For many years and through many Doctors there has been a tradition of referring, not only to historical figures, but also to amazing, fantastic locations. During his reign as showrunner Russell T Davies made great use of this referring to places and events the viewer can only imagine. The Rings of Akhaten is the type of story, which gives the feeling of being one of these ‘untold’ adventures.
The setting, beautifully realised, is the rings themselves and viewers are treated to a society that lives and worships precariously on individual balls of rock encircling a gas giant planet. This creates somewhere with a new feeling for the Tardis crew, somewhere that the viewers have never been. The alien races are beautifully created, busying around in their quasi-religious society although there is a strong feeling of the cantina scene from Star Wars in their myriad variety.
Untested the general plot works neatly with a society building a religion around the requirement to ensure an entity remains asleep by singing a specific lullaby. Then, should the singing fail a sacrifice has already been prepared, with all the knowledge and histories in their mind, to be devoured by Akhaten itself, saving everybody. However when pushed by an eager viewer the story appears to be wafer thin. Trying to build an understanding of a complex idea of sacrifice and desire for knowledge through stories in a one off episode proved to be a step too far. Explanations are rushed, which underplays the threat and muddles the characters and their motivations. There was a possibility again that, with so much backstory to catch up on the finale would have been the magic time wizard waving his sonic wand again. Instead it was the wizard’s companion waving her magic leaf instead.
It appears that, for the time being at least, the Doctor does not look for a scientific solution to any problems he encounters. Each situation is tackled with knowledge and spontaneous action. As long as the stories are well told and hold together this is not an issue, although it is an area of which the producers should be aware.
The headline cast was again excellent with Matt Smith’s speech to ‘old granddad’ and Jenna Louise Coleman’s scene with the ‘Queen’ hidden behind the Tardis as stand out moments. The look and feel of the setting was sumptuous and the alien races believable. However there was a feeling that the episode fell short of the aims the creative team aspired too, which begs the question would it have been better as an untold tale realised in the viewers imaginations.
At the end of Survival the Seventh Doctor says “There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace – we’ve got work to do!” and the question must be asked; are these peoples and locations better created by the imagination of the viewers or realised on screen and risk falling short and disappointing?