1. Mediaite
  2. Gossip Cop
  3. Geekosystem
  4. Styleite
  5. SportsGrid
  6. The Mary Sue
  7. The Maude
  8. The Braiser

What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.


Doctor Who Recap: “The Rings of Akhaten”

Doctor Who delivers this week with some of the show’s most familiar tropes: lost children, alien cultures, and Matt Smith chewing the scenery. But do we learn anything more of substance regarding Clara’s mysterious identity?


The show opens on a montage of the Doctor spying on Clara’s parents and her childhood. Yes. I mean, thankfully they don’t show him creeping on her conception, but I’m just saying, considering how River’s backstory turned out you’d think that would be an important moment to keep tabs while trying to figure out a person’s timey-wimey deal. Anyway, Clara’s parents never would have gotten together if her father hadn’t been hit in the face with a leaf, which he kept, and now it’s the leaf that Clara keeps in her book of 101 Places. The book used to be her mother’s book, her mother’s name is Ellie Ravenwood and she died early, when Clara was sixteen. You may begin your Up/Who crossover fanfics… now.

But back to our actual main characters. Last episode Clara told the Doctor to “come back tomorrow” and ask her again if she’d come away with him, and like anyone who’s made an appointment with a friend, she’s waiting for the Doctor when he shows up (although what is punctuality to time travel, I suppose) and away they go. She asks to see “something awesome,” and the Doctor delivers her to the Rings of Ahkaten, the central holy site of a seven planet system where all seven races believe all life originated on their holy site on an asteroid belt near their system’s star. But enough looking at the pretty pyramid. To the marketplace, and references to Classic Who!

The place is bustling in anticipation of the once-every-thousand-year Festival of Offerings, and we’re given some vital establishing exposition about the Akhatens’ unusual currency: instead of money, objects with sentimental value are traded, their value determined by the psychic residue left by the emotions that have been invested in them over the years. The Doctor disappears because it’s convenient for the plot, and Clara finds the episode’s MacGuffin, a small girl variably known as Mary (or apparently “Merry”) and the Queen of Years. She’s hiding from some guys in red cloaks and I’d just like to take this moment to say that I like that Clara’s brought a bag on her adventure. It’s very practical.

But it isn’t just the red cloaks (who are eventually revealed to be priests of a sort) who are after Merry, there are also teleporting, face-masked, whispering, creepy bad guys. She and Clara and the Queen run for the TARDIS, but it refuses to let her in and she doesn’t have a key yet. Clara mentions that it doesn’t seem to like her, which could either be foreshadowing or a gag. Anyway they decide to hide behind the TARDIS because I guess whispering masked guys can’t teleport back there. It’s like hiding behind the couch in that respect.

Merry is the Vessel of History, and it’s her responsibility to sing a song in front of everyone, and also a god. She’s scared that she won’t get it right and has run away. Clara tells her a story about how she used to have nightmares about getting lost and how her mother reassured her by telling her that she’d always come find Clara no matter where she was, which could either be foreshadowing or just exposition for events later in the episode. Clara reassures Merry that she has nothing to be scared of, and Merry returns to the priests. The Doctor returns because now the plot needs him to be there and the music gets all mysterious.

This is because we’re about to cut to some more priests who are either singing, badly lip-synching, or praying (or a combination) to some kind of alien mummy in Akhaten’s holy pyramid, located on the next asteroid over. Meanwhile, Merry starts her concert infront of the gathered masses of Akhaten, as the Doctor and Clara squeeze into some prime seating. Merry (and eventually the audience) joins her song with the priest on the pyramid, singing a “lullaby without end” to keep the god asleep. The audience gives offerings of sentimental value to feed the god.

Then things go wrong. Everybody stops singing except the priest, and Merry seems to be getting tractor-beamed off to the pyramid. The Doctor drags Clara along with him back into the marketplace and she berates him for “walking away” which he denies. He’s actually going to rent a moped. They have to rent it with Clara’s mother’s ring because the Doctor doesn’t have an item of sentimental value that isn’t super necessary like the sonic screwdriver (not even his bowtie, apparently). Also I guess they can’t take the TARDIS. Episodes with motorbikes or their equivalents in this half of the season are now two for two.

