This review may contain spoilers.
As we settle in and get to know Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) at the same time that she gets to know the Doctor (Matt Smith), we get a less thrilling installment that ends kind of abruptly.
Before going to pick up Clara (precisely on time, the next day at 7, as predicted) the Doctor stalks her a bit through time. He views the moment that her parents meet. He sees the proposal. He was lurking on a family moment in the park until he is accidentally hit by Clara’s ball; so he gets to meet everyone including 4-year-old Clara.
Lastly, he grieves with father and daughter at Ellie’s (Nicola Sian) grave, from afar. He finishes up his preparations with a review of his files on Oswin and Montague, which still confound him.
For their first trip, Clara asks the Doctor to choose “someplace awesome.” He responds with The Rings of Akhaten, which are rings of rubble around a star with seven planets. On one of the rocks in the Rings is a pyramid, and in the pyramid is a sleeping Mummy (Aidan Cook) in a glass box. Today, the Rings have aligned and they are about to have the Festival of Offerings.
In a complete turn around from “The Bells of Saint John,” the old cavalier Doctor returns, sprinting through the bazaar and carelessly leaving Clara unattended to find the truant Queen of Years (Emilia Jones). A battle with a star-sized Old God ensues ending with the Rings of Akhaten (and unseen planets) just rings without a sun. Then the Doctor takes Clara home; the end.
POINTS OF INTEREST
1. Clara’s mother, Ellie, meets Clara’s father, Dave (Michael Dixon), by saving him from being run over after he wanders into the street when a windblown leaf covers his face.
2. Dave saves the leaf, calling it the most important leaf in human history. It is the leaf in the front of Clara’s “101 Places to See,” and it is more of a birch leaf now than the maple leaf it was in “The Bells of Saint John” (note: I am not a botanist).
3. Ellie (née Ravenwood) died young, merely 44. The 101 Places book was originally hers. Clara and Dave have invested the leaf with all the abbreviated unlived potential of her life.
4. One of the mantras of Clara’s life is a promise Ellie once made that Clara could never be lost because Ellie would always come and find her.
5. The Doctor once brought his granddaughter to Akhaten.
6. The currency of Akhaten is items of personal value that are psychically imprinted with hopes, dreams, yearning and nostalgia. How do you give change then? I would think that there’d be a lot of trade in locks of hair.
7. Clara rents the use of a space-moped with a ring that once belonged to her mother. It is returned at the end of the episode.
8. When Clara returns home, she remarks that her house looks different now. The Doctor dismisses the thought without looking, due to the transformative experience she has just had. That was probably a serious mistake.
9. When Clara catches the Doctor studying her, she remembers seeing him at her mother’s grave and demands an explanation. He admits that she reminds him of someone he once knew who is now dead. Clara asserts her individuality and requires he deal with her as a unique person rather than an echo.
Matt Smith’s Doctor continues to be quirky and fun. Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara is cheeky and bold. And 3 1/2 episodes in, it is still a successful combination.
At different points in the episode, the Doctor sums up his modus operandi in two statements (paraphrased):
–We don’t just walk away from people in need.
–If we are holding something precious then we run away with it, until it is safe.
Completing our Doctor Who 101, we learn that:
–The TARDIS is a spaceship that also travels through time (and getting to a time on the same day as intended is an event to be celebrated).
–The sonic screwdriver is a magical thing that can do anything the Doctor needs it to do.
–The Doctor often tries to solve big, impossible problems by talking at them.
The varied population of the seven planets of Akhaten, plus tourists from other systems come for the Festival of Offerings, gives the place a Star Wars cantina effect with so many different types of aliens milling around together in one place.
What Didn’t Work
After all the TARDIS key giving in “The Snowmen,” why is Clara without a key?
While it is clear that some of the people of Akhaten are living on the larger rocks of the Rings — as we see a big rock with buildings embedded in it at the same time as we see the Pyramid on a smaller rock — at no point is it explained why an unsealed, open space-moped would be able to transport un-spacesuited air breathers between rocks. “Doctor Who” is still nominally science fiction, isn’t it?
The unwrapped mummy in a glass box that thrashes around theatrically until it breaks the box, then collapses back onto its throne seemed especially pointless.
If Merry (Queen of Years) knew every song and every story (which seemed semi-mystical considering her later demonstration of telekinesis) then why didn’t she know that she was intended to be a sacrifice?
The memorabilia offered by festival celebrants sublimate into sparkles as they are consumed by the Old God. The Doctor offers his single millennium of action packed memories and thereby almost destroys the Old God … except that he still has his memories. It is clear that they were not consumed or taken. Such a large act with so little consequence seems a cheat.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
“Doctor Who” stars Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Nicola Sian, Michael Dixon, Emilia Jones, Chris Anderson, Karl Greenwood, Aidan Cook. “The Rings of Akhaten” was written by Neil Cross and directed by Farren Blackburn.
Doctor Who” airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.