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Recap: Doctor Who S 33 E 07 The Rings Of Akh Aten
"There's quite a difference, isn't there, between what was and what should have been. There's an awful lot of one, but there's an infinity of the other."
— The Doctor
The first broadcast Doctor Who
episode by Promoted Fanboy
Neil Cross, who got the job by mentioning Doctor Who
for years in every BBC meeting.
The Doctor quietly watches (and reads The Beano
) as Clara's parents meet for the first time. A leaf blows into Clara's dad's face and he stumbles into the road, where her mother saves him from being hit by a car. The two fall in love, become Clara's mother and father, raise her with kindness and sweet stories. The Doctor is always there, just to watch her grow up. When Clara's mother dies, the Doctor is there at the graveyard, just looking at the scene from a distance. Clara is, for all intents and purposes, a completely normal human being.
On the day after her previous adventure
, the Doctor arrives to come pick Clara up. Clara wants to see something awesome, so the Doctor whisks her off to the gorgeous inhabited rings of the planet Akhaten, where the Festival of Offerings is in full swing. Wandering off
at the marketplace, Clara meets Merry, the very young Queen of Years, as the pilgrims and natives prepare for the ceremony. Merry is terrified
of her role as a ceremonial singer, thinking she'll screw up despite having been extensively taught every song and story known to her culture. Clara encourages her to go through with it, remembering how her own mother raised her to be courageous, and Merry agrees to perform the hymn for "Grandfather", the elder god. However, said god very unexpectedly interrupts little Merry's song and drags her through the air towards its tomb. The Doctor and Clara stop being tourists and leap into action, following suit on a space motorbike.
The Doctor sonics open the tomb door and becomes forced to seal himself, Clara, Merry and a monk (frantically singing sacred lullabies) in together with a tremendously scary mummified vampire, who promptly wakes up and starts attacking its own cage. Merry insists on making a Heroic Sacrifice
and letting it feed on her memories — all the songs and stories she's been taught for this purpose. But the Doctor explains to her the sheer improbability of someone as unique as a living person being born in the first place (glancing at Clara while he talks) and the pointlessness of sacrificing something as beautiful as her own life.
Merry is still intensely scared, though, and she fully blames Clara for convincing her to go through with the ritual, even though no one knew it would lead to this. While Merry uses her knowledge of her culture's lore to improvise an escape, the thing
breaks through its glass and lets out a shrill yell, which triggers a beam that makes contact with the planet, after which the mummy falls unconscious. As it turns out, the mummy isn't the Old God. It was the Old God's alarm clock. The Old God is the entire planet
The Doctor asks Clara to get Merry to safety on the air bike, while he stays behind to confront the living, monstrous planet. Merry takes up her old spot on the ceremonial dais again and begins to sing, hoping to calm the beast. The Doctor exposes himself to it, voluntarily letting the thing Mind Rape
him and showing it every single one of his memories: the Time War, the beginning of life and its ending, the death of entire universes. Entire worlds that laughed in the face of physics and relied on the mind of a madman. The monster isn't quite
sated yet, so while the Doctor, crying by this point, struggles to keep standing up, Clara rushes back into the tomb and offers the monster her leaf: not just its memories, but Clara's grief at what might
have been if her mother hadn't died. Since the thought of innumerable possibilities is stronger even than the Doctor's 1200 years of life, the planet gorges itself on Clara's grief and disappears.
In the aftermath, the Doctor explains that Clara reminds him of someone who died. Clara tells him she won't be a Replacement Goldfish
for whomever it is he lost, not realising he's talking about her.
- Appease the Volcano God: Not a volcano, but same principle.
- Badass Boast: The Doctor gets a pretty epic one.
"I walked away from the Last Great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out, moment by moment, until nothing remained. No time. No space. Just me! I've walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a MAD... MAN. I've watched universes freeze and creations burn. I have seen things you wouldn’t believe. I have lost things you'll never understand! And I know things. Secrets that must never be told. Knowledge that must never be spoken. Knowledge that will make parasite gods BLAZE! SO COME OOOOON THEN! TAKE IT! TAKE IT ALL, BABY! HAVE IT! YOU HAVE IT ALL!"
- Batman Can Breathe in Space: The entire episode is spent on asteroids that should never hold an atmosphere, the habitable parts of these asteroids extend onto the surface and into empty space, and there are several sequences where the characters ride a space-moped without helmets or space suits. It's reasonable to assume there's an artificial atmosphere, but this is not elaborated on in the episode.
