This story in a nutshell: A leaf that manages to take on big old face...
‘You’re going to fight it, aren’t you?’ ‘Regrettably yes I think I may be about to do that.’
‘Take my memories. But I hope you’ve got a big appetite because I’ve lived a long life and I have seen a few things. I walked away from the last great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as Time ran out, moment by moment until nothing remained. No time. No space. Just me! I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman. I have watched universe freeze and creations burn. I have seen things you wouldn’t believe. I have lost things you will never understand and I know things. Secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken, knowledge that would make parasite Gods blaze! So come on then! Take it! Take it all baby! Have it! You have it all!’
- I heard complaints about the ‘pointless’ pre-titles sequence showing how Clara’s parents met and I wonder if those people have actually watched the entire episode. Not only is it further information about the new companion (much needed as well) and probably contributes towards the larger arc surrounding the mystery of Clara but it is directly tied into this episode as well, provide the climax with its resolution. I liked the subtle way the writer told us the year (its on the front of the Beano the Doctor is reading) without having to plaster it all over the screen as they usually do. Despite Clara’s dad looking a little bit like a serial killer when he grins maniacally at Ellie, this is really rather sweet. If you are like me and spend hours talking long into the night with friends about all kinds of existential bollocks then you’ll appreciate Dave’s statement about fate and everything having to fit into place for two people to meet. I think it was on Six Feet Under when I first heard the phrase Life is a series of accidents.’
- Am I the only person who thinks that it is super cool that the TARDIS is smoking these days? I love that. I’ve pretty much fallen in love with the new design completely, it is a massive step up from the glass and chrome 80s lounge from before.
- In general I think this episode looks amazing for something that was pulled off on television budget but (and it’s a big but) I think The Rings of Akhaten is the perfect example of the strengths and the limitations of what the show can achieve at the moment. All the CGI featuring the Rings and the Pyramid look incredible and its hard not to get swept up by that kind of visual majesty (unless you are very cynical). It’s wonderful that we get to meet so many different types of alien but I perhaps would have concentrated on one of two really good ones rather than what feels like hundreds of merely adequate ones. Doctor Who is never going to have the budget of Star Wars (unless it hits the big screen) and it feels like these should all be far more fluidly moving CGI aliens rather than men wandering by in rubber masks. It has a definite feel of classic Who in that respect but that’s nostalgia rather than something to be proud of. If you want to see what a bazaar full of alien life should look like check out any Roger Langridge drawn comic strip. The Ultramanta was just cool though, an oily golden robot with glowing red eyes. I hope we see them again. Despite looking freakily like the Seers in season fifteen’s Underworld, the Vigil were extremely creepy and well done (it just goes to show it's all down to the voice). The show wants to pull off a scene set in a massive alien amphitheatre full of aliens watching Merry perform so it graces us with a gorgeous CGI visual of the entire stadium and then has to be content with tight shots in a studio and obviously duplicated long shots of the aliens either side of the stairs in different positions. It goes from being entirely convincing to obviously false and back in a heartbeat. They’re trying, and I think that should always be the applauded and I find something quite comforting in the idea that Doctor Who still has limits despite it’s plentiful budget (compared to the classic series at least). The Doctor and Clara on the moped in space looks like it has leapt straight from the comic strip of DWM whilst also looking as camp as Christmas. I was both clapping my hands with excitement and cringing at the same time! The Mummy, in comparison to the other aliens on display, is extraordinary. You can see that a lot of work has gone into making this look as fearsome and as possible.
- Wasn’t it wonderful that Doctor Who was presenting a genuinely alien culture full of colour and spectacle with its own atmosphere. This is the sort of setting that the show used to find itself in all the time re-2005, the Doctor and his assistant turning up somewhere completely out there and getting involved in a real adventure that had nothing to do with contemporary Earth. It’s been so long I had forgotten what it felt like. Because we don’t know anything about this system and its rules so there is no way to predict what is going to happen and how it is going to pan out. That is rather exciting in a series that has rather gotten too bogged down in its own formula.
- Whilst Murray Gold’s music threatened to drown the action on the odd occasion I thought his work on the two songs was magnificent. They are genuinely memorable, emotive pieces. The second time I watched I found myself joining in at the climax. Although I could have done without the aliens rocks their heads from side to side – for what was managing to balance finely between subtle and twee this tipped the climax over into over sentimentality.
