The Rings of Akhaten – Episode Review & Analysis

bbc.co.uk

Ah, ah, ah… spoilers

A young, professional looking man in a suit is walking along a queiet street reading his newspaper when a leaf blows down from a tree and promptly hits him in the face. Stunned by the Tysonesque punching power of this leaf, the young man staggers into the road and is almost run over by a brown Austin Allegro (I always know people who drove those cars were inept!) He is promptly saved by a pretty young lady and clearly it is love at first sight. The Doctor is watching them over the top of a Beano comic. The 1970s have arrived!

Next scene we get another not so subtle description of fate from the loved-up young couple while romantically standing under an umbrella outside the obligatory front door. In the one after, the father is cradling a baby. By now it is rather obvious that this is Clara and we watch her grow up, including kicking a football at The Doctor’s head. Finally and poignantly we see our Clara spilling tears onto that book… at her mother’s grave. The Doctor is miffed – she seems to be a normal girl yet he knows there is more to her than that.

Cue the credits…

Clara, sat on some stairs and clutching that book. We hear the TARDIS drone, the bell ring and… huzzah! she’s going with him. The obligatory timey wimey explanation is given and they go off to see “something awesome”. The Doctor shows her a sun orbited by thousands of pieces of rock, the titular “Rings of Akhaten”. One of them has a holy city and so naturally, they are going there. The city seems to have had a bit of a Farscape makeover and they materialise in a bustling marketplace. The Doctor introduces Clara to many of the races including something that looks a bit like a steampunk proto Cyberman (but isn’t). He explains that they are there for “The Festival of Offerings”. A creature (which The Doctor names “Doreen”) confronts Clara and tries to rent her a moped but it will cost something sentimental rather than financial.

The Doctor and Clara are quickly separated and a young girl dressed in a red cloak crosses the path of the companion and scuttles off. Two men dressed in similar robes stop Clara and ask her if she has seen “Her… the Queen of Years”. Clara looks confused and pleads ignorance before running after the girl. She eventually finds her and the two have a brief chat before some leather-clad creatures are beamed into their general vicinity. Clara tries to entice the girl to the TARDIS (clearly this city has no problems with child abduction).

But the TARDIS won’t open so the pair take shelter behind it instead; Clara worms the story out of the girl (whose name is Merry). She is “The Queen of Years” and must sing a song to a deity. But she is scared in case she gets it wrong and makes everyone angry. Clara eases her fears by telling her a childhood story of when she was lost. Merry returns for the ceremony and The Doctor appears at Clara’s side, enquiring as to her whereabouts. They decide to visit the ceremony and the girl begins to sing to the star. But when she gets it wrong a tractor beam lifts her off of the ground and into space. The Doctor and Clara march off to rent the moped – which Clara has to give her mother’s ring to secure and they fly off to rescue the girl.

They don’t quite reach her in time and she is sucked into the holy pyramid that occupies another lump of rock. The Doctor and Clara chase her but cannot get through the door through which she passed. The room she is in contains a chamber inside which is a mummified looking creature. One of the choristers is chanting in a hope that the creature inside does not wake up. After The Doctor manages to get the door open, Clara races inside to encourage the girl to leave – but she won’t listen. She uses some sort of psychic force to pin Clara to the chamber and informs her “you must leave, it is me he wants. He will eat our souls – yours too if you don’t leave”.

The chorister beams out leaving just the three of them and the creature has woken up and is trying to break out. The Doctor tells Merry a story about star dust and how we are all formed of it. This is another analogy about fate, individuality and things meant to be. He tells her that if she died, everyone would be fine. Clara is released from her entrapment and immediately the three creatures from earlier (looking slightly like The Silence) beam in. They knock back The Doctor and Clara and grab Merry before taking her to be fed. Clara grabs the sonic screwdriver, throws it to The Doctor who puts up a barrier to protect the three of them. The girl sings and the door opens through which the three escape. Finally, the creature breaks out but “Grandfather” is awake – it’s the star! You see, anybody who knows anything about Egyptian mythology knows that the Aten is the disk of the sun so for us smartarses, this revelation doesn’t come as a shock.

The Doctor faces the star – which now has a giant angry smiley on it – and the girl starts to sing something akin to “Abide with me” and “Amazing Grace” while The Doctor gives a rousing story and berates the deity as a parasite and challenges it to take his memories. It does so and suffers the equivalent of indigestion for a few moments before composing itself and coming straight back again. Clara, realising that this gambit did not pay off, stands before the star again and gives it… her parents’ leaf. But of course, what should have been is an infinite amount of food compared to memories and the greedy bastard implodes.

Back home… Clara remembers seeing The Doctor in her childhood and asks him why he was at her mother’s grave. He is reticent but tells her “you remind me of someone who died” to which she replies that “I’m not her – whoever she is”. Oh my dear Clara, you might very well be! And off she goes with The Doctor watching on with a look of confusion and concern.

Analysis

Sorry, but despite the heart-felt and rousing speech given by The Doctor about the weight of the universe on his shoulders, this episode was mostly pants. I’m annoyed that it appears the intriguing footnote from last week’s episode (the leaf) was so casually discarded in a saccharine execution of the sort of fluff that rarely exists outside of Stephanie Meyer novels. We know no more about Clara than we did before, but it was interesting to see The Doctor trying to pick up clues about her while following her through her life. Answers will undoubtedly come and this was the most intriguing aspect of what was an otherwise run of the mill episode.

There are a few curious events here though. Of particular note, the refusal of the TARDIS to allow Clara in when she was transporting the Queen of Years to safety. We don’t know whether it was Clara or the girl that the TARDIS objected to but it is a safe assumption that it was not the child considering there was otherwise nothing remarkable about her. So, assuming it was Clara, why did the TARDIS object? Was it merely the absence of The Doctor? This is doubtful as many companions have returned to the TARDIS without The Doctor before now without so much as a forced entry.

More references again to fate, coincidences and things extraordinary apparently coming from the otherwise unextraordinary. The conversation between Clara’s parents about the importance of the leaf clearly has far less to do with this individual episode than it does about the theme of Clara and what she might represent – we observed this philosophy last week and a hefty dose of it in the Christmas special. What’s going on? Looking forward to finding out more.

Next week the pair are stuck on a submarine with a strange creature.

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6 thoughts on “The Rings of Akhaten – Episode Review & Analysis

  1. Yes, pretty disappointing. The alien market was high production but the rest was pretty bad. Why is the companion’s first trip always a cheesy sentimental affair? Beast Below was also significantly flawed… Yawn.

    1. An opportunity wasted here; with the series split in half and something big planned for the 50th anniversary this summer, every episode ought to feel it is building to something.

  2. Ken Paton

    Agreed, a poor episode. At the moment COO is just not personable enough or interesting and a companion must be one of these.

    1. Oh I don’t know, she’s growing on me. Of course a lot of the focus is on the mystery and if we don’t start getting some answers we’re going to get frustrated.

  3. I thought I was going to disagree with you, but I don’t really. The leaf business was too saccherine and as a character development episode it was surprisingly light on any development. Clara is steadily turning into an Intergalactic Mary Poppins and I forsee a heavily child-centred theme for this series. As this is leading up to the 50 year anniversary I am concerned that the doctor is being forcibly marketed as a superhero for kids. Not the ethos of my doctor, thank you very much. Got a lump in the throat from the doctor’s speech but felt it was cheapened by that leaf guff.

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