- Bazaar of the Bizarre: The marketplace.
- Beam-O-War: The Doctor has a sonic-off with the guardians of the temple. They eventually overcome his sonic screwdriver, but not quickly enough to stop him.
- Call Back: The Doctor's speech to the Queen of Years (and his mention of seeing the beginning of time) call back to "The Edge Of Destruction".
- Chewing the Scenery: Not so fast, Matt, you don't want to choke.
- Conspicuously Light Patch: Near the episode's beginning, there's a shot of a tree with one big red leaf, and many smaller yellow leaves. Guess which one ends up being "the most important leaf in human history"?
- Continuity Nod:
- The Doctor mentions having come to Akhaten before, with his granddaughter. (Which makes it the first explicit mention of Susan Foreman in the revived series.)
- He also again mentions having seen the birth of the universe.
- And the end of it (which he's technically been to at least twice).
- Clara tries to get into the TARDIS, but it stops her, and after a while she randomly comments "I don't think it likes me". The TARDIS possibly locked out Clara on purpose, just like she went to the end of the universe to try and stop Jack holding onto her during "Utopia".
- The Doctor talks about seeing the beginning of time, living to see time run out, and being in a dimension where the laws of physics were devised by a mad man. He also mentions knowing knowledge that must never be told.
- The Doctor jumps into a Venusian Aikido stance when he's startled.
- Clara's mother dies the same day that Nine had his first adventure with Rose, and was likely killed by the autons.
- Once again, the bad guy interacts with Clara's mind but it proves to be too much for them.
- Also once again, an Eldritch Abomination dies from Phlebotinum Overload due to gorging on what it needs for sustenance.
- The Doctor talks down an Eldritch Abomination by forcing it to experience his painful memories, like the Big Finish Doctor Who adventure "Phobos."
- Having a villain who goes by the name of "Grandfather" brings to mind the Doctor Who Expanded Universe villain Grandfather Paradox.
- Chekhov's Gun: The space bike and Clara's leaf
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Queen of Years is this, in a way.
- Declarative Finger: The Doctor gives one to the villain in its final moments.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The Doctor and Clara defeat a sentient planet.
- Don't Wake the Sleeper: A textbook example. It's even doubled, in that the sleeping god is a sleeper that will awaken an even bigger sleeper if awoken.
- Driven to Suicide: The temple monk presses a button on his wrist device and disappears into thin air. This might have been a teleporter, but his dialogue is somewhat ambiguous about his plans.
- Eldritch Abomination: The planet.
- Emotion Eater: "Grandfather"/the Old God.
- Eternally Pearly-White Teeth: That mummy has had some dental work, apparently.
- Expy: The sleeping evil planet bears a strong resemblance to one of August Derleth's contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos. Cthugha, described as a massive ball of fire, and often mistaken for a star or planet.
- For Want of a Nail: "The most important leaf in human history", an ordinary leaf that, through a series of improbable coincidences, was in just the right position to bring Clara's parents together.
- Genius Loci: A sentient planet.
- Foreshadowing: The inifinite possibilites leaf actually represented Clara, not her mother's unlived future, hinting at The Reveal of Clara's true nature later in the season.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The Doctor nearly makes one.
- Humanoid Abomination: "Grandfather" is a mostly humanoid thing that sits on a throne in a temple. Except it's actually just the entity responsible for devouring the Queen of Years' stories in order to satiate the Old God.
- Indy Hat Roll: The Doctor does one under the closing tomb door; rolling back to retrieve his sonic screwdriver.
- Internal Homage: The Doctor's speech to the monster is very reminiscent of the Eighth Doctor's speech in "Phobos". Neil Cross' other series 7 episode, "Hide", made the link more explicit with many direct references to the Eighth Doctor's audios.
- Kill the God: What the Doctor and Clara done at the end is effectively kill these people's God. The ramifications for these people on a cultural and spiritual level aren't dealt with, considering how much of a bond it created between them and we already (possibly) saw how the monk in the Temple dealt with this loss.
- Large Ham: See Badass Boast. That speech is probably Matt Smith's hammiest scene so far, bar none. Watch closely, you'll notice spittle flying. Not the first time a scene caused the Doctor to foam at the mouth.
- Load-Bearing Hero: The Doctor manages to open the door to the temple with his sonic screwdriver, but has to keep it there to prevent the door from closing. Paradoxically, he still seems to feel the weight of the door despite not actually touching it, which he lampshades a few times.
- Macguffin Girl: Merry.
