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Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Rings Of Akhaten - Tried Too Hard

Okay, before I tear it into pieces, please believe me when I say that Rings held my attention and that I did actually enjoy it. I don't hate the episode and the great thing about Doctor Who, for me, is that I like some rubbish episodes and dislike some great ones. So...

My problem with many sci fi novels on the market - some of which are praised as wonderful by others - is the way that some authors go far too far with the "fi" bit. When I read a blurb that goes "The Ice moon of Blaagrat has been at war with the fire moon of Ghamalshaal for fifty generations. Countless lives have been lost, found, then lost again. But the tribesmen of Booshan think they've finally found the key to peace - a young shaman boy named Bookgraaval!" I go Zzzzzz!

This week's Doctor Who was a bit like that for me. An alien ceremony on an alien world with a hidden and horrible threat that poses no threat at all, in any real terms - there was no way in the world that anything bad was going to happen. Even when the Star (which was the real villain apparently, rendering a well-realised "mummy" alien more than redundant) was seconds from destroying all that surrounded it, before moving on to devour all life in the universe, the people gathered for the ceremony remained seated and watching, as though it was a nothing more threatening than a stage-play. 

Someone on Twitter said it felt like an opera and they are right, in a way it did! But then, it wasn't trying to be. It was still trying to be exciting and action-packed family entertainment. Kids will love the monsters, the soppier among us will love the sentiment, but those looking for jeopardy and weight would need to look elsewhere, in my opinion - and Operas need those things too.

Then there were the Vigil, who look fantastic and carried a menace that was lacking in both the star of Akhaten and the Mummy that was its... what... decoy? But the Vigil were introduced and disposed of in a minute. Two at the most. It was disappointing.

When Doctor Who does "big alien planet" it tends to either look TOO CGI and epic, which removes some of the personality of the inhabitants, or it looks like a corner of an aircraft hanger dressed to be "a corner of an alien market" or the like. Tonight's Who gave us both of those. The setting was odd. A system-wide event of cosmic significance watched only by a few thousand gathered aliens. It was a case of trying too hard to look too good. Doctor Who, for my money and especially since its HD days, looks better when shot on location - in forests, wastelands, on beaches, streets and rooftops or even within spaceships - but tonight's episode looked every bit like it was filmed on a sound stage.

It was all a bit gentle. It was all a bit small beer for the setting, despite a cosmic threat (which I never found myself believing was much of a threat at all). And the characters were few: Clara, The Doctor and The Queen of Years (unfortunately child actors never fare too well in Who) and a hundred or so "generic alien-headed monsters". It felt like a badly-adapted novel done on a budget. But I still enjoyed it, a bit. Enough to watch again if I needed something to watch but not enough to tune in to if it was repeated on schedule.

Overall, the emotion was forced, the threat was weak and disposed of too easily, the great ideas within (the Doctor's history being vast, Clara's history being powerful) were thrown away. The humour was a little too childish (barking aliens and alien fruit) and the ending happened without me really noticing.

What saved this episode in terms of importance to the ongoing story were one or two little things that could have been missed if the plot (there was one, I'm assured) had caused you to zone out a bit: Clara's little snub by the TARDIS ("It doesn't like me") and the fact that she has a seemingly ordinary past. And the last three minutes, where it's clear that neither lead character trusts the other completely, was the most exciting part of the whole 43 minutes: my heart actually fluttered when that TARDIS door closed between them!

A lovely episode to throw on when there's nothing on telly and you've watched all your favourite episodes of Who to death already that week; it's a "I haven't watched that in a while" type of episode, I think. But The Rings Of Akhaten was lacking a little something for me. Weakest episode this series, including The Snowmen and the five that came before it. Ice Warrior on a submarine next week. I hope it lives up to my expectations!