Burnt Orange (The Rings of Akhaten)

(71 comments)

I am a leaf on the wind.
It’s April 6th, 2013. PJ and Duncan are at number one with “Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble,” which, on the face of it, looks like one of those inexplicable things that happens to the UK charts occasionally. I’m sure Tom Ewing will have fun with it when the time comes. Also charting are Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Nelly, Pink, and Macklemore. In news, and recalling that we haven’t actually covered a lot of that recently given the approach taken for The Bells of Saint John, the world visibly failed to end in 2012, although there was an impressive meteor strike over Chelyabinsk in February. Benedict XVI resigned as pope, and was replaced by Francis. Chris Huhne resigned from the House of Commons after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice over a speeding ticket, same-sex marriage was legalized in England and Wales, and, apparently, Illinois banned the sale of shark fins. 

Television, meanwhile, brings the much-maligned The Rings of Akhaten. As with The Bells of Saint John before it, this is an episode where it is slightly surprising how, after less than two years, it already feels like a part of history. Certainly the bizarre ninth-from-bottom finish in the Doctor Who Magazine 50th anniversary poll feels like as much of a historical aberration as the first place finish for Day of the Doctor. Certainly one imagines this story will always have its detractors, as it belongs to the tradition of Doctor Who as children’s science fantasy that houses such “silly” stories as Kill the Moon and The Space Museum, which is, really, a better comparison than anyone gives this credit for being. Put another way, it’s unabashedly The Sensorites for a more sentimental age, and there are some people for whom that’s always going to be the same sort of challenge “children’s panto J.G. Ballard” is. 

More than any other Moffat-era story, more even than his puzzle boxes and narrative substitutions, more than the disjointed and at times dysfunctional River Song arc, this is the episode where the original experience of watching it cannot be recaptured. Everything about this episode is stuff that vanishes into the Impossible Girl arc. This is the one most obscured by it. In hindsight, we know its solution: everything prior to The Name of the Doctor is in fact the origin story of a companion who does something particularly impressive one day to save the Doctor. What we see is actually what we get. 

In that regard, it’s significant how much The Rings of Akhaten is Clara-centric. This isn’t a Doctor-lite story, but it might as well be. Almost all of the big moments go to Clara - the Doctor’s only real victory in the entire thing is his convincing Mary Gejelh, although he kind of steps on Clara’s victory in the end (in a way that serves as a metonym for the entire story, really). Instead the focus remains on Clara, who spends just as much of this “being the Doctor” as she does in Flatline. There, as here, the Doctor’s mostly around to explain the plot and wave the sonic screwdriver at things. This is a story that, in a very classical sense, involves learning the rules of a world and then figuring out a clever trick within the rules, and it’s Clara who figures out the trick, employing her own origin story to savvy effect. 

It’s a story, in other words, that hinges entirely on who Clara is, hence its culmination in her, quite reasonably and appropriately, demanding the Doctor treat her as a person in her own right instead of as the Impossible Girl mystery. He lies and says he will, and the audience is mostly expected to fall for it. But as with The Bells of Saint John, this is really a disguise for the actual central cleverness of Clara, which is that she picks up on the idea developed in late Pond-era Doctor Who, which is to say, earlier this season, of companions who don’t live on the TARDIS.

What’s weird about Clara, though, is that she’s not so much defined by her life outside the TARDIS as she is defined by the fact that she is the sort of person who would insist on maintaining a life outside the TARDIS. The actual details of her outside life are sketchy and largely fungible. The family she’s staying with in Season Seven vanishes without further mention after The Name of the Doctor, and she has a completely new job and new life come The Day of the Doctor. They casually recast her father the next story, and come Into the Dalek her entire personal life has suddenly shifted to be about her job, until finally her grandmother from The Time of the Doctor pops up again in Dark Water. This is almost as weirdly convoluted an outside life as Tegan Jovanka’s. 

So what we have is an episode that mostly hinges on Jenna Coleman’s performance. Notably, she’s had the opportunity to evolve it substantially before having to do these episodes that define her character: not only were Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen shot prior to this and The Bells of Saint John, so were Cold War, Hide, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, and The Crimson Horror. It’s worth noting that three of those four don’t really require her to play anything about her plot arc at all, and that ultimately, neither do Asylum of the Daleks or The Snowmen, since she’s playing distinct characters in each of them. The result is that she gets a lot of leeway to simply define her performance in terms of how she chooses to approach doing Doctor Who Companion stuff, and she uses that to build a very flexible character, then goes back and starts to explore what makes Clara that flexible. 

This also has the effect of making her the most mercurial companion since Josephine Grant. Like Jo, she in many ways ends up being the Manic Pixie Dream Doctor, which is a concept that works surprisingly well. Coleman’s basic way into Clara is always to play her as the storybook heroine. She is the sort of character who seems to spend most of her life listlessly waiting for a Joseph Campbell plot structure to happen along. This could also be said of Amy Pond, but the Ponds were always built the other way around. Amy was a particular twist on the storybook heroine, defined by the twelve year gap caused by the Doctor’s failure to come back for her properly. Clara is never so defined by her origin story, however - instead she’s generally defined by where she’s going, a point emphasized in her 101 Places to See book. 

(It’s worth inserting a comment about the Impossible Girl arc, which is that the one regret I have about the disordered posting of River Song stories is that The Name of the Doctor post does not say what I will wish it did when I get there. The use of Clara in subsequent stories, and the way in which her friendship with the Doctor develops highlights in hindsight the way in which that story is a passing of the torch from River to Clara. It’s the story that really completes the conceptual transformation of the show from what it was in Season Seven to what it turns out to have been, and by writing that post prior even to Time and the Doctor I really missed the opportunity to talk about that. For these things we have book versions.)

And so when considering this story’s poor reception, it’s perhaps also worth recalling that The Power of the Daleks got a middling reception with a lot of skepticism over this new Patrick Troughton fellow. Relatedly, in the lead-up to Season Eight, Moffat compared the Coleman/Smith pairing to Sarah Jane Smith being paired with the Third Doctor, saying that she didn’t really come into her own until Tom Baker arrived, which is true enough. But it’s also worth noting that, for all the faults of Season Eleven, Lis Sladen is never one of them. In both cases, however, it’s fair to say that it took more than one season for an actor’s deftness to become apparent. Watched after Season Eight, even before Last Christmas, which, especially if it does turn out to be Clara’s departure story, has a significant chance of forcing us to reevaluate her character, this looks much subtler and more interesting than it did at the time.

Nevertheless, the backbone of this story is and always will be a certain aesthetic of sentiment. It is as close as Doctor Who ever comes to being overt fantasy. Its central metaphor involves using handwavy stuff about psychic energy to explain what is blatantly magic. There’s something a bit Star Wars about it, particularly in its (genuinely impressive) excess of alien costumes, although it is a real bit of fun to figure out what old alien costumes they redressed. (The Hath are all particularly obvious.) But it’s not the Star Wars that people romanticize - it’s the Star Wars that has Ewoks and the Christmas Special. One has to be willing to accept the “this is what we’re doing this week” approach of this episode, and, to a larger extent, this “movie poster” season. That said, if one accepts this episode’s terms, it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

But if we accept that basic logic, there’s another aspect of this story that we have to consider the deliberateness of - one we’ve already alluded to. The Doctor’s behavior towards Clara in this episode starts to tip over into being properly disturbing. It’s not that it’s unjustifiable - he has numerous sound reasons to be suspicious of Clara and to think that she might be some sort of nefarious trap laid for him, and, to be fair, in point of fact she turns out to be, albeit unwittingly and not for any reasons having to do with Asylum of the Daleks or The Snowmen. But there becomes something slightly mean about him as he chooses to lie to her at the end of the episode, declining to reveal why he stalked her past and showed up at her mother’s funeral. Which is indeed creepy, in a kind of Twilight way. 

