I am, of course, greedy, but I prefer my Doctor Who brilliant, and “The Rings of Akhaten” was just okay. The Doctor and new companion Clara traveled to the nether regions of space where 7 different systems converge, thus allowing the current show its most ambitious portrayal of multiple types of (new to the show) aliens all clustered together in one location. No aliens who happen to look exactly like humans there. However, what at first appeared to be a standard second-episode-with-a-new-companion turned into a wholly unexpected conversation about religion and the power of idolatry. If anything, the episode’s reach exceeded its grasp. Luckily, Matt Smith and Jenna Louise-Coleman continue to shine, with both delivering impressively impassioned performances at the episode’s climax. Furthermore, the secondary story line of the mystery of Clara received a truly brilliant cold open filling in this Clara’s background, and at the episode’s conclusion the Doctor admits far more to Clara than we might have expected at this point. These elements and the generally impressive special effects contributed to an enjoyably ambitious but flawed episode.
The following is a more conversational series of stray observations, listed in chronological order and filled to the brim with spoilers:
It Started Out So Great – That Opening Sequence With Clara’s Parents
In a mash-up I never expected, this episode’s opening sequence played like the notoriously brilliant-but-brutal opening montage from Pixar’s Up if the Doctor had been lurking in the shadows the whole time. It was astounding, with incredibly judicious editing matched to Murray Gold’s fantastic character theme for Clara. Also, Jenna Louise-Coleman can play a convincing 13-year-old version of herself, which is actually not surprising since at times she looks more like Matt Smith’s kid sister than a grown woman only 5 years his junior.
I’d Almost Forgotten What Second Episodes With Companions Look Like
For modern Doctor Who, first episodes with companions have to establish why the Doctor chooses them, but second episodes have to confirm the Doctor was correct in his choice. In the most recent example, Amy actually saved the day atop a space whale in “The Beast Below.” How does Clara fare in her second proper adventure?
She seeks to help a little girl for no other reason than because she was a lost little girl who looked as if she needed help. In the end, similar to Amy, it is actually she who saves the day and not the Doctor as she matches his bravery and ingenuity in-kind and also offers herself up as a sacrifice. A funny joke at the end notwithstanding, she is also seen as someone who will not run away when the more rationale would, a must for all Doctor Who companions.
Where Did the Doctor Go?
For Clara to be on her own with the Queen of Years she must first be separated from the Doctor. This happens suddenly, with little to no explanation. As such, it drips of dramatic resonance when Clara herself seeks to help the Queen of Years, a lost little girl whom she tells a story of the time she got lost in a crowded spot when she was a little girl. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, where the heck the Doctor went because he definitely didn’t go back to the Tardis to get something sentimental to pay for the hover bike.
Clara & The Tardis
Thanks to “The Doctor’s Wife,” we now have a human face attached to the Tardis in the form of not-Helena-Bonham-Carter-but-is-basically-Helena-Bonham-Carter Idris (Suranne Jones). When the Tardis refused to open its doors for Clara I imagined Idris and Clara arguing. For the Tardis, not liking Clara is likely similar to the 10th Doctor struggling to even look at Captain Jack in season 3 – she’s just wrong. She should not be.
Doctor Who and Religion – The Ending They Had Was More Interesting
I have seen one too many science fiction shows which have introduced religion only to then have the writers use it as a get-out-of-we-wrote-ourselves-into-a-corner free card. I’m looking at you Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Battlestar Galactica. Even the X-Files once explained away a major character’s death with a “hey, he’s been resurrected by some religious people, but let’s not make a big deal out if and agree to never talk about it again.”
Modern Doctor Who has been more measured in its approach to religion, establishing the Doctor as a believer in science who on very, very rare occasions encounters something he cannot completely explain. The best example is the 10th Doctor’s two-parter “The Impossible Planet/Satan’s Pit”, in which he comes up against something seriously satanic. In “Rings,” the Doctor initially attempts to free citizens of misplaced faith, with the entity to which they pray revealed as nothing more than a glorified vampire. It was a fantastic, if predictable, reveal, much like the last-minute reveal of “Satan’s Pit” where the monstrous beast they believe to be the enemy is just a physical form devoid of consciousness.
Then the Doctor turns out to have been horribly wrong, and has to stare down an advancing sun with a seriously mean frowny face. This does not mean the entity is actually a god, necessarily, but is most definitely a life form which is new and completely scary to the Doctor.
This turn of events produced one of the finest speeches from Matt Smith during his entire run on Doctor Who (if you failed to notice his single tear down his cheek watch the scene again). Plus, Clara’s defiance in the face of the giant sun-o-lantern is similarly brilliant.
So, I’ll give it a pass. However, it’s like the show made an atheist argument – there is no God! – but then backed down and went all agnostic – okay, maybe there is a God after all. From strictly dramatic storytelling purposes, I found the former far more interesting than the latter.
I Still Miss Clara from “The Snowmen”
I like the current Clara, but, if I’m honest, I still really miss the Victorian Clara from “The Snowmen.” I would have almost preferred she not have died and simply became the companion, with the audience more in the know about her being Oswin from “Asylum of the Daleks” than the Doctor.
Solving the Disconnect Between How Much We Know and How Little Clara Knows
It is almost unfair how much more we know about Clara than she knows about herself at this point. As such, the show consistently has to remember to consider her point of view. In “Bells of St. John,” we totally understand why the Doctor searches her room while she is recovering from a consciousness rape, and why he stands guard outside her home. For her, there is a fine line between Lloyd Dobler standing outside your room with a boombox and a creepy stranger with a phone box who refuses to leave. In point of fact, in her actual first meeting with the Doctor she slams a door in his face.
In “The Rings of Akhaten,” we see the Doctor on the periphery of Clara’s major life events – her parents meeting for the first time, the death of her mother, etc. Think of him like a time detective who is just using what is at his disposal to trail his suspect. However, he has now crossed timelines and met Clara as a little girl twice, once here in “Rings” and another in a webisode prequel to “Bells.” I think it was a fantastic choice to have Clara call him on this, or at least on the part she knows about, at the episode’s conclusion. Her proclamation that she will not be some other girl’s ghost mirrors similar proclamations made by Martha Jones to the 10th Doctor, and both addresses the audience who might still miss Amy Pond as well as the Doctor who might have been guilty of looking past her in search of meaning instead of looking at her.
Theory About Clara – Is She Actually Romana, a Time Lord from the Classic Series?
To answer my question, no, she is not Romana. The argument for her being Romana can be found here. To be fair, that theory was put out there before the new season started. I still stand by my Jagaroth theory.
I do have a new theory – if the current Clara dies, there will be a fourth and she will be a dominatrix:
Trailer for Next Week
- Episode 7 – The Rings of Akhaten (madmanwithafez.wordpress.com)
- Review – Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten by Neil Cross (Spoilers within) (hotcutegirlygeek.wordpress.com)