Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 7 – The Rings of Akhaten

It is now traditional for Doctor Who to go somewhere cool when a new companion enters the TARDIS. The Doctor isn’t always successful. Poor Rose and Amy got the equivalent of Basingstoke while Martha got to meet William Shakespeare so how did Clara get on?

Well she got half price Star Wars the musical. The three streets of red dirt were filled with aliens and strange creatures that all looked like they are on their way to that famous bar in Mos Eisley. They even have speeders. Oh and wicker baskets. Wherever you go in the galaxy you’ll always come across a wicker basket. Maybe they’re the real rulers of the galaxy? If Stone Statues can make you travel in time why not?

However underneath the wicker baskets we have our first real alien planet in years. Akhaten isn’t just pretty stage dressing. We see a place with a unique form of currency and filled with literally hundreds of different aliens – and I don’t mean lots of humans with slight different facial features. The makeup and physical effects look great and the few that we get to see up close all seem to have their own personalities as well. This is where Clara starts to come into her own. Unlike certain past companions, Clara asks questions but actually listens to the answers. The sequence where she chats with Merry shows a maturity that I don’t think the companion has had for many years. Also it is the first time since Clara has joined the show she is more than a super intelligent motor mouth.

Also we finally get to see a companion step onto their first alien planet with the awe these situations deserve. Too often in Doctor Who a new companion steps onto a new alien world in the same way you jump onto the number 22 bus. Of course it helps that you can see the excitement dancing across Clara’s face as she takes those steps. A truly beautiful moment.

The character development of Clara starts from the first minute of the episode with a fascinating pre titles sequence where we got the whole story of the leaf. Beautifully told with light comedy we get a large chunk of Clara’s back story and also, more worryingly, how much of a stalker the Doctor is becoming. Last week he was reading her travel diary while she slept, this week he watches her as a child. Come on Doc you’re better than this.

Sadly the villain of the week, Grandfather – probably the daftest name for a villain since House in The Doctor’s Wife – is the opposite of Akhaten. His motivation is quite interesting but it is never given a chance to develop because he, as a character, is dull. A big yellow-red ball of CGI that sits there mouthing silently as Matt Smith shouts at him while his lackey sits still, thrashes around for a bit and then is zapped. Oh and then there are the three robots like creatures who seemed to have walked off the set of a Hellboy Movie. All they do is fire sonic waves before disappearing without reason. The Daleks these guys are not.

But The Rings of Akhaten is not about the villains. It is about Clara and her first trip in the TARDIS and in that it succeeds. Clara is turning into one of the most enjoyable companions for a while – and not just because she has a River Song esque mystery hanging over her. The Rings of Akhaten is a slower episode but the lack of running around allows us to enjoy Akhaten and the people found there, well expect for the villains, but that is what next week is for…hopefully!