Tue, 16 April 2013
Following the events of "The Bells of Saint John", the Doctor decides to learn more about his new companion Clara and travels into her past to observe her. He finds her parents met by a chance encounter caused by a gust of wind blowing a leaf into her father's face and then later discovers that her mother died while Clara was a teenager. The Doctor takes theTARDIS back to the present and collects Clara as previously arranged. He asks her where she would like to go and she requests to be shown "something awesome".
The Doctor takes Clara to the Rings of Akhaten. There they observe a series of planetoidsorbiting a planet, with a shining pyramid on one of them. The Doctor takes Clara to a giant alien marketplace and introduces her to several aliens, including a merchant named Dor'een who attempts to rent them a space bike. The Doctor explains that the market doesn't use hard currency but rather trades in items of sentimental value. Clara becomes separated from the Doctor and encounters a little girl who appears to be running and hiding. Clara catches up to her and she explains that her name is Merry Gejelh, and that she is the Queen of Years. Merry tells Clara that she is hiding because she is supposed to sing a song at a ceremony and she is afraid to get it wrong. Clara reassures her and Merry heads to the ceremony.
The Doctor and Clara attend the ceremony, where The Doctor explains that since the Rings were settled there has been a constant song sung to keep an angry god asleep. The people fear that the god, which they call Grandfather, will awaken and consume the entire universe if the song is ever interrupted. Merry begins singing, joined by a chorister at the pyramid. During the song, a mummy in a glass case at the pyramid begins to awaken. Merry panics, believing she made a mistake in the song. A beam of light from the pyramid envelopes her and she is pulled toward the pyramid and the mummy. The Doctor and Clara quickly find Dor'een and rent the space bike using Clara's mother's ring as payment. They ride the bike to the pyramid where they find the mummy struggling to escape the case and consume Merry's soul. The Doctor promises Merry that she doesn't have to sacrifice herself and that he will stop Grandfather. As they attempt to leave a group of creatures called the Vigil arrive and attempt to force Merry to sacrifice herself. The Doctor manages to hold the Vigil at bay long enough to let Clara and Merry escape from the throne room, but then the case shatters and the mummy breaks free. A ray of light strikes the planet, revealing that Grandfather is not the mummy, but rather Akhaten itself, a planet-sized parasitic creature.
Clara and Merry flee back to the ceremony and the Doctor faces the creature, realizing it feeds off of memories, stories, and feelings. He tries to overfeed it by offering the sum total of his Time Lord memories. This by itself is not enough to sate the creature, and Clara returns to help. She offers the creature the leaf that blew into her father's face on the day he met her mother. The leaf contains an infinite amount of untold potential that Clara's mother never saw because she died early. The creature, overwhelmed by the infinite potential it has consumed, implodes on itself and the planet and the Rings are saved.
The Doctor returns Clara to her home on the same day they left and gives her back her mother's ring. He tells her that all the creatures she saved wanted her to have it back. Suddenly Clara remembers seeing The Doctor at her mother's funeral and asks why he was there. He tells her that she reminds him of someone who died, and she rebukes him for using her as a replacement. He assures her that he was not replacing his friend, and Clara sets off home.
In "The Bells of Saint John", the Doctor finds a preserved leaf pressed between the pages of Clara's book, 101 Places to See. Clara enigmatically refers to it as "page one". The opening scene in "The Rings of Akhaten" explains this statement, showing how a mishap involving the leaf led to her parents' first meeting.
Writer Neil Cross was a Doctor Who fan, but had never had the time to write an episode. Executive producer Caroline Skinner, who was new with the seventh series, knew him and offered to work his schedule around writing an episode; he was willing to do it. Executive producer and lead writer Steven Moffat was pleased to have Cross join, as he was a showrunner in his own right with Luther. Cross had written the tenth episode of the series, "Hide", and was asked to write "The Rings of Akhaten" because the producers liked "Hide". Jenna-Louise Coleman named "The Rings of Akhaten" one of her favourites of the second half of the seventh series, as it was the first adventure for Clara which allowed the audience to watch the story "[begin] again".
The concept behind having the episode based around an alien planet occured to Moffat, Skinner, and producer Marcus Wilson when realising they had done big location pieces in the first half of the series with "A Town Called Mercy" and "The Angels Take Manhattan", but had none for the second half. They decided to do a story set in "a world created in our studios to make you really feel you're out there", rather than having the Doctor "promise unearthly wonders to his companions, and then get them trapped in an underground tunnel". As such, the episode was designed to allow the Doctor to actually show his new companion the wonders he had promised.The production team aimed to show "the best alien planet" on Doctor Who.
The read-through for "The Rings of Ahkaten" was held on 17 October 2012, with filming beginning the next week on 22 October.Director Farren Blackburn had previously worked on the programme in the 2011 Christmas special "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe". According to Matt Smith, there were "between 50 and 60 prosthetic aliens" in a scene set in an alien market.Millennium FX's Neill Gorton remarked that he had "always wanted to do a scene like the Star Wars cantina" and had worked on different moulds in his spare time in case they could be used in the future, as making thirty different aliens would be out of the budget. Much of the episode was constructed around talks of what could be created with limited resources. For example, Cross recalled that producer Marcus Wilson called him and asked, "We've always wanted to have a speeder-bike like in The Return of the Jedi and we know how to do it inexpensively, so can you get one into the story?" To help establish the year at the beginning of the episode "Ghost Town" by The Specials is heard and the Doctor is seen reading a 1981 copy of The Beano.
Broadcast and reception
"The Rings of Akhaten" was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 6 April 2013. Overnight ratings showed that it was watched by 5.5 million viewers live. It received an Appreciation Index of 84.
The episode received positive to mixed reviews. Neela Debnath of The Independent called it "heart-warming" and felt that centering the episode around a child "adds something". She also praised the aesthetics and the caring nature of Clara's character. Zap2it's Geoff Berkshire shared similar sentiments, and also praised Emila Jones' performance. Both Debnath and Berkshire likened the storytelling to the Russell T Davies era (2005–2010). The Guardian reviewer Dan Martin described the story as "slight and straightforward [but] told it in broad and effective strokes" with "gorgeous" visuals. He particularly praised the emotional effectiveness of the ending, but felt that "The Mummy", although visually impressive, was "a little bit of a squib after all the build-up".
IGN's Mark Snow gave "The Rings of Akhaten" a rating of 7.2 out of 10. He wrote that Akhaten "felt like a fully formed world" but criticised the resolution and the Mummy's appearance. Gavin Fuller of The Daily Telegraph gave the episode three and a half out of five stars and called it "a mixed bag ... but still with enough elements of uniqueness to demonstrate, almost 50 years on, just why there is still nothing like Doctor Who on television". He wrote that the religion and singing was well-realised, but felt the "mind parasite" was too similar to the Great Intelligence which was featured the previous week, and also thought the many aliens "gave more than a hint of trying too hard and did not get things off to the best of starts".
Digital Spy reviewer Morgan Jeffery praised Clara and the monsters, but felt that after a good build-up the episode fell apart at its climax, which he felt was "far too fantastical". SFX reviewer Richard Edwards was more negative, giving the episode three stars out of five. He felt that the story had a lot of interesting ideas but then became standard. He also criticised the use of the sonic screwdriver and the Doctor's monologue, which he felt had been overused too much recently, but said that the episode was saved by Clara.Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times was also disappointed, saying that it "amounts to little more than series of events and has a more preposterous premise than usual". He ques