Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten (2013)

“She’s just a girl. How can she be? She can’t be. She is. She can’t be. She’s not possible.”

–The Doctor about Clara

 

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten is an odd Doctor Who episode. In the first seconds, the show treats us to The Doctor essentially stalking Clara through time. We can assume that he has become completely obsessed with her mystery at this point, especially when he utters the quote that I started this review out with. Most notable of these events, he witnesses her parent’s first meeting a.k.a the origin of that leaf that she keeps tucked away in her journal – a plot point we saw last episode. Back in the 1980’s Clara’s father nearly died when he was struck in the face by a huge leaf in a gust of wind. This freak accident of nature nearly caused him to be hit by a car had it not been for Clara’s mother jumping to the rescue. Aside from the tear-jerking prologue, the episode seemed eerily reminiscent of another second outing for a companion – The Beast Below. I was willing to write it off completely as “fluff” to be quite honest until the final act, a section where we may have witnessed one of Matt Smith’s finest moments for the show.

The Dynamic duo of the Doctor and Clara decide to visit the densely populated rock-strewn rings around the planet Akhaten to show Clara some crazy alien races. This scene plays out a bit like the Cantina scene from the original Star Wars film, in that the make-up department got to go crazy and make a TON of one-off aliens. They realize that they need transport around the asteroid bazaar, so they attempt to secure a space moped with hilarious results. Before The Doctor becomes predictably separated from Clara, we find out an important nugget of information – the Akhaten market doesn’t use hard currency but rather trades in items of sentimental value.

The Queen of Years
The Queen of Years

The Doctor vanishes leaving Clara to get in the middle of a situation involving a runaway queen being stalked by creepy henchmen. This queen is a little girl named Merry, or the “Queen of Years” as she is known by her people, and she is running away from her responsibilities of singing at a ceremony. Clara reassures her that everything will be okay, but doesn’t exactly understand the whole situation. It seems that this planet practices a constant song to keep an ancient evil asleep, and Merry fears that her ruining the song will cause it to wake up. And guess what? It wakes up!

This episode would have been VERY short had the main focus not been the ill-fated ceremony that Merry was so worried about. In an odd turn of events, we get to see the entire “Feast of Offerings”, full of chanting, singing, and kneeling. While this may sound bad to the casual reader, I feel that this saved a somewhat bland episode. This hasn’t been the first time that a heartfelt song has saved an episode in my opinion, as a third season episode called Gridlock hit its climax in a similar manner. The song that was sung was utterly beautiful, and I hope to get it on my iPod as soon as I can.

These guys could have been so cool...
These guys could have been so cool…

I think I’ll now address my main problem with this episode – “bad guy confusion”. I think the biggest blight of the whole thing is the coolness of the alien guards “The Vigil” and their criminal under-use in the episode. When we first see them, they are hunting Merry through dark corridors using a creepy voice that could stop anyone in their tracks – “MERRY WHEREEEE AREEEE YOOOUUU!” Aside from a few scenes here and there, that’s all we get. The monster confusion doesn’t end there as we have a mummified sleeping monster that we assume is the “big bad” only to have it revealed that he is simply some sort of overseer to the real villain. To be honest I wasn’t sure of the relationship between the two creatures myself. Maybe we can think of “old beef jerky alien” as one of the “Heralds of Galactus” from Marvel comics, as the real villain is of a similar scale – the actual sun of the planet system. Come to find out these people have been blindly sacrificing folks to the “parasite sun god” for a while, only to have The Doctor take a stand and stop the bloodshed.

In a move that pulled at my Gnostic heart strings, The Doctor stands up for the poor people that cower in fear of a being that calls itself a God. He berates the planet-sized memory-eating Demiurge for all he is worth. I honestly think that this was one of the best bits of Doctor Who dialog EVER, and it really changed my mind about this episode.  The Doctor is never short of thunderous monologues, but for some reason this one really stood out to me:

“Okay then. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll tell you a story.

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’re not a God; you’re just a parasite. Eat now, 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’ve lived a long life and I’ve 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 walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a mad man. And I watched universes freeze and creations burn, I have seen thing 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!”

— The Doctor whooping verbal ass

 

All in all, I liked this episode, but for some unorthodox reasons based on my own religious faith and my taste in music. The actual ending where Clara killed the monster with her leaf was a bit “Deus Ex Machina” in my opinion, but that’s nothing new in genre television. The actual script didn’t really have a lot of content to be honest, and it was far too similar to earlier episodes for my tastes. This was of course saved by the special effects, the casting, the music, and the acting by Jenna and Matt. Next week is an episode that could be a contender for my most anticipated episode this year –Cold War!

The most important leaf in the universe!
The most important leaf in the universe!
Advertisements

Saturday Podcast Pick of the Week:

I work a job with minimal human interaction, in an office setting, for ten hours a day. It was maybe one month before I decided to start bringing my iPod to work to break down the monotony, and a few weeks after that until I got tired of my music. This is when Podcasts came into play. I’ll assume that anybody reading this knows what a podcast is, so I won’t go into the specifics in that regard, but what I will do is try to recommend a good podcast each week that you might enjoy. Without further ado, here is this week’s selection:

The Doctor Who Podcast

The_Doctor_Who_Podcast_Banner

I originally got into this show when the hosts were doing another podcast for Doctor Who Online. They eventually left and started this independent venture up. What immediately turned me on about this podcast is that the hosts, while not unanimously praising everything at all times, never let cynicism get in the way of their fandom. Some other “nerd” podcasts (I’m looking at you pro wrestling podcasters) devolve into tireless hate-filled rants against a product that they supposedly like. These guys don’t do that, and even when they do dislike something it’s easy to agree with them because they give good reasons and do not harp on it. The hosts all have different likes and dislikes thus keeping the show chocked full of banter and funny arguments. Keep an eye out for trivia episodes and news coverage, usually the best part of the show for me, as well as interviews and other good bits.

