What would happen if Doctor Who and Indiana Jones had a baby?  Well, aside from having a sonic whip, which would be awesome, I think the impetuous little adventuring do-gooder would look something like The Rings of Akhaten. 

The-Rings-of-Akhaten-promo-pics12-170x125The episode starts off with a beautifully written sequence in which a falling leaf brings together a couple that falls in love, has a daughter, and raises the Doctor’s future companion, Clara Oswald!  This leaf is the one the Doctor found in Clara’s book 101 Places to See in the previous episode.  Next we find the Doctor and Clara engaged in some wonderful dialogue with a clever little bit about Clara having no idea what she wants to see first. 

This episode presents one of my favorite aspects of Doctor Who; the first official adventure of the new companion where they have their “awe-piphany”.  While we’ve seen her several times before and she has technically “adventured” with the Doctor, this is the episode where Clara actually goes off with him to see something amazing, which is precisely what she says when the Doctor asks her what she’d like to see first. 
rings-akhaten-bbca-promo-10-170x125As Clara and The Doctor walk the streets of Akhaten I can’t help but make the comparison with Tatooine.  It has a familiar “ancient yet futuristic” feel to it.  Clara’s sense of awe is palpable here.  One of the most intriguing things ever in Doctor Who happens at this point when the Doctor mentions his granddaughter to Clara in passing.  Clara naturally chokes on hearing this, but not nearly as much as I did.  The overt mention has to be a clue of what’s to come during the 50th anniversary special. 
Soon Clara stumbles upon a little girl fleeing through the streets that she promptly learns is the Queen of Years.  With the Doctor having gone missing, Clara searches by herself for the frightened girl, and finds her.  Maybe I’ve been watching too much Classic Who lately but a hint of Sarah Jane Smith comes through in Clara’s performance here.  I think it may turn out to be a testament to the character of Clara, as well as Jenna Louise Coleman’s portrayal. 

rings-akhaten-bbca-promo-8-170x125So the episode’s villains show up; three techno-gothic creeps.  When Clara tries to take the girl to the TARDIS to hide the doors won’t open.  Clara wonders if the TARDIS doesn’t like her.  That’s an interesting little nugget right there.  What’s that about?  As they’re hiding behind the TARDIS the girl, Merry, explains to Clara that she is expected to sing a very important song but is scared to get it wrong.  Clara’s reassuring conversation with Merry is touching and heartfelt as Clara recalls her own deceased mother’s words.  One thing I really enjoy about Clara is her unwavering compassion and empathy.  

I have to commend the crafting of such a richly textured alien culture and mythology for this episode.  There’s a great Egypto-Grecian thing going on here.  Merry is essentially a sort of prophet charged with memorizing all the lore of Akhaten’s history, and she must perform a special song during an important millennial ceremony.  This is to keep their ancient god, Grandfather, asleep. 
The-Rings-of-Akhaten-promo-pics15-170x125During the performance Merry is abducted, so of course the Doctor and Clara run off to save her…in a scene taken straight from Flash Gordon.  In actuality Merry was taken to a special place to fulfill her destiny.  The Doctor and Clara arrive just in time to stop the sacrifice.   The Doctor tries to convince Merry not to go through with the sacrifice by giving her what is essentially Carl Sagan’s “star stuff” speech.  It is as profound to Merry as it should be to us all.  The techno creeps from back in the alien market show up as the Doctor and his companions are trying to escape, but soon, with Grandfather now awake, the creeps serve no purpose and disappear.  In an unnecessary twist, it turns out that Grandfather just a mummy and the actual god is the sun below.
The solution here is a bit too emotive rather than substantive in that the only way to defeat is for the Doctor to bare his soul and put it back to sleep.  And of course, nothing aids in the banishment of an ancient god like the power of song!  In an epic monologue rant as only Matt Smith can pull off the god has its fill and is defeated.  Only it didn’t work, and at the last minute Clara returns to save The Doctor.  In act of sacrifice—the singular theme of this episode—Clara gives up her beloved leaf, the leaf that lead her parents to meet.  The leaf represents all the infinite “could have been” memories of her mother, whatever that means, and the god is defeated.    
The-Rings-of-Akhaten-promo-pics06-170x125I enjoyed this episode very much.  It was artistically stunning, with rich visuals and an emotive soundtrack.  I don’t have much to fault except for perhaps a tad too much melodrama towards the end.  Although a lot of character development took place with Clara and the mystery surrounding her we still don’t know anything substantial.  Again she leaves the TARDIS and it is assumed the Doctor will just “stop by tomorrow”.  I don’t know what this is all about.  It’s actually a tad off-putting, I mean, if she’s a companion, why isn’t she living in the TARDIS like every other companion?  I suppose this has something to do with her mystery but it’s strange.  Unfortunately I found myself not caring much about the villain, or the plot of this episode, and just wanted to see more snappy dialogue between the Doctor and Clara.  All t hat aside, it was a fun adventure!
image source: [doctorwhotv]