They zoom off after Merry, but she winds up getting sucked into the pyramid, with our heroes locked outside. The priest within is occupied nervously trying to keep the mummified god asleep. After some effort, the Doctor sonics the door open because, you know, that’s 90% of what the sonic screwdriver does. Merry insists that they leave because they will wake the god. Clara insists that they won’t leave without her, and Merry telekinetially sticks her to the mummy’s glass tomb. In order to end the argument, the Doctor lets the door down and locks them inside the pyramid.

At this point the the Doctor impresses upon the priest that the reason the mummy is waking up is because it’s time for him to wake up, not because they screwed up the lullaby. The priest disappears, teleports, or disintegrates, which of those three is left completely unclear. The doctor sonics the god fully awake with Clara stuck to his cage, and then he decides to give Merry a monologue about how she shouldn’t let the god eat her soul and quote Through the Looking Glass. Meanwhile, the aforementioned god is pounding on the glass behind Clara’s head. The Doctor promises to find a way to save everyone so she won’t have to sacrifice herself. She releases Clara and the temple starts shaking, which signals the imminent arrival of  ”the Vigil” who will feed her to the god. The Vigil are the creepy masked whispering people, and they spit lasers. Hurray!

Some things happen here involving sonic screwdrivers and a secret song that Merry knows because being the Vessel of History has to be good for something, but the upside is our heroes manage to get outside of the pyramid and the Vigil disappear. The bad news is the god smashes his glass cage, the holy pyramid fires a very big laser at the sun, and then the god crumbles. It turns out the mummy wasn’t actually the Old God of the inhabitants of Akhaten. It was his alarm clock. The old god is actually the sun, which is officially one too many evil sentient suns for one science fiction series.

If the sun doesn’t get to eat Merry and the cultural knowledge she’s been imbued with, he’ll eat the seven worlds and then embark on a new odyssey across the stars. The Doctor convinces Clara to get Merry to safety even after she pins him with the same line he gave her earlier in the episode: “We don’t walk away.” His answer: “But when we’re holding on to something precious, we run.” Oh Doctor, you do know how to set off my companion feels. The Doctor, drama queen that he is, goes to face the Old Sun God alone, now revealed as a lava-y skull face on the star’s surface. Meanwhile, Clara runs with her precious Merry to… the neighboring asteroid, which, considering what we just learned about the Old God’s ambitions, really, really doesn’t seem far enough.

But Merry decides to help by singing what appears, to my ears, to be the opposite of a lullaby. The Doctor decides to offer the God his memories, and gives a tearful, raging speech that’s probably going to get memorized and recited as often as a certain monologue from “The Pandorica Opens” despite the fact that at the end of it he calls the god “baby.” So, the god takes all the Doctor’s memories and then the Doctor sort of falls over but is otherwise pretty much fine. Remind me again why it was such a bad idea to let the God eat Merry’s memories?

Unfortunately after eating the Doctor the god is still hungry, but on the other hand, Clara picks this moment to finally go back to help the doctor (after a couple of flashbacks to moments from earlier in the episode concerning her mother and the Doctor). She offers the god the leaf from her book, because of the future it represents where her mother didn’t die when she was sixteen, and because the only thing larger than a universe of knowledge is the possibility of what might have been. This satisfies/defeats/destroys the god.

In their gratitude (even though the end result was apparently the destruction of their solar system’s star… so… yeah, it would have been nice to have a bit of an explanation there), the inhabitants of Akhaten return Clara’s mother’s ring, and the Doctor delivers her home, the very same day she left, so perhaps the new console is allowing him to be more precise. Clara suddenly remembers seeing him when he spied on her past self visiting her at her mother’s grave earlier in the episode. She wants to know why he was spying on her past self. He says it was because she reminds him of someone who died, at which point she asserts her own uniqueness and autonomy, but probably also should have asserted her right to not get spied on by an omnipotent time traveler. Doctor, perhaps you should tell her what the deal is, as she surely has a right to know that two other incarnations of her have died almost immediately upon coming into contact with you. Clara walks off back to her normal life, the doctor is left with the same mystery he started out with.

