This is the most visually stunning episode of Doctor Who I have ever seen. It easily surpasses anything from the cardboard sets and slate quarry landscapes of the original classic series, and is still ahead of anything we have seen since the reboot in 2005.
Stylistically, it reminded me of the first Star Wars, particularly the famous Cantina scene where Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi venture into a bar full of weird and wonderful aliens. I lost count of the number of costumes on display as the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) wander the crowded streets the Akhaten market. Hats off to the BBC costume designers for the superb quality and detail that they put into this spectacular visual feast.
But I found the story a strange one. Entertaining certainly, but weird at the same time. Doctor Who rarely examines religious themes. But here we have a narrative questioning the beliefs and motivations of people worshipping, through ritual, a God like being in a golden pyramid. The Doctor refers to the ancient creature as “a mummy” though the locals know it as “grandfather”.
And the little girl, Merry, played with wonderful apprehension by the talented Emilia Jones, is at once part of the ritual and a potential sacrifice to the grandfather god when the ceremony goes wrong. Her dialogue duet scene with Clara, beautifully played by both actresses, is moving and allows Jenna-Louise Coleman to further grow into the role of new companion.
I also found the scene where the two of them hide from the sinister Vigil creatures and their whispering voices, most chilling. A shame then that the story did not make more of these monsters which looked like a cross between the Cenobites from Hellraiser and demons from the video game Doom.
Song plays a strong part in the rituals. Hymn like, melodic but alien they are among Murray Gold’s best work for the series so far and subtlety emphasise the religious references.
It turns out that Grandfather is a decoy. The real god is a parasite the size of a planet, now awake and keen to devour Merry and the inhabitants of Akhaten.
The Doctor offers it his 1000 years of memories in what is one of Matt Smith’s best monologues. Those are real tears in his eyes. But all this experience is not enough for the parasite. It takes Clara to challenge it to devour “what could have been” to cause the demon to gorge itself out of existence.
“There’s quite a difference, isn’t there, between what was and what should have been. There’s an awful lot of one but there’s an infinity of the other.” – The Doctor
Such were the strange themes being examined here, I watched the episode again a few hours later. It was even better the second time.
Your turn: Do you agree with my Review of Doctor Who The Rings of Akhaten? Did you think it was a weird episode? Share your thoughts or your own review. Please leave a comment or post a link to other reviews.