Doctor Who S7 Ep8 – The Rings of Akhaten

“The Rings of Akhaten” was your standard fare of “now we’ve introduced the companion, but let’s take her out of her element to let her shine.” Which, when you’ve already introduced us to her three times, is kind of car salesman-y of showing us all the extra features when we’ve already bought the car and we’re driving it home. Not to say that we don’t love the car or the ride, we just get it already.

Sometime last year I had an abundance of time and with little other responsibilities I found myself marathoning Luther, which Neil Cross created and wrote. And I loved it. I’m excitedly waiting for the third season. Now if you’ve seen Luther, you know it as being intensely dark, methodical in its pacing, and clever in its dialog. These were attributes I was hoping Cross would bring over to Doctor Who, but you know, in family-appropriate servings.

Doctor Who S7 Ep8 Titles

Wait a minute, this is the same title design as last week’s!

What we get is something like that but not. The show does have a slower feel to it, and it’s not as bright and happy people with its dialog as most of Eleven’s episodes have been. But it isn’t as clever and tends to get speechy. That being said, I do loves me some dark Doctor like with Ten at the end of “Water of Mars,” or most of Nine’s super cereal moments. Here Eleven seems to spend the majority of this episode barely disguising his discomfort of not knowing who or what Clara is.

Clara, on the other hand, shows off that while she’s not exactly the companion we thought she was, she is still worthy of being The Doctor’s companion. She’s empathetic, optimistic, capable of sacrifice, and a go-getter. And even though the TARDIS doesn’t like her, I do. More on the TARDIS theory later.

As per the plot – start off with equal parts “The Beast Below” and “The End of the World,” stir in some “42” until it thickens, and top it off with the ending of “A Christmas Carol.” All in all it sounds like it wouldn’t work, and it almost fails to launch if you’re not paying close enough attention.

We start off with The Doctor hopping through various points in Clara’s past, including the meeting and courtship of her parents, only to discover nothing nearly special about her other than the Leaf of Fate that caused her parents to meet.

Back in the present time The Doctor picks Clara up the day after last week’s adventure and takes her to go see something “awesome.” The awesome being the Feast of Offerings on the inhabited Rings of Akhaten.  While The Doctor and Clara explore the Troll Market of Hellboy II, where I imagine they also stopped to get drinks at the Mos Eisley Cantina, Clara runs into a little girl. Thinking the girl is in danger Clara follows after and discovers she is Merry the Queen of Years, the vessel of all knowledge for her people, and that she is afraid of singing her song. The song is the height of the Festival and happens every thousand years. Clara comforts the girl and returns her in time for the Long Song to keep “Grandfather” asleep.

During the song, something goes wrong and Akhaten requires not only the song, but also the sacrifice of pure virginal Merry to appease his appetite. The Doctor and Clara rush off to Merry’s aide to confront who they think is Akhaten, which turns out is not the mummy, but is rather a planet-sized parasite that’s been around for ages.

Doctor Who S7 Ep8

The Doctor does battle with the poster for Halloween II.

Clara and Merry flee back to the ceremony and The Doctor faces the creature, realizing it feeds off of memories, stories, and feelings. He tries to overfeed it by offering the sum total of his Time Lord memories. This by itself is not enough to sate the creature, and Clara returns to help. She offers the creature the Leaf of Fate that blew into her father’s face on the day he met her mother. 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.

With everyone saved Clara confronts The Doctor about the time she saw him at her mother’s grave. Never mind the ramifications of causing a planet-sized parasite to implode, leaving not only the rings in an unstable orbit to either get sucked into the implosion or to shoot violently outwards amongs, the stars but also ending an untold millennia of tradition and leaving a culture in upheaval. Rather than explain he was vetting her credentials or doing a background check, or even just tell the truth, he just says she reminds him of someone else. Then it’s all “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.”

Cross has crafted a simple and sweet episode, and though it lacks big character moments, epic battles, and such, it shows us that every person is special and that it’s not the things that make us, but rather our life around the things that make them. Hence the importance of psychometrically charged items as value. Awww.

This episode could have been a bit stronger and a bit tighter, and I hope, at least, that the script had everything explained, but the editing didn’t really do it justice. It hopped around a bit too much and didn’t really fill in the gaps. It took me a few viewings to catch that there wasn’t something wrong with the song, but that every once and a while Ahkaten likes to eat people’s souls.

Doctor Who S7 Ep8

Make like a tree and leaf!

For myself I really wanted the mummy to have been an Osirian like Sutekh from the Fourth Doctor serial “The Pyramids of Mars,” but I guess with the Ice Warriors making a comeback in the next episode you can only have so many re-imagined monsters a season.

I was a little let down by the steampunk-styled baddies The Vigil. Another cool concept that was just too short lived, much like the Shakri and the Tally from “The Power of Three.” I felt like they should have had a larger role, or best to not even have them there at all.

The mystery that really stands out in the episode is why the TARDIS won’t let Clara in. Several people have made the comparison that, like Captain Jack Harkness, she’s an impossible thing, that she should be dead but isn’t. The TARDIS not liking her could also be why Clara needs The Doctor to translate while speaking to aliens.

Now, if Cross didn’t wow you with “Rings,” I hope you give him a second chance with the upcoming tenth episode “Hide.” He wrote that one first and the producers liked it so much they gave him another episode to write, but with the challenge of it having to be an alien world and a big set location. My only thoughts are that he used up all his great ideas for that episode and being asked to write a second but preceding episode is what taxed him into the result of “Rings of Akhaten.”

Overall I liked this episode because of The Doctor’s unsettled attitude and the quiet message of history and possibility. It helps that the songs weren’t that bad either.


Doctor Who S7 Ep9 Poster

Tags: ,