TV REVIEW: Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 7: The Rings Of Akhaten

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With new companion Clara onboard for the ride, the Doctor takes her where she wants to go … somewhere Amazing. Here’s the official lowdown:

The Doctor takes Clara to the Festival of Offerings, but the Old God is waking and demands sacrifice!.

I’ve heard this described as a Marmite-like love it or hate it episode … so click on to find out which side I’m on!

After a prelude in which our hero tries to work out if there is anything sinister about this “twice dead girl”, including a trip to her parents meeting, and watching the child grow up, the Doctor returns to London to pick the young woman up and take her “where-ever she wants to go.” This whistle stop tour very much emphasises the episode’s theme of memory and potential … Clara’s parents met by accident. The trigger for that meeting becomes and important element in both Clara’s life – especially after her mother’s passing and indeed to the story itself.

Rings has a different feel to it to a lot of Doctor Who episodes to me. It’s very much an episode of concepts. And they are glorious, outlandish Doctor Who Concepts (capitals very much deliberate). A world where sentimental value is the currency. A slumbering god-being kept asleep by repeated singing of a lullaby. Space mopeds. And a normally “dead” thing being very much alive. Unfortunately the nature of this last means I’ll probably need to spoiler ahead – so watch out for the warning. The story takes place in a very alien environment – not  just an alien world, but one where the economy is different and one which has it’s own mythology built around a sleeping-god in a temple which is situated in the asteroid belt orbiting a star. Our heroes arrive on a neighbouring asteroid which has a thriving market filled with a multitude of the local life-forms. The star, asteroid belt, temple and market are beautifully realised and the scenes with the two regulars exploring the marketplace – together and separately are very nice viewing.  I have slight issue with the alien languages that are spoken here as in my mind, the TARDIS should be translating all the languages, not just that of the more human inhabitants.

This episode seemed light on action for the most part, but this is no bad thing. The right story with the right cast can hold the audience just as well and at no point did this episode seem to stall. Even the scenes that were essentially a child singing to a slumbering god held my attention. Speaking of the child, Emma Jones turns in quite a nice performance as the Queen of Years. Chosen as a baby to know all the songs and stories of the peoples of their system, Merry Gehelh has a more unfortunate fate in store than the single performance she fears to give. I think my favourite moment this episode came between Clara and Merry. Clara talks of her mother helping her to overcome her fear in order to do the same to the girl and both actresses truly shone in the little scene, in my opinion.

SPOILER ALERT

The idea of keeping your “story devouring” and hence (apparently) soul devouring God-being asleep by ensuring one individual knows every single story and poem ever, then sacrificing them to feed said god-being and keep him / her / it asleep is a neat one, reminiscent of our ancestors making sacrifices to ensure the sun rose and so on. When the truth of poor Merry’s fate is realised and the pieces click one can’t help but think: well if it works, it saves a lot of lives doesn’t it?

I have several issues with the episode but ultimately I think they boil down to one thing. The episode feels incomplete – especially when compared to it’s promising concept.

Some of the action seems to have that Quantum of Solace feel to it wherein it’s co-incidence or out of the blue realizations that take us from one story point to the next. The “monsters” in the episode, three masked villains who’s apparant task is to ensure the Queen of Years is sacrificed to the Old God make only two appearances. The other Monster – what we are meant to think is the God serves even less purpose. I really hate when monsters are thrown in for the sake of having a monster. Like the “husks” in the otherwise fantastic Ghost Light. The waking, ranting “god” (who looks very much like a Sycorax) turns out to be … an Alarm Clock? Who puts an alarm clock by their slumbering soul-devouring god-being? That’s just asking for trouble.

Also. The big-bad turns out to be a sentient sun. Which is fine. But in the end, the Doctor and Clara kill it by gorging it on the potential held in “the most important leaf in the world.” Which is a nice resolution. Until you take into account the fact that it’s a sentient star. Which you have killed. It’s light and heat fade to nothing. So in fact, Mr. Doctor and Miss Oswald – you have consigned the inhabitants of seven worlds to death. Go team.

END SPOILERS

 

Overall, I’m finding it difficult to rate this story. Ultimately it boils down to this. While it didn’t live up to it’s potential, the episode was not inherently bad. It was nice easy viewing for a Saturday tea time which made a nice change from a lot of the more timey-wimey or story-arc heavy episodes. I’m disposed to rate it somewhat higher than I otherwise might based on two factors: 1) the story was well realised with beautiful sound design (not overpowering for a change) and gorgeous effects work. 2) It felt very much like a stand alone adventure which is something I genuinely miss in my Doctor Who.

Oh – and for the record, Marmite is awesome.

Rating:  3.5 / 5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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