The New Who Review “The Rings of Akhaten”
“Something Awesome”. Seems an easy thing to ask for from a fellow who can go to any moment in time and space, and allows for lots of interpretation. So Clara asks for that, The Doctor is happy to provide, whisking her off to…
THE RINGS OF AKHATEN
By Neil Cross
Directed by Farren Blackburn
The Doctor takes Clara to Akhaten, a group of worlds inside a series of asteroid belts orbiting a huge star. It’s the time of a ceremony that will supposedly keep the god which created their worlds asleep. Young Merry is elected to sing the history of their civilization, and is naturally skittish about getting it right. It’s made plain as time passes that this is more of a sacrifice than a simply ceremony, forcing The Doctor and Clara to take a hand in saving young Merry, and to keep the very real god from eating the system.
The episode serves two purposes; to serve as a BIG info dump for Clara’s backstory, and to really let The Doctor show off to her. As to that second half, it’s very much a parallel to The End of the World, Rose’s first foray into space. Both feature a bevy of new aliens, including the Face of Boe, and both feature am enlarging sun threatening to engulf them.
The story is solid, and Jenna-Louise Coleman does wonderfully in the common spot of the companion’s first exposure to the rest of the universe, but I thought the direction on Matt was a bit lacking. In comparison to the magnificent bombastic speech he gave in The Pandorica Opens, his monologue to the sentient sun was somewhat lacking. It may have been a decision to make him seem sadder, or tired, weighed down, but it came off weak for me. I’d have much rather seen him almost daring the sun to take it all, as opposed to the more resigned tone he had here.
Also, we’re once again seeing a story where the companion saves the day when The Doctor’s plans come up lacking. That’s been happening a LOT more with Moffat’s run on the show, and while I enjoy seeing a strong character, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t mind seeing The Doctor save everybody on occasion.
THE MONSTER FILES – The sentient sun of Akhaten reminds one of the antagonist in 42, a living sun fighting back after the mining ship accidentally stole her children. This one is clearly more belligerent in its attitude.
The production team went to great lengths to create a wide range of brand new creatures in this episode. We’ve had a couple of big collections of aliens in the new series, like the aforementioned party on Platform One, Dorium’s place in A Good Man Goes to War, and even the bar where Captain Jack met Alonzo. Save for the last one, they’ve gone out of their way to create new aliens, as opposed to grabbing stuff off the rack. One race breathed though some sort of filtration device, somewhat reminiscent of the Hath, the fish-creatures from The Doctor’s Daughter.
GUEST STAR REPORT Neil Cross (writer) Created the series Luther, for which we are all rightly thankful. He also wrote the script for Mama, Guillermo Del Toro’s recent presentation
Farren Blackburn (Director) last worked on Doctor Who when he directed The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, last year’s Christmas Special. He’s had a long career in directing TV, including an episode of Luther and two of the remake of Terry Nation’s Survivors.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
A TALE THAT GROWS IN THE TELLING – There’s been a number of stories in the series that center around a grand festival that serves as a way for an old threat to return. The most memorable are the twin tales Kinda and its sequel Snakedance. The actions of the villain in those stories were more deliberate; here it’s more a case of time being up for the dormancy of the sun.
“I came here a long time a go with my granddaughter” – This is, in fact, the first mention of Susan in the new series. Clara’s double take on the fact that a man this young-looking can have a granddaughter is not followed up upon, but will almost certainly be referred to again.
Also, did anyone else find it odd that they refer to their god as “Grandfather”?
“What’s happening, why is it angry?” – The TARDIS translates foreign and alien languages automatically for those traveling within it. But there’s almost always a scene where a companion is faced with an alien it can’t understand. Now, there’s any number of explanations that could explain such a thing, like they haven’t been on the ship long enough for all languages to process, or some languages are more differnt from English (or too simplistic, such as more animal -like speech like Doreen’s) to be immediately legible. But it all comes down to the fact that a scene where a Companion misunderstands a situation due to not knowing the language, resulting in a comedic moment, is just plain too comedic a moment NOT to do. And any attempt to inject import into it is just plain Looking Too Hard.
“Not money….something valuable” – The big theme of the story is that of experiences and memories having an intrinsic value. For the people of the system, they’re used as currency, a system which I have to admit sounds cooler than it would be in actual use. I can imagine any number of problems with having to part with one’s cherished belongings in order to buy the groceries. In the case of the god at the center of the system, those memories and experiences are its literal bread and butter. Clearly it merely reads those memories as opposed to draining them, as The Doctor isn’t reduced to an empty shell. In the case of Clara’s leaf, it’s absorbed entirely as it doesn’t have any memories itself, but represents potential existence, a life un-led. Need I mention that this is also the chosen food of the Weeping Angels?
“Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax, and Cabbages and Kings” – The Doctor quotes Lewis Carroll, specifically The Walrus and The Carpenter. While his work has never been mentioned in the TV show, it’s been referenced in the other media a few times. The Doctor met the author in an prose adventure called The Shadows of Avalon, and in a fan-made video adventure called Downtime (which features the Great Intelligence, but that’s likely just a coincedence), it’s revealed that he photographed a young Victoria Waterfield. (Those who know a bit about the kind of photography Mr. Dodgson liked to take of young girls may find a moment of thought there)
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT –
CARLOTTA VALDEZ I WILL MAKE YOU HER – It wasn’t until The Doctor said out loud that the reason he was so keen on spending time with Clara is because she “remind[s] me of someone who died” that I realized that The Doctor is in a similar situation to Scottie in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Like in the film, Scottie loses Madeline after she falls from a high place. The Doctor doesn’t fall into a depression over it (that was from the last one) but does become very excited about meeting her again, or at least another close approximation. Clara’s bold statement that she won’t be a “replacement” for the other Clarae shows an independence that Judy never had in the film. And just to keep the pot stirring, Scottie was the target of a con job, and Judy was only pretending not to know him, when in fact (SPOILERS) she had been posing as Madeline to use him as a patsy in her “death”, (END SPOILERS)
“She’s not possible” – But it’s clear that The Doctor is fascinated by Clara, not in the way Scottie was of Judy, but more as trying to figure out how she can appear at three moments of history. It’s more than spatial genetic multiplicity, which is how Gwen Cooper looks so much like Gwyneth from The Unquiet Dead – here it seems much more like it’s the SAME person, with so many “Clarallels”. He follows her through her whole life, from the moment her parents met to the time of her mother’s passing, which serves to reveal the secrets behind both Clara’s book, and the leaf which she called “page one”. The two years she skipped in the progressive numbers on the book were 16 and 23 – 23 was the year the Maitland’s mom died, and she was simply too bust thinking about them to write in the book, and 16 was the year her own mom died. This also serves to explain how she couldn’t bear to leave her friends on their own when their mom died.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – What’s big and hard and full of…OK, it’s a submarine, and there’s a bunch of very nervous Russians trying to stay alive against one The Doctor’s oldest enemies. A return to the Cold War, seven days hence.