Despite being a split ‘season’ on paper, this was without doubt a series opener. It had all the spectacle one expects from the opening instalment, introducing all the key plot points that will carry on through the next seven episodes (Clara’s mysterious origins, the villain behind this story [spoiler alert – do not read the final paragraph if you haven’t seen this episode yet]), and yet somehow managed to tell a nice little story, feeding into people's fear of technology and concern over the way the Internet has made the world so small.
In tone, this episode felt more like a RTD adventure than a Moffat one, which for me was a nice change of pace – being more of a fan of RTD’s era than Moffat’s. Nonetheless, the usual Moffat flourishes are here – a new companion with a convoluted back-story (although, even after only three appearances, the mystery surrounding Clara [not‘Oswin’ – a name she hasn’t even heard of when the Doctor first appears at her front door, but one she does come up with later after scoring a win – an oswin] is much more intriguing than anything done with Amy Pond), movie-inspired moments that are there more for spectacle than plot (the plane crashing towards Clara’s house, and the Doctor subsequently flying it away, and the Doctor riding his anti-grav bike up the Shard), and some clever continuity references (most notably the book ‘Summer Falls’ written by Amelia Williams [Clara’s favourite chapter being eleven], and the appearance of UNIT, an ‘old friend’ of the Big Bad), not to mention some nice nods to real-world events such as the London Riots of 2011 and the Police Box in Earl’s Court.
It’s a good idea – using the ubiquitous Wifi as a way of alien invasion, and it’s the kind of idea Doctor Who does well, subverting something everyday into something malevolent. This is not a new trope of Doctor Who – indeed, it’s been a staple of the best kind of episodes since the ‘60s (and became an almost weekly occurrence during Barry Letts era of 1970-75). Granted, this does lead to the oh-so-exciting visual of two hackers going neck to neck via typing extremely fast on a keyboard. Fortunately it’s not a major piece of the episode, so it’s not overdone, but it was predictable and proves, once more, than it’s not much of a dramatic visual.
No review would be complete without a word or two about our lead man. This is now Matt Smith’s fourth year in the role, and it’s most certainly going to prove to be his most important year, since Doctor Who celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in November – and for the most part Matt Smith will be carrying the series through this milestone of television history. No pressure there. As the recent announcement of David Tennant’s return suggests, Smith will not be the only actor portraying the Doctor this anniversary year, so at least he’ll have some support, but, in some respects, he’s going to have an awful lot to live up to. If this episode proves anything, he’ll carry us through the year magnificently. Without doubt, Smith is so comfortable in the role now – the excesses of previous years have been toned down – he dominates the screen from the moment he pulls down his monk’s hood right up to the final moment of him running around the TARDIS console. And the chemistry between him and Jenna-Louise Coleman is superb – it sparkles! There is much that can be said of his on-screen chemistry with Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill in the previous three years, but it pales in comparison to the way he and Coleman connects. We saw much of the same in last year’s The Snowmen, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Whatever the mystery is surrounding Clara, I’m looking forward to the journey. Watching these two is a pure joy.
It’s impossible not to mention the reveal of the intelligence behind the invasion of the Wifi. We saw the creation of it on Christmas Day – and no, it isn’t the Saviour of Man. It is, in fact, the Great Intelligence, previously seen in two Patrick Troughton stories (in 1967’s The Abominable Snowmen and 1968’s The Web of Fear). It calls UNIT an old friend, a nice link to The Web of Fear, since it was that story which lead to the formation of UNIT, but the best thing about the return of the Great Intelligence in the anniversary year is having Richard E Grant continue to voice it (as per The Snowmen). For a short period, in 2003, Grant was the Doctor, in the webcast, Scream of the Shalka, but his position as official Ninth Doctor was overwritten by the series return in 2005 and the casting of Christopher Eccleston. So it’s a nice touch that Grant makes such an important contribution this year – and yes, as indicated by the end of this episode, we’ve clearly not seen the last of the Great Intelligence.
Bottom Line:This is quite possibly the most assured episode of Doctor Who since Matt Smith took over the reins.