid series episode after a long break but to all intents and purposes a new, mini, series started with this episode. New regular companion, new mystery to solve, new plot arc new Tardis interior (The Snowmen notwithstanding), it all points to a new series and all the better for it. With a new series it is beholden that it doesn’t start with a whimper, and this episode avoids just that, however possibly avoids starting with a bang as well. The reason for the enigmatic title is revealed within minutes, albeit wittily, and the quest for Clara Oswald is over shortly after. In fact it is the mysterious, twice dead woman who finds the Doctor anyway. Which just leaves the question, who is Clara Oswald? Viewers are also assured that this too will be revealed by the end of the series.
Since the reboot nearly eight years ago the relationship between the Doctor and his companion has become key to a new generation of viewers. No longer are fan treated to a kindly Uncle looking out for a ditzy niece, instead they revel in a more equal relationship. This provides an interesting tightrope for the new series to walk. On the face of it the Doctor is more interested in the mystery of Clara, of her impossibility, rather than who she actually is as a person. On more than one occasion during ‘Bells’ the whole narrative seemed to follow the more comfortable flow of recent series’ rather than treading this new interesting route.
The concept for the episode, while not unique, was novel and well executed. The apparent threat to mankind was apparent and, unlike The Power of Three, not solved in a matter of minutes with a few waves of the sonic screwdriver. Also, unlike The Power of Three, it was acknowledged that this time it was unlikely that everybody lived. It is this extra level of danger, which can make Doctor Who special, and it is refreshing to see the threat level ramped up every now and again. Also, it is a nice twist to not only have a returning villain as a surprise twist, but have him escape to fight another day without a heavy bout of scene chewing.
Jenna Louise Coleman again excelled as Clara, although unlike her two previous appearances as this character, a little of the shine is lost in contemporary surroundings. Not a fault of the actress however. Matt Smith grows more comfortable into the Doctors shoes series by series and puts in another faultless performance. Again there is another excellent turn from a high quality guest star, this time Celia Imrie who is efficient and callous rather than chilling, something that makes a nice change. The dénouement for her character is one of the more chilling scenes in the whole episode.
Add to this the tablet controls, the spoonheads, the overall premise, the exciting near plane crash and Stephen Moffat has produced a solid, exciting and enjoyable episode. The added flavour of a book by Amy Williams and Matt Smith channelling Doctor number three in his choice of transport through gives The Bells of St John and added element that raises it up to be a top quality episode and a great start off point for what is, in essence, a new series.