This really does seem deliberate, not least because of the way the final shot of Smith closing the TARDIS door is played, which really does give a sense of slight nefariousness to it. As does the invocation of Susan, and the quiet parallel of the Doctor and the sun that this implicitly makes. (A fitting theme, given the Problem of Susan. One almost would think Neil Cross reads my blog.) And this gets paid off later - indeed, in terms of the shooting schedule it’s already been paid off. One can fairly accuse the Impossible Girl arc of being something created to work better on DVD than on transmission, but equally, it does work on DVD. Well, on Netflix. Who uses DVD anymore?


But this makes two stories in a row that have had an eye toward history’s retrospective. And as with The Bells of Saint John, I envy my circa-2054 successor who gets to look at this story with the lens of history that it so clearly deserves. The story cries for some clever cracked mirror reinterpretation that links the evil sun, the patriarchy, and the Doctor’s fifty year history, preferably in light of some 30s story that finally brings back Susan with a new regeneration. Already there’s been too much history to pretend that it’s April 6th, 2013. At least in terms of The Rings of Akhaten, that seems unquestionably a good thing. 

Comments

Jarl 3 years ago

The Long Song plays over the Doctor's regeneration, because of course it would. I guess what we're supposed to take from the link between the Doctor and the parasite god is that it's not until he finds out the "origin" of Clara (that he's been meeting her all his life due to shenanigans) that his insatiable curiosity for her is finally satisfied and "defeated".

Also, you refer to it as a sun twice. It's a gas giant, but it's certainly rendered in a style that resembles a sun, which is pretty significant in Doctor Who lore. We have the sentient sun from 42, the frost star in Amy's Choice, and of course Sol itself as the most bizarre recurring villain in the series, featuring as the indirect or direct antagonist of The Ark In Space, The Sontaran Experiment, The Beast Below, and In The Forest Of The Night. The sun, the moon, the earth, statues, phone cords, they're all out to get us.

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Froborr 3 years ago

Sol is also initially presented as a villain and then deliberately discarded in "The End of the World." In which it destroys Earth offscreen while the Doctor's not paying attention.

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curlyjimsam750 3 years ago

My initial reaction to this story was "that was odd". Not bad, just odd. Then I went online and it was all "WORST STORY EVER" and it was a bit shocking. Fandom generally was in a pretty bad mood at this point, though. Tennant had been announced as being in the anniversary special a week earlier, and though that news was quite well received ("at least we're getting ONE past Doctor"), after a week the implication that other Doctors wouldn't be appearing was properly starting to sink in, and of course that meant Moffat hated the programme's history and the anniversary special was going to be awful and blah blah blah ... With that much negativity flying around, I think Rings of Akhaten was just unlucky to bear the brunt of some of it.

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John Anderson 3 years ago

This was the first episode I can remember since the relaunch that made me think, "that wasn't very good", on first watch. On re-viewings, I still can't get my head around the relationship between the wee girl, the gas mask creatures chasing her, the mummy in the glass box and the story-eating sun/planet thing. So it comes across as 42 minutes of stuff happening, then it stops. Shrug.

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jane 3 years ago

Grandfather (in the glass box) needs to be kept satisfied with song and story to ensure that society stays "religious." When Grandfather dies (no longer being fed) then the Planet God wakes up to devour everything. The wee girl is a sacrifice to feed Grandfather between his hibernations. The Vigil (gas mask creatures) are minions to make sure the wee girl (Merry) is sacrificed.

Of course, this also functions metaphorically. Clara is Merry, and the Doctor is Grandfather -- the Doctor wanting to consume Clara's story, to figure out her mystery, as opposed to appreciating her for who she really is what makes him monstrous. The Vigil represents the Akhaten society, continuing their rituals.

Which leaves the Planet God, a metaphor for Religion itself, defeated by the acceptance of Death rather than spinning stories of afterlives.

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Lewis Christian 3 years ago

When the Doctor does his epic speech about stories, and saying "take it, take it all", for a moment I truly believed that would happen. All of the Doctor's memories taken and 'eaten' (or whatever) by the parasite, and then the rest of the series with an amnesiac Doctor before Mysterious Clara somehow restores his memories in the finale.

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Froborr 3 years ago

A friend of mine once ran an epic-level D&D campaign that only allowed NPC classes. Only one player, another friend of mine, who played a level 22 Artisan, specifically a book-binder. The villain of the campaign was the Eater of Stories. I am unable to watch this campaign without thinking about how much cooler that campaign sounded than Giant Space Jackolantern.

Which, to be honest, is the only real problem with this episode: it depends very heavily on conveying that the Planet God is a serious menace, instead of a big orange ball with a scowly face. It does not succeed.

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J Mairs 3 years ago

"he has numerous sound reasons to be suspicious of Clara and to think that she might be some sort of nefarious trap laid for him, and, to be fair, in point of fact she turns out to be, albeit unwittingly and not for any reasons having to do with Asylum of the Daleks or The Snowmen."

That does raise a very good question: The Doctor hunts up and down her timeline for any indication that she might not be who she says she is, but doesn't check out the "Woman in the Shop" who is giving out his contact number. Surely that would be the first place to start looking?!

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Alan 3 years ago

My biggest problem with this episode is that it purports to be Clara's "origin story," but set as it is against the backdrop of the Impossible Girl arc, we can't take that origin at face value any more than the Doctor can. Or more accurately, he doesn't and therefore we can't. I mean honestly, is the audience supposed to assume that we are smarter than the Doctor by guessing that there's nothing weird or sinister going on behind the scenes?!? (And I just realized: in this instance, it is the Doctor who has somehow become the "audience viewpoint character" standing in for us as he and we try to penetrate the mystery of Clara. And it's not just the Doctor. The TARDIS itself is overtly hostile towards Clara which has never happened before.

My second biggest problem with the episode is that the plot revolved around an adorable little endangered moppet who helped to defeat the baddie by singing to it. For some reason, that made my teeth ache.

My third biggest problem was the absolute naked incoherence of the real bad guy being an evil gas giant that was kept in check by the period sacrifice of an adorable moppet. If you have any concept of scale, the "facial expressions" Akhaten makes as it's growling (through space?!?) at the Doctor make as much sense as one of us scowling at a dust might on the far side of the room because we think it has insulted us.

My fourth (and probably least important) complaint is that even now, I have no idea what the hell the mummy was or what its role in the plot was.

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Owlie 3 years ago

How would he find her? Even if he did find her, why would Missy reveal her identity at that point?

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Alan 3 years ago

I'm amused at the possibility that it would have been impossible for Eleven to track down the Woman In The Shop because he hadn't yet freed her from Gallifrey so she could go back in time and BE the Woman In The Shop.