Happy Listening and see you next week!

Doctor Who: The Mutant Phase


After weeks, even months, of listening to the void of soundless boredom, I started taking my iPod to work this week in order to keep occupied for my long ten hour shifts. Since I do not want to listen to the same songs every day, I decided to load up on podcasts of varying topics, and a few Doctor Who audio dramas. As you may have noticed by a few earlier posts, I am attempting to listen to all of these Doctor Who Audio plays by Big Finish in order, and one would assume that I would review them as such.

I realized that I had gone far too long without keeping notes, writing things down, and generally getting ready to write any reviews. So guess what? I’m going to re-listen to a lot of these in order to keep these up rather than going off of memories of these plays that could date back to over one year ago. You never know, I may end up liking dramas I previously hated (there are actually two I never finished of the forty or so I have heard, I need to fix that). Luckily this drama did not make my “poop list” the first time I listened to it according to my iTunes star rating, and stayed just as enjoyable the second time around.

 

Synopsis

In the 22nd century, the Daleks have occupied planet Earth. By the 43rd century, only a handful of humans survive. Still further into the distant future, a Thal scientist must choose whether to betray his heritage, or see the universe destroyed.

When the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves trapped in this deadly chain of events, they must decide who their real enemies are. What is certain, however, is that no matter where the Doctor turns… his arch enemies, the Daleks, will be waiting for him.

What could possibly be worse than that? The Mutant Phase…
The Mutant Phase has an immediate bonus for me in that it is a re-visitation of my favorite Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth. For those unfamiliar with that title, said episode was an important episode for many reasons: it was Susan’s last appearance as a regular companion, it was the first serial shot on location, it was the second Dalek appearance, and it was so popular that it was one of two stories to be remade into a feature film starring peter Cushing. Going back to such a classic episode is a cool idea, and thankfully we get the setting as more of a “bookend” to the meat of the story rather than a “fanwanky” total revisit.

In that episode, the Tardis crew including Susan, Ian, Barbara, and the first incarnation of the Doctor, arrive in a bleak post-apocalyptic and Dalek infested England in 2167. What really made The Dalek Invasion of Earth stand out for me was the chilling use of vacated landmarks during location shooting, and the utter bleakness of the overall story. For a “kid’s show”, this episode had a lot of dark things like signs saying not to dump dead bodies in the river and humans turned into a slave work force.  What we have here with The Mutant Phase can be seen as a “prequel” of sorts to this classic episode as we see The Doctor As played by Peter Davison and his companion Nyssa arrive a few years earlier, to a time where Daleks have never met the Doctor and don’t meddle in time travel.

My only real quibble with the episode rears its ugly head in this introductory portion of the episode. The Doctor realizes pretty quickly that they are somewhere in the state of Kansas, which for foreign readers, is located in the United States. While looking through a field of genetically altered crops infested with wasps, The Doctor and Nyssa stumble upon a “Roboman” guardsman, a zombie-like policeman for the Daleks. By zombies I don’t mean the Romero-esque eating brains and rotting away living dead variety, but the classical use of the term as in brainwashed servant. Not to be confused with Cybermen, Robomen are just regular people with some sort of mind control device implanted onto their heads.

So anyway, this roboman gets America back for the dreadful British accent Dick Van Dyke used in Mary Poppins, by delivering his dialog in the worst, most overdone, American accent out there. This can partly be chalked up to the dronish manner in which the robomen characters talk, but behind all the reverb and monotone was a glimmer of a vocal style not heard since The Apple Dumpling Gang. I seriously hope that many in the U.K. do not think all Americans talk like 1890’s old prospectors, but I get the inclination that it may be the case. I think Mark Gatiss was responsible for the voice, as he is credited as such! All joking aside, this small slip-up was very minor, can be overlooked easily, and does no harm to the play itself.

This play has quite a few interesting characters, and chiefly among those are two Thal scientists, Ptolem and Ganatus, both forced to work for the Daleks to stop the mutant phase. We hear a lot of mentions of these guys before we see them interact with the Doctor, so their motives stay hidden for the majority of the play. Another nice addition is Karl Hendrick, a man that lives in the dark and studies old relics from our current history. He gets quite a few great one-liners and funny moments making him one of the better side characters.

Aside from a couple of minor things like over-done foreshadowing that Nyssa’s wasp sting may be important in some way, the plot of the Mutant Phase was well done, and revolved around some good ol’ fashioned “timey-wimey” stuff involving a temporal paradox. With any paradox based episode the resolution didn’t exactly wrap the whole thing up in a bow – a fact that is actually made fun of in the dialog. When the Doctor explains what has happened to Nyssa at the end, she tells him that it simply made no sense, to which he replied “paradoxes don’t make sense” or something vaguely similar. Admitting this, the play somehow jumped over any plotholes it may have obtained whilst jumping between a multitude of timelines. For me this was nice, humorous touch.

While not the classic of its older brother, The Mutant Phase is a competent audio drama that keeps one entertained throughout. Keeping in mind that the Daleks are the only race that the doctor has ever really considered committing mass genocide on, listening to him being forced to work alongside the horrible creatures is compelling and makes this a must listen. I’ve been lukewarm on the Dalek Empire Releases so far, but this one has really redeemed the series, can’t wait to hear what’s next.