The Eleventh Doctor finally travels with Clara in The Rings of Akhaten when they visit the Festival of Offerings wherethe Old God is waking and demands sacrifice. Written by Neil Cross (and the first of two by him) we are expecting a feast of new aliens, tons of CGI and some emerging ideas as to ‘who is Clara Oswald?’
Early indications suggest that this might be more style than substance, but we shall see after the break…
As a preamble we get a really well constructed sequence showing why the preserved autumn leaf and the book are so important to Clara and learn about her relationship with her mother. Through this we begin to understand why the role of protector to small children is important. We also have the Doctor almost stalking Clara as key events in her life take place.
The story proper quickly moves into a massive alien infused story which centres on a small girl named Merry who has to sing to keep grandfather asleep. Things go wrong and we get another bike chase (though this is more like a sleigh), lots of sonic screwdriver and bad news – the evil and massive eater of worlds is hungry and needs memories. Cue a wonderful sequence from Matt Smith giving us a glimpse of what it means to be the Eleventh Doctor and then Clara making sacrifices to save the day as well.
I’ve left out the quite moving music and singing, the quite naff singing to rock music from the crowd (who sat around passively for quite some time), the mostly inept contribution of the Doctor overall and who knows what else.
Do we really need an emotionally moving story have to have a planet-sized alien that wants to (yawn) devour the world then move out? Boring. As @wavenode once told me, the problem is inflation – every episode feels a need to top what has gone before and I would have preferred a more intimate story. For me the horror of the sacrifice of a small child is enough and I feel the big threat undermines the emotion of the human story.
The theme of parental love which comes up a lot under Steven Moffat is still going strong. Here we see the bond of the child back to the parent as well though thinking back it is a motif that stretches back to The Empty Child although is also in the Paul Cornell story Father’s Day.
On a minor point – Clara doesn’t understand all of the aliens when they speak; I though only the Judoon gave the TARDIS telepathic circuits a problem.
I am really pleased at Clara who is still, technically, not a companion just a recurring character as she has yet to transition between two stories on-board the TARDIS. Call me Mr Picky!
More seriously this story scored for me in the way that Clara isn’t all ‘run away and explore the universe’ but is cautious and keen not to be a copy of a dead girl, even though she in fact is! She was also, rightly, worried by the stalking I alluded to earlier; the moment when she realised the Doctor had been dipping into her life unsettled her as it should do. The writing is very good here and I am finding Clara interesting as a challenge to the normal modus operandi of the Doctor.
Lot of CGI and very visual. I read that this was filmed first (ie before Bells) a trick that Big Finish sometimes does as well with a new companion. Visually superb and mostly touching with the music (apart from the rock band moment). There was almost too much CGI and I felt the Jenna-Louise struggled slightly a couple of times when acting to the screen but this is probably my imagination.
The Series Arc
Some nods here to the shows past with a direct reference to Susan in the line ‘with my granddaughter’; Clara was about to ask more but couldn’t. Others (such as Carlisle Who Fan) have spotted what could be references to Utopia, Inferno, Castrovalva, Edge of Destruction or even Terminus. This is where I hand in my Whovian membership card and admit defeat – I don’t even recall those in-depth never mind make the connections! The human mind is good at joining dots so there might be something to it.
So I find myself liking this despite many problems with the action. On twitter so far it seems a bit mixed with a lot of people somewhat unmoved.
What do you think? Let me know!
Tony, April 2013