#10 The Rings of Akhaten
written by Neil Cross
Finally, a semi-new episode of Who! We have crossed into part 2 of series 7 and get to meet the current DW companion, Clara Oswin Oswald, the Doctor’s Impossible Girl (played by Jenna Louise-Coleman). We only have this and one more episode in the 11 of 11 series, and I had a really difficult time picking series 7 episodes to rec, until I remembered this one. Although we have seen Clara in 3 episodes prior, Rings of Akhaten is the companion’s first visit to another planet. Audiences are introduced to time and space travel through Clara’s eyes, and it is spectacular. The setting is brilliant, the dialogue, moving and Clara reveals her fierce bravery and already-complete loyalty to the Doctor. I am excited to focus on a Neil Cross episode, as well. The British writer has penned some of my favorite tv shows and films, such as Luther on BBC One starring Idris Elba , Mama with Jessica Chastain, and two episodes of DW in series 7, this and Hide. Cross often writes horror and suspense, so this particular episode is very different than his usual fare, but impressive, nonetheless.
AKA The Episode That Reminds Us of the Magic in Doctor Who
This episode makes think of series 3 with Tennant; when Ten took Martha to meet the Bard in “The Shakespeare Code”. Just as with Ten and Martha, Clara and Eleven have traveled together before and fought alien forces. The Doctor has recently lost someone he loves and audiences (along with the Doctor) are trying to get to know the new companion and find out what she is all about as well as connect her presence to the larger story arc. RANT TIME: It must be a difficult position to be in, when the fans immediately take a disliking to you for simply being YOU and not someone else. I actually started watching the Doctor Who with a Martha/Ten episode, and always appreciated a strong, female companion of color as well as Martha’s ability to walk away from the Doctor when he couldn’t offer her what she wanted. BUT STILL, Martha helped out when she was needed and walked the damn earth for the Timelord in his time of need. Therefore, let’s try, Wholigans, our damndest not to dislike Clara simply because she isn’t Amelia, Rory or River. We know she will be around after Eleven is gone and it is actually quite fun to watch her and the Doctor banter back and forth. Let’s not be haters, mmkay?
Anywho, when the Doctor previously asked Clara to travel with him, at the end of Bells of St. John, she refused, playing hard to get or unsure of the mysterious traveler. Perhaps she can sense the Doctor’s creepy vibe, because while she is contemplating traveling with him, Eleven is visiting Clara’s past, trying to ascertain how he has met the same girl in 3 different times and locations in space. Is she an android of some sort? Does she have multiple identical twins? As the Doctor watches her parents meet, “bumps” into the family as they play in the park when Clara is about 3 years old and leers behind a tree while Clara buries her mother , we know nothing more than she is “not possible.” At this point in the story, neither audiences or the Doctor understand how Clara can exist.
After the Doctor-stalker montage, we find Clara on the steps in her home, clutching the book her mother gave her, “101 Places to See,” waiting, as we all have, for the sound of the TARDIS outside her window. When finally inside the console room and given the choice to travel ANYWHERE in time and space, she says, after much deliberation, “somewhere awesome!”
Which is exactly what I would have said.
Next thing we know, the TARDIS is landing, the Doctor is telling Clara to open her eyes, and they are on a grand adventure, Doctor Who style. On Akhaten, audiences experience the newness of time and space travel along with Clara, enjoying the sight of, what Stephen Moffat calls, “The best alien planet Doctor Who’s ever done.” With 50-60 extras dressed as aliens on set at once, the marketplace scene opens up an entirely new world for Clara. She is in awe of her surroundings and the Doctor does love to show off, doesn’t he? Eleven names off species, eats a glow-in-the-dark fruit of some sort and informs Clara the currency on Akhaten is not money but memories. The theme of story telling and the importance of memories is an overarching one in this episode and Cross plays with it as he introduces the stories of Akhaten, of Clara and even, to a very small but intense extent, the Doctor.
When Clara meets Mary Galell, the Queen of Years, the little girl is running away from her destiny. She knows all the songs of her people and has been chosen to sing them as a sacrifice to the old god. Mary is certain that if she doesn’t sacrifice herself, the people of the 7 worlds will die, but the Doctor tells Mary a story she mightn’t have heard before, to try and convince her of her own worth. It is a story about the uniqueness of life in the universe, and he reminds Mary and audiences how special each individual really is. This is why I love Doctor Who. The Doctor, who has seen the beginning and the end of the universe, a Timelord, a proverbial god, thinks we are special. He has never met a person who wasn’t, and that is how fans, the BBC and writers like Cross have kept this show going. It is ultimately a feel good story about a time traveling alien who finds value in every person he meets, place he visits and thing he sees. While the Doctor may experience a lot of bad in his travels, he has also seen much good. It is the dichotomy of the character, and this episode reminds how enchanting life with the Doctor really can be, and that, even in the midst of danger and destruction, there is always something beautiful. That is why Clara is so special to him. She is unique–something he has never encountered, a mystery to solve and to marvel at.
In this episode, we see Clara soothing Mary even while they are being threatened by Grandfather, who wants to eat their souls and consume their stories. Clara keeps calm under pressure, listening to the Doctor when he says, “run!” and going back for him when he has exhausted himself against the old god. She is moved by the Doctor’s story, as we all are, and is witty enough and brave enough to keep up with the Timelord, even in the most dire of situations. I don’t know about you, but I like that about her. In the end, the community joins in the song to save Mary and then the Doctor, and even when it seems there is no hope, no one gives up or walks away. It is touching and telling of why the Doctor values the stories of the peoples of the universe, and why his story is so special to us, the viewers. I leave you with the infamous Doctor’s speech from this episode. Even though he is frightened, the Doctor offers his own story to the old god and Clara offers her leaf, the most important leaf in the entire world, and of course, it is too much for the parasite to handle, and the sun of Akhaten implodes. And that’s how you do that!
In the end, Clara remembers the Doctor at her mother’s grave and warns him that she is not someone from his past, she is unique and won’t “compete with a ghost,” even if that ghost is herself. Or is it?
If this video doesn’t give you goose bumps and/or bring a tear to your eye, well, you might be in the wrong place.
Next week is the last installment in the 11 episodes of Eleven series. I am both sad and excited because this means we only have a month until the 50th anniversary episode!
35 days until New Who!
The Collectiva Diva
- 11 Episodes of Eleven: The Angels Take Manhattan (acollectivemind.wordpress.com)
- Doctor Who: 5 Reasons Why We Need A New Showrunner (musingsofamildmanneredman.com)