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Jarl 3 years ago

How could I forget Destiny of Sol, the second best "returning monster" episode of the first series.

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David Anderson 3 years ago

The TARDIS doesn't like Captain Jack either (for roughly similar reasons).

The Doctor describes the mummy as the alarm clock.

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Blueshift 3 years ago

Was that really the number 1 song? I thought that was more like 1993!

I liked this episode more than most, but my major issue with it was that in the final analysis, the 'victory' comes as a rejection of the concept of 'Doctor Who' itself. The show is explicitly pitted against the evil sun/planet thing and fails, and it is only the wonder of an 'ordinary life' that beats it. While a completely valid thing to do, I'm not sure I like something that explicitly rejects itself so thoroughly.

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David Anderson 3 years ago

I think at this point my leading hypothesis about Clara was that she was the original and was going to scattered across time and space by some series climactic space-time event. I didn't guess what the space-time event would be of course...
There's an interesting exchange between the Doctor and Clara over who is going to hire the space-mobile: the Doctor asks Clara to hire it, Clara asks why the Doctor doesn't; the Doctor claims to only have the sonic screwdriver, and Clara uses her ring. It's almost as if the Doctor is setting up Clara to find out whether the things that she's carrying have genuine sentimental value for her.

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Jarl 3 years ago

Its role in the plot is "grandfather's alarm clock", the mechanics of which are a bit unclear but probably work best if you assume the mummy's supposed to be the priest-figure (or, more accurately, the messiah figure) that absorbs the stories (here instead of prayers or sins) of the people and transmits them to god, Grandfather. Its role in the story is to be an unimpressive red herring, and to foreshadow the mummy vampire from Mummy on the Orient Express.

You just reminded me of something else. During the production of series 8 Moffat made it clear that the TARDIS's dislike of Clara had not yet been resolved, and that it was all because of something that he was writing about at the time. Until he said that, though, I assumed it was resolved in Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, or failing that, her timey-wimey nature as established in Name of the Doctor. The implication is it was actually her stunt with the keys in Dark Water, which I'm honestly not convinced the TARDIS would be more okay with than the "being the nexus of a myriad of temporal splinters" thing.

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Blueshift 3 years ago

I seem to remember quite a few people thought that's what DID happen. The rules about how this memory eating space monster aren't really explained, and it isn't clarified that it DIDN'T eat the Doctor's memories until next week is all business as usual.

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Blueshift 3 years ago

Yeah, I was a bit shocked at how much fandom hate was directed this ep's way.

What you say is interesting though, as the end of this episode comes to the conclusion that the history of Doctor Who IS insufficient (as all the amazing adventures of the past 50 years cannot defeat the monster), especially when compared to an ordinary life.

I like the idea, but not the execution. I don't think there needed to have been the situation where Clara needed to rescue the Doctor because Doctor Who as a concept wasn't good enough. I liked the idea of the leaf in concept, apparently I was the only person though!

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Chris Andersen 3 years ago

This episode felt to me like Doctor Who as written/directed by Guilermo del Toro.

(which, btw, I would like to see for real.)

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Corpus Christi Music Scene 3 years ago

I was under the impression the the whole "Tardis Hates Clara" subplot had been resolved by Clara's actions in NotD. By the next episode , DotD, Clara is able to close the Tardis doors with a snap of her fingers.

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Aaron 3 years ago

I found this episode frustrating, because it was almost the best episode ever. Doctor Who has never done an episode where there wasn't a threat (barring some of the historicals). I've always wanted Doctor Who to do a picnic episode, where the episode is just about the Doctor showing the companion the wonders of the universe, without any crisis or evil aliens or anything. Just have the Doctor and Clara land on the Eye of Orion, have a picnic, the Doctor tells a long shaggy dog story, they meet the people in the nearest town, and then after a wonderful day, go home. Just once, I want to see that episode.

And Rings of Akhaten was all set up to be that episode. Imagine if the Doctor and Clara land, meet all the people in the bazaar, Clara finds the little girl, who's scared she might mess up the concert she needs to do, as per the ancient rituals of Akhaten, and Clara helps her get over her fears. Then, the Doctor and Clara go to her concert, she does a wonderful job, she thanks Clara for giving her the courage to sing to everyone, and then the Doctor and Clara are off on another adventure. It would have been simple, beautiful, and a nice character piece.

But nooooo we can't do that. Instead, we have to have a giant space monster eating everything. So, rather than do a really radical episode about just meeting a new culture and appreciating it for what it is, we have to save the universe. Rings, for me, has a perfect first half, and then turns into '42' for the second half. Bleh.

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jane 3 years ago

"Doctor Who has never done an episode where there wasn't a threat (barring some of the historicals)."

What if there was nothing? What if there never was anything? Nothing under the bed, nothing at the door. What if the big bad Time Lord doesn't want to admit he's just afraid of the dark.

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Jarl 3 years ago

Same. Also, that was supposed to be a comment to the above, but I have failed.

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Aaron 3 years ago

Touche.

I just knew as soon as I said that someone would find an exception I hadn't thought of. That's kind of the best exception ever, though.

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Adam Riggio 3 years ago

I was one of the people who really rather enjoyed this episode, I think because I didn't really have my eye on the Impossible Girl arc with such intensity that it forced out all other thoughts about the episode.

Akhaten's style actually reminded me quite a lot of how you described the Hartnell era, just moving fast enough to fit into 45 minutes. The TARDIS lands in a strange world, identifies the sympathetic characters who take Clara through it, and then (paralleling The Space Museum 2-4 most closely) the Doctor and Clara lead a revolution that upends the society to reorganize along more just lines.

I found it very intriguing in my own dialogue with reading the Eruditorum because I remembered one of your concluding points in the William Hartnell era book being that, although you could have monster runarounds, military adventures, horror stories, comedic tales, and political allegories, the old 'world-exploring' style of story could never really recur in Doctor Who. Then shortly after I revisited that part of your Hartnell book and that conclusion, I found that very style of story in Akhaten.

A lot of the story concepts of Season 7B were revivals or modern interpretations of story styles that were closely identified with past eras — Bells was very Pertwee-esque, Hide was a Hinchcliffe horror story, Cold War was a base-under-siege, Journey had a strong shade of Sawardian nihilism. But Akhaten was a welcome throwback, for me, to a very fascinating era of the show that hasn't always been plumbed as best it could for ideas to inspire new stories.

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Daibhid C 3 years ago

PJ and Duncan are at number one with “Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble,” which, on the face of it, looks like one of those inexplicable things that happens to the UK charts occasionally.

Ant and Dec (as PJ and Duncan are now better known) performed the song on their Saturday evening magazine show the previous week. (I know this because I checked the relevant charts post on Paul O'Brien's blog; obviously I was unaware of it at the time because I'd been watching "The Bells of St Johns".)

In keeping with my stubborn refusal to be pigeonholed by my dislike of "Kill the Moon", I loved this. In my LJ at the time, I wrote:

"A number of people have complained the end doesn't make a blind bit of sense. And from a strict definition of sense, it probably doesn't. But since I started reading TARDIS Eruditorium, I've become more sympathetic to DW episodes making conceptual sense. In a world like Moffat's where Doctor Who is a fairy tale and souls are made of stories, I can accept that a leaf contains an infinity of things that didn't happen to Clara's mother, just because she says it does.

