Doctor Who Review: “The Rings Of Akhaten” (Series 7, Episode 8)

Last week Doctor Who  returned with “The Bells of Saint John“, a mighty fine episode that re-introduced our new companion, Clara Oswald. Sure, it had its flaws, but in the end, what mattered was that it made me really happy that the show was back. This week, “The Rings of Akhaten” kept me happy as the episode balanced between keeping the mystery of Clara alive while delivering a dang good Doctor Who story.

I’m glad to see that there is a consistency in quality so far this series. The problem that I felt was present in both Series 6 and the first half of Series 7 was that while the episodes were brilliant on an individual level, it didn’t work that well as a whole season. The second half of Series 7 doesn’t seem to be facing that problem though. Of course it’s still early as we’re only two episodes in, but hopefully it will stay this way till the end.

To my surprise, the Doctor was already trying to figure out who Clara was right as the episode began. Maybe because it’s only 8 episodes this time rather than 13, but the story of Clara is revealing itself quicker than I expected. This isn’t to say that I think her mystery will be solved before the finale. I just didn’t expect so much about her to be revealed by the second episode. That said, I am sure there’s plenty about her that we don’t and won’t know till much later.

Throughout Clara’s appearances, there’s been quick mention of her mom in some way or another. In “Asylum of the Daleks” she had mentioned it was her mom’s birthday (which in this episode is shown to be September 11, assuming it’s the same mother). We had also seen her mom in a prequel to “The Bells of Saint John” and she was mentioned again in the episode itself. I had wondered if she would play some role in Clara’s mystery, and after this episode, I’m convinced she will be a part of it in some way.

The opening had me hooked for the rest of the episode. We see Clara grow up normally with a mother and father, and we find out what the leaf from last episode meant. I’ve clearly been underestimating Moffat lately as I didn’t expect the leaf to be explained at all. The Doctor watched her grow up until the day her mother died. She’s a normal person with her own life, so how can it be that there’s two versions of her in the past and present and both dead? Like the Doctor said, “she’s not possible,” and I was only further intrigued by her with this opening. Moffat has found the perfect balance between story arc and stand-alone story for this second half of the series and I couldn’t be happier to see it play out.

The title sequence seemed to be slightly tweaked again this week and I quite enjoyed it this time around. This is Neil Cross’ first episode for Doctor Who (with another one coming in two weeks), and he took us to Akhaten, which is my new favorite planet name since Apalapucia. The episode reminded me of “The End of the World” from Season 1 and “Utopia” from Season 3 as it had similar vibes. It was great to have that sense of going anywhere in time and space and visiting brand new planets, as I felt we lost that over time with the Ponds. I guess that’s the danger of having a companion stay too long.

In Akhaten, we meet the Queen of Years, Merry, played by the young Emilia Jones, and all I wanted to know by the end was, where do they keep finding such fantastic child actors? She put on quite the performance and was a joy to watch. The best part though, was hearing her sing. I was overjoyed when I realized we were getting a musical episode as we haven’t really seen that since “A Christmas Carol“. It reminded me of the Ood songs back from the Tennant days.

I don’t know what I can say about Murray Gold that I haven’t said already, his music is frankly half the reason I look forward to each episode. The entire score for the episode kept the story moving quickly and I loved it as it certainly adds to that sense of adventure.

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