‘Doctor Who’ Recap: ‘The Rings of Akhaten’

The Doctor and Clara at the Festival of Offering

The Doctor and Clara at the Festival of Offering

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Remember Clara’s leaf from last week? The one the Doctor licked? It turns out his is not the only face that leaf has ever been on, as it once nearly killed a fine young man, who was saved from being run over by a fine young woman, and they got to talking, and one thing led to another. Long story short, it’s the leaf that brought Clara’s parents together, and it is, according to them at least “the most important leaf in human history.”

And then, we jump, via an interlude with a Time Lord and a football, to the day Clara buried her mother, while the Doctor frets about how a seemingly ordinary girl can be literally in two, no, three places at once.

But there’s no time for all that now. The Doctor has come to get Clara and they’re off on a spree. This is always a giddy moment for a new companion, the realization they can go anywhere and anywhere. Naturally Clara can’t think of a thing, so the Doctor takes her to see the astonishing meteors around Akhaten, and a pyramid temple that shines at the peak.

Next, to the local market to meet some crazy-faced people from some crazy places and eat strange fruit.

It turns out they’ve arrived just in time for the Festival of Offerings, and the Doctor explains that they use emotionally-charged objects as currency in these parts. This might come up again later, so do remember it.

Then a small girl runs past Clara, looking scared. She’s the Queen of Years, and she’s being followed by two grumpy-looking men in robes. Clara goes to find her, and see if she’s OK. She doesn’t look OK, and she needs to hide. So they go to the TARDIS, but the TARDIS, in a fit of pique, won’t let Clara in. They have to hide around the back! The indignity!

And it is there that the little girl, whose name is Merry Galel, tells her story. She’s the Queen of Years, she’s the vessel of her people’s entire history, folk songs and all, and she has to sing a song at the Festival of Offerings in front of everyone, especially Grandfather. Naturally she’s terrified.

Clara reassures her with a story from her childhood, concerning her mother, and gets a hug for her trouble. Then Merry goes off to prepare and Clara meets the Doctor and that’s the end of the adventure.

No, of course it isn’t. The Doctor and Clara take their seats at the Festival of Offerings, and Merry sings her pretty song and everything seems to be going just fine, at first. It’s at this point that the Doctor explains that ‘Grandfather’ is a mummy in the temple they saw earlier. Merry’s song is a lullaby, an attempt to keep Grandfather from awakening.

It’s at this point we realize the song didn’t work. And a beam emerges from the temple, dragging a terrified Merry across space towards it. The Doctor asks Clara for a precious item so they can hire a scooter and whizz over and rescue Merry, so she gives up her mother’s ring. Merry is dragged inside the temple, and the Doctor and Clara have to break in, using the sonic screwdriver and the strength of his own body.

Inside the temple, a virtual chorister sings a song asking Grandfather not to wake up, and Merry insists that they leave, or risk having their souls eaten by Grandfather. Then the chorister stops singing, and Grandfather, a beef jerky man with surprisingly good teeth, starts beating on the walls of his glass case because he wants to eat Merry’s soul.

Naturally, the Doctor is against this, and convinces Merry to run. Except this causes the arrival of a teleporting guard unit called The Vigil, who knock the Doctor and Clara over and escort her back to beef jerky Grandfather man. Then there’s a sonic-off, and Merry sings the song of the secret door and our heroes escape. Grandfather is awake.

Wait, Grandfather isn’t the beef jerky man? No! Grandfather is a ravenous star that eats worlds. The Doctor orders Clara to get Merry back to the other planet while he has a quiet word with Grandfather.

This turns into something of a rant, as the Doctor realizes that Grandfather feeds on the souls of worlds, that is, their stories, their memories, their lives, their experiences. Merry and the assembled throng back at the Festival sing a song of rest, and the Doctor tearfully throws his entire life history into the open maw of a greedy star.

But he’s not safe, and it’s not quite enough, so Clara has to go and get him, and offers the most important leaf in human history to finally satiate this parasitic explosion, which then does the decent thing, and implodes.

Back home again, Clara suddenly remembers seeing the Doctor throughout her childhood, so the Doctor explains that she reminds him of someone (technically two someones), and he had to check up on her. She’s a little affronted by this, but seems pleased when the Doctor returns her mother’s ring. Seems it was too high a price to pay for a scooter after all…

Next: Cold War.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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