And hey, as a Discworld fan, I can appreciate that the current Whoniverse basically runs on narrativium."

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Jesse 3 years ago

I think Guilermo del Toro would approach the task with more subtlety and less speechifying.

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Anton B 3 years ago

The classic series had The Sun Makers of course. One could trace (if one were so inclined) Doctor Who's fascination with the Sun right back to the Hartnell era and The Tribe of Gum's worship of 'Orb' and the Aztecs sun worship and sacrificial rituals. I wonder if the real root of all this lies in those dark November evenings when we all huddled together round the TV to watch the Doctor combat the forces of darkness.

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Lewis Christian 3 years ago

Was that really the number 1 song? I thought that was more like 1993!

I think Ant and Dec sung it on their Takeaway show, hence it charted again. Without knowing that though, it does look very odd!

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Jarl 3 years ago

That makes it both an older and a more consistent villain than the Daleks, doesn't it.

Genesis of the Sun plz.

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encyclops 3 years ago

there are some people for whom that’s always going to be the same sort of challenge “children’s panto J.G. Ballard” is.

I wouldn't be so hasty to file them together. "Paradise Towers" is one of my favorite McCoy stories (along with "Happiness Patrol" and "Greatest Show") and I am, I'm afraid, an "Akhaten" naysayer.

I quite like the ambition, and in case Neil Cross is reading this blog and won't be satisfied to hear that everything else he's had a hand in putting onscreen that I've seen (which I guess would just be "Hide" and the entirety of Luther) is fall-to-your-knees amazing, I did put it at 7/13 of my season 7 sum-up. I just don't think it really adds up to much of anything except a pair of really, really flat monologues. A season 8 performance from Jenna Coleman could have sold the ending big time, but unfortunately we got a season 7 performance instead, and I didn't believe a word or feel an instant of her sacrifice with the leaf. So maybe this isn't entirely Cross's fault.

Meanwhile I saw some of the most striking visual effects work (Grandfather not included) the show has ever had used as a fakeout. The Vigil and the mummy looked SO good, far out of proportion to their importance to the plot. This was probably crucial to pulling off what I think is one of those narrative substitutions that keep cropping up here -- they had to look like bosses to be mistaken for bosses -- but was a crying shame, frankly.

I wrote more in my review of the story about the parts that didn't make sense to me, but it's old news at this point. Oh well.

I will say that if we're talking about mean things Eleven does to Clara in this episode, I'd rank "tricking her into giving up her mother's ring to rent a space moped" rather higher than "playing coy about investigating her past." Even if it makes sense for him not to surrender the sonic and they don't have time to rush back to the TARDIS (which is not only full of sentimental objects but is also a much better vehicle for effecting a rescue), he's carrying Amy's reading glasses. What a dick!

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jane 3 years ago

"A season 8 performance from Jenna Coleman could have sold the ending big time, but unfortunately we got a season 7 performance instead, and I didn't believe a word or feel an instant of her sacrifice with the leaf. So maybe this isn't entirely Cross's fault."

There is, of course, a third possibility, given the number of people (like myself) who were completely sold on Coleman's performance and Cross's dialogue.

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encyclops 3 years ago

Well, that's why I said "I didn't believe" rather than "no one could believe." I sincerely hope I'm in the minority in finding most of Coleman's performance during season 7 disturbingly forgettable (up against a trio of Doctors in the 50th I barely noticed she was there for most of it), because I like for people to be happy and enjoy things even if I don't, always. I thought she was pretty good in "Bells of St. John," "Name of the Doctor," and "Time of the Doctor." She's improved considerably in season 8 (again, my opinion, obviously), and not just because season 8 is actually about her as a person.

So I don't think it's a third possibility so much as the fact that you liked her season 7 performance (and Cross's climactic monologues, which to be fair were both pretty uninspiring in my opinion, with Smith phoning it in as well, perhaps because he's talking to a greenscreen) and I really didn't. I'm genuinely happy for you and sorry I didn't feel the same way.

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Jonathan Staal 3 years ago

That was my moment that kind of broke me of the episode on the first watch. Up to that point I had thought the whole thing a bit confusing and dodgy. And then we get the Doctor "confronting" the gas giant as a sacrificial victim, giving that amazing speech in what I thought of as being the logically end point of what had come before with the Pandorica Opens, A Good Man Goes to War, and "I got too big" from the previous series....

And then nothing happens and I was too confused over the fate of the Doctor to appreciate how Clara's ordinary life ( though blatantly taken from Watchmen) is so much greater than the Doctor's epic-ness.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years ago

"TONIGHT, WE ARE CANCELLING THE APOCALYPSE!!!"

...yeah, no.

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Alan 3 years ago

The Doctor describes the mummy as the alarm clock.

He could have described the mummy as "the tree that barked at midnight" and it would have made as much sense. Every thousand years the people of this planet have to sacrifice an adorable moppet to a mummy or else it will wake up the evil gas giant that will kill everything. Sounds like a plot written under a bad LSD trip.

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encyclops 3 years ago

Doubtless this is one of those "he just walked out of the timestream with her" moments where some of us just forgot that no matter how much the script sells the danger of some stunt the Doctor is about to pull, at the end of the episode he'll just be okay because it's the end of the episode. I mean, fine, but let's admit that's what's happening.

Also, it's not so much that Clara's life is ordinary and the Doctor's is epic -- his is as "ordinary" as hers is, after all, just much longer and more eventful. It's that Clara's leaf represents her mother's unlived days, the ones she missed out on by dying before her time, and which are apparently infinite because they're possible futures rather than a determined past. (Presumably Clara and the Doctor both have similar potential futures, but neither of them has a leaf that represents those days...?)

Perhaps Grandfather had time to munch "The Girl in the Fireplace," and what little the Doctor remembered of "The Abominable Snowmen" and "The Web of Fear."

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Leslie Lozada 3 years ago

Okay, as a person who does enjoy this episode, I would like to say as to why.

The fact that, while it didn't completly stay that way, there was a section of the episode where there could just be an exploration of the world.

That Clara does have quite a bit of backstory to her. Even though her father still looks the same after almost two decades.

That the day was saved because of potencial, of what could be, all those different choices that Clara, or her mum, could have done.

And seeing as I had the pleasure of watching this again during the eight month period between the christmas special and season 8, it held up okay.

'Course this does highlight the disturbing aspect of the Doctor stalking her throughout her timeline, and certain other issues.


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Pen Name Pending 3 years ago

I loved S7 Clara until "Hide," which seemed so different in performance that it was jarring. I know it was the first one she really filmed, but she was just so generic there. "Bells" had set her up as someone who would be self-aware; "Akhaten" gave her motivations and more traits such as kindness; "Cold War" displayed another way how she would use her compassion. After that she seemed very generic, although she's lovely in "Name of the Doctor" and probably "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS."

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John 3 years ago

Was Hide really a Hinchcliffian story in any notable way?

