The Rings of Akhaten was the seventh episode of series 7 of Doctor Who. It was written by Neil Cross, directed by Farren Blackburn and featured Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald.
In it, the Eleventh Doctor's new companion, Clara, took her first trip in the TARDIS to an alien planet. Clara's mother, Ellie Oswald, previously seen in The Bells of Saint John: A Prequel, was also shown to have passed away eight years before Clara met the Doctor (properly). Though it hasn't been confirmed, it's possible that Ellie was killed during the Auton attack back in Rose.
This marks the first time that the TARDIS translation circuit hasn't worked properly for the Doctor's companion on their first trip to a place where their native language isn't spoken; the Doctor could understand Dor'een perfectly, but all Clara could hear was aggressive barking. However, Clara could understand Merry's humanoid species and when everyone sang. This could have been one of the TARDIS's signs that it didn't like Clara (for a VERY good reason), along with refusing to open the door for her; not being to understand aliens would scare Clara into never staying on as a companion.
This marks the first time the Doctor has extensively researched someone he chose to take on as his companion. Although he normally would just accept others without any such action, Clara warranted such investigation because of the other versions of her that the Doctor had previously met.
This story paints the Doctor in a rather negative light, as he forces Clara to give up things important to her (mementos of her mother) to help defeat Akhenaten. As most viewers know, the Doctor has many items of sentimental value in his TARDIS, which he could have retrieved and given up.
The Impossible Girl arc continued in this episode, with the Doctor not being able to find any answers as to why there are multiple Claras throughout history. So far, it appears to have been nothing more than a coincidence. However, the Doctor remains suspicious as to whether Clara is some kind of trick or trap meant to ensnare him. It wouldn't be until two years later in Hell Bent that the reason Clara has been a part of the Doctor's life was revealed.
Clara Oswald wants to see something awesome, so the Eleventh Doctor whisks her off to the inhabited rings of the planet Akhaten, where the Festival of Offerings is in full swing. Clara meets the young Queen of Years as the pilgrims and natives ready for the ceremony. But something is stirring in the pyramid, and a sacrifice will be demanded.
The wind blows autumn leaves and a wooden gate closes. One large, reddish-orange leaf rattles on the tree. A young man with dark hair, dressed in a suit, fumbles with an unfolded map as he walks down a pavement. The Doctor peers out from behind a copy of The Beano Summer Special 1981. The young man looks around in confusion when suddenly a leaf falls from the tree into his face. He stumbles into the street and the path of an oncoming car, but is pulled aside by a beautiful young woman. She asks if he is all right and he smiles.Some time later, the two are sharing an umbrella and stumble up to a doorway in laughter. He pulls out the leaf and she asks why he kept it. He explains that "this precise leaf had to grow in that precise way, in that precise place, so that precise wind could tear it from that precise branch, and make it fly into this precise face at that exact moment. And if just one of those tiny little things had never happened, I'd never have met you. Which makes this the most important leaf in human history." They kiss; the Doctor frowns and walks away in the rain.
Later, baby Clara is held by her father. While playing as a toddler, Clara's mother shows Clara her book, 101 Places to See. The Doctor is hit in the face by a football. He pops up with his hands in a defensive gesture as Clara's mother asks if he's all right. Among other things, he says that's he's possibly a touch embarrassed and seriously asks if that's dangerous. Clara's father brings her over and she's introduced.A teenage Clara, holding her mother's book, stands with her father in mourning over the gravestone for "Ellie Oswald, beloved wife and mother, born 11th September 1960, died 5 March 2005" . The Doctor watches and returns to the TARDIS. He reviews her file on the scanner; he's been investigating her past to make sure she's just a human girl. Information on Oswin, Victorian Clara and the present day version appear rapidly on the screen, much to his increasingly disbelief. Frustrated, he pushes the screen away and declares, "She's not possible."
