Clara, Doctor Who, Dr Who, Dr Who Season 7, Farren Blackburn, Festival of Offerings, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Matt Smith, Neil Cross, TARDIS, The Doctor, The Old God, The Queen of Years, The Rings of Akhaten
The Rings of Akhaten
Review by Paul Bowler
Unaware that the Doctor has already begun to delve into her past, Clara Oswald steps back on board the TARDIS, and this time she brings her book of 101 Places to See with her. The Doctor offers to take Clara anywhere in time and space, so Clara asks the Time Lord to take her somewhere “awesome”.
Moments later the TARDIS materialises on the inhabited rings of Akhaten, one of seven worlds situated in a far away star system, whose citizens believe that all life in the universe originated on Akhaten and its incredible asteroid rings. The Doctor and Clara take in the wondrous sight of Akhaten’s fantastic ring system, before exploring the busy Tiaanamatt market place, where countless alien races and pilgrims have gathered to observe the Festival of Offerings.
The festival is part of a ritual that is traditionally held once every millennia at the great pyramid where the mummified Old God has been entombed. This is considered the most sacred place of the Sunsingers of Akhet, where a succession of choristers have performed The Lonely Song for millions of years, a haunting lullaby that prevents the Old God from awakening. The Doctor and Clara endeavour to help the young Merry, The Queen of Years, after she is transported to the pyramid during the handover ceremony between choristers and the Old God suddenly returns to life. The Doctor is faced with a desperate race against time if he is to save the people of Akhaten and rescue Clara and Merry before the Old God consumes all their souls…
The Rings of Akhaten is the first story this season by Dr Who newcomer, Neil Cross (scriptwriter for Spooks and creator of the multi award winning Luther), who has also written the ghost story Hyde for this season. Neil Cross has created an epic adventure for Clara’s first visit to another world, one that is filled with aliens, gods, and monsters. Akhaten is certainly one of the most spectacular alien worlds ever seen in Doctor Who. The diverse alien races that trade at the marketplace with psychic transactions are almost too numerous to mention: we have Panbabylonians, a Lugal-Irra-Kush, the bizarre Hooloovoo, an Qom Vo Tivig, and even a Terrabeserker – much to the Doctor’s delight. Each alien has a unique look, with up to fifty creatures on screen at one time, and the detailed prosthetics and lavish costumes are some of the best ever created for the series.
As of course are the rings themselves, a beautifully rendered digital effect of the highest order, which provides a stunning alien environment for this adventure. There is also a cleverly filmed sequence with the Doctor and Clara on a flying moped, which is great fun to watch as the time traveller’s race through the asteroid rings to reach the pyramid. While there are some obvious similarities with The End of the World (2005) and The Fires of Pompeii (2008), director Farren Blackburn makes The Rings of Akhaten every bit as exciting. Effortlessly allowing us to experience the adventure through Clara’s eyes: transporting us to a world with a blazing sun, introducing a plethora of new aliens, and rounding it all off by placing Clara at the focal point of the story as we lean more about her mothers death and the significance of the leaf in Clara‘s book..
The mummified remains of the Old God is quite unlike any threat the Doctor has faced before. It feeds on the memories of those around it, experiencing their stories, before devouring their souls. This ancient creature’s distinctive robes and leathery face are extremely menacing, but it turns out to be just a vessel for the Old God. When it breaks free from its glass tomb the Mummy decays, its power shooting though space, where the Old God is revealed to be the sun of Akhaten itself! The sinister Vigil that guard the tomb also act as emissaries for the creatures power, who must ensure The Queen of Years is taken to the Old God to be sacrificed.
Matt Smith now has such a grasp of the Doctor’s character that he is fast becoming one of my favourite incarnations of the Time Lord. He now seems perfectly at ease in the role, which is reflected in the 11th Doctor’s child-like wonder as he visit’s the Tannamatt marketplace with Clara, relishing the chance to introduce his new companion to the wonders of the universe. Matt Smith is also equally successful in harnessing the darker aspects of the Doctor’s personality, especially here when he is confronted by the Old God’s awakening, and the Time Lords icy countenance when has to confront the ancient entity with his own memories is a fearsome sight to behold. Matt Smith is superb here as the lonely Time Lord is forced to reveal his innermost pain, weeping as he recounts his experiences to the Old God. It’s also interesting how Neil Cross cleverly allows Clara‘s story to play a direct part in defeating the Old God, with Clara returning to help the Doctor, using the leaf that embodies the memory of her mothers tragic death to save them all.
The Rings of Akhaten offers Jenna-Louise Coleman a chance to really shine as Clara Oswald. She brings a playful sense of fun to the character, wholeheartedly embracing her desire to travel the universe, but also proving to be as resourceful as any of her predecessors when faced with danger. She has the steely resolve to face up to the horrors unleashed by the Old God on Akhaten, while also displaying a gentler side as she befriends The Queen of Years. There is also a lovely scene where Clara asks the Doctor to explain what time is actually made of. Time, it would seem is many things, as the Doctor points out, but it certainly is not made of strawberries.
Murray Gold has provided some tremendous music for The Rings of Akhaten that perfectly complements the haunting songs and lullabies that are the main focal point of the story. Emilia Jones, the daughter of Aled Jones, plays Merry, the Queen of Years, and she does a great job of handling all the acting and singing requirements of her role.
Although the story does take a little while to get going, leading to a very rushed final act, The Rings of Akhaten is still a hugely enjoyable story. Bursting with amazing special effects and colourful new alien races, The Rings of Akhaten provides a perfect destination for Clara’s first adventure into space, and also offers us a chance to learn a bit more about Clara. This episode yields many surprises: Clara’s leaf turns out to be the most important leaf in human history, having brought her parents together, it holds the greatest story of all, one so emotive and pure that even the Old God is unable to contain it. The currency on Akhaten is also based on objects of sentimental value, which is reflected in one of Clara’s most treasured possessions – her mother’s ring. There is also a reference to the Doctor’s first incarnation, where he mentions visiting Akhaten with his granddaughter, and perhaps most intriguing of all is the moment where Clara begins to realize how much the Doctor has already become a part of her own history…
The Rings of Akhaten is a fabulous adventure that sets the stage for things to come. The Doctor and Clara make a terrific team; each episode brings new aspects to their relationship, and leaves us breathlessly awaiting their next adventure…