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Posts Tagged ‘The Rings of Akhaten’

I’m as big a fan of post-modernist self-referentiality as the next person, but packing the Doctor off to a place where the basis of everything – the common currency – is carefully-articulated sentimentality is surely tempting suggestions that Doctor Who is actually visiting itself. That’s overly harsh on the modern show, I suppose, but not by much.

Even so, when even the Radio Times – whose default setting these days, when it comes to Who, is a sort of brainless enthusiasm I find rather disagreeable – starts poking holes in an episode, you know you’re in for something distinctly sub-par, and so it proves with The Rings of Akhaten. Cos this is tosh.

I commented last week on how The Bells of St John was oddly reminiscent of Rose is many ways, and now it’s been followed by an episode where the Doctor takes his new companion off to a distant inter-species gathering to witness an epochal event, which concludes with everyone being menaced by a swelling celestial body and the Doctor getting a load off his chest. Oh well, if this series of resonances with the 2005 series continues, at least it bodes well for Cold War – Mark Gatiss’ script for Eccleston is surely his best contribution to the TV series to date.

That said, I enjoyed this story much, much more the first time round. Actually, when I read the publicity for it, alarm bells started to ring in my head. The gist was – and I paraphrase – ‘we wanted to tell a story where the location and the alien creatures were the stars’, and a little voice at the back of my mind whispered ‘The Web Planet’ – for the uninitiated, a Hartnell story where they really pushed the boat out on the monster costumes and weird sets, and ended up with something truly bizarre and, truth be told, rather underwhelming in the script department. (Is this a set of remakes of the Eccleston series or a series of sequels to stories with ‘Web’ in the title? Me is confused.)

And this is surely what The Rings of Akhaten actually is: the visuals are garish and striking and very much unlike anything else on British TV at the moment, but I got no sense of an internal logic to the story, of a real (if alien) world underpinning and informing the spectacle – in that respect this is a story which seems entirely unaware of all the scripting innovations and narrative strengths brought to the series by Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes when they were custodians of its storylines.

Things just seemed to happen to suit the story, and not for any other reason. The wider details of the plot seemed equally thrown together – given everyone was standing on a tiny asteroid, what were they all breathing? Where did the gravity come from? Why was the translation function of the TARDIS suddenly not working? What was the backstory of the singing monks, and the sleeping grandfather, and the angry space blob?

'I hadn't even realised it was Halloween. Hey ho.'

‘I hadn’t even realised it was Halloween. Hey ho.’

It wasn’t as if this episode was so crammed with incident and plot that they couldn’t squeeze any of this stuff in – this felt like one of the slowest and most linear episodes in recent memory. Everything about it felt laboured and half-baked. Of course, this is still Doctor Who, so I can obviously find good things to say about it, just far fewer than usual, and many far fewer than I’d like.

Obviously, this is the anniversary year, and it’d be great for the series to pay homage to its own history and legacy – but this episode seemed to be reviving many of the flaws and problems with stories of the Sixties, rather than celebrating their positives, and slathering them with the usual slightly gloopy character-driven stuff did not improve them much.¬† As disappointing, in its own way, as Nonsense of the Daleks, and a bit of a retrograde step following the two good Intelligence stories.

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