- Make Me Wanna Shout: The power of the temple guardians.
- Manly Tears: The Doctor cries during his magnificent speech to the beast.
- Meet Cute / Rescue Romance: Clara's parents. Also implied to be Love at First Sight.
- Mister Sandman Sequence: The Doctor reads the 1981 Beano Summer Special. The track playing is Ghost Town by The Specials, released in 1981. It's probably 1981.
- Music Soothes The Savage Beast: The Sun-Singers have been singing a lullaby to the Old God for generations upon generations in order to keep it asleep.
- Mythology Gag:
- Victorian Clara's gravestone in "The Snowmen" says she was born on November 23, the date "An Unearthly Child" aired in 1963. She also lived to age 26, the same age as classic Doctor Who when it was cancelled in 1989. Clara's mother died on March 5th, 2005, the day "Rose" (the first episode of the new series) takes place.
- The Doctor reading The Beano might be a reference to Peter Cushing's Doctor reading The Eagle.
- Newspaper Dating: Done for the benefit of the viewers rather than the Doctor himself when we see him reading the Beano Summer Special of 1981◊.
- Newspaper Thin Disguise: The Doctor with his comic book when he's investigating Clara's past.
- No Biochemical Barriers: Clara chomps on an alien fruit before the Doctor has finished scanning it to make sure it's safe. The Doctor doesn't even bother reprimanding her, presumably as he's got exactly the same attitude to potential danger.
- No Endor Holocaust: The Doctor later mentions all of the people having been saved, in spite of the destruction of a planet, suggesting that the loss has somehow not been insurmountable for them or that whatever system is able to maintain a unified interplanetary atmosphere also protected the planets.
- Not-So-Innocent Whistle: Clara does this while trying to sneak Merry back to the TARDIS.
- Oh Crap: One of the few times we get to truly see this from the Doctor, once he realizes the sheer scale and power of what he's dealing with. Akhaten gets one briefly, during the Doctor's speech.
- Our Souls Are Different: They consist of songs and stories.
- Our Vampires Are Different: The Doctor calls the Alien God a vampire, but only in the sense that it's a parasite. Turns out the real Old God isn't even remotely humanoid.
- Phlebotinum Overload: The Old God feeds on the life experiences of others. But when Clara offers it "the most important leaf in human history", containing not only the experiences of its owner but all the experiences they could have had, it implodes. The Doctor tried to invoke this with his own memories, and came pretty close, but the planet survived that.
- The Power of Love: Clara defeats the God by "feeding" it her parents' Tragic Keepsake.
- People in Rubber Suits: This episode holds the record for having the most physical aliens to appear on-screen in Doctor Who history.
- Promoted Fanboy: Neil Cross grew up watching Doctor Who, and made sure to mention the show at every BBC meeting he had for other series, until the Doctor Who crew eventually noticed him. (Not only that, he was awarded two episodes to write in Series 7.)
- Prop Recycling: Most of the aliens in the bazaar are made of bits of props left over from previous Who aliens or ones from other BBC shows.
- Red Herring: The Doctor mentions visiting Akhaten with Susan (first time she was explicitly referred to in the new series), and then we find out that the god of Akhaten is called 'Grandfather'. At first, it looks like the aliens are worshipping the Doctor.
- Saving The World With Art: The people of Akhaten balieve that a song must always be sung in order to keep an angry god asleep, and if it ever ceases he will awake and devour them all.
- Scenery Porn: The Rings of Akhaten are gorgeous and shown in great detail. Of course, Clara did ask to go "somewhere awesome", so why disappoint?
- Behind the scenes, it was a time of sadness back in the time of the episode's original broadcast - The news of the closure of the TV VFX department of The Mill, the London-based Visual Effects company that worked on Doctor Who's VFX for the entirety of the revived (2005-) run of the series, had been massively dated in the press. The rest of the series had to make do with some disappointingly low-quality VFX note However, a few of the former employees of The Mill (including some of its founders) have founded a new VFX house, "Milk VFX", which will make the VFX for the upcoming Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special. Details concerning the future of their commissioning to Doctor Who, though, are yet to be revealed.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The Old God in a Pyramid. It turns out the real Monster is the Sun.
- Self-Deprecation: Clara's little speech at not competing with a ghost might be a Call Back to Martha.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: The Doctor still has traces of this because of his loss of the Ponds, telling Clara to run away with Merry.
- Multiple references are made to Harrison Ford films: A New Hope, Blade Runner, and various Indiana Jones movies.
