Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 8 Review: The Rings of Akhaten

The Rings of Akhaten

Directed by Farren Blackburn

Written by Neil Cross

Starring Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman 

Becoming the Doctor’s new companion always leads to a big question: All of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will – where do you want to start?

It’s something that comes up every single time, with some going as far to the end of the world and others being a little more reserved. With Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), however, she’s at a complete loss for ideas. So instead she suggests the next best solution – she asks the Doctor (Matt Smith) to just take her somewhere awesome. And he does.

The Rings of Akhaten is the most recent episode of Doctor Who, written by Luther creator and scribe Neil Cross, and directed by Farren Blackburn. Opening with a series of events that chronicles Clara’s parents meeting to when her mother dies, the Doctor continues his quest to figure out Clara, a person he deems ‘impossible’.

Stuck at a loss in his journey to understanding, and excited to have someone new to show the entire reaches of time and space, he whisks Clara off to the rings of Akhaten, a planet orbited by seven worlds. From there, Clara meets a young girl – the Queen of Years, the descendant of a long-line of vessels to appease a sleeping god, determined to keep them in eternal slumber.

Of course, with the Doctor and Clara being on the scene, things take the inevitable turn, and it is up to them to find a way to sort out the slowly descending turn into peril for the population surrounding Akhaten.

The Rings of Akhaten is a very safe second episode for Clara, the new companion. It feels very much like an early Rose (Billie Piper) or Amy (Karen Gillan) episode for example. Clara is thrown into a world completely alien to that which she was used to, rather literally. When first introduced to the world, the environment gives a strong Mos Eisley cantina from Star Wars vibe, having so many uniquely named and designed alien creatures for the Doctor to introduce, several with curious characteristics about them.

There is definitely a strong sense of character design, offering so many fresh and original characters, many of which don’t even have lines. The locations on the other hand scream recycled ideas, feeling as if the Doctor has travelled there many times before when he hasn’t (well, other than a throwaway line with a nice continuity nod towards the Doctor’s granddaughter).

One of the big disappointments to the episode is that a trio of seemingly villainous creatures with some of the most prominence (and coolest designs) are criminally underutilised, initially inspiring the hope for a great antagonist, instead leaving a lack of pay-off.

That being said, the real pay-off is such a brilliant and emotionally charged confrontation that will inspire strong reactions from some. Smith does brilliantly playing an angry Doctor, but he does even better playing to the ‘Loneliest Man in the Universe’ standard he bears. He truly channels the rich and tragic background of the Doctor, offering one of the strongest moments so far in this series. Not one to be out done, Clara too manages to show her worth, bringing forward her own emotional clout of which one hopes is a sign of things to come.

There isn’t as much chemistry between the Doctor and Clara this episode, for the two take separate paths for a time. When they do however share screen time, there continues to be great lines and moments one should look forward to seeing an increase in frequency.

The Rings of Akhaten is far from a perfect Doctor Who episode. It definitely follows the blueprint for an early episode with a new companion. Drawing many parallels and memories of what we’ve seen before, it felt all too familiar and safe for a concept, which might be a detriment.

The actual set design was very bland, and characters one would assume to be formidable foes turned out to be lacklustre. That being said, it is an improvement on the previous episode, giving both Clara and the audience a taste of things to come with the expansive worlds created.

Doctor Who still proves that it can deliver an emotional sucker punch when it needs to. Matt Smith does brilliantly to fit his portrayal of the character for what each scene demands of him. His Doctor never runs away and knows almost every answer and secret in the universe. That knowledge came at a cost though, and it is a cost Smith channels expertly for a moving performance.

The loneliest man in the universe, but for now he has a new friend whose very existence is a journey. Bring on the next adventure; the appetite has been whet, now to (hopefully) blow us away.

The Rings of Akhaten premiered on BBC One on Saturday 6th April 2013. It is available on BBC iPlayer, and Doctor Who will return next Saturday 13th April 2013 with Cold War.

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