Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor Episode. Today is the Eleventh Doctor adventure The Rings of Akhaten...
Ah, The Rings of Akhaten. I really should dislike this story intensely. It's packed full of sentiment, it has a child actor at its centre and it features singing. A lot of singing. That sort of thing normally annoys me intensely. Especially in Doctor Who.
But I love The Rings of Akhaten and I'm not entirely sure why. Which I suppose makes this a pointless article in many respects.
Let's start with the easy stuff: Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman. I love Matt Smith's Doctor. The way he manages to be both childish and grown-up at the same time is utterly magnificent. Then there's the way he can jump from frivolity to seriousness in the blink of an eye. He's funny peculiar and funny ha ha. It's rather brilliant. People talk a lot about the brilliance of the speech to the big starry parasite thing aka Grandfather and I do like that. It's nicely delivered. (And there's a nice version of Colin Baker doing the Sixth Doctor doing the same speech, which you can find here) But I also like the moments before that when Clara and he are discussing what to do. The 'I've seen bigger' bit. F'narr, F'narr.*
So Matt Smith brilliance. Tick.
Then there's Jenna Coleman. She's hit the ground running. To me there's a real chemistry between her and Matt Smith - or should that be Clara and the Doctor. Whatever. In this story she gets to be brave, kind and slightly magnificent. Her moment in the sun follows Matt Smith's speech. I'm going to call it the 'leaf speech'. It's that bit I like the most. After Matt's Doctor moment comes something even better. And nice moving speech about the infinite possibilities of those lost days and lost opportunities. The things we might have been and could have been but never got the chance to be.
To me this story, written by Neil Cross (No relation), has lots of nice moments in it like that. The Doctor's speech to Merry (Emilia Jones) about her uniqueness - "All the elements in your body were forged many, many millions of years ago, in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died...Until, eventually they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe." - and how our soul is the stories we are made up of. A line that echoes something the Doctor says to Amy in The Big Bang: "We're all just stories in the end." This is no fairy tale. Part of me feels this story is about what makes us who we are. Our souls. Our memories. Our potential. Our responsibilities. Because in the end this story is also about doing the right thing, even if we are afraid. It's about standing up to be counted, even when the odds are against us. It's a very Doctor Whoey Doctor Who story.
Also that line about "You are unique in the universe" is a nice little juxtaposition with Clara's story. Because as far as we can tell she isn't unique in the universe and neither we nor the Doctor know why. As far as he can tell, from his pre-credit, stalking Clara is just a normal woman, but something isn't quite right. Obviously, that means another function of this story is for us to get to know a little more about Clara and for her to get to see what travelling with the Doctor is like. Welcome Clara to the strange, strange universe of Doctor Who. It's just possible the real Universe is as strange of course but I'm unlikely to find out.
So there's lots of reasons to like this story.
The singing doesn't bother me. It's part of the plot for heaven's sake. It's not the gratuitous and random singing of chart singles for the sake of it. There's a reason for it. And when Merry starts singing again towards the end it is her attempt to help the Doctor. If you want to be pretentious - and I do quite like a bit of pretension here and there - you can call it a metaphor for our profound interconnection in a complex universe. I wouldn't try and get away with that too often though. People may laugh.
Emilia Jones is also a child actress who isn't incredibly irritating. Unlike say that small child in Dragonfire or the children...ah...I'm getting ahead of myself. She's got a lot to do in this story does Emilia and I think she does it well.
Now talking of Dragonfire, if you want to see how much Doctor Who has changed then compare the under-budgeted, over-lit, under-populated cafe/bar scene where Ace gets introduced with the alien marketplace that we see here. Imagine what Dragonfire would look like now. We forget sometimes quite how far we've come as watchers of Doctor Who. It's nice to be reminded occasionally.
So there you have it. Hopefully I've explained a little why I like this story, which seems - from a DWM poll - to be slightly unloved.
Give it another go. I hope you'll enjoy it a little more.
*For my foreign/younger readers 'F'narr, F'narr' is a sound made by Finbarr Saunders in Viz's fantastic comic strip: Finbarr Saunders and His Double Entendres. I recommend its use whenever you hear a double entendre being used. At least until people start begging you to stop.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.