Clara is sitting on the stairway outside her home with her book. She hears the TARDIS land, the door open, and she smiles and jumps up as the doorbell rings. In the TARDIS console room, she asks about the nature of time ("not made of strawberries"), and if the TARDIS can go anywhere ("within reason"). The Doctor asks her where she wants to go, and she freezes, admitting that the breadth of options makes it difficult to pick. Thinking, she smiles and says she wants to see "something awesome".
The Doctor walks her out of the TARDIS, with her eyes closed, into the light of an alien sun. He bids her open her eyes so that he can welcome her to the Rings of Akhaten. A golden pyramid comes into view. It is the Pyramid of the Rings of Akhaten, a holy site for the Sun-singers of Akhet. This is a system of seven worlds, orbiting the same star, and they believe that all life in the universe originated on Akhaten. Clara asks if it's true; the Doctor shrugs off the questions, saying it's a nice story they believe.
Clara asks to go see it, and the Doctor complies parking the TARDIS in an alien market.
The Doctor says that most of the people around are local species, and points out some: some Pan-Babylonians, a Lugalirakush, some Eukanians, a Hooloovoo and an Ultramanta. He does a ritual greeting with a Terraberserker of the Cadonian Belt, mentioning that they're not common (likely on the verge of extinction). He says he forgot how much he liked it there — he'd been there a long time ago with his granddaughter. Clara's a bit shocked at this, but the Doctor's moving fast. She runs after him and he presents her with a glowing blue fruit. She takes a bite as he scans it with his screwdriver. She shakes her head at the taste.
The place is crowded because of the Festival of Offerings, and a creature comes up to Clara, barking and growling at her. The Doctor returns, barking himself to communicate, and introduces Dor'een to Clara. Dor'een had been asking if they want to rent a moped. Clara asks what it costs and the Doctor explains that they don't use money, here. They use objects of sentimental value as currency. "Psychometry. Objects psychically imprinted with their history." She dislikes the idea, thinking it's terrible to have to give up something important to you in trade. The Doctor says it's better than bits of paper, so she says that he should pay, as someone who's a thousand years old should have something that he cares about. The Doctor pulls out his sonic screwdriver, then shakes his head and puts it back.
Clara turns her back for a moment, finding that the Doctor has walked off again. She goes looking for him. A little girl, wearing crimson robes, bumps into her and runs off. Shortly afterwards, two men wearing similar robes, presumably monks of the religious order of that system, ask Clara if she'd seen the Queen of Years. Clara is confused, asking who they mean; seeing that has no clue, they search on.
Worried about the girl, Clara heads for where she ran. This leads her to a messy area filled with junk. The girl runs, and Clara slowly follows. They startle each other and laugh. The girl says she's hiding and is confused and sceptical that Clara doesn't know her. The girl says she needs help to hide, and Clara knows the perfect box. Three men wearing black uniforms with brass buttons and facial masks appear and start whispering, calling out for the girl. Clara takes the little girl to the TARDIS and tries to open the doors, but they are locked. She rattles the doors a bit, then states that the blue box just doesn't like her.
Clara gets a little angry, but she forgets it when the little girl ducks behind the TARDIS. She tells Clara that her name is Merry Galel, and she's the Queen of Years. She was chosen to become this as a baby, when the previous Queen died. She knows every story, poem, legend, and song of their culture. She's scared because she has to sing a special song to their god to keep him from waking. Clara tells her that everyone's scared when they're little. She had been scared of being lost, until she'd gotten lost once. Her mom found her and took her home, and told her that no matter how lost she was, her mom would always find her. Afterwards, Clara was many times scared, but never of being lost.
Merry believes Clara when she tells her she'll get the song right, and Clara takes her back to the men in red robes who were looking for her. The Doctor comes up, eating the glowing blue fruit. He's curious as to what she's been up to, to which Clara tells him that she's been blending in.
Clara and the Doctor arrive to view a ceremony. The Doctor shushes Clara when she tries to ask if they're supposed to be there. There is some grumbling, then silence as Merry looks at Clara before she begins to sing a duet with the man in the pyramid. The Doctor reads the program and tells Clara that they're signing the Long Song, a lullaby to keep the Old God, or Grandfather, asleep. There has been a Chorister singing this endless song for generations. Others in the audience hold up offerings, gifts of sentimental value, to feed the Old God. The viewers, including the Doctor, join in the song.