I'm not sure of the idea of 7B as a series of callbacks to classic Who actually holds up. Obviously Cold War is a callback to Troughton era bases under siege, but that's because all Gatiss stories are call backs -- Unquiet Dead is a callback to Talons of Weng-Chiang; Victory of the Daleks is a callback to Power of the Daleks; Robot of Sherwood is a callback to The Time Warrior -- that's just how Gatiss operates. And Bells is obviously reminiscent of Pertwee, or perhaps of the Hartnell and Troughton stories leading up to Pertwee. I'm not sure about any of the others, though.

But it feels to me like the other parallels are kind of forced. Rings maybe has that kind of exploring feel of Hartnell stories, but this feels more like a happy coincidence than any kind of conscious effort. And the parallels for the later stories don't work very clearly to me at all. I'd say there's maybe a bit of a Bidmead feel to the way Journey explores the TARDIS interior, but, again, I have a hard time seeing that as conscious at all. The only thing Hide has in common with the Hinchcliffe era is that it's "kind of like a horror movie," but it's a) not the kind of horror movie the Hinchcliffe era tended to use; and b) the actual way the story works isn't at all like a Hinchcliffe story. And I've never seen any clear claims as to what Crimson Horror and Nightmare in Silver are supposed to be tributes to.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years ago

Sometimes I say that "The Rings of Akhaten" is my favorite episode just to spite people. I don't think it's the best; it's messy and rushed in places. But it's deeply personal to me and it replaced "The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang" as "the one I watch when I need to cheer up." I would like to share because this reading I haven't seen anywhere on here, so forgive my indulgence.

And while I did love Clara's role and many of the themes such as memory, storytelling, and the infinite potential outcomes that defeated the Old God in the end, I realize that I have a skewed vision of this episode in that for me it's also about singing, and that's the aspect that is most prominent for me. I bring this up because, after it had aired, I felt as if I was constantly seeing the inclusion of the singing to bash the episode. "That was so embarrassing" or "we should have just watched The Voice instead" (which I believe was from Neil Perryman's Twitter...sorry, Neil). The SFX Magazine (online) reviewer for "Cold War" felt the need to go out of his way to comment how at least there wasn't any singing this week (even though Clara tried "Hungry Like a Wolf") and that you should remember that the weekly reviews only represent who is writing them, because he would have given "Akhaten" even less that three stars. And I completely understand if you aren't a big fan of the aesthetic (the climax heavily relies on the music swelling in the background withe everyone singing together, for instance), and I'll readily admit that Emilia Jones isn't the best singer (her vowel shape could be improved), but that just seems churlish since she's so young. She's singing and she's happy. But in the outside world, singing is an easy thing to mock. (It also seems to me that female stars get more ridicule than male ones, but I don't really follow these things.)

[And I see this was mentioned above by someone and I just want to point out that it was Clara who defeated the Old God with the infinite potential consequences of one event not happening, not the singing.]

My problem with this backlash is that it was all too familiar. Singing can be a deeply personal thing for some people. You're changing the tone of your voice, revealing part of you that no one may have seen before. There's a sense of vulnerability...or at least there is for me. Because I'd grown up thinking that I wasn't supposed to be the one in the spotlight like my friends who sang in talent shows. I just wanted to be part of a larger group, like the kids in The Sound of Music. When I finally got that chance in middle school choir, I was childishly bullied for reasons I never quite knew, but I also was aware my test scores were not as high as others because of pitch when I sang on my own. I would constantly overthink it, and the bullying only heightened my anxiety to the point I would avoid pitch changes and my high school instructor listed me as a low alto. And I still haven't regained the confidence that what I sing is in any way correct.

Clara telling the little girl that she could sing correctly is the kind of thing my loved ones try to do. And mocking commenters were like the bullies and the anxiety that made me never want to open my mouth again, and all the other girls and boys who never wanted to sing for fear of getting it wrong and being mocked. "The Rings of Akhaten" is inseparable for me from this small moment in fandom that directly followed the moment I was blown away and moved by this episode, and that's why I'm not going to stop defending it.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years ago

I think "In the Forest of the Night" may be an episode without a clear monster or even an alien threat...because it's ourselves.

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John 3 years ago

All of Luther is "fall to your knees amazing"? Luther has some great performances, and the first season is very good, but the later seasons are...well...not all that great.

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encyclops 3 years ago

I'd agree that they're not super strong parallels, and I'd agree that the Hinchcliffe connection with "Hide" is as slim as you say, but I do see why people say that. It has a bit of a Stone Tape thing going for a while, too, until the game changes, so there's that common ancestor. Mostly, yeah, a mood, an opulent old house as a setting, and just being really fucking good.

I can't believe anyone made "Journey" without thinking of "Castrovalva," but I wish they'd thought harder of it. "Crimson Horror" I'd say is way more "Talons-y" than "Unquiet Dead," but it's Gatiss again, so of course it is. "Nightmare" has vague links to "Earthshock" -- space soldiers, "make the Cybermen scary again" -- but that's as Saward as it gets.

I don't get a lot of exploring out of "Akhaten," certainly very little I'd link to Hartnell. If there's a long stretch of it where the Doctor doesn't know his way around, both culturally and geographically, I must be blocking it out, because to my memory it's only Clara who's exploring. For the Doctor there's just that missing piece he didn't know about, which is something we get in a lot of episodes -- but not nearly as many as you might expect since we almost never land on alien planets (the closest we usually get is satellites and space bases) anymore.

Still, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that they were trying for these parallels, even if they didn't really hit many of them that hard.

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Aylwin 3 years ago

I don't agree there, for reasons that have a fair amount to do with my problems with this episode in general.

I don't agree that declaring that might-have-beens are incomparably more important and precious and powerful than life actually lived amounts to "acceptance of Death". Quite the reverse. You can only accept death by accepting that what really matters is the life that was, not the things it could have been but wasn't.

And I don't see how afterlives come into it at all. The "stories" are the experiences of this life.

The story wants to tell us that "Religion's bad, m'kay?", but I didn't come away with any clear sense of why it thought we should think so, aside from the direct "human sacrifice is bad" thing, which might have something to say to jihad enthusiasts but otherwise doesn't seem to me to have much purchase on religion-as-we-know-it in 2009/14. Not many Aztecs in the audience.

So for a critique of religion-as-such that had any weight, I think it would have to give us some sense that their ongoing religious experience is bad for the Akhaten people more generally, in a way that resonated meaningfully with reality.

If anything, what we see of the process gives the opposite impression (or so I seem to remember from my one viewing). Later on The Man In The Moon's Big Brother is described as a "parasite" or a "vampire", but the nature of those things is to take people's essential life-blood by force, debilitating or destroying them. The general sense I retained here was that the congregation participate willingly, are deprived of nothing fundamental (as remarked below, what they actually lose are mementos, not memories), and get considerable fulfilment out of the process. The act of dedication affirms the value of the story whose token is being offered, makes personal recollection part of a harmonious communal experience, and would if anything seem likely to deepen the strength and emotional significance of the memory. The fact that they are not getting anything material back is actively beside the point.

Then CRUNCH we hit the buffers and the writer starts shouting at us.

The set-up seemed to offer scope for an interesting story about what might be gained by letting go (which could have tied in nicely with running themes, so soon after the end of the Pond arc and the Doctor's ensuing sulk). What we ended up with was so much cruder and more crass.