- Let me get this straight - upon being told about the infinite possibilities that an object can hold the sun decides to shrivel up and die as though it hadn’t thought of that before, or as if having the explanation spelt out has changed its state or its ability to effect. It reminds me of the story of the mad alternative universe that was told that it couldn’t possibly exist because it was too bizarre that it popped out of existence. Perhaps this is too abstract for me to get a grip on. Fundamentally I like the idea of a creature that feeds on memories being defeated by a multitude ofpossible memories and ones that will never be but the cynic in me sees what is actually being presented and that is a tatty old leaf defeating a killer sun. You have to really strain to see your way past that one and it seems clear given the internet outcry about the climax that the majority of the audience found that too much of an ask.
- A planet with a face? Oh dear.
Haven’t I seen you before: Once again this episode was loaded with moments that felt as though they have been pillaged from previous NuWho installments. Since The Bells of Saint John had this treatment I guess its only fair that The Rings of Akhaten gets it too…
- Having the Doctor ducking in and out of his companions childhood directly after that was all the show obsessed about with the previous incumbent of the role feels tired. There’s something a little voyeuristic about him digging into her history like this and catching her at her most vulnerable moments. It reminded me a little of how the 7th Doctor used to make Ace confront her fears. Is there something wrong with the Doctor finding somebody that he wants to travel with the two of them just heading off into the universe with no mysteries to unravel about either of them (there is a big question mark hanging over both of their heads this year). Plus didn’t we have the Doctor staring at the scanner ad nauseum during the first half of season six with a quizzical look about Amy?
- I got a real Father’s Day vibe from the way this sequence was shot, using the music of the era and giving it a washed out look (post 2005 Doctor Who seems to suggest that the 80s was this grey wilderness and not the kaleidoscope of tie dye T-shirts, fluorescent shell suits and Doctors dressed like Ronald McDonald that it actually was).
- The first trip after a modern day contemporary thriller being a trip to the future where the companions meets a myriad of aliens in a spectacular location. This could be The End of the World or The Beast Below, take your pick. The shot of the Doctor and Clara silhouetted against the rings of Akhaten with rocks and debris floating past looks exactly like the visuals at the end of Rose’s second story. I did think that captured that sense of heading out into the universe and being surrounded by strange and wonderful things far more effectively than The Beast Below though. There is a palpable sense of excitement from both the Doctor and Clara that is infectious.
- Clara meeting a lost child and pursuing her into an off-limits area plays out beat for beat in exactly the same way as it did for Amy in The Beast Below.
- Didn’t we have the Doctor and Clara racing to save the say on a bike last week? Is that going to be a running idea this season?
- That bloody sonic screwdriver has become a liability. Get rid of the thing. It’s nothing but a Harry Potter magic wand now and it restrains the Doctor’s creativity in finding a solution.
- A sentient planet or star was the basis of 42. Except it didn’t have the massive face of a Jack o’latern.
- Whilst I enjoyed the singing, it was also essential to the conclusions of Gridlock, Planet of the Ood and A Christmas Carol.
- Dropping Clara off at the end of each adventure makes it feel less like the partnerships of old. Stop doing that. Amy had a reason to return home each time, Clara should just head off into the universe and have fun.
Result: The Rings of Akhaten did a number of things that I have been asking of the show for a while now. The Doctor and companion simply turning up somewhere fresh and have an adventure. Check. No timey wimey nonsense. Check. Witty dialogue without being too smug and self satisfied. Check. A likeable companion. Check. All these elements warm me to this piece and make me feel as though we have step back thirty years into classic Who. This is good. Whilst the elements that make up this story are as derivative and familiar as those of The Bells of Saint John the biggest difference here was the presentation of the story which is so different from anything we have ever seen before it was bound to divide opinion. If it wasn’t for the pre-titles sequence it would be an adventure where the Doctor’s assistant is the only human character that we get to meet and as such the script had to really hard to draw the audience into this setting because there was very little that is recognisable. It worked for me, for the reasons state above, but as far as I understand some people found this approach too much to handle. I loved the amount of aliens that we got to see and this rare glimpse into a genuinely different society. Matt Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman use this opportunity to explore the relationship between their two characters and I came away from this adventure feeling far more positive about their partnership than I did last week. They compliment each other beautifully and both do stunning work at the climax. There are problems with The Rings of Akhaten (familiar elements, some effects that are beyond the shows budget, the daft grinning face of Grandfather, the abstract resolution) but overall I thought this was a refreshing attempt to do something a bit out there with the show. A pleasing, colourful, sentimental piece: 7/10