The Chorister in the pyramid falters, and they all stop singing, looking around in confusion. The Chorister raises his hood and continues. The ground shakes at the pyramid and in the viewing room, and a golden energy seizes Merry and starts moving her towards the pyramid. She screams and Clara asks if anyone is going to help her. She follows the Doctor, who is already leaving, saying he can't just walk away because Clara talked Merry into doing this. He replies: "Listen, there is one thing you need to know about travelling with me. Well, one thing, apart from the blue box and the two hearts. We don't walk away."
He walks up to Dor'een, barking, then pats his pockets and looks back to Clara. He tells her he needs something. She's confused, saying that he must have something himself. He pulls out the screwdriver, saying, "I don't want to give it away because it comes in handy." She looks down and quietly takes her mother's ring from her hand and hands it over. They take the moped and fly it out to the glowing ball carrying Merry. Clara almost takes her hand, but the little girl flies into the pyramid.Clara and the Doctor land at a doorway protected by a frequency-modulated acoustic lock. He says that he really can't open it, as it changes too quickly, but he'll try anyway. He bizarrely attempts to knock the door down, only succeeding in hurt his shoulder in the attempt. Inside, the Chorister continues to sing. Merry walks closer, saying that she doesn't know what to do. The mummy's eyes glow red and she screams.
The Doctor manages to open the door, but it's very difficult and heavy to hold up. As Merry won't leave, the Doctor is unable to do anything other than hold the door up. Merry won't leave, as she believes that it is her fault the Old God is waking, and she doesn't believe Clara any more because Clara was wrong. Now the Old God will eat their souls. She telekinetically pins Clara to the glass around the Old God, and then says that he doesn't want Clara, he wants her, but if the others don't leave the God will eat them too. The Doctor says they're never going to leave, then hums a bar and lets go of the door. Clara asks if they've just been locked in with the soul-eating monster, and the Doctor says yes.
Clara questions if the Doctor can get them out before their souls are eaten, to which he says is possible; however, she then wonders why the Chorister is still singing. The Doctor approaches the man, explaining he's attempting to keep the Old God from waking up. With a smirk, the Doctor explains that there is nothing that can be done, the Old God is waking and the best option is to run. The Chorister stops, and declares that the Long Song has ended with him. He presses a button on his wrist band and teleports away.
The Doctor states that the song is over and aims his sonic screwdriver at the glass case. The mummy awakens with a mighty roar, frightening Clara, whose back is to it; the Doctor passes out the mummy's attempts to break out as him having a stretch. The Doctor tells Merry that they didn't wake him, he woke because it was time to wake up. Merry is as a sacrifice for the monster, because if she's going to do this voluntarily she should know why. He tells her a story about how she is unique and he believes that her sacrifice would be a waste. The creature is just a vampire that feeds off souls, and if Merry doesn't offer herself, everything will be fine.
Merry lets Clara go and they begin to run. The Vigil appear, and Merry says it is their job to feed her to the Old God. They knock the Doctor and Clara unconscious and lead her to the mummy. Clara rouses first and gets the screwdriver to the Doctor. He holds off the Vigil with the screwdriver. Merry sings the secret song, opening another door. They run, but Clara goes back for the Doctor. He holds back the Vigil again as the mummy breaks the glass, and a beam of light shoots from him into the planet.
The Vigil disappear, and the Doctor says they're gone because Grandfather is awake and they're no longer needed. He declares that he's made a tactical mistake. He thought that the Old God and Grandfather were the same thing (the Mummy), but "it was just Grandfather's alarm clock". Akhaten itself is the Old God. Merry declares that the entity will eat everyone in the system and then continue across the stars. Clara and the Doctor talk about going somewhere else but she knows he's going to stay to fight it. He sends Clara off to save Merry, and turns to confront the planet. Clara returns Merry to the viewing room. Merry wants to help, so she stands and begins singing a new song. The people's spirit shocks the Old God.