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Aylwin 3 years ago

I have no idea what the hell the mummy was or what its role in the plot was.

Its role was to pad out the screen time because Cross had to write the episode in a hurry and didn't have enough material to go the distance.

Trying to make sense of it in any terms but those is one of the many ways in which madness lies.

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Triturus 3 years ago

Still, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that they were trying for these parallels, even if they didn't really hit many of them that hard.

Yes, it seems to me too that these parallels, such as they are, are only vaguely hinted at, so that old series fans can enjoy theorising about them, but it doesn't get in the way for anyone else. And they're far from obvious.

Bells, well that was supposed to be a Dr Who does James Bond, so I suppose Pertwee is the obvious callback. And it has an evil corporation at the heart of it, even if the GI was ultimately responsible.

Akhaten does have some similarities with the 'off-world weirdness' of Hartnell, but I think the main thing people latch onto here is simply the Dr's mention of his granddaugher.

Cold War is an obvious Troughton base-under-siege homage but as you say, it's a Gatiss script so its not hugely surprising.

Hide has the mention of Metebelis 3 and the blue crystal, but is otherwise more of a 4th Doctor gothic vibe.

JttCotT does have a bit of a Sawardian sense of impending doom throughout, but that's possibly a bit tenuous. The Castrovalva parallel hadn't occured to me before, though.

Crimson Horror, well there's the obvious Green Death name and 'dead bodies with unusual colours similarity', but hey it's Gatiss again so past story comebacks are par for the course. The story itself is more 4th doctor in setting.

I suppose Nightmare in Silver could be said to have some parallels with Greatest Show - run-down tourist attraction harbouring an old evil, but that's a stretch. Still the most likely McCoy callback, if there was intended to be one.

Poor old Colin, always the spectre at the feast it seems...

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Melissa Robertson 3 years ago

Hm, interesting. I actually saw it as saying that religion was perfectly fine, even a good thing, for some of the reasons you outlined, as long as you don't start sacrificing anything or the like.

I also liked the comparison of religion to a story. I didn't get the feeling that they were saying religion was false by comparing it to a story, though, which is what made me like it. Instead, it seemed to promote that religion is something that, like a good story, whether fact or fiction, can inspire people and bring them together in happiness and celebration and love.

I know that the events of the episode may make it seem like this is not the case because of the whole business with Grandfather being an evil gas giant, but up until that point what I had seen and heard seemed to convey that religion is often a good thing.

Unfortunately, this was somewhat undermined by the whole Grandfather plot. However, since I still really liked the speeches made by the Doctor and Clara and also the whole leaf thing, overall I came out of the episode really liking it, and I still do to this day.

The more I think about it, though, the more the first and second halves feel less unified. I think that it would probably have been better if the story had just stuck to Clara encouraging Merry and seeing more of Ahkatan. Maybe the whole "Grandfather" plot could have been saved for another story. I wouldn't want to completely get rid of either plot, because I actually really like them both. They just aren't quite thematically unified.

The other reason I really like this episode is its development of Clara. This was the episode in which she started to become one of my favorite companions.

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encyclops 3 years ago

As Shaun said of the Stone Roses' Second Coming:

I like it.

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Triturus 3 years ago

By the way, I love the fact that 'Sawardian' has become such an easily recognisable descriptive word that makes sense to Doctor Who fans and Doctor fans alone.

Not least because I can easily imagine a story called Doctor Who and the Sawardians. It's the type of name for a Doctor Who villian-race that I'd have been delighted to have come up with when I was 14 and writing really bad story synopses involving huge numbers of deaths amongst the supplementary cast.

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Jarl 3 years ago

Hell, I just realized I forgot what my main point about this episode was, something I've been saving up for a while.

The Rings of Akhaten foreshadows that the Doctor might lose his sonic screwdriver. Make no mistake about it, that's self evidently the obvious interpretation of the focus on its value, its versatility, his attachment to and bond with it, and his refusal to let it be lost. It doesn't happen, but then the next episode again has a strange focus on the sonic and the Doctor failing to hold onto it. It's easy to look at The Visitation and wonder if history is about to repeat itself.

It does not. The sonic resoundingly fails to vanish or be disabled or destroyed. I hang my head in shame and renounce my AP literature credits, just like I did when I misinterpreted the canine symbolism of The Dark Knight, which totally foreshadows the Riddler. I'm not crazy, it's Christopher Nolan who's crazy. It's the rest of the world who's crazy! Razzafrakkin' mumble grumble shoulda been a super private investigator grumble mumble...

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encyclops 3 years ago

I feel as though you may be talking about both performance and scripted characterization here, and I'm not sure where one ends and the other begins. Maybe there isn't a big distinction in this situation, since my impression was that both were lacking in what I personally wanted to see (for what that's worth, i.e. not much).

For example, I found her so bland and mutable from one story to the next that I began to think it a deliberate choice on the production team's part to make her seem like a woman playing at being a companion -- someone trying on different roles in a story without actually being engaged with it. I thought that was going to be the reveal about the Impossible Girl: she was so far removed from the reality of the situations she was in that she felt no real fear just blithely stepping into a locked room with an Ice Warrior, or ordering around a troop of (remedial, but still) armed soldiers as though she had any clue how that ought to work. I couldn't begin to guess who or what she'd turn out to be, but it was the performance as much as the writing that led me to think she'd turn out to be diegetically a generic companion. She seemed like such a spectator, even of the things she was actually doing as she was doing them. In this way I felt she undermined the characterization she was being given, the elements you're noting above.

I'll emphasize again, this is just how I felt about her. I don't want to rain on the parade of the people who liked her, and I wouldn't say anybody's wrong to feel differently. I'm just saying that the "generic" performance you (and I, as much as I loved that episode) saw in "Hide" was kind of how I felt about the whole season after "The Snowmen." That said, I thought she was so fantastic in Season 8 that I probably ought to go back and try Season 7 again and see if I feel differently.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years ago

I think it's a mix of both performance and written characteristics in terms of the first three episodes for me. Admittedly, I can see why "Bells" would seem generic either way, but at the time I was really delighted to see a companion questioning why the Doctor was doing what he was doing. ("Cold War" is also probably a stretch.)

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UrsulaL 3 years ago

I don't think that Clara's life is nearly as complicated as you're making it out to be.

Practically the first thing we learn about her relationship with the Maitland family is that her stay with them is coming to an end. The father says he's looking for someone to replace her, right up front. So Clara moving on to a new job and living situation is to be expected, not a mysterious disappearance of the Maitland family.

She calls the Maitland kids "her kids" in the way that a teacher talks about the kids in their class. This does not conflict with the fact that Clara recognizes that, as a temporary caregiver in the wake of their mother's death, she needs to provide support and guidance without trying to be a replacement mother. She honors their memory of their mother, she isn't trying to take over that spot. Clara has an easy comfort with Angie's distress at the thought of her mother being replaced, and acknowledges Angie's correct observation that she isn't a replacement mother while still keeping order in the household. On the other hand, in "Nightmare in Silver", Clara says "my kids" as a way of emphasizing both that she is responsible for the children and that she will hold others accountable for their safety, as a teacher might on a field trip gone wrong. (And in the same way that Danny is protective of the kids in "Forest of the Night." Different context, but not a contradiction in her relationship with the Maitland family.

