‘Doctor Who’ 7.07 Episode Recap and Review: The Rings of Akhaten

One thing to know about this week’s episode of Doctor Who: The Doctor doesn’t walk away.

The Doctor is still trying to figure out the mystery that is Clara Oswald. This time, he goes back to witness her entire timeline while she’s deciding whether or not to sign on for the long haul. The Doctor witnesses her parents’ first meeting when a rather large leaf causes Clara’s future dad to stumble out into traffic and get rescued by Clara’s soon-to-be mum. Despite personally viewing most of Clara’s history, the Doctor is no closer to solving her riddle than he was before.

The next morning, Clara’s ready to go. She has the Doctor take her to see “something awesome,” which turns out to be the Festival of Offerings at the Rings of Akhaten. They get separated in the bustling, somewhat less wretched hive-ish version of Mos Eisley, and Clara bumps into a terrified young girl. She follows the child and discovers that she is Merry, the “Queen of Years” and an Important Personage in the upcoming offering ceremony. Merry’s afraid that she’s going to get her part in the ceremony wrong, but Clara convinces her that she’ll be fine and takes her back to the acolytes responsible for Merry’s safety.

The Doctor and Clara go to see the ceremony. Merry sings a lullaby to the local god, called Grandfather, while attendants offer up something of personal value to keep Grandfather asleep and garner his blessings. Something goes wrong, though, and Grandfather begins to wake, sucking Merry towards the far-off pyramid. Clara and the Doctor run to their rescue (as if there were some doubt that they would), and discover exactly what lives in the temple. Merry is willing to sacrifice herself to the being in the pyramid to put him back to sleep, but the Doctor is having none of that nonsense. He gets Clara and Merry out, then realizes his rather drastic miscalculation. The grumpy, glass-encased humanoid in the pyramid isn’t Grandfather. He’s just Grandfather’s alarm clock. Grandfather is the massive star around which the system is orbiting. Merry tells them that if Grandfather isn’t kept sleeping, he’ll expand until he’s consumed all of the seven systems and then move on to the rest of the universe.

They’ve had at least one idea correct this whole time: Grandfather feeds on memories and strong emotions from the past. The Doctor offers up the whole of his memories, which is almost enough to satisfy Grandfather. It isn’t quite, though, and Grandfather begins to expand. Clara, having gotten Merry to relative safety back in the hands of her people, rushes back to the pyramid to help the Doctor. She offers the leaf from her “Places to See” book, the same leaf that caused her parents to meet, which her father calls “the most important leaf in human history.” Clara says that it’s full of “should-have-beens,” as her mother died tragically young. The potential emotions in the leaf are too much for Grandfather, and he implodes, freeing the system from the need to sacrifice both precious objects and the occasional Queen of Years.

Back home, Clara realizes that the Doctor was at her mother’s funeral and asks why she’s so important. He tells her that she reminds him of someone that died. Clara tells him that she wants to travel with him, but as herself and not as a substitute for whoever it was that he lost. She walks out of the TARDIS, and the Doctor smiles mysteriously.

Kind of a middle-of-the-road episode for me. It wasn’t “Blink” or “The Doctor’s Wife,” but it wasn’t “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” either. Enjoyable, but not brilliant. I will admit that the Doctor describing his memories as he gives them to Grandfather hit me right in the feels. As I’ve said before, Matt Smith does impossibly old quite well. I loved how he made giving up those memories feel like a blessing (though it didn’t look like he actually forgot anything. I’m a little fuzzy on the mechanics of sacrificing something to Grandfather).

I’m looking forward to Clara becoming a permanent resident of the TARDIS. That’s the second time the Doctor’s dropped her off at home after an adventure, despite having asked her to sign on. I’m hoping this means that her getting a TARDIS key is going to be slightly more dramatic than it might otherwise have been. Guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks!

Best Quotes:
Clara: “Can’t you open it?”
Doctor: “Technically, no. In reality, also no. But still, let’s give it a stab.”

Doctor: “No, we don’t walk away. But when we’re holding onto something precious, we run. We run and run, fast as we can and we don’t stop running until we are out from under the shadow.”

Things to Ponder:

  • Did it seem to anyone else that Grandfather was also the sun and therefore the source of light and heat for that particular system? I’m thinking his demise is going to cause bigger problems in the long run.


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  1. When it came to Grandfather/Akhaten/the sun disappearing like that I wondered where the heat, light, & gravitational pull for the rings to remain in orbit would come from. I expected the face/spots to disappear & a normal-looking star to remain behind, not the complete disappearance of the entire star!

    With regards to Clara and a TARDIS key, I wonder if they’ve moved beyond the idea of a key. When Clara’s trying to help Merry hide she says something about “It doesn’t like me,” when the TARDIS door won’t open. Since it’s been established the blue box is sentient & it translates languages (except when trying to highlight the fact that the aliens are, in fact, alien!) I’m wondering if the locking mechanism isn’t now “psychically linked” to allowed passengers.

    I actually kind of hope they do something like a psychic lock. A sentient being should have control over who accesses its inner workings & a key can be lost. This “respects” the TARDIS’ rights, as it were, and makes locking/unlocking it far more convenient than a traditional key.

  2. I also have to admit I enjoyed this episode a lot. While it might not have been a universe-shattering tale with far-reaching repercussions for the series, it had all the elements of classic “Who” that made me fall in love with it over 30 years ago. Like you, I got pretty emotional over Matt Smith’s intense monologue about what he’s seen as the Doctor. I love that he had a tear running down his face as if to say he was just do damned tired of carrying the burden of 1000 years of experiences, some of which were beyond comprehension.

  3. I think the key is still in play. I don’t recall seeing the Doctor actually give Amy one, but I know we saw her unlock the TARDIS herself. I still like the symbolism of the TARDIS key as an indication that the bearer is someone who is supposed to be on the TARDIS long-term, regardless of how many episodes they appear in (i.e. Jack had one, but Mickey didn’t).