Monday, April 8, 2013

Doctor Who Season 7, Episode 7: The Rings Of Akhaten

This week the Doctor and Clara finally get away from Earth and explore a proper alien planet. This is fast becoming a modern Doctor Who tradition: each time the Doctor acquires a new companion he takes her to a strange place full of aliens in their second adventure together.

The Rings Of Akhaten feels a lot like an old school Doctor Who episode. You know, the ones where they'd visit an alien planet and the Doctor's companion would always wander off and get involved with the goings on of some alien society and the Doctor would have to save them. That's a good thing.

Unfortunately it felt a little derivative of recent episodes, especially The End Of The World. You know, the one where the Doctor takes Rose to the year 5 billion to watch the sun explode, and there's lots of weird aliens there including the Face Of Boe. Parts of it also reminded me a bit of The Beast Below, specifically the "getting separated from the Doctor and getting caught up in the culture" aspect. That's not a good thing.

Spoilers Ahead!

The Plot: 
Clara asks the Doctor to take her someplace "awesome." He takes her to the Rings Of Akhaten, where there's lots of aliens, a big festival and people singing songs to keep their sun god asleep. It's all kind of confusing, but Clara ends up saving the day with her special leaf. 

• This has nothing to do with the episode itself, but I really like that poster. It's done in the style of awesome movie poster artist Drew Struzan (specifically the one he did for Raiders Of The Lost Ark). You may not recognize his name but if you've been to a movie theater in the past thirty years you'll definitely recognize his work.

As near as I can tell that's not a real Struzan poster; it looks a little too Photoshoppy to be his work. I'm not sure why they didn't just get him to actually paint it rather than commissioning a reasonable facsimile.

• I guess they've stopped customizing the Doctor Who title screen. Last year each episode's title was filled with a texture that had something to do with the story, but for the past two weeks it's just been a distressed white.

• FYI: It's pronounced "Ack-A-Ten." Ignore the "H"."

• Wow, the Doctor's got a little stalkery this week, didn't he? We see he's been spying on Clara's parents since the moment they met cute, then he's been very closely observing her for years as well. I get that he's following Clara through time trying to figure out the riddle of her existence, but it came off a little creepy.

• Who's the blond guy standing next to Clara when she's mourning her dead mother? Boyfriend? Brother?

• When the Doctor first takes Clara to Akhaten, he tells her that the inhabitants believe that all life in the universe originated there. When Clara asks if that's true, the Doctor smiles wistfully and says, "Well, it's what they believe. It's a nice story." Obviously the answer's a resounding no, but the Doctor's too polite to destroy the belief system of an entire civilization. A nice little bit of acting from Matt Smith.

• I get that this is Doctor Who so I shouldn't expect much in the way of scientific accuracy, but... I'm not quite sure how the Seven Worlds of Akhaten work. It looks like the inhabitants live on a several large asteroids that somehow have an atmosphere and normal gravity and are situated about a mile from… a big planet? A dim sun? I think it's supposed to be a planet but I'm honestly not sure.

• Clue, or red herring? When Clara asks the Doctor if he's ever been to Akhaten before he says once, with his granddaughter (who we all know was named Susan Foreman). Maybe I'm just imagining things but it seemed like Clara's ears pricked up at this mention.

So was the granddaughter comment just a throwaway line for long time fans, or is it a clue as to the true identity of Clara? A lot of people on the interwebs think Clara is somehow really Susan.

• The various alien makeups by Millennium FX were well done, and no doubt broke the show's budget.

• Kind of fuzzy as to what was going on in this episode. The inhabitants of Akhaten sing a constant song (that somehow travels through the vacuum of space) to keep their angry god asleep. It's implied that an alien mummy in a glass case is the god. Later Merry, the Queen of Years, makes a mistake in the song and the mummy wakes, using a tractor beam to pull her towards it so it can consume her soul. The Doctor and Clara follow, but then find that the mummy is not the god, it's the planet (or sun?) Akhaten itself. There's also a group of steampunky creatures called the Vigil that try to stop the Doctor. Confused? Join the club.

