Since returning to our screens in 2005, one thing Doctor Who has often lacked is a sense of wonder. Even when showing things we’d never seen before – like The Wedding of River Song‘s pterodactyls in the park – it’s all seemed a bit contrived and cynical. But last night, we were given The Rings of Akhaten, and it was absolutely bonkers – in the best possible way.
An ancient civilisation that lives on the rings of a gas giant. A jack o’lantern planet monster that eats stories. The most important leaf in human history. Any one of these would have been mad enough on its own, let alone as part of the same episode; but somehow, when they were all put together, the story worked. No, more than that: it sang.
Much of the credit for this has to go to Neil Cross, here making his writing debut for the series. Unlike most of Steven Moffat’s stable of writers (Gatiss, Chibnall, Gaiman, etc), Cross’s background is not in speculative fiction, and it shows. The script managed to harmonise its plot and sentimentality in a way we haven’t seen since the glory days of Jackie Tyler. Clara’s emotions weren’t a meaningless bit of schmaltz, tacked on to provide some “depth” to the character; they were fundamentally bound up with her choices as a character and the resolution of the plot.
And for once, it seemed that everybody else was playing from the same songsheet. The special effects were gorgeous, Murray Gold’s music was genuinely evocative (instead of just LOUDLY TELLING US HOW WE SHOULD BE FEELING in a particular scene) and not one of the performances struck a bum note.
That said, there were two dissonant chords in the episode. One is the simple fact that forty-five minutes is just not long enough to explore or create a world in any great detail, and I found myself wishing that we’d been given just a little more time to discover the world of Akhaten.
The other was the cold opening. No matter what Moffat keeps telling us (and his hand was all-too-evident in the pre-credits scenes), following a young girl around as she grows up is creepy as all hell. The exact same story could have been told without the frankly disturbing shots of the Doctor spying on a child from behind the pages of an old Beano annual. Please stop making the Doctor a stalker, Moffat. It’s really not cool.
But those imperfections aside, The Rings of Akhaten was a beautiful episode. A harmony of vision and bravura performances from all involved made it an absolute joy to watch. A masterpiece, in fact.
FINAL RATING: 4/5
ODDS & ENDS:
- “I’ve seen bigger.” “Really?” “Are you joking? It’s massive.”
- The reference to Susan warmed the cockles of my fanboy heart.
- I can’t stop humming the song that Merry sang during the “take them all” speech. It’s easily Murray Gold’s best number since “This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home”.
- Next week: The Hunt for Red October meets Alien. Ooh, that sounds like it could be genuinely thrilling and… oh no wait, it’s written by Mark Gatiss. So probably a plodding, reactionary load of tosh, then.
- The purple coat continues to be gorgeous.