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Doctor Who recap: 'The Rings of Akhaten'

The Doctor takes his mysterious new companion to a spaced-out religious ceremony which involves a sleeping vampire god. A flying Moped figures prominently.

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Doctor Who Recap
BBC America

Doctor Who

TV Show
Sci-fi and Fantasy
run date:
Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
BBC America
Current Status:
In Season

Last night’s episode of Doctor Who officially kickstarted the era of Clara the Companion, as the Doctor conduced an investigation into the origins of the Impossible Woman — who, you’ll recall, has already died twice in two time periods on two planets. Is she a cross-temporal clone? Is she a whole series of Oswin™ Brand Androids, scattered across space and time by one of the Doctor’s enemies? Is she the nexus of all realities? The Doctor went straight to the source. Specifically, he traveled back to Summer 1981. A young man walked down the road on a windy day. A giant leaf blew right into his face. He stumbled, stepping in front of a car — and a woman pulled him out of the way. Their eyes met. They smiled. It was love at first sight. You laugh, but this is how all relationships start in Britain.

The Doctor sped quickly through their courtship. The man apparently saved the leaf, and gave it to the lady as a present. He gave her a speech which played with the infinite array of things that had to go right for the two of them to meet: “This exact leaf had to grow in that exact way,” he noted, describing it with no irony as “the most important leaf in human history.” (You have to imagine that we’ll return to that line, again and again, as the mystery of Clara deepens in future episodes.)

The two got married, gave birth to little Clara, lived a happy life…and then the mother died. (Her tombstone gave her birthday as September 11, 1960; she died in March 2005, which is coincidentally the same month that the revived Dr. Who started airing on the BBC? Coincidence? Probably.) The Doctor watched young Clara and her father at her mother’s grave. He whispered to himself: “She’s not possible.”

And yet, when he traveled back to the present, there was Clara waiting patiently to begin her adventure. The Doctor asked her what she wanted to see. The future! The past! Deep space! Shallow space! She had a simple request; “Something awesome.” The Doctor rose to the challenge, taking her to the Rings of Akhaten. He pointed out the niftiest piece of local architecture: The Pyramid, maintained by the Sun Singers of the Khet. Local religious types believed that life in the universe originated here in the Rings. Clara asked him if that was true. I loved how the Doctor managed to make his response sound joyful and rueful all at once: “It’s what they believe. It’s a nice story.”

The Doctor had brought her just in time for the Festival of Offerings, when the rings all align. But they had some time to kill, so they meandered into a local market. An aggressive salesalien named Doreen offered them a ride on a space-moped. Seems that the local currency runs on a financial model of psychometry. There’s no money: Instead, you have to offer something that has deep meaning to you, and they can measure those emotions.

Clara lost track of the Doctor, and wound up in the middle of a chase. A little girl was running away from some tough-looking monks and a trio of serious fellows with helmets/faces that made them look like the better-funded cousins of the Tusken Raiders. It turned out that the girl was the Queen of Years, an important local religious figure who carried within herself “The vessel of our history” — every poem, every legend, every chronicle, and every song. Today, to celebrate the Festival of Offerings, she would have to sing a song to a god…and she was nervous that she would screw it up.

NEXT: This is why you shouldn’t make “little girls singing a pretty song” a key aspect of your national security complex