Sunday, 21 April 2013

Bored Of The Rings

Doctor Who
The Rings Of Akhaten
Series Seven, Episode Seven

The writing staff for Doctor Who seems to be getting smaller these days, with the same few names being drawn over and over, presumably from a fez.  It's cause for celebration when a new one pops up, and knowing nothing about Neil Cross before The Rings Of Akhaten, I was optimistic.  Finally, some fresh blood!

Well, you can put away the party hats.  Rings Of Akhaten sucks.  Not only is it yet another boring, wishy-washy, will-that-do? sort of episode, but it heralds the arrival of yet another Doctor Who scriptwriter who evidently doesn't bring very much to the table.

The opus gets off to a questionable start, showing us the meet-cute that brought Clara's parents together.  Her dad was hit in the face by a leaf and, naturally, stumbles in front of a car, only to be rescued by his soon-to-be missus.  It's a bit like Father's Day, without any of the emotional power or ring of truth.  (Do people really say "Oh my stars"?  Has anyone ever reacted that much to a leaf in the face?)  This is followed by a so-naff-Richard-Curtis-wouldn't-touch-it speech about the universal importance of that leaf, and then a montage of Clara's childhood which tells us such vital information as, Clara had parents, and a childhood, and then she grew up.  Her mum dies at some point, which would be much sadder if we knew anything about her besides her apparent fondness for total morons, and tendency towards exclaming things clumsily.

A new, less-than-impressive Doctor Who monster is born.
The Doctor is present for all of this, because he's trying to learn more about Clara, apparently in the creepiest way possible.  He's not doing any better than we are, incidentally: he now knows Clara was born.  Wow.  Thanks for that.  (And seriously, enough with the Doctor meeting people at random points in their lives.  It's getting so other writers are doing Steven Moffat's ideas to death.)

Hopping back to the present, Clara wants to go somewhere "awesome", so the Doctor selects Akhaten: a multi-alien society that's a great excuse for the props and costume departments (and Murray Gold) to go crazy.  What follows is a bit like The End Of The World, if the companion's reaction to alien life was a lot less interesting, and no one was in any immediate danger.  Clara deals with everything quite well: she's quite enthusiastic, quite friendly, quite... dull, actually.  When does she get good?

Anyway, she comes to the aid of a little girl, Merry, who must sing to a god in order to keep it from waking up.  This god feeds on stories (as in, psychically-infused objects that have personal meaning, though your memories alone will do; see also, "nonsense", "piffle", and "total bollocks").  If it wakes up it will presumably do so on a larger scale, or... something?  It's never really clear.

Merry's song goes awry, or so I'm guessing, and she's sucked into the god's temple with what looks like a ravenous mummy.  Ooh, human sacrifice, it's about to get good!  Except the mummy is there just to wake up the real god a huge carnivorous star and serves no other purpose.  Same goes for the Vigil, three incredibly scary-voiced thingummies that stalk around trying to ensure Merry goes through with the ritual.  Good grief, they are brilliant!  But weren't there a couple of hooded guys doing that job earlier?  Well, that was a waste of a good monster.  (Incidentally, they can be defeated by sonic screwdriver abuse.  Sigh.)

The only danger facing the girl is that her "soul" will be eaten, but since that consists of "stories", and since the monster eats those all the time even when it's asleep, with no detrimental effect on anyone, just what the blethering poppycock is actually at stake?  (Besides Clara, whom Merry inexplicably offers to the mummy in place of herself.  At least, that's what I think was going on in one scene.  WTF?  Why doesn't Clara react to that?)

