This story contains minor spoilers for the “Doctor Who” episode “The Bells of Saint John.”
New “Doctor Who” fans might have enjoyed hearing Ian McKellen’s voice as the Great Intelligence, but may not have fully realized that not only is this the new big bad guy for the second half of Season 7, but it’s an old foe as well.
In “The Snowmen,” the Great Intelligence connects with a young boy in the 19th century, and uses its control over snow to nearly take over London. However, The Doctor is able to stop it, along with the now grown man, Dr. Simeon, played by Richard E. Grant.
The episode, however, had a number of Easter eggs that delighted classic fans of the series. That’s because the Great Intelligence is not a new villain at all. In fact, he was first created by writers Henry Lincoln and the late Mervyn Haisman, and first faced The Doctor in 1967 when Patrick Troughton was carrying the sonic screwdriver.
At the time, the Great Intelligence was powering robotic Yetis, and was trying to gain solid form so that he could dominate the world. The Doctor encounters the Great Intelligence a second time in 1968 when the Yeti use the London Underground to mount a new attack in the episodes “The Web of Fear.”
Since Dr. Simeon’s laboratory appears to be when the Great Intelligence seems to really be forming, it is possible that the 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith, may have set the events of that episode in motion. During the Christmas special this past year, he holds up a lunchbox with a map of the 1968 London subway system on it. When the Great Intelligence asks what that is, The Doctor identifies it as a “key strategic weakness in metropolitan living.”
There was a strong chance that the Great Intelligence could have been right up there with the Daleks, Cyberman and The Master as major villains for “Doctor Who.” However, soon after “Web of Fear” in 1968, Lincoln and Haisman reportedly had a falling out with BBC, and decided to depart “Doctor Who.” The producers of the show let the Great Intelligence” disappear with them.
The full return of the Great Intelligence as a full-fledged bad guy rather than a one-off nod to the classic series is exciting for the “Doctor Who” franchise. And the fact that it seems the Great Intelligence was controlling Miss Kizlet since the 1968 encounter with The Doctor (she turns into a young girl when her software hacks are removed) plays into the overall continuity of the story.
One thing fans should note. “Doctor Who” has always had fun with names, and hiding messages inside. “Kizlet,” the name of the character played by Celia Imrie, is rather unusual. Could there be future meaning?
“Doctor Who” airs Saturdays on BBC and BBC America.