New companion Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) is all set for her first official trip in the TARDIS. How does her inaugural outing with The Doctor (Matt Smith) go?
Let’s bitch it out.
I have to be honest viewers- I’ve been largely disappointed with S7 of Doctor Who. It pains me to say it, but when I think back to all the timey-wimey goodness of S6, this current season just doesn’t measure up. All the business with the Pond-Williams at the front end of the season (although there were moments of brilliance) wasn’t as compelling as it could have been, and even with the promise of new companion Clara, I just haven’t found myself on the edge of my seat as I was during previous seasons. ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ fits quite nicely into the realm of under-whelming as during much of the episode I was struggling to pay attention.
On a positive note, the episode looks absolutely amazing. There’s no question that production values of the show have gone WAY up, no doubt thanks to the explosion of the series’ popularity in North America. Never have we seen such amazing prosthetic work in the reboot of the series, with dozens of new alien species trotting around the marketplace like it’s nobody’s business. Even the CGI looks stunning (especially in HD) emulating a sci-fi mini-series rather than a weekly episodic show.
Unfortunately, the running narrative with alien child queen Merry (Emila Jones) felt overly convoluted and clunky, resting primarily on exposition to carry it forward. Both Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman do very well and selling the explanatory dialogue to help orient the viewers, but even so, during much of the episode I was watching with a furrowed brow. I could attempt to summarize what happens, but there are plenty of other outlets who do a far better job than I ever could. I’m not sure if it was a question of not understanding what was going on or simply not caring, but either way, it certainly didn’t make for a strong episode.
Even though the driving narrative was unnecessarily confusing and generally banal, the episode did reveal some rich character development. We know that Clara has the innate quality of being wonderful with young children (the scene in which she reassures Merry behind the TARDIS is particularly good) but we also get some significant background regarding the loving relationship with her parents.
Since the episode opens with the meet-cute of Mama (Nicola Sian) and Daddy (Michael Dixon) Oswald, and the numerous flashbacks and allusions to Clara’s deep love for her mother intercut throughout, it’s clear that Clara’s parental influence will factor quite significantly throughout the rest of the season. In the final confrontation with the parasitic, planet-sized god, Clara offers up the ‘most important leaf in human history’ to satiate his/its never ending hunger for sentimentality. It feels slightly schmaltzy, but the very fact that Clara is willing to give up the leaf that is likely her most precious memento in order to save all the aliens on Akhaten, and The Doctor, it gives us tremendous insight to her moral compass. Clara appears to be far more altruistic than her companion predecessors. I’m not certain how that will play out over subsequent episodes, but I’m intrigued on how that will affect The Doctor.
And it seems our Eleventh Doctor is already taking on the traits of his new companion, decidedly proclaiming that “we don’t walk away” when others’ need our help. This is quite different from the positioning of his Ninth and arguably, Tenth incarnations that struggled with whether or not to get involved with ‘the locals’ during travels.
But the weight of The Doctor’s 50 years of traveling comes to the forefront in the episode’s strongest scene when he goes head-to-head with the parasitic god. In a brilliantly acted monologue, The Doctor dares the god to consume all of his painful experiences, bringing up the memories of the Time War, the agony of being the last remaining of his entire race, and the tragedy of losing companion after companion. He declares with a single tear streaming down his face, “I have lost things you will never understand.” There’s the distinct feeling that the Eleventh Doctor, although primarily cheerful and quirky, is ultimately concealing the burdens of his memories.
When Clara steps in with the sacrificing of her leaf, it’s a wonderful counterpoint to The Doctor’s monologue, illustrating how complementary these two are to one another. I believe Clara will serve a much more instrumental role in The Doctor’s growth and healing much like Billie Piper’s Rose did back in S1. Despite the sloppy narrative that facilitated this sequence, Smith’s performance and what follows with Clara practically redeems the entire episode, leaving me eagerly awaiting the development of their relationship.
- Again, I don’t know if it’s simply a matter of narrative convenience, but I feel that The Doctor is far too reliant on his sonic screwdriver of late. I always regarded it as handy tool, but it seems to be a distracting catchall solution for everything, be it skeleton key or light saber.
- It’s probably completely inappropriate, but Clara’s dad is looking good in the scene where they stand over her mother’s grave. He must have been 18 when Clara was born…
- There’s something interesting/creepy about the Eleventh Doctor’s need to visit his companions when they’re little girls…
What did you think viewers? Do you think this was a great first adventure? How do you think Clara will react when she finds out about Oswin Oswald or Victorian Clara? Do you think The Doctor will ever tell her about the companions that came before? Do you think the burden of The Doctor has lessened after the parasite god has ‘eaten’ many of his memories? Sound off in the comments section below.
Doctor Who airs Saturday at 8pm EST on BBC America.