Doctor Who – “The Rings of Akhaten”: Cabbages and Kings
Doctor Who: Series 7
“The Rings of Akhaten”
Aired: April 6, 2013
Writer: Neil Cross
Director: Farren Blackburn
“We don’t walk away.”
– The Doctor
After setting the opening episode in present-day London, there were really only two moves for the show to make for episode two of the Clara era – either go to an interesting point in Earth’s history or go somewhere, as Star Wars would say, “in a galaxy far, far away.”
The show chose to go with the latter, sending the duo to Akhaten. Though it took a little time at the top for The Doctor to stalk Clara, trying to figure out how the twice-dead girl can appear to be a normal modern-day twenty-something. (Of course, his stalking raises the question of whether or not he has done this with the other two versions of Clara as well. Did he try to track down younger versions of Victorian Clara and futuristic, Dalek-encased Oswin.) This provides us with the backstory about the leaf, which ends up giving the episode its emotional crux.
From there, what ensued was a colorful and fairly briskly-paced story featuring two cool-looking monsters and a cute little girl. It was a perfectly fun adventure that had some great emotional beats to it. But it also seemed a bit convoluted in its explanations. I enjoyed more of it than I didn’t, but I also don’t know that it left much of an impression on me either way. As far as modern-day episodes of Who go, I think it’s solidly somewhere in the middle of the pack.
I liked the idea of using sentimental items as emotional currency on a planet. And the giant, glowing ball of evil that fed on that energy was a really great invention. But that being said, I didn’t entirely understand what was happening when the monster was feeding on The Doctor (Did he lose the memories it ate? Would he have died when it was done with him or just have been left with no memories?) and if that one leaf was enough to save the day, why did the society need to sacrifice a little girl in the first place?
But if you didn’t take much time to dwell on those odd plot points, the emotional weight of that scene was fantastic. As he proved in the season five finale when he spoke to all of the various alien ships circling around the Pandorica, Matt Smith is great when he gives empassioned, shouty speeches. And Jenna-Louise Coleman was equally great when explaining why that leaf was the most important one in the universe.
What you are looking to get out of Doctor Who undoubtedly will heavily influence your enjoyment of this episode. If you are just looking for an entertaining hour of television, you are likely to have dug this one. But if you show up for the heavier, more complex storylines and interesting “timey, wimey stuff,” then you may have found it lacking. Ultimately, I think I fell somewhere in-between for this one.
And another thing …
Clara’s mom, Ellie Ravenwood, died on March 5, 2005, which is the day the current version of Doctor Who was launched. I wonder if that will be significant or if it was just a fun little Easter egg.
The Doctor’s stalking of young Clara explains the cute little online prequel released online before the start of the season. (If you missed it, you can watch it below.)
The Doctor saying that he brought his granddaughter to Akhaten was a reference to Susan Foreman, who was a companion of the first Doctor, William Hartnell.
To me, Grandfather’s mummy protector looked like something Guillermo del Toro would dream up (which I fully support).
I recently listened to an interview with Jenna-Louise Coleman for The Nerdist podcast. In it, she said that Matt Smith told her he got a detailed manual explaining how the control panel on the TARDIS works and that every lever and button he pushes is deliberate. I’m now watching that closely each episode. You should too.
Was it just me or was Matt Smith mugging for the camera more than usual this week? He seemed to be channeling his inner Jim Halpert.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel firstname.lastname@example.org.