Luther creator, Neil cross, makes his Doctor Who screen writing début with ‘The Rings of Akhaten‘; an episode that whilst not quite reaching the heights set by its predecessor, The Bells of St. John, is full of heart and will nevertheless delight many by having more fabulous aliens than you can wave a sonic screwdriver at…
Despite it’s other worldly setting, The Rings of Akhaten is very much a Clara centric episode and with the excellent Jenna-Louise Coleman bang on form (as you’d no doubt expect) it’s all the better for it.
Straight off the bat we get a glimpse into the past of “The Impossible Girl” Clara Oswald – a past the Doctor is very keen to learn more about – and in the process discover the significance of the leaf that was nestled inside the pages of her ‘101 Places To See’ book from The Bells of St. John. A leaf that in essence, is the very reason for her existence. A leaf that can stop a God from awaking and devouring all souls in the galaxy…
I have to get the ending out of the way first. An ending which is sure to frustrate a fair few.
The Rings of Akhaten is no where the action filled spectacular that was The Bells of St. John. What this episode does remarkably well, for nigh on 40 minutes, is weave a wonderful tale that seamlessly transports you across the cosmos and gives you characters in situations you just can’t help but root for.
By the time Doctor goes face to face with the planet sized Old God, you can’t help but feel that tangible sense of excitement in wondering just how our favourite Time Lord will defeat this clearly worthy foe.
Unfortunately it’s at this moment in the episode where The Rings of Akhaten looses some of it’s well gained momentum.
Whilst I can understand, in Who-inspired theory anyway, why the leaf should be enough to stop the Old God from fully awakening and devouring the entire galaxy; after the time taken establishing that the Old God is such a massive threat, the final resolution seemed very lacklustre.
What’s more, the vampire “alarm clock” in the glass cage felt incredibly under used and the ending all a little rushed.
It’s easy to feel annoyed though it’s worth remembering this one of the pitfalls of trying to cram so much drama into 45 minutes of television. An extra 15 minutes or so would have made all the difference and give the episode some room to breathe.
We got to witness another excellent monologue from Matt Smith though, which is always welcome.
The final moments of The Rings of Akhaten shouldn’t detract from it being a very strong episode in it’s own right. There’s a lot to smile about.
Considering Doctor Who is show regarding the adventures of mad man in a blue box that can travel throughout the entire space-time continuum, it still feels ravishingly refreshing to have an episode that’s not only set on a different world, but goes to great lengths, through the use of some excellent visuals, to put that point across.
A myriad of aliens make an appearance, and some eagle-eyed viewers may well spot some popular creatures from the days of old.
Neil Cross’s débutante episode is full of religious subtext contains strong themes of loss throughout. When Clara first meets young Merry, she tells her “You look lost.” We learn Clara once upon a time got lost on Blackpool beach. Clara has lost her mother (and possibly her farther?) and let’s not forget, the Doctor has also lost Clara. Twice in fact: “…people we find again against all the odds.”
The first two episodes of the current run already seem far superior to that of “last series” – Asylum of the Daleks was great, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship not so – and I’m definitely looking forward to the next Neil Cross penned episode Hide.
For now though I cast my eyes forward and readily await the arrival of the third episode of the new run Cold War.
If The Doctor ends up riding a variation of a motorbike/moped underwater though I may just end up kicking a badger in the face….