If you remember the journey that Russell T Davies took Rose Tyler on back in the first series of the revived Doctor Who in 2005, you might find a parallel or two in The Rings Of Akhaten. Here, the Doctor asks his latest travelling companion, Clara, where she’d like to go. Her answer? She wants to go somewhere awesome, and with a bit of a nod to The End Of The World (as well as one or two other episodes from RTD-era Who), the TARDIS lands her in front of quite a spectacle, one that lends the episode its name.
Spectacle is a good word to describe this one, as it happens. It’s sadly ironic that in the week after it’s announced that The Mill is shutting down its television effects department, that some more of its striking visual work should be showcased on primetime BBC One. But striking it most certainly is. There are quite a few moments in this episode that are just glorious to look at, and while one or two parts of the effects work aren’t quite as convincing a bit later on, at its best, The Rings Of Akhaten is big, cinematic widescreen television.
In the midst of all this spectacle is a plot of course, and this one has come from the brain of Neil Cross. Cross, best known to date for Luther, is making his Doctor Who debut here, and it’s a confident, if not exceptional, one. His story is a proper outer space tale with an alien world and its inhabitants, best demonstrated by a lively marketplace of lots of different aliens. Tons of them, in fact. The prop cupboard would have been bare by the time the actors had been costumed and the sets dressed for this one, and there’s a real sense of a different world being put across. It’s going to be worth rewatching and freeze framing, certainly.
Cross plays very much on the different culture of the world, with a religious subtext to it all. And while the constraints of the episode running time do seem to curtail him a little (the wrap up, for instance, feels rushed, and not quite up to the level of the setup), it’s a solid Who debut for him here, that bodes well for his second story, the upcoming Hide.
However, in truth, it’s not the story itself that stands out about The Rings Of Akhaten (accepting that it does have something to say). As well as the visuals, this is also an episode where, for more than one reason, the musical work of Murray Gold is brought to the fore, and woven intrinsically into the adventure. A standalone audio CD release of this episode alone would be worth having.
Steven Moffat had mentioned at the launch of Doctor Who series 7 part 2 that effectively we get three opening episodes in this particular run. This is the second of them, and while it’s not up to the level of The Bells Of Saint John, it’s still solid, and quite glorious to look at. The second half of Doctor Who‘s seventh series since its revival is already in far steadier form than the first, too…
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