The Doctor smiles, and begins to tell a story to the Old God, a story about the people singing to him, and about the things that the Doctor is and knows. Old God sends tendrils of energy out of it's mouth, which pierce the Doctor and begin sucking out his experiences. "I marked the passing of the Time Lords, and walked away from the Last Great Time War. I have walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman. I lost things that you will never understand. I know secrets. Knowledge that must never be spoken! Things that would parasite gods blaze! Go on then! Take it! Take it all baby! Have it! You have it all!" the Doctor roars. The Doctor slumps to the ground, hurt and exhausted from having his precious memories fed on. The Old God begins going back to sleep.
However, much to the Doctor's horror, Akhaten isn't full; it's waking back up. Clara remembers her mother's words and heads back to the Doctor. She asks if it's still hungry, offering it the most important leaf in human history, which is full of her mother's lost life, a whole future that never happened. The entity feeds on the infinite possibilities represented by the leaf. The Doctor, reviving, declares that he must be full, as infinity is too much, even for his appetite. The planet recedes again, this time seemingly asleep for good.
The Doctor returns Clara to her home. She realises that she'd seen him at her mother's grave. He confesses that she reminds him of someone he knew, someone who died. He gives her back her mother's ring, saying the people that she had saved wanted her to have it back. She leaves the TARDIS.
- The Doctor - Matt Smith
- Clara - Jenna-Louise Coleman
- Dave - Michael Dixon
- Ellie - Nicola Sian
- Merry - Emilia Jones
- The Chorister - Chris Anderson
- The Mummy - Aidan Cook
- Dor'een - Karl Greenwood
|Executive Producers Steven Moffat and Caroline Skinner|
|Series Producer Marcus Wilson|
|Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.|
- At the market, the Doctor recognises some alien species: Pan-Babylonians, a Lugaleracush, Lucanians, a Hooloovoo, a Terraberserker of the Cadonian Belt, an Ultramancer and a Citizen from the City State of Binding Light. An energy-based species and a four-eyed species are present.
- Clara tries out an "exotic fruit of some description", and does not like it. The Doctor also eats one.
- The Doctor raves about the quality of scones from the Lake District.
Cultural references from the real world
- The Doctor references "The Walrus and the Carpenter".
- The Doctor tells Clara that the one thing she needs to know about travelling with him, "apart from the blue box and the two hearts", is that they never walk away.
- Clara mentions the Doctor being 1,000 years old.
- Unlike the previous episodes of Series 7, this episode does not introduce a new variation of the Doctor Who logo.
- This is the first episode since her departure that does not have Amy Pond referenced and inadvertently affecting the plot or story. The word "Pond" was what got the Doctor to come out of retirement in the television story The Snowmen and an image on the cover of the book she wrote, Summer Falls, became a manifestation for a Spoonhead in the television story The Bells of Saint John
- The basic plot has commonality with the Doctor Who Magazine comic story, Thinktwice. As in this story, the Tenth Doctor in Thinktwice fights an enemy that takes memories, and he proposes to defeat that enemy, the Memeovax, by "overloading it" with his own memories.
- This story features the debut of the incidental music track "Infinite Potential", a melancholy version of "The Long Song". It was later reused with the theme "Trenzalore" and a small sampling of "The Sad Man in a Box" to frame the Eleventh Doctor's regeneration scene in the television story The Time of the Doctor, later released as part of a reprise included in the official soundtrack release for the Series 7 specials.
- Ellie Oswald is shown to have died on March 5, 2005, the same date as the events of the television story Rose.
- The scene where pilgrims join Merry Gejelh in singing was intended to be similar to the scene from the classic movie Casablanca where people join in singing of "La Marsellaise" to drown out a Nazi song.
- The Doctor would regenerate or give away his regenerations. This turned out to be false. The golden light the Doctor was connected with was his memories, not regeneration energy.
- Clara's mother was killed in the Auton attack shown in TV: Rose. This was neither proven nor disproven.
