Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Rings of Akhaten - “I came here a long time ago, with my granddaughter.”

"The Rings of Akhaten" | Doctor Who | The A.V. Club

Series 7, Story 7 (Complete Series Story #233) | Previous - Next | Index

I read a while back that someone who'd seen preview screenings of the first three episodes of this half of series 7 rated them: OK, pretty bad, and awesome, in that order. Can't remember where I saw it and if it was Blogtor Who or not who'd offered those assessments ... but, it left me not expecting much from this episode, even as the teasers and promo pics started coming out and they looked pretty cool.

This is your obligatory "spoilers lurk below" warning ...

Promo image via the BBC
They used "Ghost Town" by The Specials at the beginning, so that right there was going to make this an episode I couldn't wholly dislike. Having the Doctor do an in-person background check, as it were, on Clara, was kind of a neat idea, but I'm not sure if I missed something, and he missed something, because it looks like she's bona fide. Did something blow that leaf to kick off the series of events that got her born though? Don't know.

Exploring Akhaten was a strange mix of visually impressive and somewhat claustrophobic by turns; there was a disconnect between with f/x used to show the rings and the planets, and closely constructed indoor set feel of what I think was supposed to be a bustling open-air market. That didn't quite work for me. (And you just kind of have to accept, I guess, that there was an atmosphere around all those rocks in orbit around the sun thing that eventually disappears without causing the whole system to fly away without a mass to orbit?)

The thing that surprised me the most was Eleven casually mentioning in passing that he'd been to Akhaten before with his granddaughter. That came a bit out of the blue and is the sort of reference to the show's past that I think has to mean something, have some consequence later, or else it's an awfully manipulative red herring, isn't it?

The Doctor's weeping offering up of his memories didn't really work for me either. It struck me as another chance to put Matt Smith in a dramatic position to deliver a bombastic monologue, shades of the Stonehenge speech, but really not amounting to anything. I don't gather he lost the memories he offered up, and doing so didn't solve the problem, it was actually Clara's leaf that, somewhat implausibly, dealt the death blow to the Old God.

When it comes to matters of religiosity, I'd be remiss if I didn't remark on the Doctor's commentary on the this system's origin myth. He's kind, perhaps to a fault, in his assessment of the veracity of their account of the development of life, all life, in the universe. Clara asks him if it's true, that she is standing where life originated. He replies: "It's what they believe. It's a nice story."  It's a diplomatic way to sidestep what her next question might have been, and it's generous in not being dismissive. Having no patience for mystical malarkey outside of the realm of storytelling, I'd hope to see him get the chance to say the same about an Earth religion -- rather, to point out when a "nice story" stops being nice because people use it as a justification to act immorally by appeal to a just-so story instead of applying reason, judgment, and a true feeling of compassion towards questions of morality.

So I don't think we gained much in terms of insight into the Clara mystery and the Big Bad was beaten by a leaf wielded by a (granted mysterious) Earth girl. There were nifty visuals and variety of aliens, but I'm not sure the point of it all was. I suspect I'll be doing the V-8 slap later when I realize I could've sussed something out of this one when things develop later, but for now I'm just thinking what a great song "Ghost Town" is.

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