Tuesday, 19 November 2013
The Rings of Akhaten
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way. It's looks weird: there's something claustrophobic about it on-screen and it's difficult not to notice that it's filmed on just two or three studio sets. The space bike effect is very static and flat. The story is difficult to follow, and stops being at all interesting quite early on. Who are the Vigil? Why are they chasing Merry? Why do they appear in the tomb? Why don't they try and stop the Doctor when he's haranguing that planet? Is the planet alive? Or is it infested? How will destroying the creature affect the planetoids in orbit around it? How come everyone's forgotten that it's there? What effect is singing supposed to have on it? Is it Merry who sticks Clara to the mummy's case? Why? Who's the mummy and what's it for? The planet is poisoned by the "infinite potential" caused by the fact that Clara's mum died prematurely, but not by the Doctor's interminable experiences of alternate timelines, other universes, hypothetical futures and so forth? Um, okay!
So it looks a bit ropey and the story's half-baked. So far, so 1987. But there is a lot of good stuff that should be counted in defence of The Rings of Akhaten.
Much of the design work is excellent, especially the Vigil (which makes it all the more annoying that they don't do more in the story). The market scenes, the crowds and the effect shots of the system make this the most exotic and interesting alien world we have seen in years - certainly since A Christmas Carol, probably since The Doctor's Daughter, and possibly even further back than that. Furthermore, these people have a proper culture, a social hierarchy, myths and legends, an economy, a religion - it's all fascinating, and a hell of a lot more than we usually get for non-human societies. (Although, if their monetary system is based on paying for things with items of personal, sentimental value, how does that work? The ring, for example, that Clara gives to Doreen, is invaluable to the human, but worth nothing to the alien, for whom it has no history. If she asked for a refund, what would she get back? Presumably something that meant a lot to Doreen, but nothing to Clara...)
Sorry, got distracted. The nub of it is that while this is quite a bad story, it is also a beautiful and exciting breath of fresh air. It's right that Doctor Who takes risks, experiments and tries to show us the more exotic corners of the Universe. It would be much less fun to play it safe.