I really enjoyed the character development in “The Rings of Akhetan,” but the plot was a bit light, leaving me both engaged and empty.
Clara Oswald wants to see something awesome, sothe Doctor whisks her off to the inhabited rings of the planet Akhaten, where the Festival of Offeringsis in full swing. Clara meets the young Queen of Years as the pilgrims and natives ready for the ceremony. But something is stirring in the pyramid, and a sacrifice will be demanded. [Via TARDIS Wiki]
This was an interesting episode, and an interesting choice to follow “The Bells of St. Johns,” in that nothing really happens here. There aren’t a lot of events in these two episodes. They’re still heavy on the introduction to Clara Oswald, which I’m happy with, but there really isn’t anything that occurs in the episode. Yes, they go to a Mos Eisley Cantina-style planet, and there’s a lot of nice moments between the Doctor and Clara, and he mentions having been there before with his granddaughter (I was actually really happy that they made a connection back to the First Doctor and Susan. I’m definitely not a Susan fan–I think she was dreadful, actually–but I like a call back to Who’s origins), and then they fight a soul-eating god and his mummy.
This is just the backdrop for a nice tale about the power of stories and memory. We learn about Clara’s mother who told her stories which encouraged her, and the Doctor give an impassioned (and brilliantly delivered by Matt Smith) speech about all the things he has seen, and how those things would cow even the mightiest of evil things. Clara uses the power of her mother’s potential days to overwhelm the monster, for the power of potential possibilities outweighs even the significance of memory. The Doctor and Clara play off of one another nicely, and I think it will be a pleasure to watch Smith and Coleman for the remainder of the season. Smith plays the Doctor expertly here, giving an epic, moving speech at one time, while subtly playing the ancient, haunted alien that he is at others. I’ve always thought that the Doctor walking through an utterly alien planet always highlights his otherness. On the outside he looks completely human, and yet, if played correctly, his alienness should stand out in subtle ways. He’s not human, and he’s powerful, deep, and old. Smith does himself justice here, and I hope to continue to see more of this side of the Doctor as the series progresses.
I just wish that the actual plot was a bit stronger here, to match up with the depth of character that we see. The only part of the plot (aside from the power of story and memory angle, which was really brilliant) that I really reveled in was the singing by Merry, the Queen of Years (Emilia Jones) who keeps all the legends and stories of her people in song, to offer to their god. And there’s a lot of singing in this episode. I don’t know if Jones sang it all herself, but I suspect she did, and it was absolutely compelling to watch. She played the part honestly, with good emotion, though the highlight of the episode was still the burgeoning relationship between Clara and the Doctor.
While I’m happy that we’re continuing to explore the apparent impossibility of Clara Oswald, I’m a bit torn. I kind of want a companion who’s more Rose-like, just along for the ride, infected by the wonder that is the TARDIS. There’s maybe a small mystery surrounding her, but not something so obvious like Amy, the girl who doesn’t remember the Dalek invasion and who has a crack in the wall, or River’s true identity, or Clara’s mysterious appearances throughout time and space. It’s an intriguing question, a nice rabbit-hole I’m happy to fall down, but it seems that gone are the days of Rose or Martha who can go along with the Doctor and can really connect with the audience in a joint sense of wonder. I am at least happy that we don’t have a semi-adulterous, awkward relationship between the Doctor and someone, this time around.
A small theory about Clara: I think she’ll be killed or something (I know, she’s already died a few times…), but in or related to the TARDIS or the Time Vortex. This causes her to be scattered throughout Time and Space somehow, creating a whole mess of paradoxes and reoccurrences. I’m not sure how that would work out, but maybe it’s a possibility? We shall see…