Saturday, October 5, 2013

50th Anniversary Countdown: Doctor Who 7.08: "The Rings of Akhaten"

“There is one thing you need to know about traveling with me. The one thing apart from the blue box and the two hearts. We don’t walk away.”
-The Doctor

It has been so long since “Doctor Who” told a proper outer space adventure story. Not only was “The Rings of Akhaten” a proper outer space adventure story, it celebrated music in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Ood were featured in the Russell T. Davies era of the show, particularly in “Planet of the Ood” and “The End of Time.” Sure there was a bit of this episode that felt like the poor man’s “Planet of the Ood,” but it was nice to have an episode that tried to evoke that feeling at all. This episode also provides the most information that we’ve learned about Clara’s family to date. We see how her parents met, what the Oswald family was like when Clara was a child, and the aftermath of the death of Clara’s mother. Clara overall doesn’t feel like as fully formed a character as any of the Russell T. Davies era companions, but this episode helped with that a bit. Overall, it was a great first fun adventure for new companion Clara.

The Doctor returns to Clara’s house to make another pitch for her to travel with him. Clara agrees, and the Doctor, of course, wants to know where she’d like to go. Clara can’t decide, so she says she’d just like to go somewhere “awesome.” The Doctor chooses a space adventure instead of a historical adventure, which, as I made clear in the introduction, is just fine by me. I love a good Doctor Who proper space adventure. The episode that really got me hooked on the series was the second episode way back in series 1, “The End of the World.” It was a far-future space story that was just so inspired by Douglas Adams (former “Who” showrunner himself, primarily of “Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy” fame), that I couldn’t help but love it. The Doctor takes Clara to the Rings of Akhaten, and they stand on one of the small rocks that make up the rings. Clara is awed by the sight, so she and the Doctor decide to have some fun by going to a more populated area of the Rings.

The Doctor and Clara find themselves in a market area, much like the Doctor and Donna would often find themselves in on their adventures. It’s the “Festival of Offerings,” where the Rings align and the people who live there are expected to make offerings to pacify their God, called “Grandfather” or “The Old God.” While walking about being touristy, Clara encounters a little girl who is trying to run away from her minders. Clara befriends the girl and learns that her name is Merry, and she is the “Queen of Years.” The Queen of Years holds all of her culture’s history and music. Her job is to basically sing a big solo in the ceremony that will be performed to pacify The Old God. When Clara learns this, she tries to encourage Merry, telling her she’ll do a great job with the performance. Merry sings to a pyramid on a neighboring asteroid, and all seems well until the Old God appears to wake up. When that happens, a sort of tractor beam emanates from the pyramid and snatches Merry. Clara promptly feels really, really bad for encouraging her.

The Doctor’s been traveling to important points in Clara’s life, in an effort to try and figure out why he has met her (and watched her die) twice before, so this lets us viewers see some of those “greatest hits” throughout this episode. We learn that Clara’s parents met when a leaf fell on her father’s face, obscured his vision, and her mother pulled him out of the road to avoid an accident. Clara still has that leaf, and her father told her it was the most important leaf in all of human history. The Doctor saw that moment, and he also saw Clara and her father visiting Clara’s mother’s grave. We learn a little more of Clara’s history through Clara’s conversations with Merry. She tells Merry about a time when she got lost and talks about how she felt when her mother finally found her. There’s a sweet flashback scene that we see several times in the episode of Clara’s mother telling Clara that she will always find her. It’s actually bittersweet, considering we know that Clara’s mother died when Clara was still fairly young.

Anyway, Clara and the Doctor decide they have to help Merry, so they buy a space scooter and travel to the pyramid. There are some really creepy creatures there that look like a cross between mummies and the Silence. One of them is in a plexiglass box, so everybody figures he is the Old God. There’s plenty of action in this part of the episode, as the Doctor, Clara, Merry, and a monk are all trapped inside the pyramid with these creatures. The mummy in the box basically wants to feast on Merry’s soul. Apparently the amount of history of her people she possesses is quite tasty. The Doctor saves the day, of course, holding off the mummy and its guardians with the sonic screwdriver while Clara and Merry escape back to the planetoid’s surface.

The Doctor defeating the mummy isn’t the end of the problem though. That mummy was not The Old God. The planet around which they’re all orbiting is. Akhaten makes his presence known by shining light down on the planet and turning the gas on his surface into a really nasty looking grimace face. The Doctor decides he’s going to try to save the day again. Since Akhaten likes feasting on stories so much, he offers Akhaten all his 900+ years of memories. This plus Merry singing a lullaby helps calm him down a bit, but Akhaten is greedy and he still wants more. It’s Clara who ultimately saves the day. She offers up her leaf. What’s special about the leaf is the potential it contains – what Clara’s mother could have been if she hadn’t died at a relatively young age. This proves to be too much for Akhaten to feast on, and he implodes.

Once the danger has passed, the Doctor returns Clara to her home. She suddenly remembers him watching her when she was a tween at her mother’s grave, and she starts getting suspicious. The Doctor explains that he’s been investigating because she reminds him so much of someone he once knew. Clara then makes it very clear that she’s not going to be any mere “replacement” in the Doctor’s life, and the Doctor assures her that she’s not. As they part until their next adventure, the look on the Doctor’s face shows that he is still really troubled by Clara’s “Impossible” status.

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