WHO REVIEW: The Rings of Akhaten

ringSpoilers ahead! They are labelled, but they are not hidden!

Initial Thoughts: I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how they didn’t really like last week’s episode. I really enjoyed it. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how they loved this week’s episode. I liked it, most of it, anyway. But where many people were saying last week was just a rehash of past episodes, that’s what I felt about this week’s.

Amused Thoughts: The opening, following the couple as they did a Back to the Future-esque “meet cute” shouldn’t have gone over as well as it did, but I liked it.

The recreation of the Hellboy II bazaar and the del Toro-esque creatures was awesome! Unfortunately, I . . . well, I’ll save that criticism for down below. I also enjoyed what they have revealed about Clara (which is backstory, but not really the mystery).

There was also a lot of history of the character being tossed about in this episode. Mentioning his granddaughter, for one (taking us back to Doctor #1) and giving a litany of his experiences, many of them from episodes I actually have seen! (It’s like they looked at the Netflix streaming selection and used that to decide what memories he would talk about!) This was fun — there is a rich history with Doctor Who, and this time I felt like I was in on the secret when it was referenced!

The “we don’t walk away” line was great, and the follow up line “unless we are holding on to something precious and then we run” was a perfect summing up of this whole series of Doctor Who.


And I loved his declaration of Clara’s existence and the possibilities involved, and I want to know more. At this point, I am afraid that I may be disappointed when answers do come. This mystery is so unique, and the Doctor’s reaction is exciting . . . but I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm.

Deep Thoughts: As much as I didn’t care for this episode, it had a lot of Big Ideas packed into it. Here are a few:

I talked about this in our time travel episode, but one problem with time travel is that if you go back in time and change a small thing, so much of life is based on nano-seconds in time that even the smallest changes will have huge repercussions. And with the leaf motif used in this episode, we are reminded of that.

This idea is then expanded on in two ways:

Spoilers . . .

First, all those events and choices make us unique in the world. In the universe, even. None of us are the same, simply because of the chain of events that continues to build who we are.

Second, all those choices that were NOT made become possibilities. Potentials. Things that could have happened but did not.

We’re getting into string theory a bit here (I think it’s string theory) where each choice begets a new universe and there are universes splitting off each other every moment as in one universe one thing happens and in another, the opposite occurs. I still do not understand this idea perfectly, although I recognize many smart people believe it to be true. And many other smart people say it’s horse hockey.

These unrealized events are used to feed the Big Bad, to quench his insatiable hunger for valuable memories. It felt a bit “magicy” to me, but I can go with that.

Going with the first idea — the uniqueness of you in the universe — this was a great expression of the futility and the uniqueness of life. The Doctor has a lengthy speech about how stars have been born and have died and that stuff eventually became you, a short lived moment in time in the universe, but something unique that will never be seen again and has never been seen before. (It reminded me — a LOT — of J. Michael Strazinski’s “star stuff” speeches in Babylon 5.) This is humanism at its richest and fullest . . . and saddest. We used to have a very cynical saying in high school: “Remember, you are unique and special . . . just like everyone else.” The Doctor’s speech reflects that. Everything in the universe is special. Everything in the universe is unique. Everyone who has existed, does exist, or will exist can lay claim to the same level of value.

But the question is: who does the valuing? Who appreciates the value? The Doctor? Perhaps.

In the real world, though, the only hope that comes from the idea that “everyone is special and unique just like everyone else” is if you have someone (perhaps Someone?) who can appreciate the value. If no one believes in the value of a thing, the thing has no value. Take collectors who are bidding on an item on eBay. The item’s value is simple: what people are willing to spend. So if everything is unique, and the same in that regard, it really puts the entire universe at the same value. The empty universe of the atheist and the humanist, ultimately, is one in which human life has very little value compared to everything else, if you are able to look at it objectively.

Humanity really only has value if something bigger than it choices it is worth something. Which, incidentally, is why we have just celebrated Easter. Easter is a celebration of the value that God has for humanity, based on the price he was willing to pay.

Confused Thoughts: I loved, loved, loved the idea of objects that carried the value of the owner, and that replacing arbitrary numbering in something like money.

But I was super confused at the end, how the Doctor gave up his memories, but didn’t really because he sure seemed to retain them, and then the leaf was destroyed in giving up its secret memories, and then how it worked that things that never happened, so therefore were not memories, and somehow these potential futures were stored in the leaf?

It made for a dramatic ending, emotional and exciting with awesome music, but I need to watch it again to understand it. And I just didn’t like this episode enough to watch it again anytime soon. This episode, I think, is meant to be experienced and enjoyed on a purely emotional level, not a really a story plot level, maybe?

Bemused Thoughts: I had some problems with this episode. One, I detailed above.

Two: did Guillermo del Toro work on this episode? Every single creature seemed to come from one of his movies. The little girl, the Grandfather/mummy thing. Many of them moved like they were Doug Jones! I don’t mind the vibe in some creatures, but this felt like a different universe, and one that I was not used to in Doctor Who.

The scooter effects? Felt like all the money either went into the creatures or, possibly more likely, into a future episode.

And then there is the “whirlwind romance of adventure” that I think has been done perhaps too often. I’ve liked it in the past, but this is how it goes every single time.

Exciting lever throwing! Exciting music! Tell me where you want to go! Take me somewhere great!