The episode hasn’t exactly given us much more to go with on Clara’s backstory. It seemed at first that any window into her childhood experience might be relevant, but her mother’s advice on fear of being lost was imperative in the conclusion of the episode, so it doesn’t seem that we’re supposed to draw larger conclusions from it. If it wasn’t simply a joke, there’s plenty of grist to mull over in the TARDIS not liking her. It’s worth noting that this episode would seem to answer some questions the Doctor asked her last episode about why she’s stuck around so long with the family she’s living with, who have recently lost their mother. It would not be a stretch to say that Clara is deeply affected by the early loss of her mother and sympathizes with her young charges. And while I can’t remember any particular mother connections for Christmas-Episode-Clara personally (obviously she was also caring for children whose mother had died), I believe that “Asylum of the Daleks”‘ Oswin was narrating her journal to her mother.

In conclusion, I am happy that my hopes of last episode came true: this appears to be more of Clara going on a series of test adventures with the Doctor but not officially joining up with him yet. I do wish he’d stop spying on her though, or at least be upfront with her about why. That stuff could really be misinterpreted as creepy, Doctor! Also what gravitational force is holding the Akhaten system together, and what source of power is lighting and warming those seven worlds? That didn’t even occur to me until this morning and it seems like pretty relevant information!

TAGS: | |

  • Bill Hedrick

    This was a fantasy episode that doesn’t work if you get all technical. I liked it a lot, but am ignoring the fact that Doctor Who physics is kinda dicey at best

  • Anonymous

    This is the only science fiction episode I can recall that ends with an intergalactic benefit concert. I’m just surprised Bono didn’t show up.

  • Shelley Barnard

    Also, does the Doctor now have amnesia? I thought he shared his memories with the monster but my daughter thought the monster took them all. How much does he still know about his own past at this point? I liked this episode, but they certainly swept a lot of dangling plot points under the rug.

  • Franziska Batten Zaunig

    I totally agree with you about the nonsensical ending. It was great up to the point where all of them were doomed to a cold death spiraling out of their solar system.

  • Elwyne

    I don’t think the god-thing was the Sun, I think the ‘rings’ orbit a gas giant such as Jupiter and the sun is actually farther off. And I don’t think it was destroyed so much as put back to sleep.

    I loved this episode. I loved that Clara wanted to see ‘something awesome’ – I like to think that’s what I would have said. :) I loved the beautiful effects, and the street crowded with aliens. I loved the reference to Susan, and the Hooloovoo (a Douglas Adams nod? It could have been blue under that mask). I loved the music, the kid (where does DW get these great kids?!?), the rousing speeches, the ‘story’ theme. It’s definitely my favorite of S7 so far, and gives me hope for the future of the series.

    And as a woman who lost her mother as a teen, I would have had a hell of a time letting go of that leaf.

  • Anonymous

    This!!! When the monster started eating his memories I got all excited. I thought, His identity was erased by Oswin and now he will lose/forget his identity as well! And I started dreaming about a 50th anniversary episode where Eleven who doesn’t know he is the doctor runs into Ten and Rose and they have an adventure together. And then a large story arc about him rediscovering his identity. Which … didn’t happen. But for a moment there the possibilities seemed exciting!

  • Jill Pantozzi

    I wasn’t a fan of singing a song to save the day being used as a plot device again, ala “A Christmas Carol.”

  • Liz Burns

    Truly one of most lame Doctor Who episodes ever. From the leaf ‘saving’ the solar system (when it in fact destroyed it as they happily sped away) to the incredibly dull speeches and the cloying music, it looked as if it was trying way too hard. I hate the feeling when you realize a favorite show is running out of steam – one tries sooo hard to excuse the plot holes, the phrases meant to encompass all that couldn’t be properly presented on screen, the endless facial expression shots…,but at the end of the day there’s that sinking, empty feeling. This last episode brought back those emotions. Sad.

  • Anonymous

    Like the people of the planet, it uses emotional energy as food, as they use it for currency. When you give away a ring, it’s gone. The sun needs to be told stories. When you tell someone a story, you don’t forget it. It wasn’t eating the memories as much as sharing in them.

    The leaf wasn’t sentient, it didn’t have stories, it represented not memories, but the potentiality of a life un-led. And need I mention that is also the chosen meal of a Weeping Angel?

