Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Doctor Who: The Rings Of Akhaten ( Review with spoilers )

Due to space/time dilutions in the causal nexus ( and my laziness ) this review is unfashionably late. But then, dear hypothetical reader, you're used to that, aren't you?

The Rings Of Akhaten sees The Doctor taking Clara for her first trip off-world. And where does she want to go? "Somewhere awesome..."
This turns out to be a bustling marketplace on a lump of orbiting rock, which is itself part of the inhabited rings of the star Akhaten. Here, the newbie Tardis traveller meets Merry, the Queen Of Years, a young girl who is the repository of her society's entire knowledge, with an important part to play in the ages-old Festival Of Offerings. Her role in the ritual is to sing a lullaby to the Old God of Akhaten who must be kept in perpetual slumber, unless he consumes the entire system. Merry is frightened she will make a mistake and so cause a disaster, but Clara reassures her that she will be fine. Oops...

 Of course, things go badly wrong. The Old God awakens and our time travellers have to save both young Merry and all the other races gathered here for the Festival.

This episode is very much focused on Clara  -  and rightly so. We see her here showing compassion, resourcefulness and a steely confidence. We also see a worryingly creepy sequence of the Doctor
( in slightly stalker-ish mode ) checking out Clara's past for further clues to her mystery, as well as a strange moment when the Tardis seems to disapprove of Ms. Oswald  -  which doesn't bode well for an upcoming episode when Clara will become trapped in the depths of the time machine. ( The Tardis, of course, wasn't too keen on Jack Harkness either, due to his wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey nature. Interesting... ) It's a great showcase for Jenna-Louise Coleman and her rapport with Matt Smith is lovely to watch. I'm hoping that the Eleven / Clara relationship will be more adult and less confrontational than the Eleven / Amy one ever was. They should enjoy each other's company and adventures... even when in deadly danger...

There's been a lot of criticism of this episode on the net ( what's new? ) but I enjoyed it for its attempt at doing something slightly different. I love the vistas of the Akhaten system and the cornucopia of creatures in the alien marketplace. The Doctor's speech at the climax about how much he has lost and how many terrible things he has seen over the centuries is a fine moment for Matt Smith and Clara's sacrificing of "the most important leaf in the universe" is a lovely little touch.

Apart from a few moments when the show's ambition outstrips its budget ( that "moped" ) my biggest problem with this episode is a familiar gripe: the threat. The alien mummy and its attendant servants, The Vigil, which were so prevalent in the pre-publicity material, look great but don't actually do a lot. The twist that the Old God isn't the mummy but actually a parasitical creature living in the star is a good one ( although reminiscent of Season Three episode 42 ) but it does leave Matt Smith yet again ranting at a very nebulous enemy. I often wonder if a lot of this hesitation to produce truly threatening villains stems from the BBC's constant pussy-footing around what is acceptable for tea-time TV ( the so-called "compliances" )... or is it just a lack of thorough script-editing? Neil Cross, the writer of this episode, comes from such shows as Luther and Spooks so may be suited to more down-to-earth fare. His next Who episode, Hide, is a ghost story so that may turn out better. We'll see.

Three Out Of Five Bow Ties ( or Red Leaves )

Soundtrack: Don't Stand Me Down by Dexy's Midnight Runners
                     ( I'm going to see them on Saturday night! Yay! )


Kal said...

I am very charmed by the whole thing. It seem very different with the accents when seen over her in North America. I like it when the Doctor rants but I see your point about it becoming a trap for the writers. The Das Boat episode coming up looks good. Aren't women bad luck on a submarine?

cerebus660 said...

I'm looking forward to it, too! I've always been a fan of the Ice Warriors and stranding one of those big, lumbering Martians in a claustrophobic submarine seems a great idea.


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