Saturday, April 06, 2013

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten – review

Director: Farren Blackburn

First aired: 2013

Contains spoilers

If you look across my blog you will see that the Doctor has faced various forms of vampires over the years. But as for the new incarnation of the Doctor (Matt Smith) – I have to admit I hadn’t been paying attention, I had become bored with the series, yearned for the halcyon days of Tom Baker and generally just gave it a miss.

When this episode aired I was contacted by a friend to say it was a vampire episode – and it is, of sorts, and so it was onto iPlayer and thrust back into the series.

Matt Smith as the Doctor
The start of the episode involves the Doctor spying on the family, birth and life of his new assistant, Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman). Having not watched the start of the series this was a little lost on me but a quick google suggests that she seems to be a modern incarnation of someone from the past. He takes her into the tardis and takes her… somewhere awesome.

Alien marketplace
Awesome is the Rings of Akhaten, a seven planet system whose inhabitants believe that all life began from that place – marked with a temple on a planetoid that orbits the sun. Nearby, on another planetoid, is an intergalactic market and it is nice to see Doctor Who go off planet and drop human-centric characterisation. The Doctor is rushing around and Clara sees a little girl (Emilia Jones) run past. Men in near identical robes appear and ask if she has seen the Queen of years.

The Queen of Years
Clara chases after the girl and finds her. The girl is called Merry and she is hiding. Other, more sinister characters, start appearing looking for her and Clara takes the girl to the tardis, which won’t let her in. Hiding behind the tardis Merry confesses that she holds the knowledge, stories and songs of her people and must sing a ritual song but is scared that she will get it wrong and anger grandfather. Massive spoilers ahead.

The Mummy awakens
The ritual is to keep grandfather asleep. Initially we, like the doctor, believe grandfather is a mummy (Aidan Cook) in the temple. As things go wrong he is to devour Merry, she is a sacrifice to protect her people from a creature that is a vampire, a devourer of souls. Actually the concept of souls is defined, they are the stories, the memories, the songs that make us. Grandfather is named as a vampire by the doctor. In this guise the fact that he seems to be a dead thing fits more into our view of a vampire.

In actual fact grandfather is a creature that lives within the sun (I assume it was a star, it might have been a gas giant to be honest), its face moving across the surface. It is huge – though it is the parasite that the Doctor recognised it to be. It feeds on “the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow.” The look of it was rather interesting.

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara
As for the episode I rather liked it; the exotic interstellar market, the excellent musical production around the song to grandfather (though it leant towards cheese at the end with a swaying crowd singing along). I wasn’t so sure about the Doctor’s dialogue as the eccentric older man shining through a younger man’s body was not always captured within the dialogue, lines like “Take it all Baby!” tumbling embarrassed like from the Doctor’s lips. I was impressed, however, with Jenna-Louise Coleman.

A clever ending to the adventure, that perhaps doesn’t stand up to full scrutiny, and the episode was fun enough but perhaps not fun enough to keep me watching the rest of the series. 5.5 out of 10. The episode's imdb page is here.

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