Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten (7.2.2)

The Rings of Akhaten

BBC Doctor Who Site

This episode by Neil Cross is a welcome change from the enjoyable, but bloated, The Bells of Saint John. A proper alien location and much more focused. Touch of the Bondian theme in the business with the moped that nicely mocked the grandiosity of the previous episode. I’ll be looking out for a motorcycle/moped motif in the next one. Enjoyed the market, which is fast challenging the ubiquitous quarry in the classic series for favourite location, and loved the chocolate box selection of brilliant, unique aliens. As a nod to the 50th anniversary year, the Doctor reveals that he once visited the Seven Planets with his granddaughter. So that would be the original William Hartnell Doctor, with Susan.

This week we got a closer look at Clara’s past, with the Doctor becoming even more stalkerish, and investigating Clara’s parents in an attempt to solve the mystery of her apparent regeneration. The leaf on the first page of her book, 101 Places to See, is explained as the leaf that blew across her future dad’s face and almost got him run over in 1981, only to be saved by Clara’s future mum. Lovely scene, that. But the Doctor is no closer to solving the mystery – “She’s not possible” – and Clara explicitly warns him off: “I’m not a bargain basement stand-in for someone else. I’m not going to compete with a ghost.”

The Rings of Akhaten is all about stories and memories, which the Doctor equates with the souls the Old God wants to eat. One of best monsters yet, a stellar vampire feeding off the lives of those on the Seven Planets, who have evolved a religion where it’s sung to sleep by the choristers and the Queen of Years. To make Mary a child, lost and afraid like Clara was at Blackpool, comforted by Clara as an adult as she was by her mum, ties their stories together in a very satisfying way. Even the local currency is psychometric, any object of emotional significance that’s laden with stories.

But stories are more than about what’s actually happened, they’re also about what might have happened. As the Doctor says, “There’s an awful lot of one and an infinity of the other. And infinity’s too much.” This is what destroys the Old God. Clara, never one to walk away, goes to the Doctor’s rescue after the Old God drains him dry of his Time Lord memories. Her weapon is the leaf that brought her parents together, which also contains the life that might have been if her mum hadn’t died. Clara’s infinite yearnings are there, so many they can buy salvation from the monster who’s been holding the population in fear for millennia. A thoroughly satisfying way of defeating the Old God, much more so than anything the Doctor could have done with a sonic screwdriver or a spot of timey-wimey jiggery-pokery.

This episode is saying something interesting and paradoxical about religion. On the one hand, the Old God is a “parasite,” compelling worship in case it should wake and drink their souls. Yet the religion that evolves around it is extremely beautiful. The music is glorious, and the feeling in the arena one of awe and wonder. I think Moffat and Neil Cross want us to recognise the cognitive dissonance and think on.

There’s also an echo of the Great Intelligence from last week’s episode, a being who craves minds stuffed with stories, its food source being the social media. While the Great Intelligence is also a vampire, the festivals of offering it feeds on are rather more tawdry.

This is grown-up writing. I want to see more of Neil Cross’ work.

Beautiful Railway Bridge: 2012 In Review

Winged MonkeysMany thanks to the WordPress Flying Helper Monkeys for putting our yearly statistics together. (Dubya, is that you?) All year round they bang away on their typewriters, just to keep the code flowing so we can enjoy a seamless blogging experience. We don’t ask for the complete works of Shakespeare, and they don’t supply it, but they and the Orwellian Happiness Engineers keep the WordPress ship afloat.

I’m probably a customer service representative’s worst nightmare – impatient, ungrateful, quick to assume it must be the fault of WordPress, and profoundly ignorant of the cause of a problem.

Well, I’m often wrong.

One of my resolutions was to show a bit of humility in 2013. That was it. Normal service will now be resumed.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 45,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 10 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Doctor Who: The Snowmen (2012 Christmas Special)

Doctor Who - The Snowmen

The Doctor as Scrooge? Why not? Steven Moffat pulls it off perfectly in this cracking Christmas Special, with the Doctor living in a cloud of his own misery, reached by a retractable ladder and an ornate, circular iron staircase (“It’s taller on the inside”). In keeping with his mood, he’s dressed in shabby Victorian clothes, dented top hat, and sans bow tie. The TARDIS could do with a lick of paint as well.

It is, of course, because of losing the Ponds – “He suffered losses which hurt him,” as Madame Vastra explains to Clara, who has a more down-to-earth take on it, “Mad.” The Doctor is indulging in a massive sulk, refusing to help humanity, until Clara appears like a force of nature to get him up and running.

While the Doctor still has loyal friends – Madame Vastra, her wife, Jenny, and Strax, the Sontaran warrior brought back from the dead – only Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) is able to break though the scar tissue and enlist his help against the Snowmen. They are intelligent crystals who mirror human thoughts, given form by the lonely, bitter mind of a boy who decides he doesn’t need anybody. Grown up to be a lonely, bitter man, he colludes with the snow to destroy humanity.

This Doctor Simeon is another Scrooge, sharing the Doctor’s bitter loneliness. But the Doctor has Clara to save him. Mostly by irritating him till he has to recognise her as his new companion. And because he starts to care about her, he can care about the world again.

It takes time. The catalyst is Clara’s one word answer to Madame Vastra, encapsulating the problem – “Pond” – which cannot fail to attract his attention. To the extent that he subconsciously puts on a bow tie before dashing off to rescue the Latimer’s from a dead, frozen, vengeful Governess. To make sure Clara is the one, he tests her by asking what his plan is, while being pursued by the Governess. Clara gets it, and also sees through the subterfuge.

From then on, the Doctor is committed, perhaps in love. There’s a fervency in the way he offers Clara the key to the TARDIS: “I never know why. I only know who.” And he’s devastated when the Governess snatches her away, just as things are turning out right. So he fights even harder to save the world and her. Perhaps he tries to bargain with the universe.

The world is saved, but it’s through the tears at Clara’s death, which fall as salt rain to melt the Snowmen and destroy the globe that controls them. And yet, maybe that bargain has been struck after all, because the Doctor recognises her name from the gravestone – Clara Oswin Oswald. He remembers her as Souffle Girl, who though a Dalek herself, saved him and the Ponds from the Daleks. As she lay dying, he again gave her the key, saying, “I don’t know how. I only know who.” So now he dashes off to find her, on the principle that three times is a charm, and in this case death doesn’t seem to be an obstacle. The last scene shows a modern Clara, standing by the gravestone in an overgrown cemetery. Of course we know she’s the new companion, but it’s good to have the mystery about how it could possibly happen.

I’m delighted with Clara. She’s intelligent, sexy, independent, exactly what the Doctor needs to keep him on his toes. Looking forward to the new season. I also enjoyed the return of Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. Madame Vastra had one of the best lines in the show, with “Good evening, I’m the Lizard Woman from the Dawn of Time, and this is my Wife.” Glad to see Strax alive and well – you can’t keep a good Sontaran down.

A superb Doctor Who Christmas Special, made more powerful by allowing the Doctor to reveal his dark side.