Sunday, April 14, 2013

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten

This all seems familiar ... first episode with a new companion is set on contemporary Earth, the second takes her to some alien world where there are lots of monsters around ... thus is was with Rose, thus it is with Clara.

The second episode with her is 'The Rings of Akhatan', which is a strange little piece. Very enjoyable in and of itself, but riddled with holes as is much of modern Doctor Who.

We open with a nice sequence where the Doctor is looking in on Clara's life, learning how her parents met (through a leaf which blows into her dad's face and results in her meeting her mum), and then seeing her grow up. The Doctor meets her as a little girl (but why doesn't Clara remember him later on?) and then, when her mum dies, the Doctor is at the cemetery, watching. He comments in the TARDIS that she's not possible, but there's no explanation given, what is so impossible about her? Perhaps this is just one of the Claras, and the impossible bit is that there are lots of them? No idea.

So the Doctor fetches her a day later (we assume, following on from the last episode) and takes her to the Rings of Akhaten, a 7 world planetary system with lots of asteroids, all orbiting a vast planet (or is it a star, it's not very clear). The people of this system believe that life originated on their planet, and so the Doctor heads for a market there which is populated by all manner of exotic creatures and android things - a brilliant array of imagination from the prosthetic department to be honest, and many of them are better than the featured monsters and creatures that we do get in Who ... this is most reminiscent of course of 'The End of the World' episode with all the creatures assembled, but also reflected through the bar scene at the end of the Titanic episode, 'Voyage of the Damned', or even all the monsters under Stonehenge to trap the Doctor in the Pandorica in 'The Pandorica Opens' ... except this time none of them are remotely familiar.

As usual the music is OTT, but Clara meets up with a little girl called Merry, and together they hide out in an abandoned warehouse-like area. Merry is key to a 1000 year ritual and must sing, but is afraid she'll forget the words.  Clara puts her mind at rest, but three alien whispering things appear and try and find her - now these are really creepy. Excellent design and very underused here. Which is actually common with much of the episode - good ideas, but not really developed and rushed over.

So Merry goes off to sing, and Clara and the Doctor join the audience. It's all a little confusing, but thanks to some massive infodumps (what ever happened to 'show, don't tell' as a mantra for good scripting?) we learn that there's a Grandfather/Old God in the Pyramid, and that people keep a song going forever to keep it asleep ... and this 1000 year ritual is to continue the song - it's a lullaby to keep him asleep.

So a monk on the pyramid sings, and Merry sings, and the audience sings ... but what about the atmosphere? How does sound travel from this planet to the pyramid anyway? There must be some sort of breathable atmosphere between them, as the Doctor and Clara travel there on a air-bike to rescue Merry when she is taken to the pyramid ... so how then does all this work in terms of physics ... or perhaps best not ask.

Anyway, Merry is taken to the Pyramid place in the sky, and the Doctor and Clara chase after her having bought an alien sky scooter from a vendor (which is odd as all the other vendors were watching the song, so why wasn't this one?). The Grandfather starts to wake - he's an alien monster husk in a glass case, but because the song has stopped he's waking up.

It all gets very confusing now. Merry traps Clara against the case - no idea why, something about eating souls - and the Doctor talks her out of it and Clara is released ... Merry's soul was being sacrificed to this monster because there's only one of her ... but there are lots of Claras, and we get a shot of Clara presumably to bring this point home. But then 'the Vigil' arrive again - the spooky whispering robots - but the Doctor holds them back with the ever-present and all-powerful sonic screwdriver while Clara and Merry escape.

So the Grandfather escapes from the glass box, but then dies ... he wasn't the threat at all, but was an alarm clock for the big-bad, which is the planet or star or whatever it is that they are all in orbit around (it seems). This thing develops a skull-face, and the Doctor realises it is hungry and needs to feed on memories. So he gives it his own memories, and with no apparent adverse effect on the Doctor, it collapses in on itself, but then comes back as it's still hungry.

So Clara, who has headed back to the pyramid to save the Doctor, offers it her leaf - the one which made her mum and dad meet and which she has kept. Apparently this is all the life her mother never had. But this makes no sense as her mum died normally as far as we know ... and anyway, why would this leaf contain her future lives?  Given that the possibilities for her mum were infinite, this leaf represents an infinite meal, and so the planet/star/god/whatever eats its fill and vanishes.

But what about all the planets and asteroids which were orbiting it? Wouldn't they all just collapse? Would the atmosphere vanish and kill everyone? Would the sudden shift in gravitational patterns cause the system to rip itself apart?  No idea ... and the Doctor doesn't seem to care either. He and Clara return back to her home, where she leaves the TARDIS ...

As I said, it's a strange mishmash of ideas and concepts which are really good, but the whole thing makes no sense, particularly because of the lack of physics or appreciation as to how this all works on a scientific basis. I get that it's a fantasy show, but even in the most incredible stories and films, there is an appreciation of the laws of physics, and some McGuffin explanation of it all, but here there's nothing ... you just have to go with it.

And it's enjoyable as long as you don't ask questions: why was the God waking up now? Why didn't the people and aliens realise that the thing in the box wasn't the God, but instead it was the planet/star that they orbited? What was the point of the Grandfather - a raging alien husk in a case? What was the point of the Vigil - to bring Merry to the Grandfather? Why? So it could eat her soul? For what point?  The thing was so powerful it could have taken all the souls on the planet ... so why hers? And why did the Doctor have no ill effects from giving it all his memories - including things that should never be known as he told it in a good speech, and if all the Doctor's memories were not enough, why would one small girl pacify it ... it all makes no sense.

Anyway ... it's visually rich, and the performances are all good. Matt Smith has never been so Tennant in his performance, and Clara grows as a character. She's not so knowing here which is good. And it's good to see the Doctor just turn up and have an adventure too ... something I missed last year.

And next week, it's the Ice Warriors back ... so it can't be all bad ...

1 comment:

DWW said...

Good review, David. The introduction reminded me of "Father's Day" the 8th episode of Chris E's series: parents & car crashes, again. However, I enjoyed the episode overall, not a classic but not as painful watch as last week's farrago.