Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten [Review]
This round of Doctor Who was good but ultimately forgettable as a whole, in spite of the memorable dialogue and ambiance contained. It seemed half formed at times, as if the ideas were cut short for fear of thinning the background noise. Don’t get me wrong, the scale of this episode worked, it was like a Spector-esque Wall of Aliens, with singing. In the end, we are left with 45 minutes that feels epic, without actually reaching epic levels. This particular episode should have been produced under Davies with Tennant delivering this round of salvation. The Rings of Akhaten was written by Neil Cross; this is his first Doctor Who episode, he also wrote “Hide”, Episode 10. He is an up and coming screenwriter, definitely one I will be keeping an eye on. Directed by Farren Blackburn who also directed “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”, who did an absolutely superb job. In spite of the slightly off target hit that was this episode I found no fault whatsoever in the writing or directing.
The Rings of Akhaten begins with The Doctor (Matt Smith) still attempting to understand who Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) is. We are treated to a brief love story between her parents. It’s lovely, well put together, a story larger than the container in which it was delivered. Ultimately, it results in a leaf. A single leaf that caused her parents to meet, which they saved, and Clara had pressed into her most treasured possession, a book. All while The Doctor seems to stalk her through time, a plot point I’m sure we will appreciate much later on. Finally, we are now able to see Clara and The Doctor, in the TARDIS, ready to start their adventures, as soon as Clara can pick a destination. [If I could just pause for a moment to point out that technically Clara has now had two full episodes as the new companion, and we are still attempting to leave the station. I hope I was not the only one that enjoyed this frustration. It was a very much-appreciated departure from the standard formula, which also seems to describe Clara Oswin Oswald perfectly.] After combating indecision Clara declares she wants to see something awesome, and so The Doctor takes her to The Rings of Akhaten, the birthplace of all life in the universe (or so some believe). As this is a religious site, there is a massive market, and a large temple. We are treated to a parade of aliens, familiar and unfamiliar, references from 50 years of adventures, and a conversation in what sounds like dog. It is during this we learn that currency here is sentiment, or rather objects with sentimental value. Now for some reason and I honestly can’t tell why, The Doctor and Clara are separated. Clara runs into a lost little girl, who we later find out is Merry Gejelh, The Queen of Years, played by Emilia Jones who did an outstanding job. This young queen is naturally scared because she has an upcoming performance of special importance. She is required to sing a very special song, to a very old god in the temple. Clara comforts the girl, and off she runs to perform her song, which everyone goes to watch. The Doctor comes back and finds Clara, and the girl sings. The song it turns out is a lullaby, and the old god is a mummy that feeds off the songs, memory, and offerings of sentimental value. This is really well put together, and with the singing, very nearly produces goose bumps. However, right before you would feel those goose bumps spread the old god wakes up, and takes the girl.
Now the mummy is awake, and wants to feed on this little girl, who has all the songs and stories of her people stored in her head. Naturally, The Doctor can just not allow that to happen, so they break into the temple to save the girl. This is where this episode grows teeth. The Doctor must now convince this girl not to sacrifice herself to save everyone. To do this, he reminds her that she was forged from the stars that burned, died, reformed, and exploded. In the entire universe, she is unique. It’s a very nice speech, and works wonders. However, in the process of saving the girl from the mummy, they realize the mummy is not the sleeping god. The sleeping god that will consume the entire universe if awaken is Akhaten itself, a very large, planet sized creature.
Clara and Merry flee and the Doctor faces the creature. Clara and Merry want to help, so the queen begins the song again. The Doctor, hearing the song realizes Akhaten feeds off memories, stories, and sentiment. He tries to overfeed it by offering the sum total of his Time Lord memories. Ah, the goose bumps that almost formed now come marching back, this moment needs to be seen for full impact.
But it was not enough. Clara steps in, and offers the creature the leaf she had pressed in her most precious book. The leaf contains an infinite amount of untold potential that Clara’s mother never saw because she died early. The creature, overwhelmed by the infinite potential it has consumed, implodes on itself and the planet and the universe is saved.
I hope you understand how much I really did love this episode. I always love when I am taken on not only an emotional roller coaster ride, but also one that is packed with eye candy. But for all its power, beauty, and splendor, it could have been so much more. That said, I am very happy with what we received, and will happily watch “Hide” when it airs, and I do hope to see more from Neil Cross, even if I do suspect he wrote this with another doctor in mind.