Reviews Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten

Published on April 9th, 2013 | by Christian Cawley

The Rings of Akhaten

Please note that this review of Doctor Who Series 7 episode The Rings of Akhaten contains some spoilers. Read at your own risk!

As low key stories go, The Rings of Akhaten is surprisingly visual. It has great costumes and prosthetic work, striking special effects and well directed key scenes – but despite the story, the acting and the Star Wars (prequel trilogy, admittedly) feel, there is something inherently forgettable about all of the otherworldly stuff and the efforts that the BBC Wales team put into creating a pretty convincing alien scenario.

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten

Could it be that this nice little story that features some interesting backstory for Clara (something that didn’t happen for Amy Pond until the end of her first series) and her family has suffered from being sandwiched between the (mid-) season opener and the fan-pleasing return of the Ice Warriors in next week’s Cold War?

And did The Rings of Akhaten actually possess a legible plot?

Well, let’s stick with the main meat of the adventure. Yes, there are a few parallels between the planet-god-entity and the Doctor (mostly being called “Grandfather” and a fondness for humanoid companionship and ego-buffing) but the whole Merry-sings-it-goes-wrong-and-she’s-turned-into-a-living-sacrifice strand was pretty well signposted (there was little room for manoeuvrings into any other plot, really).

But until the Doctor and Clara encountered the “alarm clock”, the most important elements of The Rings of Akhaten weren’t the events on this alien world but back on earth in the late 1980s, where a girl meets a boy, Back to the Future-style, by hitting him with a car.

There’s even a tree involved.

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten

Providing both a contrast to the “alienness” of Akhaten and acting as background and inspiration for Clara to sacrifice her precious leaf, the meeting of Dave Oswald with his future wife Ellie is built around the fateful leaf, the same piece of foliage that he later uses to propose and which we first saw in The Bells of Saint John. How a leaf can prove so important to a relationship is intriguing, but recalls the romance of some classic (Doctor Who such as Earthshock‘s “When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well-prepared meal?”).

The problem with the episode is that as nice as it is to watch and as important as those flashback elements are to Clara’s story and the resolution of events on Akhaten, not an awful lot happens.

Perhaps I’ve been watching too much classic Doctor Who of late; maybe fatherhood has made me old. I just get the feeling as much as I enjoyed the sights of the aliens, of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s wonderful, reactive performance, that it was missing something meaty. Although a lot seemed to be taking place on Akhaten, nothing really happened.

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten

I’m going to reserve judgement on Neil Cross however, as this is his first episode and he has another in a couple of week’s time. Farren Blackburn has done another visually stunning job as director, however, but given the similar lack of substance to The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, I wonder if the faults in this episode (including a slightly muted performance from Matt Smith) might be levelled at his door.

Clearly The Rings of Akhaten is Clara’s episode, but as much as I like Jenna-Louise Coleman and the development of the character, I wonder how many times I’ll watch it again…

Ultimately, it’s the episode before Cold War. Tragically, The Rings of Akhaten is a seat warmer; let’s hope the wait is worth it…

Things to take away from The Rings of Akhaten

Why did the Doctor go missing for so long? Was he off on another adventure? It’s one of those typically unexplained moments on the show since Moffat took the reins, and may even be a “wrong jacketed” Doctor moment from Flesh and Stone or – something far more mundane.

We’ve learned that Clara is indeed a real human, with parents, and understood why she was working as an au pair in The Bells of Saint John (her mother died; the family she was living with had a mother die). But how romantic was her father, with all of that talk about the leaf and its history and fate! More to the point, which one of Clara’s parents has something more to them? Because if there is an intrigue concerning the Doctor’s new best friend, her lineage has to be involved.



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About the Author


A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

12 Responses to The Rings of Akhaten

  1. avatar Gareth says:

    Totally agree with the review and sums up how I found it: visually great but lacking any pace or action. I think Moffats eventual replacement really does need to look at Old Skool Who for influence. By the way, my kids were totally bored with it.

  2. avatar lozzer says:

    The Doctor The Widow And The Wardrobe… hmmm the other episode I also really disliked. I’m still struggling to get rid of the image of all the aliens swaying their heads and singing hymns. I think it’s the schmoltzy stuff I struggle with. I’ve also been watching a lot of classic Who and it’s where I keep finding myself drawn too. Still, it’s Ice Warriors on Sat!

  3. avatar zee chen says:

    My 15 year and I were bored by this and last week. Also the story was muddled and confusing. It was so muddled we thought it must be a two parter, since we could figure it out. When it ended we looked at each other and said, well that was werid.

  4. avatar Al says:

    I thought it was a sweet episode, very much a character-building piece for Clara. I enjoyed it and look forward to watching it again and don’t understand the hatred it has attracted (though not reflected in this review, I add). I have to wonder though, given the Doctor’s absence for a good chunk of the episode, whether this might have been a sneaky “Doctor lite” entry (sort of like how last year’s Girl Who Waited was the Doctor lite episode but didn’t appear to be due to clever editing and pacing).

  5. avatar Doug says:

    I agree, nothing much happened in the episode. However, I do think as the season goes on that there will be something in this episode that will be important for the mystery that is Clara. I also wondered about the failure of the translation circuits for some, but not all of the aliens. The mention of his granddaughter was interesting, but that reference went nowhere in the story. It was said to Clara and there was no follow-up that I can recall to that bit of information the Doctor let slip.

  6. avatar Gruff says:

    Just dawned on me that, in a potential set up for the anniversary special, maybe the TARDIS that wouldn’t open for Clara was actually that of the First Doctor?

    That would make sense of Eleventh disappearing while all of this was going on and why the TARDIS was both locked and rejecting Clara entry (though she has no key that we know of either).

    Perhaps he disappeared off for some reason and then reappeared? Though Clara had no translation issues, so maybe the TARDIS remained in the same spot and another landed in the same place like in The Five Doctors?

    • avatar cgrit says:

      I noticed you didn’t mention the musical score. Despite the lack of meatiness and storyline, and the fact that stunning visuals are no replacement for a good story, the episode had me crying in the end even if nothing really moving happened to merit that. But the music! If only because of that I enjoyed the episode anyway.

      • Ah – this review was late due to a lost draft. Seemsmmy thoughts about the music didn’t make it through… Will amend when I get home.

  7. avatar Mugen Pharoah says:

    Agree totally with this review. Not my cup of Who at all. From the preview photos I was expecting a sci fi retro mummy story. What we got was Songs of Praise in space, where crowds of the same six aliens bob their heads like it’s last night of the proms.

    Contender for weakest Smith Who ep of them all. Still, much better than RTD era lowpoints (New Earth, Fear Her) but a big boring bag of nothing all the same.

  8. avatar Philip Bates says:

    I urge any naysayers to watch it again. It’s such a beautiful episode, which gets better upon each viewing.

    • avatar gavinio says:

      I struggled to make it through to the end on first viewing. I’m not willing to sit through it again so soon after transmission. I’d sooner have my wisdom teeth pulled out with no anaesthetic whilst at the same time watching Fear Her!

      • avatar Philip Bates says:

        … Oh.

        There’s not much you can say to that, is there?

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