Television: Doctor Who, "The Rings of Akhaten"

While solid enough a story in theory (a grouping of seven planets comes together regularly for a festival and to offer a sacrifice to its god, and of course The Doctor and his new companion needs must stop the little girl from being "eaten" by said god), a lack of emotional connection to the characters left me feeling cold.

"The Rings of Akhaten" (not to be confused with the Pharaoh Akhenaten) begins with The Doctor dropping in on key moments in Clara's development, starting with the moment her parents meet, which explains the leaf she keeps in her book. We see young Clara kick a ball at The Doctor, we see her mourn her mother's passing. Maybe this is supposed to engender some kind of feeling for her, but . . . No. She remains more a cipher than a person. Even The Doctor can't make sense of her since she should be "impossible" (because she's already lived . . . twice?).

Fixated much?

Anyway, Clara has evidently agreed to travel a bit with The Doctor and he takes her to the titled Rings of Akhaten. And then the whole plot about the festival and the singing and the sacrifice to the ancient "god" which really just wakes up periodically to feast on . . . Memories? Experiences? Things sort of fall apart at this point because the god (which is more like the sun—makes sense, if this is a pseudo-Egyptian thing, but shows that despite all his experience The Doctor doesn't know s*** about history if he first thinks they're worshiping a mummy instead of said sun) sucks up a bunch of stuff from The Doctor (was it, like, licking him or something?), but somehow that fails to satisfy it. And The Doctor survives, which is weird since normally this sort of interaction is fatal for the sacrifices. And then Clara gives the god her special leaf and the god, now a cross between a sun and a jack-o-lantern, implodes. (Note that the leaf is destroyed in this interaction.)

I guess we're supposed to take away from all this the idea that Clara is a good person because she's moved to help the little girl and also willing to give up some of her most treasured possessions to do so, and to save The Doctor and this foreign world. Though one has to question what those beings are going to do without their sun. Maybe the sacrifice of one person every so often was worth it for light and heat and stuff.

Laid on particularly thick was the argument against creationism/religion. The Doctor starts by saying this world's belief system is "a nice story" and is happy to attend the festival but changes his tune when he discovers their tradition runs to human sacrifice. Then he lectures the little girl on the Big Bang Theory and tells her how she's made of elements . . . Look, I'm no religious fanatic but this particular stripe of ideology drew a lot of attention to itself. It was like a speech to a would-be suicide bomber or something.

For me, the show has lost something the past couple episodes. It feels like it's spinning its wheels. If the intention is a "slow build" between The Doctor and Clara, or to the bigger plot of who or what Clara really is, this is too slow. At the very least, they need to make me care. What's at stake? This Great Intelligence . . . Is that going anywhere? So far it doesn't seem to be very ominous.

Truthfully, for Doctor Who the world or the universe always seems to be at stake. But how often can you do that and make it compelling? So it needs to be something else this time. Maybe The Doctor's very sanity as he tries to sort out this whole Clara thing. (What if he comes to really care for her only to realize he must sacrifice her for the good of the larger population? See, I can do this off the top of my head. Step it up, boys. Or else get a girl like me to do it for you.)

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