Doctor Who episode 808: The Rings of Akhaten (6/4/2013)
‘I’m not a bargain basement stand-in for someone else. I’m not going to compete with a ghost.’ This is an odd one. It fulfils the same function as The Beast Below and there are some similarities – the space city setting; the focus on children; a society complicit in sacrifice; the hungry beast only sated when the new companion perceives a solution. The difference is that while The Beast Below was a mystery gradually unpicked, this plays out as a bunch of stuff that happened.
The first half is pretty good. I think there’s a conscious tribute to the show’s 2005 revival (Clara’s dad is nearly run down by a car just like Pete Tyler, and her mum died the month the show returned – maybe she was the Queen of Years feeding the beast that’s Doctor Who) as well as it’s 1963 roots (the first Doctor visited Akhaten with Susan, which seems very believable – it’s the kind of strange alien culture we might have encountered in the Hartnell era). Akhaten looks great, with a stellar number of alien costumes milling around, and the idea of the Long Song protecting the people of the Seven Worlds is a Moffat-style fairy tale.
My reservations are largely directed at the second half, where the adventure stops in favour of lots of random exposition and reveals with no signposts (a song to open a secret passage). The Doctor explains it all, presumably because he’s been to Akhaten before – his failure to do any investigation or deduce the truth gets my goat. I’m confused as to whether this is what always happens, and every Queen of Years gets sacrificed to keep either the alarm clock monster or the vampire star asleep (and the Vigil enforces the sacrifice), or this is the first time the song has ended (the script could be read either way). Then the Doctor does some more speech. Then Clara comes back and does some more speech, and the vampire star falls asleep or possibly dies of boredom.
It’s an inept conclusion to an interesting story with a lot to admire – not least centring Murray Golds music, and properly establishing Clara (she seems to be a normal human being, so how can she have had many lives). Jenna-Louise Coleman is great, even if she sounds oddly Cockernee at points as if Victorian Clara is bleeding through. She gets a Pertwee-style Moment of Charm™ with Merry, and a nice moment at the end when she warns the Doctor to value her for herself, not the mystery she represents.
Next Time: Cold War