- The promo image is a reference to various adventure films, particularly the Indiana Jones franchise. And in the episode, the Doctor rolls under a descending door, reaching back for his screwdriver.
- A nod to Star Wars:
Marcus (Wilson, producer) phoned me up and said, "We've always wanted to have a speeder-bike like in Return of the Jedi
and we know how to do it inexpensively, so can you get one into the story?"
- Also, the bazaar reminds one of the famous Cantina scene in A New Hope.
- One of the races the Doctor claims makes up the crowd is the Hooloovoo. It appears to be an In Name Only reference though (possibly an attempt at trolling by the Doctor) since the Hooloovoo are described as 'a hyper intelligent shade of the colour blue', whereas it's a human looking alien, and the Doctor has read Douglas Adams in the past.
- The Doctor borrows a line from "The Walrus and the Carpenter" while explaining how all things originate from stars.
- And of course all of that is a glorious reference to Carl Sagan's "Cosmos", wherein he explains that billions of stars died to make us, that we're made of star-stuff.
- "The Song Is Over" by The Who.
- Clara calls the Sonic Screwdriver a spanner.
- A monstrous Eldritch Abomination so powerful it can be considered a deity even by someone like the Doctor, who for the good of the universe is kept dormant by way of endless singing, and should the aforementioned music cease for a second it will wake and destroy everything... uh yeah, this story literally has the Doctor directly confronting Azathoth. Which makes two Outer Gods in a row; The Great Intelligence is Yog-Sothoth in-canon (Expanded Universe only).
- Without using the exact words, the Doctor did ask the Old God do you hear the people sing?
- The room where the Doctor confronts "Grandfather" looks a good deal like the Illusive Man's office.
- The sentient planet that is capable of destroying civilizations, sounds very much like the Brethren Moons from Dead Space 3.
- In the opening sequence, a young man falls in love with (and tragically loses) a Manic Pixie Dream Girl named Ellie who dreams of traveling the world.
- Another Indiana Jones reference: Clara's mother's maiden name was Ravenwood, like Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- The Doctor quotes directly from Roy's final speech in Blade Runner: "I've seen things you wouldn't believe."
- The extreme close up eye with fire in the reflection is remincient of the opening scene of "Blade Runner''
- Single Tear: Both the Doctor and Clara, when making their offerings.
- Space Is Noisy: So noisy, in fact, that you can apparently sing to the Old God from a different planet and expect it to hear you. This could be handwaved by the psychic nature of the Old God, though; it may not be "hearing" them, per se, just reading their thoughts. Or someone set up some microphones in the two locations.
- Talking the Monster to Death: The Doctor gives it his all. It's not enough.
- Targeted Human Sacrifice: The Queen of Years is taught all the lore and stories of her culture; when "Grandfather" wakes, he specifically wants her.
- This Is Gonna Suck: The Doctor and Clara's conversation regarding the awakened the Old God.
Clara: You're going to fight it, aren't you?
Doctor: Regrettably yes, I think I may be about to do that.
- Too Spicy for Yog Sothoth: The Doctor. Almost. Clara's leaf actually is.
- Tragic Keepsake:
- The leaf. And a ring that belonged to Clara's mother.
- The Doctor still has Amy's reading glasses too.
- The X of Y #120
- The Undead: A mummified vampire.
- The Unintelligible: Most of the aliens in the bazaar speak in gibberish, including one that speaks in barks.
- This despite the fact a well-established convention in the series is that the TARDIS is supposed to translate alien languages for the Doctor, the companions and us, the viewers (though it is established that the TARDIS doesn't like Clara, so maybe she decided not to translate everything, just to be a pain).
- Visible Boom Mic: The second time Clara encounters Merry (when they startle each other during their game of cat and mouse), though the sound guy does notice quick enough to lift it back up fast enough that it becomes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment. Interestingly, all shots focused on Merry in that scene following the hiccup are close-ups.
- When The Planets Align: When the Rings of Akhaten align every thousand years or so, an extremely important festival is thrown. Well, important locally. He compares the whole thing to "Pancake Tuesday".
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Doctor gives one to the Old God.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Neil Cross was asked by Steven Moffat to give Clara a proper introduction to the universe.
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: The Doctor to Merry, describing how precious life is.
- Would Hurt a Child: "Grandfather", or those who serve him, has no qualms about kidnapping little girls if they decide not to do it, or about the fact the children either die or get their soul eaten.
- You Can't Thwart Stage One: Who really thought the Doctor would be able to keep the Old God from waking up?