The Rings of Akhaten

At Clara’s request to be taken ‘somewhere awesome’ on her first proper trip in the TARDIS, the Doctor lands them on the Rings of Akhaten.

Steven Moffat was quite right in a recent interview when he spoke of the Doctor always promising his companions trips to fantastic planets then landing in shit-holes (I’m para-phrasing). It’s great to see the Doctor playing tour-guide to Clara, making the most of his professorial air. Both leads are fantastic, and Clara gets her first shot at saving the day.

The alien locale is a great attempt at creating a genuinely layered alien society. They can often be one-dimensional with only one defining characteristic. The Doctor knows so much of Earth’s customs and culture, it’s satisfying to see him equally at home and conversant on other planets.

The strongest element of this story is that it feels like its about something. I really enjoyed the subtext about religion here: it’s all built up around natural phenomena and is essentially pointless, “It’s what they believe… it’s a nice story.” When the Doctor says “all these people who lived in terror of you and your judgement,” he could be talking about most religions. And the Old God “is waking because its his time to wake”. Like prayer, these people have spent millennia singing and it hasn’t affected anything! The Choristers are like priests, wasting their lives in the service of a nice story.

Hearing Susan referenced for the first time in the new series was pleasing, and reminds us that she once the Doctor’s main priority. The other references to The Three Doctors, Inferno, Castrovalva, Utopia etc fit the themes of memory and story so well they don’t feel self-indulgent. A man is the sum of his memories. A Time Lord even more so.

I’m sure some will find annoyance in the ‘love saves the day’-type denouement, but lets not forget there’s precent in God-like beings falling foul of a bit of sentiment: It was Azal’s undoing in The Daemons. The climax reminded a bit of Death of the Doctor, but without the cringey beatific smiles.

I don’t think the sonic screwdriver has ever been used quite so much like a magic wand. I suppose it answers criticisms of the Doctor getting out of situations too easily with device when we can see his physical exertion in holding the door open and fighting off The Vigil.

To end at the beginning, the pre-title scenes were very moving, and reminiscent of the start of the movie Up.

The unseen adventure in which the First Doctor and Susan visit the Rings of Akhaten was actually a shopping trip to buy a hat. In a classic Hartnell slip, he thought it was the Rings of Astrakhan.

astrakhan

Purchase Doctor Who Series 7 Part 2 from Amazon:

Doctor Who – Series 7 Part 2 [DVD]

On Blu-Ray:

Doctor Who – Series 7 Part 2 [Blu-ray]

ringsarena

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9 thoughts on “The Rings of Akhaten

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