Season 7, Episode 8: The Rings of Akhaten
– Posted by Sage
“So, I’d like to see, I would like to see, what I would like to see is…something awesome.”
– Clara, and also me when someone asks me what I want in the 50th anniversary special.
The modern day Clara Oswald hasn’t been given the TARDIS key or the intergalactic phone upgrade just yet, but “The Rings of Akhaten” marked her first official trip with the Doctor. And the mystery about her rages on. This episode gave us more clues about her identity, but also what are surely more red herrings. Moffat and episode writer Neil Cross (Luther‘s showrunner) have those crazy kids on Tumblr working overtime, mainlining coffee and trying to decide which coincidences are just that and which have been very shrewdly planned. More on that later.
The episode did shoot down one popular fan theory – that of Clara’s parentage. Sorry, folks, Ms. Oswald is not the lovable spawn of Rose and TenToo OR of The Face of Boe/Jack Harkness. We learn in an Up-inspired prologue that Clara’s parents were two normal, if exceptionally attractive and loving Brits, and that her mum passed away in 2005. In “Asylum of the Daleks,” Oswin Oswald marks her mum’s birthday in her log. If Oswin and Clara are, in some way, the same person, does that mean that her parents are consistent across anomalies as well? If so, then we know that the events of Asylum happened on September 11th. Yeesh. And is Ellie Oswald alive in other universes? What does that mean?
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
I like her, by the way.
Clara is A+ companion material. She’s spunky, compassionate, and completely gorgeous. She has a nifty red handbag. She’s nice to kids, even when they look like they’ve been in a very precise knifefight with Gordon Ramsey. I have heard the rumblings on Twitter of fans who are so over the “extraordinary” companions. Part and parcel of the whole Doctor Who philosophy is that regular people have it in themselves to do fantastic things. The Doctor didn’t know when he asked them to travel with him that Rose Tyler would absorb the time vortex or Martha Jones would walk the Earth or even that Donna Noble would turn out to be the “most important woman in all of creation.” On the other hand, Clara did charm the Doctor in “The Snowmen” and he invited her along with him way before he realized that she was the same girl. We don’t hear him talk about it much these days, but he is still grieving Amy. For all his bombast, Moffat introduced Amy’s reading glasses as an quietly elegant device to remind us of that. (And now I’m wondering if he had those glasses on him when Doreen requested payment.) My point is, the mystery is still what is keeping the Doctor going. It’s like when I spend hours reorganizing my closet to avoid dwelling on bad news.
But the really wonderful thing about Clara is that she doesn’t WANT to be solved. She’s not a symbol. She’s not a project. She is a person, and she would like him to treat her that way.
And then there was that monologue.
Again this week, I watched the show twice – once at home and again at The Way Station (aka “the TARDIS bar”) in Brooklyn. It was a packed bar in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, and you could have heard a pin drop while Eleven addressed the old god. Matt Smith does twirly, flail-y Doctor quite well, but shame on you if you think that’s his whole act. This was, hands down, the highlight of “The Rings of Akhaten,” so let’s just revisit the entire speech:
Can you hear them? All these people who lived in terror of you and your judgement, all these people whose ancestors devoted themselves, sacrificed themselves to you. Can you hear them singing? Oh you like to think you’re a God, but you are not a God, you’re just a parasite eating out with jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others. You feed on them, on the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow, so… so. Come on then, take mine! Take my memories! But I hope you’ve got a big appetite, because I have lived a long life and I have seen a few things. 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 will 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 on then; take it! Take it all, baby! Have it, you have it all!
Oh, that single tear. Parasite-God damn you, Matt Smith.
This was Eleven’s “The Satan Pit” moment. Again, the Doctor is calling out a false god for essentially sucking the life out of its worshippers. Between this and his explanation to Mary of the Big Bang Theory (actual theory, nothing about Sheldon Cooper), I don’t think Pope Francis is going to be endorsing this show anytime soon.
And that leads us to the one mystery mercifully solved by this episode: the leaf. After the Doctor feeds his entire memory to the old god, Clara feeds it her mother’s un-lived future. It was lovely, especially the idea that the possibilities of a life outweigh its past. But I’m concerned that we’re getting into the unsatisfying portion of Harry Potter territory here. “Love can save the universe” feels like a cop-out. I want Clara’s mum to be important for a specific, convoluted, and nerdy reason, not just because she was a nice person who loved her daughter.
Knowing Moffat’s evil genius like we do, my fears are probably unfounded.
Timey Wimey Observations:
- Forever dead at Matt Smith interacting with children.
- My favorite spot by eagle-eyed Tumblrs is what might be a “Turn Left” style beetle on the tree in the cemetery. Does this mean that the Doctor is somehow traveling between universes and not realizing it? Or did an anomaly create an alternate future and another Clara at some point? If so, WHEN and how long have we been there? Is this how Rose and TenToo end up coming into play in the 50th? Things!
- “We don’t walk away.” Has that always been the rule, Doctor? Seems like it used to be, “Sometimes we have to walk away.” I like this one better.
- Was anyone else terrified that the Doctor would actually LOSE his memories? My heart can’t take another John Smith situation.
- “The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
The Doctor quotes The Walrus & the Carpenter to Mary Galell when he explains to her why she has no duty to sacrifice herself to the old god. The poem is often interpreted as a critique of organized religion, with the walrus and the carpenter leading young, naive oysters to the beach with promises just to devour them all. The Doctor loves history and a good ritual, but really, really dislikes creatures, no matter how powerful, who demand to be worshipped by the smaller and weaker. I love this guy.
Thanks for playing, Whovians! Kim will be back next week to cover next week’s Hunt for Red October-looking episode, “Cold War.”