    As for the TARDIS “not liking” Clara, there’s a lot of talk about that, comparing it to not liking Captain Jack, cause he’s now a living fixed point in time, which The Doctor described as “impossible”. Of course, there’s also the simple fact that The Doctor locks the TARDIS, and Clara did not use a key, even though she may have one now.

  • Anonymous

    Like the people of the planet, it uses emotional energy as food, as they use it for currency. When you give away a ring, it’s gone. The sun needs to be told stories. When you tell someone a story, you don’t forget it. It wasn’t eating the memories as much as sharing in them.

    The leaf wasn’t sentient, it didn’t have stories, it represented not memories, but the potentiality of a life un-led. And need I mention that is also the chosen meal of a Weeping Angel?

    As for the TARDIS “not liking” Clara, there’s a lot of talk about that, comparing it to not liking Captain Jack, cause he’s now a living fixed point in time, which The Doctor described as “impossible”. Of course, there’s also the simple fact that The Doctor locks the TARDIS, and Clara did not use a key, even though she may have one now.

  • Sabrina

    I’m kind of frustrated by how many people didn’t get that this was a planet – NOT a sun! And they were visiting the rings of the planet – hence the title! – not the worlds that are orbiting the sun. As for what is holding those rocks and air and everything together I just assume that they have some sort of invisible force fields. They had already plenty of those earlier in the show, so why not here? This episode gets so much hatred and very often people just get everything wrong (“omg they killed the sun!”) or concentrate on things that don’t really matter (“the physics are rubbish!”).

    The episodes was filled to the brim with wonderful character moments and I loved every minute of it! Neil Cross took the emotional backbone of the show, spiced it up with call-backs to earlier episodes and characters, and condensed it into 45 minutes of awesome. Basically everything they say and do has some representative relevance of what the show is about. We get introduced to the companion’s family background (which is a big part of the show since the revival), we get exploring new places, we get the companion reaching out to some local trying to help and be some sort of moral compass, we get references to the Doctor’s past, we get the companion and the Doctor helping people and not just walk away, we get the themes of the importance of stories and sacrifice, and even some fun dialogue in between.

    The references to the past of the show are (similar to Bells of St. John) all over the place which is very fitting for the anniversary year. The episode itself is reminiscent of The End of the World as a “first companion adventure in the future” story (even in visual terms). The background of Clara’s family is also linked to Rose in at least two ways: The similarity to the cars that ran/almost ran over their dads and Clara’s mum died the same day as the events of “Rose”. (Clara in general has tons of links to Rose – I’m starting to wonder what’s up with that!) Then there are little things like the Susan reference or the Doctor’s martial arts reflexes (Venusian Aikido!). The broad strokes like whole “We don’t walk away.” / “But when we’re holding on to something precious, we run.” dynamic. Everything in that epic speech. Oh boy, that speech!

    The only thing that feels a bit out of place is the Doctor stalking Clara thorough her life (Dude, cut it out!) and being all frustrated that their past doesn’t provide any easy answers. It’s great that Clara sort of calls him out on that in the end though. I hope in the end this will all neatly fit together with Clara’s mystery arc.

    Did I mention that I loved this episode?!?!

  • Anonymous

    That’s generally my philosophy. In film class we just called this a “suspension of disbelief”…ignoring the implausibility of certain aspects for the sake of enjoying the story itself.

  • Sabrina

    Watching Doctor Who with the expectation of accurate physics (and science in general) will leave you frustrated within the first 15 min of every episode.

  • Guest

    I like your idea that it is a planet. Though if you excuse me getting a bit sciency.. taking away the gas giant that is locking the inhabited moons in place will cause them to spin wildly inside the solar system. They then will form their own orbits around the star. As they are comparatively small they will end up A LOT closer to the star, getting toasted.

  • Elwyne

    this. <3

  • Noggin.Nik

    Was anyone else confused by the fact that not all the languages were being translated by the TARDIS for the Doctor and Clara? Specifically, the barking.

  • Incredibly Awesome

    you could say that it takes awhile for the TARDIS to translate (sometimes – like River’s little blanket thing in ” A Good Man Goes To War”) or whatever ;)

  • Robin S

    For the first few minutes of this episode, I felt like this was a complete rehash of Amy’s first episode. I mean, she chased a little girl through a marketplace and in the process, gets separated from the Doctor. Clara’s first space adventure deserved more than that, frankly. At least Amy’s first had Space Queen Elizabeth and a Space Whale.

