Sunday, 7 April 2013

Review - "The Rings of Akhaten"


"The Rings of Akhaten"...aka "somewhere awesome" is most definitely one of those "marmite" episodes - you either love it or you hate it and there's not much room for anything in-between.  There were so many differing opinions from fans - and, in fact., the difference between Twitter users and Tumblr users was very much in evidence.  On the whole, Twitter erred on the hate side whilst Tumblr was most definitely in the love camp.  "Luthor" creator Neil Cross had a difficult task - to write a new companion's first real Tardis trip - and, I have to say, I think he did rather well.

Unlike "The Bells of Saint John" which was a modern, Bond-like thriller, "The Rings of Akhaten" was very much escapist fantasy with a simple plot, stunning visuals, beautiful music and a concentration on the characters of Clara, the Doctor and little Merry.  The pre-credits sequence with the Doctor's "stalking" of Clara's past was effective - giving us the odd answer and raising yet more questions.  I get the feeling this sequence will be something we'll look back at in weeks to come as more is revealed about Clara.  Currently, it looks like the Doctor is investigating Clara's past...trying to discover just who she is - which is fine...even if it does look a little uncomfortable.


Clara was very much front and centre of this one and we, in turn, learned a few things about her too.  She's smart, strong, warm, kind and very maternal.  She takes children under her wing - especially the "Queen of Years", little Merry - and the scene behind the Tardis where she talks to Merry about her own childhood was sublime.  I also rather like the scene in the Tardis at the beginning where the Doctor asks Clara where she wants to go and she completely dries up - can't think of anywhere.  A much more realistic reaction I think - confronted with the Doctor, how quickly could you decide where you wanted to go?


"The Rings of Akhaten" was undoubtedly visually stunning - the market, the aliens, the pyramid, the sun...I could go on and on - and this combined beautifully with the score by Murray Gold.  Stories told through song - hardly a new concept but one which worked very well here.  A lullaby to keep a parasitic "god" asleep sung at the Festival of Offerings by a little girl.  Psychometry was important - the "currency" of the society was based on the emotional resonance of objects and at the Festival they sacrifice objects that have great meaning to themselves in order to "feed" the parasite sun.


The episode was gentle - nicely paced and not rushed but picking up gradually until that final superb confrontation between the Doctor, Clara and the parasite sun.  As the choir sang, the Doctor told "a story" and offered the parasite himself - his memories...the pain and agony behind them and yet, it wasn't enough.  Not until Clara stood up and offered it a leaf.  A simple leaf - but a leaf with the emotional resonance of a life not lived behind it.  The potential of a life ended too soon was enough to overwhelm the sun.  It was beautiful.  Simply beautiful.


I've mentioned "Matt moments" in previous reviews - Season 5 is known for the Pandorica speech for instance and I think Series 7 may well be known for the Akhaten speech.  You just can't go wrong when you give Matt a monologue - it brings out the best in him and in "The Rings of Akhaten" he was simply breathtaking.  The pain, the emotion, the tears - it was just all too real.  Matt Smith managed to communicate the agony of the Doctor's memories and experiences in one simple speech.  That was MY Doctor standing up there.  That was the Time Lord that we've all stood shoulder to shoulder with since childhood, baring his soul to the Universe.  It was painful - yet beautiful at the same time.  Kudos to Neil Cross for the writing but major kudos to Matt Smith for bringing it to life and turning a lot of us into a sobbing mess.


The whole episode was almost operatic, not only in it's music but in it's ambition.  "Doctor Who" has always pushed boundaries - sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail - but not trying at all would be the ultimate failure.  Personally, I think "The Rings of Akhaten" succeeded.  But, as a friend pointed out, if you didn't like this episode then don't worry about it - the joy of "Doctor Who" is that there will be a totally different kind of episode next week.

Notes

The date on the gravestone - Clara's mother, Ellie Ravenwood (neat nod to Indiana Jones there) died on 5 March 2005.  Now, the show returned to our screens on 26 March 2005 with the episode "Rose".  However, in "Aliens of London", Rose's missing persons poster listed her as missing since 6 March 2005.  Therefore, would the events of "Rose" not have taken place on 5 March 2005?  Was Clara's mum killed by an Auton?  Another the Doctor "failed to save"?

The leaf - it wasn't the same leaf as the one in "The Bells of Saint John".  Deliberate or mistake?  Your choice.

The Tardis not letting Clara in - Clara's commenting that it didn't like her was interesting.

The relationship between Clara and the Doctor still has a waryness about it.  Neither really seems to trust the other at the moment...which is rather refreshing actually.

Nice shout-outs to Lewis Carroll, the Doctor's grand-daughter Susan, Indiana Jones and Omega amongst others.

Hats off to Emilia Jones who played Merry - beautiful singing and a terrific performance.  Turns out she's the daughter of Aled Jones so I guess it runs in the family.

Episode Rating - 9/10 - was going to be 8/10 but an extra point for Matt Smith's beautiful monologue.