As for her family coming and going, we see them with her at Christmas, which is a family holiday, and we see her with them in the aftermath of Danny's death, a time when one would expect her family to come to support her. Otherwise, she lives and works in London, but by her accent, she grew up elsewhere, suggesting her family is scattered around the country. Lots of families wind up that way.

As for recasting her father, they had one actor play him when he first met her mother (early 20s?) and when she was a teenager (mid or late 30s?), and a second to play him when she was in her late 20s (late 40s or 50s?) That's a large age span, and they can either use makeup to stretch the actor's apparent age, or double cast, one for the younger version and another actor for the older version. It isn't too surprising that they chose to go with different actors rather than makeup, as a matter of ease and expense.

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encyclops 3 years ago

I liked her a lot in "Bells," both acting and characterization. That's why it was such a bummer when things got erratic after that. As for questioning, do you see what Clara did as so different from Amy, or even Donna? Maybe in kind, but not in degree.

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Daru 3 years ago

I love this story. And was touched by your comments Pen Name Pending:

"Singing can be a deeply personal thing for some people. You're changing the tone of your voice, revealing part of you that no one may have seen before. There's a sense of vulnerability...or at least there is for me."

That touches at the beauty of the tale for me - vulnerability. That's where the inner power of the tale comes from for me and it feels like a lot of what it is about, that and exploring wonders. I have never felt confident around singing, despite being a happy performer in other areas and then really identified with Merry. The singing being the heart of the story really carried me, and like Pen Name I will always love this story and support it. Sometimes it's all too easy to pour scorn on gentle things (I am not referring to anyone here, I mean the more raging fandom voice).

The other thing I adore about this tale is the gentle beginning where the story lingers over the discovery of the world, and that really touches on the second strand that I feel this story is about - the discovery of weird wonders in the universe. This story still moves me.

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David Anderson 3 years ago

Going with the unsubtle Feuerbach-ian allegory, if Doctor Who were sufficient to defeat the evil planet that would amount to a claim that if religion hadn't been leeching off J S Bach's talents, he could have been Murray Gold.

(Ok - that's pretty much the worst case reading, for purposes of humour. But still...)

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sleepyscholar 3 years ago

Well I like this point very much. I started singing lessons shortly before my fiftieth birthday, because: well, why not? I'd just taken up the guitar again after all. As you say, it comes with a sense of vulnerability. I find my lessons a bit like that trust exercise where you have to fall over backwards trusting your teacher to catch you.

But because so many parts of our culture have this very rigid attitude towards singing, it's used to bash this episode. I wonder if the response to it differed significantly in places such as, say, Ireland, where they have a more open attitude towards it?

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Carey 3 years ago

I love the Rings of Akhatan, and if it has faults its mainly directorial (an unfortunately common problem in series 7b). Obvious examples are the mistaking of the gas giant for the sun, which is mainly due to the dialogue being delivered while looking at the planet, and it's only because of the lighting that the viewer realises that the sun is shining from a separate point. Similarly, the space scooter scene is shot a bit too pedestrianly (it really should have been filmed from underneath to get the idea that it's flying). But crucially, the direction of the actors is superb.

Why the ending works:

Clara's solution is brilliant because it challenges a problem with many religions: there is almost always an end time/day of judgement/apocalypse that brings everything to an end. And that is what happens in The Rings of Akhatan. One of the few faults of the writing for me is the ambiguity of the Queen of Years fates over the history of the ceremony: I never get the idea that previous Queens have been sacrificed to Grandfather, but that all Queens have the potential to be the final Queen, and therefore a hopeful offering that if Grandfather awakes, she will be enough. Which it won't be, because once the end time/day of judgement/apocalypse happens, that's it. Because the religion states things have to come to an end. The Doctor's attempted sacrifice is the Queen of Years writ large: she sings a story that encompasses the history of her civilisation. It is not enough. He offers a history of the universe. It is not enough. Because both stories have definitive ends. Clara wins because she offers the only alternative to end time religion: the potential for anything and everything to happen, symbolised by her mother and the leaf. There doesn't have to be an end time/day of judgement/apocalypse. And she wins.

Brilliant.

Regarding the idea that each story in 7b takes a story from the past and updates it to the present, Id say the reality was subtler than that (and had much to do with the skills of the writers involved). I personally don't think any of the writers sat down to try and do that, but they did try and write stories of their memories of the Doctor Who of their childhoods. Therefore Hide feels like a Tom Baker story (reminding me more of a Williams attempt at horror than a Hinchcliffe story), Cold War feels like a Troughton, Crimson Horror feels like another Tom Baker story, etc. None of them direct pastiches, but still influences.

Oddly enough, I never saw the first Doctor era as being a big influence on Rings of Akhaten, but instead it's another Williams influence. It reminded me the most of the Invisible Enemy!

But when I was nine, the Invisible Enemy was my favourite story, precisely because of its writers having more ideas than the story was capable of realising. Which leads us back to Clara's solution to Grandfather.

I'm probably in a minority here, but as a whole, I preferred series 7 to series 8. Primarily because it was more fun. And whatever else you can say about Rings, you can't say it wasn't fun.

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Daru 3 years ago

Yes I'm with the above too. It feels such a shame that the singing content is used to have a go at this episode. If you look at many cultures and even religions, singing is at the heart of them. I was at a workshop at the weekend on Narrative practices ran by a part Lakotah psychologist, and funnily enough two of the participants expressed real vulnerabilities around singing - one especially mentioned a story where a teacher had told them they could not sing. The couple running the workshop shared that as far as the Lakotah was concerned, from birth everyone could sing irrespective of the quality of their voice, as singing was a part of their connection to spirit.

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Anton B 3 years ago

Series 8 seemed to present a bumper crop of solarphobia with the hostile solar flares of both Time Heist and Forest of the Night.

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Robert Lloyd 3 years ago

"Since the dawn of time, Man has yearned to blot out the sun!"

- CM Burns

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J Mairs 3 years ago

"How would he find her? Even if he did find her, why would Missy reveal her identity at that point?"

1.) Ask Clara when and where she got the number from, and nip back to that date.
2.) She didn't need to reveal her identity. It would have been nice to know that whilst Temporal-Stalking Clara, he'd actually investigated the best lead he had on her.

However, I prefer Alan's explanation.

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encyclops 3 years ago

I'll probably regret asking this question, but:

Is the reason we call this "stalking" and are uncomfortable about it that the Doctor is male and Clara is female? I.e., if Danny were the Impossible Boy, would we just be calling it "detective work"?

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Froborr 3 years ago

there is almost always an end time/day of judgement/apocalypse that brings everything to an end.

Not really? Christianity and Islam have this, true, so in terms of numbers of currently living adherents you can make a case that a plurality of religious people believe in such a thing, but most other religions AFAIK have no such thing--Hinduism, for example, posits a cyclical history analogous to respiration, the Mayan religion also had history being cyclical, most forms of Buddhism I've encountered just aren't interested in the question, Shinto likewise, Judaism usually doesn't care and when it does usually posits something much more utopian than apocalyptic...

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Demetrius Butler 2 years, 12 months ago

No, it would still be creepy.

