Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 8
The Rings of Akhaten
With the Doctor/Clara's first episode where it isn't constrained by the trappings of having to introduce a character, we get something that feels a bit more familiar in "The Rings of Akhaten". In fact, it's reminiscent of the reboot's second episode as the Doctor takes Rose to the end of the world. Like something out of a Guillermo Del Toro movie or the cantina from Star Wars, we're transported to a world inhabited by a diverse group of aliens. Like another previous episode of Doctor Who, we also get a battle with a quasi-religious force.

It's these tropes that hold the episode back from any sort of greatness. "Rings" was a solid episode, but only because of the things that seemed peripheral with the problem at hand. Like in the mid-season premiere, the episode's strength lied within the interplay between Clara and the Doctor. This week, we peaked further into Clara's past, rounding out her character a bit more, making us care for this "impossible" girl, as the Doctor called her. We even got an answer to the cryptic leaf marking the front page of Clara's book. But what should we make of an episode where everything outside of the Clara mystery felt simply"¦. adequate?

The monster of the week is a giant planet blob soul-sucking thing that's worshipped like a god by this motley bunch of aliens. Like Hey Arnold before it, Doctor Who delves into the stress that comes with a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Sure, it's not explicitly said, but when a young girl is called upon to chant incoherently in front of a bunch of other chanting grownups - it's a Bat Mitzvah. Unlike the girl, Merry, I didn't fear having my soul consumed, but there was the stress of performing a rite of passage up to snuff.

Clara shows off her sensitive side and learns the lesson that every companion has to learn sometime (but let's be real, it's usually the second episode they learn this) - traveling with the Doctor is as much about sticking up for the little guy and battling ancient, unspeakably powerful monsters/demons/robots/demigods/cybermen/potato people as it is about partying one's way through time and space laughing it up. In fact, we only get to see the tough parts of travelling with the Doctor. We've got the Travel Channel to watch people eat exotic foods in exciting far-off places. The Doctor does not walk away. Though he sometimes finds it necessary to run.

When it comes to crunch time and the Bat Mitzvah girl is in the shit because she didn't practice her Haftorah long enough (You've got to listen to those tapes, Merry. Trust me!), the Doctor steps up and offers all the memories and hopes and dreams and other bullshit that this monster apparently likes to munch on (seriously?). Smith delivers a show-stopper of a speech, maybe blowing his big-speech load (I'm sorry) a bit early in the season than I would have liked. Smith's proved pretty astute at shouting to the sky (see: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang). What's important here is that Clara comes to save the Doctor (another rite of passage for a companion) by offering up the leaf that is literally the most important leaf in the universe, as it led to the meeting of her parents, bringing her into the world. That's the meat of the episode sandwich. The leaf astutely wraps up the importance of memories and stories in one's life. It's stories after all that make up the soul. The leaf is Clara's mythology and by offering it to the god-monster, it really does take on the importance that she claims.

I'm not sure it was worth such a magic-y, mystical monster to be able to prove these points, but I was ultimately glad that it was there. I suppose I feel like the monster was unworthy of its purpose. It's what is keeping this episode from being a cut above the average lot. There were certainly parts of a great episode here, but there was just too much bugging me. What's important, like last week, is that we learned a bit about Clara - the big mystery of the season and the continued strength of Jenna Louise Coleman's performance. I hope the episode plots can start to catch up to the early character development because I'm not sure I'll be able to keep writing it off as not such a big deal. Being only the second episode of the (half) season, I'm not too worried.

B (Mazel Tov!)

Stray Observations:

-Doctor Who quote to note: "I have lost things you will never understand and I know things -- secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken, knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze! So come on, then! Take it! Take it all, baby! Have it! You have it all!" - Smith putting in everything he's got. Well done here.

- The use of the sonic screwdriver really bugged me tonight. While it's always been a deus ex machina, it was a fucking magic wand/jedi mind trick in this episode. Let's keep it at scanning alien life forms and locking/unlocking doors, OK?

- I really think Coleman is the superior actress compared to Karen Gillan when she was starting out in her run. She actually might be better than Gillan is right now. *dodges thrown chair*

- The relationship between Clara and her mother was moving and obviously very important moving forward. The flashback/Doctor spying on young Clara scenes were done very well. They also felt like a part of a different episode - a much better one at that.
Tags: Doctor Who
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