Who Review: The Rings of Akhaten
by Kevin Rigdon (@pralix1138)
The newest episode of Doctor Who is the return of the Doctor I was waiting for. For me, the previous episode was a bit flat, but the new one, “The Rings of Akhaten” was full on Doctor Who goodness. I suppose I’m still pining for the Ponds, but this episode certainly helped me to cope.
The Doctor and Clara seem much more alike than previous companions, even though they’re still quite wary of each other. The previous companions were a little calmer than the Doctor, providing some grounding, some stability for his chaos. Clara seems different. She’s more chaotic, more like the Doctor. When he asks her where/when she’d like to go, she struggles with the decision and finally says, “Some place…awesome.” An answer the Doctor himself would’ve given. I’m somewhat reminded of two jack russell terriers with ADHD.
We start with the Doctor following Clara throughout different parts of her life. She’s impossible, after all, a mystery that needs to be solved. Who is she? What is she? How is she? A little more insight is shared into her past. We begin to see the significance of the leaf she has in the beginning of her book of places to go, and why she calls it “page one,” and that the book actually belonged to her mother as a child. And this idea of a book, or rather a story, seems to be the underlying theme of the episode.
The some place awesome the Doctor decides to surprise Clara with is the Rings of Akhaten, a wonderful mash-up of Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and the Mos Eisely cantina from Star Wars. I loved the parade of aliens and the idea that currency isn’t an objective monetary standard, but rather something of real value to the person paying. Those items that carry special meaning, the items we are attached to, are the real currency, and the more it means to us, the more value the item holds.
The plot for the episode is straightforward, and simple. There’s a girl who’s responsible for singing a song to keep an old god asleep so he won’t kill everyone. She has to sing the songs of her people, and if she messes up she gets sacrificed. Turns out this entity feeds on the stories, legends, and songs of the people. Its food, its source of sustenance, is the stories of these civilizations. Seeing the girl in trouble, Clara and the Doctor get involved to help her, and when the child messes up, they go to save her. Like I said: simple and straightforward.
But there’s something else going on in the episode that, though simple, is immensely profound. While watching I was reminded of the beginning to Anansi Boys, The Silmarillion, The Song of Albion trilogy, and the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. The idea that the creation is founded upon, and sustained by the Logos, the story, or song. Neil Gaiman begins Anansi Boys with the idea that in the beginning everything was sung into existence. Tolkien writes of Eru Ilúvatar beginning the creation of worlds with song, and Lawhead poses the foundation of this world and the Otherworld as song. The Song keeps everything going because the song is mystical, it is magical, it is foundational, and, if I can use the term, “holy.”
The song sustains the people. It is communal, and life giving. But this entity, this “god” is passionate and gluttonous. Just as the people are sustained by the stories of their forefathers and heros (very Celtic ideas here), this entity receives nourishment. But it is twisted, and siphons life from the songs like a vampire. The Doctor rightly calls it a parasite, not a god at all, more of a Melkor type figure, who, in The Silmarillion attempts to sour Illuvatar’s song, and manipulate it to his own ends. But the parasitic false god didn’t count on the Doctor, or Clara Oswald.
The Doctor offers it his own soul, because as he said, all souls are made up of stories. Not to quibble with the Doctor here, but it might be better to say that the soul is a story, an incarnate story, but I digress. He offers the parasite a thousand years of joy, and pain, horror, sorrow, loss, and the thing ravenously feeds, but it is only when Clara-funny, quirky, impossible Clara Oswald-steps up and offers page one of her life in the form of that leaf from her book, the most important leaf in human history, the leaf from a tree, that had it not fallen and hit a particular young man in the face on a particular day while a particular woman was walking by, Clara herself would never have been born. Clara offers the parasite not only the stories of the past in her life, but the stories that might never be, an infinite array of possible stories that fills the beast to bursting. But because it is gluttonous, because it is passionate, the hunger cannot be sated. It continues to feed on the infinite possibilities that a singular life can hold. It consumes and consumes until it actually eats itself to death, undone by its own passion.
And how do the peoples of the Rings of Akhaten respond? What do they do? They sing. Peoples, civilizations, worlds, all sing a common song. The song goes on, the story continues, and creation is sustained. Creation is sung into existence, it is upheld and sustained by the Logos (story), and is ultimately saved by it.
Like I said, the plot is straightforward, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some deep, deep stuff going on here. In the time it has taken me to write this review it has quickly grown into one of my favorite episodes of the 11th Doctor, and it makes me long for two things: the upcoming episode written by Neil Gaiman, and River Song. I know we’ll get the one, and I desperately hope for the other.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars