Neil Cross, the highly-acclaimed writer who created the BBC crime drama Luther, makes his initial foray into Doctor Who territory (he also wrote the episode that will air in two weeks) with an episode that takes him pretty far from his historical comfort zone.
“Akhaten” stands mostly as a place-setter of an episode. The shadings of the relationship between The Doctor and Clara are still very much a work in progress, and the mythology of the season still being set up. As for the plot itself, it’s pretty standard sci-fi fare – though of a different sort than last week’s standard sci-fi fare – and the most notable thing about the episode is probably the production values. It’s easy to separate this new Who from the one I grew up with when it delivers set pieces that look as if they could easily have come from a Star Wars film.
I always like to see Doctor Who venture into space and hard sci-fi territory, something it rarely did under Russell Davies’ stewardship. The spine of this story revolves around a 7-planet system and the thousand-year festival they’re embarking on, ostensibly to honor their “Old God” but in effect to make a sacrifice out of their “Queen of Years”. In this case that’s Merry, who as played by Emilia Jones plays the moe card in a fashion that would make any otaku blush. Her job is to learn all the songs and stories of her people so that when the Old God feeds on her it’ll be satisfied for another Millenium.
Naturally, The Doctor doesn’t take kindly to that sort of notion – though in this instance it’s Clara who intervenes on Merry’s behalf and gets him involved. In fact one of the major roles of the episode is to establish Clara’s spunk and compassion – which really doesn’t bring a lot of suspense since pretty much all The Doctor’s companions have that. Fortunately when it comes to Gods who feed on memories The Doctor has a Millenium of sad ones of his own to offer – and when that doesn’t quite sate the old one’s hunger Clara offers up the leaf from her book (remember that?) which turns out to have had an enormous significance to her, given the untimely death of her mother. At least Grand Moff didn’t make us wait long to find out why that leaf was so important.
As an episode, “Akhaten” is pretty forgettable – which makes two pleasantly forgettable eps to start the season. We’re building to something with the mystery behind Clara’s existence, and The Doctor’s suspicions about her are starting to cause a bit of tension between them. The chemistry between them is fine, too – but nothing about this season is really making a big impression yet. Next week brings us an episode written by Steven Moffat’s Sherlock partner Mark Gatiss, a veteran of many Who episodes as both writer and actor. More interestingly it stars Liam Cunningham, which marks a crossover of sorts for me as he also stars as Davos Seaforth in the other non-anime series I’m covering, Game of Thrones. Cunningham – like most of the Thrones cast – is superb, so I’m looking forward to seeing his turn as a – wait, as a submarine captain? Type-casting!