The Doctor faces off against the biggest and angriest pumpkin in the universe.
• The Doctor realizes that Akhaten feeds off memories and stories, so he tries to overload it by offering up the sum total of his knowledge and memories. Energy tendrils from Akhaten appear and seem to be drawing these memories from the Doctor. 

Apparently Akhaten just read the Doctor's mind and didn't actually drain it, since he's not reduced to a drooling simpleton afterward.

• Once Clara offers up her "unlimited potential" leaf, it appears that the planet (or sun?) Akhaten implodes. Hopefully that doesn't disrupt the planetary system too awfully much.

The idea that the leaf is filled with all the untapped potential of her mother's life sounds an awfully lot like the way the Weeping Angels work-- they send you back in time and feed off the potential energy of all the life you never got to live.

• At the end of the episode Clara remembers seeing the Doctor when she was a child and realizes he's been stalking her through time. Instead of being incensed and repulsed and calling the authorities as a rational person would, she mildly scolds him about it and continues to travel with him.

• Best thing about this episode: No one made the god-damned "Doctor Who?" joke this week.


  1. How is it derivative of The End of the World? They've got NOTHING in common beyond 'The Doc and co. are at a place which has lots of aliens'! That's the only similarity.

    And it does remind me vaguely of The Beast Below, but that is good because this episode kinda feels like what that unfinished piece of crap should have been!

    And congrats on noting that the thing READ the Doc's memories! It's SSSOOO annoying seeing so many people bash this ep because the Doc doesn't get his memories erased-Nothing EVER hinted that was happening or would happen.

  2. The Doctor mentioning Susan doesn't have to be a clue or red herring, it could just simply be a reference. The Doctor is just mentioning his grandaughter. And as for the look of surprise Clara gets when he talks about it, it's more likely because this young looking guy is a grandfather.

    Also, the guy with Clara at the grave is her father.

  3. Chris: What abou the fact that in this episode and End Of The World there were groups of people gathered to witness a cosmic event?

    Anonymous: Good point about Clara being surprised that the apparently 30 year old Doctor has a granddaughter. I still think it might be a clue though...

  4. That's a really vague similarity though, and when you compare those two 'similarities' between the two episodes, there's huge differences with them.

    In TEotW, a bunch of rich aliens are gathered on a space station to watch the earth be destroyed by the sun. In RoA, the whole planet is gathered around for a religious musical ceremony to prevent their malevolent god from awakening. Like I said above, the only similarity between the episodes is the fact that there's a lot of aliens.

  5. I finally watched this last night. Every season has a clunker, and this was it for season 7. The part where the crowd all start singing was cringe-inducing, and made my wife look up from her laptop and say "This is turning into a Disney film" (which was not meant as a compliment).

    The weird editing, moving back from the Doctor to Clara to the singing crowd, made it very unclear who could see what: could Clara see the Doctor, alone on that planet? That seems improbable, but maybe she could since he could apparently hear them all singing. If you'd tuned in at that point you would have assumed they were all in the same room, Clara, the crowd and the Doctor.

    Lastly, the villain turned out to be the lamest monster in Who history. It's going to do bad things ... unless you tell it a story! And share your memories with it. Seriously, it doesn't wipe your memories, it just reads them. How is that a threat? You want to keep the sun-with-a-face from exploding, just share your memories. And maybe read it a bedtime story. How exactly is that evil? It just sounds like it wants a friend.

    I really, really liked Clara in Asylum of the Daleks and in the Snowmen. Now that her history is being fleshed out (look! Another orphan adopted by the Doctor! Another girl whom he's kinda known since childhood!), she's becoming less interesting. I'd like to see more of the intelligent feistiness she displayed in her first two appearances.

    It seems now as if the Doctor isn't necessarily interested in Clara for her own sake anymore (as he was in The Snowmen), but rather because she's a puzzle, an impossible girl. I really want to like Clara, but if the Doctor isn't intersted in her as a person, how are we supposed to be?

  6. One further comment: I had been led to be believe, based on the title, that there would be some sort of Egyptian link in this story. What a disappointment! (On the bright side, BBC America is showing Pyramids of Mars later this month as part of their Tom Baker tribute.)


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