The Rings of Akhaten
reviewed by Eddie McGuigan
When Superman Returns was released, one of the things that irked me was the stalkerish behaviour of Superman. Here is this all powerful alien, this man of steel, this invinsible hero, and he’s sneaking around outside folks windows using his powers to snoop at them in the night. A bit creepy. And a bit of a waste of a hero.
I was underwhelmed with The Bells of Saint John – it’s lots of good bits, really well done, held together with string and sticky tape, and is the kind of flash bang wallop happy meal Who we’ll forget in a year and rarely rewatch. I had more hope for The Rings of Akhaten, as I’m a huge fan of Luther and fancied Neil Cross to make a decent stab at Who. The first third of the episode however has Steven Moffat written all over it, with all the Who The F*ck Is Clara malarky turning the Doctor into the Gallifreyan Kal-El, sneaking about swing parks and funerals and sitting in bus stops with the Beano spying on Clara of Ages.
He eventually goes back for her, though – and this, remember, is the Impossible Girl – not that she’s died twice, that’s not the impossible thing – the impossible thing is that she’s been offered a chance to travel with the Doctor and yet she has to think about it – and tells him to come back tomorrow. This lonely God, this on coming storm… he actually does it! Inverting the mystery and eagerness of the companion and Doctor isn’t sitting well with me at the moment, I have to say – it’s a lot of faffing before we actually get to the episode, and, because of that, like The Bells of Saint John, we get half a story with very little character development and very little plot. The plot is very straight forward. The Doctor does an “End of the World”/”Beast Below” with Clara, showing her “alien” to impress her (as if a Time Travelling Police Box isn’t impressive enough) and gets imbroiled in some religious skull duggery that puts him head to head with the Big Bad of the week. His animosity to it is a little hard to fathom considering his sudden concern for incidentals.
There’s a lot going on in this episode though – one would be forgiven in thinking that Neil Cross’s multi-layered society is ill-served by having to go on about The Clara Oswald Weekly Mystery – and there are some nice touches in the alien sociology he creates, however frustratingly fleeting they are. The effects to create this place too, are impressive, ironically bittersweet as they are with the closure of the Mill, with make up and visuals creating a thoroughfare of oddness which is very Star Wars. But it’s Murray Gold’s astounding music that will stand out more than the message Cross just about manages to get across
This episode isn’t without its derivitive roots though. You’ll see echoes of Pyramids of Mars here, and 42, along with A Christmas Carol. Easter eggs abound too, particularly in the dialogue. And there is some distinctive RTDisms in there as well as echoes of his tenure on Who.
Matt and Jenna are great value though. Jenna plays plucky well, and here she is “The Plucky Companion” – but I have to concede, without her backstory, she’d probably be just another one – however she’s engaging and personable. Matt though grows in stature with every appearance. He does “old” very, very well, and gets, again, to deliver a Pandorica moment, one this time full of Easter Eggs.
S7b is slick and clever, but it’s also a little insubstantial. I can only imagine things are about to change with some continuity heavy episodes coming up. The Rings of Akhaten won’t be in the DWM top ten episodes, but neither is it The Twin Dilemma. It’s, to extent my earlier metaphor, the Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal of Who stories. Does its job, will do it again, then will be forgotten when you go for a nice sit down meal with friends.
“You like to think you’re a God”
“The long song has ended”
“Bargain basement stand in”
“The Last Great Time War…”
“The song is over”
“It isn’t a sacrifice”
“Cross my hearts”
“It doesn’t like me”
“I brought my grand daughter here”
“Are you joking? It’s massive!”