I feel like I have seen this episode before, a couple times in some places.

Final Thoughts: I feel like I have seen this episode before. Just wanted to repeat that. The same way this episode repeated a lot of things.

I don’t “want my hour back.” I didn’t hate it. There were some cool moments. It just didn’t resound with me.

Your Thoughts: I’d love to see what you thought of the episode. I’m very curious if anyone actually agrees with me. From what I’ve seen, I’m in the minority about this episode. Did I miss something, perhaps? Sound off below!

UPDATE: After reading the Sci-Fi Christian’s review, I thought of something else based on what Michael Poteet brought up. He mentioned that Clara made a sacrifice in giving up her leaf, and he’s right. It caused me to think of this, though:

. . . I mentioned that the Doctor let the old god take his memories . . . but they weren’t actually TAKEN. The Doctor still has them.

And that leaf? She sacrificed the object, but not the memories the object actually represented. She still HAS those. She gave up very, very little. In fact, thinking about it now, I would hardly even think of that as a sacrifice at all!

Maybe the idea of the old one taking the memories and potentials stored within that leaf is sound . . . but the climatic impact of this on the story, when held up to scrutiny, is not earned. “Hurry! Send that GOD away with a leaf you’ve kept for twenty years! Don’t worry, you get to keep everything the leaf represents!”

Just two more reasons this episode is meant to be an emotional experience, not a plot driven one, I guess.

Then Michael said:

Huh – the Doctor’s whole speech about individuality – “There will never be another you” – how does Clara prove or disprove his point?

Holy cow! How did I miss that?




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7 responses to “WHO REVIEW: The Rings of Akhaten”

  1. Michael Poteet Avatar

    Glad I am not the only one who felt it was a rehash of things we’ve seen WHO do before, and often better.

    I suppose affirming everyone’s unique value is somewhat paradoxical, apart from God. Still, I’d like to think even non-believers could get on board with the idea that value and being special is not a limited commodity. This is why the one thing I dislike about THE INCREDIBLES is its implicit affirmation of Dash’s similarly cynical comment, “If everyone is special, nobody is.” The problem in INCREDIBLES isn’t that everyone is special – because everyone is. The problem is Bob and Helen are holding their children back from expressing the ways in which they are special. But I think that comes close to being lost the way the movie unfolds (i.e, hey, world, the Supers are back, ain’t it grand?)

    Merry Galel is special and unique. So is Clara (within reason, I guess, given her status as Enigma o’ the Year). So is the Chorister. So are all those wacky aliens. So is the Doctor – but he is no more special than anyone else. There is plenty of special to go around.

    Now maybe I can only say that because I am a believer. God’s love, similarly, is not a limited commodity. Because God chose Israel does not mean God rejected every other family on the face of the earth – just that God chose them for a specific purpose and in a particular way (indeed, to bless all the families of the earth). Maybe the only person who was or ever will be special in a superior way is Jesus… but he is God with and God for humanity; he shares our flesh, he assumed true humanity… so special case?

    I dunno. How’d I get to the Incarnation from this episode? Anyway, thanks for another fun review (and thanks for the link to mine!)

    1. Ben Avatar

      The way I see it: either everyone is special or no one is.

      As a Christian, believing in an infinite God with perfect love, I believe everyone is special. We are not special because we are unique, we are unique because we are special.

      If I did not believe in an infinite God with perfect love, I would be hard pressed for a reason to believe “everyone is special” because I’d have no reason to believe it other than just plain wanting to not be just a speck of a person on a speck of a world. The Doctor is saying that “everyone is special” just by existing. Along with everything else. To me, that does imply “no one is special.” Because where does the measurement of value come from? The thing itself.

      That’s like a comic book having value because a blurb on the cover says “Collector’s Item!” The thing that is being valued CANNOT give itself it’s own value. For value to have meaning, it must come from outside.

      1. Michael Poteet Avatar

        I don’t think I disagree with you, but something about how you’ve formulated this doesn’t sit right with me. I just can’t figure out what it is! I do think existence in and of itself has some value, somewhere. That there is something rather than nothing is no little thing. Yes, I believe the ultimate value in that is because God wills it to be so; but I also think God allows the creation to have value in and of itself to a certain point. I don’t know whether Tolkien-esque thoughts about what is created have some place in this – I recently read “Leaf by Niggle” for the first time. Niggle’s painting of the tree is not of ultimate value, but it is of some value simply because he has painted it as only he can. Each one of Niggle’s leaves is unrepeatable and unique and therefore of value, even before you get to how his tree participates in The Tree of Stories.

        I dunno. I continue to contemplate! Thanks for the conversation.

        1. Michael Poteet Avatar

          Or try this: God is gracious enough and free enough to allow what exists to be of value in and of itself. God grants his creation the freedom to be valuable simply for existing.

          Or am I treading into unorthodox, heretical grounds here?

          1. Michael Poteet Avatar

            Though I suppose even that formulation ultimately locates value in God.

            Oh, well. Disregard my ramblings!

  2. Michael Poteet Avatar

    Couldn’t get Twitter to email this to you for some reason, but apropos of this discussion – C. S. Lewis ‏@CSLewisDaily 3h
    There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. #CSLewis

  3. […] his “Who Review” of Cross’ first episode, “The Rings of Akhaten,”  Ben Avery took issue with the Doctor’s […]

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