Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten Recap

“Oh my stars.”

Space vampires, opera, and exploding god-stars, oh my. The newest episode of Doctor Who series 7 aired today, in which we were introduced to several new alien species, given a glimpse of Clara’s past, and made aware of how the TARDIS feels about the Doctor’s new companion.

The episode begins in 1981 with the Doctor observing Clara’s parents in an attempt to understand the impossible girl. We find out more about the leaf that was in the front page of her book (aha!), but how this is “the most important leaf in human history” is still unclear. Also, how exactly a leaf defeated a god-star is a bit vague, but I’ll revisit that later.

As he is wont to do with new companions, the Doctor asks Clara where she would like to go, and when she’s not sure, he ends up taking her to “the Rings of Akhaten,” a colony of planets that believe in the same creator deity. They arrive at a market with countless different alien races, including an “Ultramanta” (was I the only one who caught that reference?).

They split, and Clara chases a mysterious girl in red, who we later find out is Merry, the “Queen of Years.” She has been charged with singing to this deity in a ceremony in order to keep it asleep, but something goes terribly wrong, and she is instead drawn into the god’s chamber and must sacrifice herself to quell it.

The “god” to which Merry sings actually ends up being a sort of space vampire that devours souls, and of course, the Doctor and Clara decide to save her. A new metal-masked breed of enemy appears, which chant eerily and seem to use some sort of colorful waves as weapons. Whether or not they will make a future appearance is unclear, seeing as the only real connecting thread between the episodes thus far has been the mystery of Clara.

We find that the true god (and devourer of souls) is in fact the center of this universe, taking the form of a massive star that demands to be fed. The Doctor offers up his Time Lord memories, but Clara comes rushing in to save the day (on a jenky space moped). She feeds the “star” the leaf from her book, which she again claims is “the most important leaf in human history,” holding not only the memories of what has happened, but also of what could have happened (just go with it). The infinite possibilities of situations that could have happened prove to be too much for the god to consume, and it then proceeds to explode.

Yes, explode. Taking all of the people and the galaxy that they worked so hard to save with it. Or so it is logical to assume. The episode is very unclear on this, and simply cuts back to the TARDIS in Clara’s world, giving no follow up information on the Queen of Years, or the alien that was trapped in the case, or the metal-faced aliens. Well then.

While “The Rings of Akhaten” was interesting and gave us a closer look at Clara’s past, it never quite shifted past second gear. There was quite a bit being introduced all at once, and the history of this alien civilization and of their “god” could have been fleshed out a bit more. Matt Smith gave a heart-wrenching performance near the end (which was really the gem of the episode), but the ambiguous ending that followed put a damper on the Doctor’s soliloquy.

There were some tantalizing hints at things to come, such as the actions of the sentient TARDIS toward Clara, as it refused to open for her and also did not translate other languages as it normally does for the Doctor’s companions. Clara’s late mother, mentioned and shown several times during the course of the episode, also seems to have a larger role to play in the future.

The show seems to be taking a different direction with these one-shot episodes, and while it’s a refreshing break from the heavy, overarching story lines of previous Matt Smith seasons, the stories seem a bit rushed. As I’ve mentioned before, I am loving the chemistry between the Doctor and Clara, but I’d like some familiarity to tie it back to the first half of series 7 (River, anyone?). I also can’t help but wonder if the name of this episode hints at the return of Nefertiti, but the Egyptian theme could also be coincidence.

The preview for the next episode, which airs next Saturday, April 13, looks very promising. Check out the preview for “Cold War” below. Featuring Ser Davos and Edmure Tully!