    What I feel like has been missing from Clara so far is what she gives the Doctor. With other companions, their introductory episodes showed why this particular person is needed, and why the Doctor should not be traveling alone. This was illustrated in the past by the companion stopping the Doctor from making a rash decision, or by pulling his arse out of the fire. Sure, Clara zoomed back to scoop him up, but any friend would do that for another friend. The leaf in her satchel just seemed utterly convenient. Why was she carrying that book around with her, anyway? It’s something precious to her. I can understand why she’d bring it along traveling, but why not leave it on the TARDIS? If she has a satchel every episode and always has it with her, it would make some sense. If she only has it for this episode, it’s a convenient plot point and frankly, rather lazy writing. Next week will tell.

    I was rather saddened by this episode, as it had a lot of potential. There are just so many holes in it. Why a leaf and not some other item? That’s super nebulous. How exactly is this creature fed? Why would it have killed the Queen of Years if it simply wanted to read her memories and feed off her stories? Sure, the Doctor is a Time Lord, but he seemed barely scathed by all the feeding it did off him. It’s kind of, sort of explained. But if I need to read articles to figure out the mechanics, it wasn’t good writing. I felt no real sense of danger, and I didn’t come away with any idea of what makes Clara special or unique other than carrying around a scrapbook so she can sacrifice a leaf at the right moment.

    I had really hoped the Doctor would get amnesia from this encounter. Not totally forgetting his identity, but forgetting bits. So he’d take Clara to a new planet and go, “This is…is…I’ve been here before!” Clara helping him through that and helping him regain his memories would provide wonderful thrust leading up to the 50th. It would allow them to bond, and put them on more even footing. More than anything, it would show that he needs her. The Doctor is at his best when he’s not a tour guide, but a man who needs someone to be his conscience, his guide and fresh eyes on the wonder of the universe. Clara’s story should be about her as a person, not about her mystery. I do hope the Doctor takes Clara’s parting words to heart.

  • Robin S

    YES. Big hole. That made no sense.

  • Starman

    I think I have an answer for that.

    It’s been established in the New Series that the TARDIS’s ability to translate only functions while The Doctor is conscious. Remember how in The Christmas Invasion nobody understood the invaders until The Doctor woke up? It’s also been shown – in the old series and the new – that The Doctor can turn this ability on and off at will – he did so while traveling with Donna in The Fires of Pompei in order to show her how the translation effect worked. There’s also been some cases of the languages being too complex or too dependent on accompanying visual cues for even the TARDIS to manage.

    So there’s two answers.

    1. The barking language is one of those so complex that it’s impossible to translate.
    2. The Doctor was just showing off for Clara.

    Personally, I think two is more likely. :)

    There’s a full article up at:

  • Kim Pittman

    The Jodoon don’t translate their original langauage either. I thought it was a bit odd the first time it happened.

  • Travis Fischer

    This episode pretty much completely fell apart after the first act. Then it oddly decided it needed two climaxes. A good one, and an unnecessary and kind of stupid second one.

    Pretty disappointing.

  • Anonymous

    The TARDIS translates foreign and alien languages automatically for those traveling within it. But there’s almost always a scene where a companion is faced with an alien it can’t understand. Now, there’s any number of explanations that could explain such a thing, like they haven’t been on the ship long enough for all languages to process, or some languages are more different from English (or too simplistic, such as more animal -like speech like Doreen’s) to be immediately legible.

    But it all comes down to the fact that a scene where a Companion misunderstands a situation due to not knowing the language, resulting in a comedic moment, is just plain too comedic a moment NOT to do. And any attempt to inject import into it is just plain Looking Too Hard.

  • Incredibly Awesome

    whenever it’s convenient :p

  • Anonymous

    Maybe it has to do with the TARDIS not liking her?

  • Robin S

    Stories, even science fiction or fantasy, needs to have internal consistency and stick to established rules (or at least acknowledge when the rules don’t apply and explain why they don’t in that case, even with a throwaway line.) If you just apply liberal handwavium at every turn, you’ve got weak storytelling.

  • Anonymous

    Did anyone else think that the Vigil whispered Clara’s name (followed by something I haven’t figured out yet) just after they escaped the temple, but before the sun/planet/god was awoken.

