‘Right then, Clara Oswald. Time to find out who you are.’ This feels like the launch of Moffat-point-two, with the new title sequence and TARDIS interior that debuted in The Snowmen now joined by a new look for the Doctor. I’m still not a fan of Smith’s second costume, which feels closer to the over-designed outfits of the 1980s than his nutty professor get-up, and along with the narrative focus on ‘Doctor Who’ risks turning the character into the cliché. But for the most part, I quite enjoy the episode.
It’s much simpler than either The Eleventh Hour or The Impossible Astronaut with no timey-wimey complications (cross-time-zone phone call notwithstanding). It plays almost like an RTD pastiche, with “killer Wi-Fi” and the Shard standing in for face-stealing TV sets and Alexandra Palace, and a finale that involves pressing a lot of buttons. Moffat then mixes in some of his own pet ideas – another shape-changing robot that fools people into thinking it’s the Doctor (possibly this is just trolling the Series Six sceptics), another new companion who’s a mystery to be unwrapped (rather than RTD’s “ordinary people”) and a plot that revolves around uploading consciousness into the Cloud, which we’ll come back to with Missy in Series Eight.
Mainly, it’s about properly introducing Clara, ‘the woman twice dead’, ‘the impossible girl’ – a ‘Clara Who?’ mystery to sit alongside ‘Doctor Who?’. This has some similarities to River Song, but the difference is Clara doesn’t know she’s mysterious. And unlike Amy, she’s prepared to make the Doctor wait. It does mean the Doctor gets vaguely stalkery, brooding over a picture of Clara, hanging around outside her house and coming back each day until she agrees to travel with him. But that slight ick aside, it works well enough because Smith and Coleman have good chemistry: Coleman treats him like an over-keen puppy (and Smith responds with an even more Norman Wisdom performance).
Mostly, this is good, although there are a couple of moments that drag (the restaurant by St. Pauls sequence goes on forever). There are the usual neat touches (the title refers to the TARDIS’ ringing phone; Clara drinks the same cuppa throughout her first trip in the TARDIS and the rescue of a crashing plane) and new mysteries to solve (Clara’s secret; the mystery woman in the shop; the Great Intelligence’s plan). There’s nothing the show hasn’t tried before, but it’s nicely told: a gently nostalgic kick-off to the show’s 50th anniversary series.
Next Time: The Rings of Akhaten