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Demetrius Butler 2 years, 12 months ago

You make some good points about Series 7 Clara. I find Clara in Series 7 to be a hot mess. Entertaining to watch from week to week, but a hot mess nonetheless. And it’s 75% Steven Moffat’s fault. In the same way Series 4 was the point the RTD era started to run out of steam, Season 7 was easily the weakest of Matt Smith’s three series. Steven Moffat had either run out of ideas or stubbornly refused to write anything other than his usual style. As a result, there was repetition of words in The Bells of St. John, flirty Clara banter in the vein of Captain Jack, Amy and River in The Snowmen, a plot hole-filled timey-wimey retcon in The Name of the Doctor *, people ‘dying’ and coming back all over the place (in the span of one episode!) in The Name of the Doctor, and a character study of the Doctor in the Day of the Doctor. Actually, that last one sounds appropriate for a fiftieth anniversary episode. The reflections on the Doctor’s character worked in A Good Man Goes to War and The Snowmen because of all the build-up to them, but in The Day of the Doctor they were so boring, unsubtle and self-important. The one who suffered the most from Steven’s lack of inspiration (besides Matt Smith, who’s last season sadly had to be uneven) was Clara Oswald / Jenna Coleman.

Whovians often say that Steven Moffat is good at complex plotting while Russell T. Davies was good at characterization. This is undoubtedly true. There are times when Steven gets characterization spot on, like The Eleventh Hour or The Beast Below. But whereas Amy and Rory felt like the fictional characters they were in The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang and Asylum of the Daleks, they felt so human in Amy’s Choice, The Girl Who Waited and The Power of Three. Still, Steven succeed in giving his characters centers during the Pond run. Amy was the girl who waited twelve years for the Doctor yet still had a spark of hope and imagination left in her, while Rory was the devoted boyfriend who grew up alongside her and dabbled in adventuring with her. So while their personal lives and personalities weren’t quite as fleshed out as RTD’s companions, the guest writers at least had something to go on.

Clara, though… I’m not gonna lie. In Series 7, Clara was nothing more than a self-indulgence for Steven Moffat. She was everything he loved to write, from her initial flirtiness to her clever-clever dialogue to the timey-wimey mystery surrounding her. So basically she was a cypher, with her only defining characteristics being her connection to her leaf and her dead mom, her being better with kids than Amy (more like Eleven), and wanting to travel. Neil Cross expanded on all of these traits in The Rings of Akhaten, and he did an amazing job of making Clara more human than Steven Moffat ever did that whole season. Problem is, that left the other guest writers with absolutely nothing to work with other than generic companion feistiness. So they had to start nearly from scratch in terms of fleshing out Steven’s new toy in every episode. Since she wasn’t that well thought-out in the first place, she was reinvented each week the same way the show changed it’s setting. We had Insightful Clara in The Rings of Akhaten and Hide, Inquisitive Clara in Cold War and Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, Authorative Clara in Nightmare in Silver, and Just Along For The Ride Clara in the Of the Doctor trilogy. It just wasn’t cohesive the way Rose Tyler was consistent throughout Series 1.

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Demetrius Butler 2 years, 12 months ago

And the filming blocks didn’t help things. If you watch The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan know who their characters are inside and out, even if they do throw themselves into a few line-readings a bit more wholeheartedly than they would in later blocks. In contrast, Jenna-Louise Coleman is clearly grasping at straws throughout Series 7. In episodes like Cold War and Hide she’s trying to get a grip on the character while playing her at different stages of the season, but there’s nothing to hold onto. Clara has different traits every single week, for reasons unrelated to that Impossible Girl business, so it’s virtually impossible to be consistent each episode and grow into the role. So it’s obvious she decided to screw it and just played her differently each time. I can’t say I blame her. By The Rings of Akhaten and Nightmare in Silver Jenna seemed to have an idea in her head who Clara was but by then it was too late. Hence Clara being all over the place from The Rings of Akhaten onwards.

Clara did seem like a spectator a lot of times. Like I said, she was mostly along for the ride in the Of the Doctor trilogy, only seemingly around so she could keep saving the Doctor (the most notable thing I remember about her from The Day of the Doctor was the funny door-opening gag). But Amy and Rory are also guilty of having been obligatory companions (they really didn’t belong in A Christmas Carol, Night Terrors or A Town Called Mercy).

* The reason I hate the Impossible Girl arc so much is not just the fact that it turned the Doctor into a creepy stalker, or the way Steven was under the delusion that repeating the same information over and over again made it arc (like RTD with Martha’s crush in Series 3), or the fact Steven brought back the Great Intelligence for the sole reason of facilitating yet another bootstrap paradox, it’s the fact that the pay-off is just stupid no matter which way you look at it. There is no way the Doctor wouldn’t remember the face of the woman who pointed out the TARDIS to him. He would have at least thought she looked familiar in The Snowmen. The implication is that time sorted out the paradox by making him forget her the same way it did in The Day of the Doctor. If that’s the case… I could begrudgingly accept the Doctor letting himself out the Pandorica, and I thought the Teselecta reveal was really clever after the fact, but the implied memory wipe… that’s just cheating, plain and simple. Not to mention, lazy writing.

Sorry this reply went on for long. Despite the above ranting, I’m really not that biased. I’m aware both the RTD and Moffat eras have their flaws and strengths, but Series 7 is a sore topic for me since it really was Steven Moffat at his worst (there was great stuff from Chris Chibnall, Neil Cross and Mark Gatiss though).

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encyclops 2 years, 12 months ago

I'm not convinced about the "creepy stalker" reading of the Doctor's behavior, but I feel I'm something of an apologist for the character, since so many of the attempts to raise moral questions about his behavior fall flat for me.

In this particular case, he has every reason to wonder whether she is anything like an ordinary human being, certainly up until "Hide" and probably still after that. She could very well be a trap (and as we now know, Missy intended her to be exactly that), but beyond that, she's died twice in the Doctor's presence as far as he can tell and the most obvious probability is that her very life may be in danger. It's hard for me to see his fairly non-aggressive and non-intrusive investigations as comparable to "stalking" under the circumstances.

I also disagree that season 7 is especially weak -- for me personally it was at least as enjoyable as the previous two seasons. But just about everything else you've said seems pretty on-target to me. I particularly appreciate your observation that repetition is not the same thing as an arc.

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Katherine Sas 2 years, 11 months ago

No discussion of the Long Song, Phil? I am disappoint. Great analysis as always, though. I think everyone's on to something when they point to the general bad feeling of 7a begin situated between the slightly lackluster season 7a and the 50th Anniversary, plus this seems designed to piss off all the people who hate "power of love" endings. The symbolism with the sun/grandfather/Doctor is just brilliant, though. I hope we get Neil Cross back next season. This episode had a lot of great ideas and potential, and "Hide" especially hit the nail on the head, for me.

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The Dapper Anarchist 2 years, 11 months ago

@Jarl - the Riddler is already in The Dark Knight! He's the accountant who tries to blackmail Batman and Wayne Enterprises. 1) He figures out the big mystery of Gotham that Joker and Dent and the gangsters are all implicitly obsessed with - Who is this masked man with his tank and his cape and his armour? 2) His name is Coleman Reese - or, Mr. Reese. Mysteries. (a joke that Jonathan Nolan reuses in Person of Interest...)

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