  • Annika Raaen

    I really enjoyed this episode, especially as a commentary about how religions use fear and other emotional manipulation to keep people in line. But that was just my take…

  • Hannele Kormano

    Martha hadn’t been on the Tardis yet for the Judoon on the moon.

  • Hannele Kormano

    I’d forgotten it wasn’t the sun (I guess it wasn’t really bright enough) – in our defense, it’s easy to do so amidst the other technobabble XD

  • Sabrina

    There wasn’t even that much technobabble this week! But yeah, I suppose it could have easily been fixed with a bit of panning to show the sun on the left – then move the camera to the planet and you’re done! I’m personally not really bothered that not everything is spelled out in details but many viewers seem to really get worked up about it and are confused and angry. The hatred this episode gets because of some details like this is baffling. But then again it’s the internet. XD

  • Sabrina

    If it was just Martha that would make sense. But their greeting ritual thingy is also not translated when Ten and Donna visit the Shadow Proclamation in S4.

  • Anonymous

    Wouldn’t the leaf represent the one story? It would be sad if the father held onto it for so long because he was fantasizing about the life he could have led if he hadn’t met that annoying woman who trapped him into a loveless marriage?

    Am I wrong, isn’t the currency or nutritional value for the sentient planet the psychic energy imprinted on the item by the person who held it dear?

  • Kim Pittman

    I was actually thinking about the time with Donna and Ten, LOL. Because they were standing RIGHT by the TARDIS and we already knew the Jodoon had assimilated English, so there was no reason for it.

  • Hannele Kormano

    Technobabble, perhaps not the right word. But there were an awful lot of made-up species at the market.

  • Kit McGee

    an AWFUL lot of made-up species. It felt too cheesy George Lucas for me. I liked parts of the episode, hated others.

  • James Alexander

    Yeah, the episode before this was about a corporation that hacked people through their wi-fi connection, the one before that had evil snow. This show has never tried to have a plausible basis in real world science.

  • Abel Undercity

    The other loophole, if I recall correctly, is if the language is very ancient.

  • Abel Undercity

    One thing I can’t believe hasn’t been mentioned yet: The Doctor mentions visiting previously with his granddaughter, which I think is the first reference made to Susan in a lonnnng time.

  • Stephanie Eversole Vandenburg

    Agreed, although I really, really love that plot device in “A Christmas Carol.” :)

  • Chris Clemens

    I loved this episode. I think there are nuances thawere missed. Listen closely to Merry’s song. I don’t think it was intended for the gas giant. I think it was for the Doctor. Although is says rest now at the beginning it switches to “wake up”. And during this song the Doctor returns to being the Doctor. Before faking his death and leaving the Ponds the Doctor would openly seek out and stand against creatures like this, recently he had become a recluse and until Clara came along he had lost his mojo. I think the Doctor has reawakened and we are in for an amazing 50th year.

  • Robert Vary

    No, the “infinity” of stories the leaf held wasn’t the potential futures of “if he hadn’t met Clara’s mother,” but rather the potential futures of “if she hadn’t died young.” He held onto it because he was imagining what their lives would’ve held if she were still alive.

  • Brian Adkins

    “Side-swipe at woman-kind?” Care to be more specific?

  • Brian Adkins

    Did you ever read DC’s FINAL CRISIS by Grant Morrison? Superman “sings/whistles” to save the universe! lol

  • Brian Adkins

    Like people who don’t use grammar rules and apply made up words liberally like “handwavium?” lol ;-)

  • Brian Adkins

    Exactly. I think a better way to say it would have been “an infinity of Could have beens” rather than “should have beens.”

  • Natalie Sharp

    I feel like I am gonna see big Pete push a lawnmower across those leaves.

  • Brian Adkins

    Can’t say I see it. River Song is every bit the Doctor’s equal-even better at some things -like flying the T.A.R.D.I.S. Amy has been shown a number of times to be able to figure out things the Doctor missed. Heck,if anything I should take umbrage with the MALE companions like Mickie and Rory,guys who were there,for the most part,just to be comic relief. If I wanted to see a bumbling guy with a good heart,I’ll go watch any sitcom from the past 40 years. lol

  • singstar500