Sunday, April 7, 2013

Doctor Who is NEW: "The Rings of Akhaten"


I had to wait a day to watch the latest new episode of Doctor Who, "The Rings of Akhaten".  Family stuff. Terribly non-Whovian related. So after a tiring 3 days away, I was looking forward to relaxing and taking in this new adventure.

There was a lot to look forward to:

  • Clara's first trip with the Doctor in the TARDIS
  • A visit to a truly alien world for the first time since the series relaunch in 2005
  • A script from the creator of Luther, Neil Cross

So how the it turn out?


WARNING: I'm not intending to give anything away in terms of plot specifics but some specifics may well be discussed so....

SPOILERS, Sweetie!

And away we go!

OK, the good bits.

The pre-credit sequence was a cute and sweet and sad. (Think of the opening montage from Pixar's UP.) It gives a look-see into Clara's history and sets up an important plot point for later.

Clara comes aboard for realsies and the Doctor gives her a chance to select wherever she wants to go in time and space. She chooses...someplace awesome. (Literally.)

The Doctor and Clara wind up looking at...(wait for it!)...The Rings of Akhaten!  A truly awesome spectacle it is. Then our adventuresome pair go forth to mingle with the people, a mish mash of all sorts of alien forms to make classic Star Trek make up artist Michael Westmore green with eny.

Clara gets to interact with one of the locals, a young girl named Mary who has a special destiny but is a bit afraid of it. Clara channels her inner nanny and helps the girl find the courage to do what must be done.

What must be done is that Mary must sing a song. She's worried she might mess up in front of a lot of people....and a god.  A very old and very angry god who is asleep and must never, ever, ever wake up.

Well, you can guess what happens.

Now there may be some debate out there about where "The Rings of Akhaten" ran off the rails. Me, I'm going to go with here.  It's ACTION TIME, baby and the Doctor and Clara are going to DO things now! Now, the idea of a Doctor and a companion going up against a god-like being is...well, not new. (Think "Pyramids of Mars" as a good example.) And the god-like being in "The Rings of Akhaten" has the power to burn a whole bunch of planets out of the sky. So the stakes are pretty high.

But I never felt those stakes. Remember all those different aliens? We don't make a meaningful connection with any of them. Not a single one. For all we care, they are the Asparagus creatures of the planet Veggie. After the first sequence, only three characters have any significant dialogue: The Doctor, Clara and Mary. There is nothing more invested in this alien enviroment other than what the Doctor tells us.

Of course one way to side step the issue of "all the aliens are going to die but I really don't care" is to not make the threat about them.  As much as I loathe to bring up "The Impossible Planet"/"The Satan Pit", consider the similarities: an ancient evil of unimaginable power that can threaten lives and planets beyond number. But now consider the difference: the big story was the smaller picture, the desperate struggles of Rose and the miners to escape the deadly agents of this force of evil and the Doctor's own confrontation with the concepts of fact and faith. In "The Rings of Akhaten", the Doctor must stop the big bad from making a bunch of planets go boom. If you're not to take time to make us care about those planets, help us care about something smaller. 

There is a bit of a glimmer of the smaller, personal story driving events. At the end, Clara makes a important sacrifice. And there is a interesting concept that comes out of this action which divides the Doctor from a companion. The Doctor may have lived more than a 1000 years old but that's all in the past; Clara offers the future.

There are obvious echoes in Clara actions to Amy's experiences in "The Beast Below". And that does little to alleviate the feeling that we've been down this road before and that's not a good sign. Perhaps next week's episode (set on a submarine? Well, THAT's new, eh?) will offer something unique.

So "The Rings of Akhaten": visually, it looked great. Matt and Jenna are good together as the Doctor and Clara and there were some individual good bits. But overall, for a threat that was capable of destroying worlds, the episode was a bit underwhelming.

Coming up next week: "Cold War"

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