Shockingly, that episode wasn’t particularly good or interesting.
I’ve written on here before* about how I find mediocrity more troubling than awfulness — I feel that the squandered potential represented by a tepid episode is problematic as a signifier of greater loss (or potential loss) — something that could have been excellent instead becomes merely ‘meh’. On a slightly more lazy-hack level, it’s much easier to write a very positive review (allowing me to deploy the extensive range of superlatives at my disposal) or a very negative one (which lets me break out the weapons-grade analogies) than trying to find a way of saying meh twenty different ways for 1000 words. Still, I suppose I have to now. Let’s spit this one out.
As last week, though, we’ll lead off with Positivity Corner. I quite liked all the rubber-masked aliens milling around in the market at the beginning, and the evil robots who were in it for a few seconds and then for another few seconds and had force powers and looked liked spooky sand-people. Also the Old God’s herald, and, despite myself, the Old God itself, even if it did look like Ego The Living Planet had caught fire. Oh, and the fact that it was set in an asteroid belt somewhere, rather than on Earth, again. Um. That’s about it.
I was watching Breaking Bad beforehand**, and then the Freeview box wasn’t working, so I only caught the pre-credits sequence after the show — thankfully, I only missed the Doctor being creepy (again) and a man teleporting into a road after being hit in the face by a leaf and then claiming for that reason that the leaf was the most important leaf ever***. Oh, and Clara’s mum died, but I really really don’t care.
The action then shifts to the Rings of Akhaten, which really does sound like the title of an episode from the ’70s (actually, you can add that to the list of positives), and some flashy CGI (the one-two punch of the last episode and this reminds me of the first two episodes of the Eccleston series (‘everyday things attack in modern day London’ followed by ‘expensive computer-generated spaaaaace’)) and then into a studio full of rubber-clad people choking down smoke-machine-generated smog, in which we’re introduced to a lazy attempt to engender audience sympathy in the form of a small girl who’s running away from something. Stuff happens and she’s got to sing a song to keep the Old God from waking up, or something. It’s a U-rated version of sacrificing a virgin to the dragon. But (of course) she messes up the song, and gets dragged to the temple on a different asteroid**** to the studio-market/open-air(space) coliseum one.
The Doctor then has to save her, obviously, which he proceeds to do for about half an hour. This involves (amongst other things) using the sonic screwdriver as a magic wand, copying Captain Jack’s act at the end of Torchwood Series 1 and delivering a pseudosermon which was half Carl Sagan’s ‘star stuff’ speech from Cosmos and half lines he ripped off from Blade Runner. Despite all these… things going on, the episode felt weirdly decompressed, a feeling which led to a perhaps incorrect impression on my part of brevity. The scenes seemed artificially enlongated, to the overall effect was that the story didn’t progress a great deal. Perhaps because everything was in eyeline. The kid got kidnapped, the Doctor et all followed, guards tried to start shit, herald woke up the planet/sun/god thing, it tried to eat the Doctor, then it didn’t (?) and then it tried to eat the leaf (of which more shortly) and then didn’t again. Then it imploded. No, it didn’t make much sense to me either, though I’ll confess to my attention running into deficit by that point.
Unlike other episodes, which have felt like plot devices haven’t been fully explained, this tried to introduce ideas, but none of them were ever fully explored. There was a nod to the idea that we might try and look at the culpability of a community for watching/participating in Bad Things (the aforementioned virgin sacrifice), but the little girl was really the only other actual character in this episode — everyone else was just ‘Motorbike Salesman’ or ‘Chorister [name I've forgotten, but he literally vanished shortly after appearing, so who cares really?]‘ so the idea was just sort of left hanging. There was an attempt to explore the nature of religion, but it was done in such a calamitously ham-fisted way, up to and including vampire analogies (which also provided a moment of false hope where I thought we were going to see the Great Vampires reintroduced. Bowships, yeah!). The idea of sentimentally valued items being currency was relatively interesting (and it sort of reminded me of the way that spells in Saga apparently run on secrets) and it seemed tied into the way that the god appeared to feed (or something), but then apparently, it didn’t. The worst of this, though, was the leaf, which caused Clara’s parents to meet, after it blew into her dad’s face. Apparently it represented a reality in which a whole bunch of other things had happened. The trouble is, that’s true for literally any object! The jumper she’s wearing represents the reality in which she didn’t choose that jumper, and she wore a different one. I’m not sure why that universe would be any less anathema to the god-thing. That whole thing made no damn sense at all.
This is further than I thought I’d get at this point, honestly. Over the course of the evening, a few people have asked me how the review’s going. Honestly, it’s been more difficult than usual. This episode was so insubstantial, but there weren’t even that many really objectionable bits for me to grab onto like last time (apart from the space motorbike. I mean, really). There was just a whole lot of stuff here that could have been interesting, if only they had used it better, taken it in a different direction, or even just made it make some sort of sense. As it was, a bit of a mess, much like the shonky direction. Better luck next time, The Guy Who Wrote Luther. Next time (though not his next time, which is some #2spooky4me nonsense called Hide) is set on a submarine, featuring the Ice Warriors and starring Davos off of out of Game of Thrones (and, *ahem* written by Mark Gatiss). That sounds a bit more like it.
A post-script here: The music. I like Murray Gold — really, I do — but there’s a point at which no amount of bombast will save you. Please, can we have someone else now? If you’re going to insist on writing plots which involve the bad guy falling afoul of the Magical Power Of Music, especially*****. And that ‘lullaby’ thing was just ridiculous. Sounds like ‘what Murray Gold thinks hymns sound like’.
*though please, for goodness’ sake don’t go looking for it
**I’ve just finished series 4, and it’s amazing. Go and watch Breaking Bad instead of reading this.
*** per Martyn, Snoop Lion would probably beg to differ.
****The Different Asteroid appears to have a pyramid on, which just made me want to watch Pyramids of Mars instead
*****or something. I’m not sure they really knew how the villain was defeated in this one, tbh.