Fresh off the Doctor Who season 7.5 premiere, this week’s episode, “The Rings of Akhaten," written by Luther creator Neil Cross, finds the Doctor facing off against an old god in an unbelievably magical and wondrous adventure with his new companion, Clara.
When Clara tells the Doctor to show her something “awesome” by using the powers of the TARDIS, the duo end up on the planet Akhaten in time for the Festival of Offerings – a ceremony by which the Queen of Years sings the old god asleep for another 1,000 years as it feasts on their sentimental offerings. But when the ceremony doesn’t go as planned and the old god begins to awaken, the Doctor goes head-to-head with creature calling itself a god, and Clara finds out the power of the most important leaf in human history.
In almost every way, “The Rings of Akhaten” feels more like a proper introduction to the character of Clara than last week’s premiere, so much so that whatever familiar feeling of scale and wonder that "The Bells of Saint John" lacked - even if it was only slightly – is made up for tenfold in Cross’ first outing with the franchise. There was, however, a bit of doubt initially.
After the Doctor and Clara first set off on this week’s adventure and made it to the planet, there was a bit of a feeling that this episode would spend a tad too much time lingering before getting to the actual plot. True, this issue happened more with Davies at the reigns than Moffat, but many longtime fans might still feel the itch with an introduction that takes up almost the first half of the episode’s entire runtime. That is, until the singing starts.
As one should have expected, Cross’ lengthy beginning to his first episode was as calculated as any episode of his own hit show. While it’s true that Clara’s adventures at the market or with Mary, the Queen of Years, didn’t really help to build the sense of a complete world, it does make you feel familiar enough to sit back and enjoy their memento-filled musical offerings, of which there were multiple, each one more moving than the last. And then the Doctor, in all his glory, delivers a monologue so passionate that fans now have a small sense of the tearful heartbreak that will come when Matt Smith eventually exits the role. Still, the Doctor was not enough for the god.
When the god had consumed all of the Doctor’s memories, leaving him weak (but still with his memory), it was up to one silly girl, Clara, with humanity's most important leaf, to save the day. This ending does, however, get a bit clouded with talk of infinite futures and infinite moments. Still, at this point in the episode, any explanation as to why the leaf worked was welcome, and the fact that a beautiful story about Clara parents was told made its inclusion more than worth it.
Now two episodes in to Clara’s 8-episode storyline - after which all will be revealed - there has yet to be any real progress in her story (or mystery). But if Doctor Who has taught its fans anything, it’s that it only takes one episode to provide an explanation more amazing than we could have ever imagined. And if this episode is any sign of what’s to come, there’s no doubt that the story of Clara, “The Girl Who Twice Died," will be as rewarding as this week’s welcomed television gem.
Doctor Who returns next Saturday with “Cold War” @8pm on BBC America.