It's around here you notice that over half the episode has elapsed, and yes, this really is it.  All that's going on is standing in a room talking about some sort of doom possibly happening.  (Oh no, the mummy's going to get out of its glass cage!  Okay, it hasn't, but I'm sure it will!  Eventually!  Golly, that glass sure is thick!)  Some of the dialogue works: the Doctor's speech to Merry about how life started in the universe, for example, actually sounds like some thought went into it, and it makes a nice, spiritual-yet-scientific statement about the beauty of life.  Good speech!  A few earlier comments raise a smile as well, like Clara not being able to think of anywhere to go in the TARDIS, and the Doctor saying (after he finally drops a companion off precisely where and when they wanted him to), "Hole in one!"  But most of it's just talking, lurching into speechifying, interspersed with sonic-screwdriver-squeezing.  It's an episode in which tumbleweeds would have made a welcome distraction.

"You know what would liven things up?
Stalking through your childhood."
When the Doctor finally confronts the god/star/giant internet smiley (what were they thinking?), having finally run out of ways to point the sonic screwdriver at stuff, he offers it his memories in the hope of overfeeding it to death.  There's a real moment where you think "Oh no!  He's giving up his identity to save these people!  That's horrible!  What a huge effect that will have on the series!", etc., etc.  But after the god soaks up all that Doctory goodness, guess who's still got all his memories and is completely fine?

Blurgh.  So Matt Smith acts himself to tears against a green screen, lumbering through one of the most overwritten (and frankly, unoriginal) speeches ever to clog up his inbox, and for what?  The whole situation deals in such vague, abstract notions that it just doesn't matter.  Not.  One.  Bit.  It's never explained why the monster's such a threat.  It's never explained why the Doctor's memories (which it "eats" but still somehow leaves in tact) are not enough to destroy it.  And when Clara produces the all-important-leaf, which is apparently charged with the "infinite" energy of all the days her mother might have lived, just because she says so... well, I haven't got a sodding clue how that works, either.  (Nor do I know how she retrieved the leaf at all, since the TARDIS was deliberately refusing her entry earlier.  Hey, great scene, and a lovely tease for whatever's going on with Clara – but hello, editor?)

What's this episode supposed to achieve?  I'm guessing some clarification on what Clara is all about.  Sadly, it offers no help, beyond a garden variety tragic past.  She says "I'm not a bargain basement stand-in for somebody else", but just saying that doesn't magically make it true.  Close your eyes and picture any other Doctor Who companion here, and what's the difference?  As for the Doctor's relationship with Clara, besides creepily stalking his way through her entire childhood, he regards her with as much interest as he'd normally reserve for a mysterious petri dish.  This isn't a friendship, it's a project.  Is that different?  I don't think so (see Amy), but it sure isn't fun to watch.

There's little else to say about an episode that attempts to sing its audience to sleep, other than: it succeeds.


  1. To paraphrase About Time, that clunky speech lets us see the exact moment Matt Smith decided to leave the series.

    Everything known about him as an actor tells us that he would have absolutely hated doing that overblown crap.

    1. Everything I know about him as an actor tells me Series Seven, as a whole, was a bit of a wash-out for him. The standard was bog; his Doctor has been almost whittled away to a fez and a couple of Jammie Dodgers.

  2. He does like stalking through people's childhoods.

    Are you sure the opening of this episode wasn't written by Moffat? I saw the bit with the leaf - hilarious. Is Clara's dad allergic to leaves? Do they make his legs randomly spasm so he throws himself into roads? Also his leaf speech to Clara's mum was so bad I had to run out of the room and not watch any more. Gaaaaaah.

    1. Entirely possible the opening was written by Moffat. TV's a collaborative effort, as I noted (begrudgingly) in my Hide review. (The good lines sounded quite like Moffat.) Russell T Davies spent an absurd amount of time rewriting episodes, and has (like, totally graciously) claimed credit for some of the really well-loved episodes that weren't by him. No idea if Moffat is that kind of workaholic. I, er, doubt it somehow.

      The whole leaf debacle is just tragic. They're obviously trying to come up with this whimsical back-story, but it's just so far moved from reality. Has the person who wrote this actually met any humans? Have they ever encountered a leaf?