"The Rings of Akhaten" was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 6 April 2013. Overnight ratings showed that it was watched by 5.5 million viewers live, a 28.8% audience share. When time-shifted viewers were factored in, the final rating rose to 7.45 million, making it the sixth most-watched programme of the week on BBC One. In addition, "The Rings of Akhaten" received over two million requests on the online BBC iPlayer in April, coming in first for the month on the service. The episode also received an Appreciation Index of 84.
to be added
- The crack on the glass case containing the mummy disappears and reappears between shots.
- When Clara tastes the exotic fruit, it is rather obvious that Jenna Louise-Coleman is simply touching the prop to her mouth, not actually eating it.
- Just before the wipe from the scene, in which Clara tells the Doctor to bring her somewhere awesome, to the scene where the Doctor brings Clara to the Rings of Akhaten, Matt Smith accidentally tears open a control panel.
- Just before Clara gets onto the moped to rescue the Doctor, and just after the flash back in which the Doctor says, "We don't walk away," the scene cuts to the Doctor doubling over in pain. All though this does not appear in the closed captioning, the Doctor can be heard mumbling, "What more can you want?" The music and sound effects cover this up, and it appears that the producers may have tried to erase this dialogue in post production. The volume must be turned on extremely high in order to hear this remark.
- There are numerous instances in the episode where extras dressed as aliens had little or no make-up around the eyes, making the masks obviously look like masks.
- When the Vigil throw Clara into the wall, the wall moves when her back collides with it.
- The Eleventh Doctor wears Amy's reading glasses. (TV: The Angels Take Manhattan, The Snowmen, The Bells of Saint John)
- Clara's book, 101 Places to See, used to belong to her mother. (WC: The Bells of Saint John: A Prequel, TV: The Bells of Saint John)
- The Doctor has faced a sentient celestial body before (the previous one was a star), although he implied that he'd never faced one so big. (TV: 42)
- The Doctor mentions the Last Great Time War and the destruction of the Time Lords. (TV: The End of Time)
- The Doctor mentions bringing his granddaughter to Akhaten at some point in time. Though she is not mentioned by name, this is most likely referring to his granddaughter and past companion Susan Foreman. (TV: An Unearthly Child)
- Clara tries to open the TARDIS without a key. When it won't open, she says that the TARDIS doesn't seem to like her, an issue that former companions Jack Harkness and Charlotte Pollard had. (TV: Utopia, AUDIO: The Condemned)
- The Doctor mentions seeing the birth of the universe, (TV: Castrovalva) living to see time run out, (TV: Utopia, The Big Bang), seeing universes freeze (TV: Amy's Choice) and creations burn (TV: Inferno), and being in universes where the laws of physics were devised by a madman. (TV: The Celestial Toymaker, The Mind Robber, The Three Doctors, AUDIO: Gods and Monsters, The Next Life) He also mentions knowing secrets that must never be told (TV: The Name of the Doctor) and knowledge that must never be spoken. (TV: Silver Nemesis, The Wedding of River Song)
- A native of the City State of Binding Light is seen among the crowd at the Festival of Offerings. (TV: The End of the World)
- Clara jokingly refers to the sonic screwdriver as a "spanner". Martha Jones previously asked the Tenth Doctor whether he had a "laser spanner", and he claimed it had been stolen from him by Emmeline Pankhurst. (TV: Smith and Jones).
- Clara mentions having gotten lost in Blackpool beach in her youth. A later statement by Clara indicates that she is originally from Blackpool. (TV: The Caretaker)
Home video releases
DVD & Blu-Ray releases
- The Rings of Akhaten was released as part of Doctor Who Series 7 Part 2 on May 22, 2013, and as part of The Complete Seventh Series on September 24, 2013.
- It was also released bundled with Series 1-7.
- This story is available for streaming via Netflix and Hulu Plus.
- It can also be purchased on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. The digital Series 7 boxset also features prequel episodes and Pond Life.
- In 2015, it was released by BBC Worldwide on BitTorrent and iTunes, in A Decade of the Doctor bundle to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the new series. It included introductions by Peter Capaldi, Earth Conquest: The World Tour and an episode guide.