First Look At Doctor Who "The Bells Of Saint John" review

SFX's fairly non-spoilery thoughts from the press preview!

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SFX has seen "The Bells Of Saint John", the launch episode for the momentous 50th anniversary series of Doctor Who . Full review will follow broadcast but for now here are some teases and tantalisations... Oh, and do check your wi-fi connection, won't you?

It begins with one of the most striking pre-title sequences in Doctor Who history – a terrific hook, delivered with some intriguing new visual vocabulary for the show.

Director Colm McCarthy is a welcome addition to the Doctor Who squad, bringing an endlessly inventive visual sense and giving us an episode that moves like a greased rocket sled.

Early in the episode you’ll be forgiven for imagining that a very old foe of the Doctor’s is poised to make a reappearance…

The meaning of the title is hidden in plain sight. It proves surprisingly irrelevant to an episode that might have been called “The Data-Cloud Of Death” if this was still the gloriously literal ‘70s, but it provides a neat little punchline nevertheless.

For all that it’s an episode that glories in the London skyline it’s also rooted in suburbia, doing that marvelous old Doctor Who thing of finding the fearsome in the everyday. Wait, do you hear sounds from upstairs? Surely that’s just the house settling or the central heating ticking over? It couldn’t possibly be footsteps… could it?

This incarnation of time-splintered companion Clara is slightly less of a motormouth than the previous models. She seems altogether younger and just a little more vulnerable. It’s an engaging, spirited performance by Jenna-Louise Coleman.

You’ll see the Doctor at his most paternalistic and protective. He’s definitely been brooding on the mystery of Clara – so much so that he’s in danger of upsetting the received history of art itself…

The Ponds are gone. But their presence is definitely felt.

You know, I’m sure it’s footsteps.

There’s a wider arc just waiting to be unfurled, beyond the mystery of Clara. Always keep The Client happy.

They can see you.

There’s a direct callback to a certain mission statement by the Doctor in “The Eleventh Hour”.

Rycbar123. Well, quite.

There’s a pinch of Black Mirror about this tale. It’s powered by some very contemporary concerns about the inescapable rise of social media and our Apple-worshipping world – and still finds room for some delicious pops at surveillance cam culture and Burger King.

It’s definitely footsteps. Get out of the house.

Nick Setchfield

Rematerialise here for SFX's report from the Doctor Who press launch

Doctor Who returns to BBC One on Saturday 30 March

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Nick Setchfield
Editor-at-Large, SFX Magazine

Nick Setchfield is the Editor-at-Large for SFX Magazine, writing features, reviews, interviews, and more for the monthly issues. However, he is also a freelance journalist and author with Titan Books. His original novels are called The War in the Dark, and The Spider Dance. He's also written a book on James Bond called Mission Statements.