We begin with the Doctor doing some time-stalking of his latest protegee. He visits Clara’s past and surreptitiously observes bits of her life. To all intents and purposes, she seems normal to him, which he finds frustrating. But sharp-eyed viewers will notice some interesting clues about Clara’s origin…things like dates on tombstones, birth dates, and other more subtle references which I will reserve for another thread.
At any rate, the Doctor returns to pick up Clara for her first adventure and takes her to the titular location: the rings of Akhaten. Apparently the Doctor has been here before with his granddaughter (clue) and seems to like the place. In a scene vaguely reminiscent of “The Beast Below”, Clara encounters a child in distress and elects to help her. Clara comforts her by relating how she faced her greatest fear, and how her mother comforted her with a speech reminiscent of Amy’s speech about Rory in “A Good Man Goes to War”.
Did I mention that the girl was dressed in an outfit vaguely similar to the seers in “The Fires of Pompeii”? Either these little touches are deliberate, or the writing crew is getting soft. As the story progresses we are faced with a gas giant planet that feeds on memories, we get an epic speech by the Doctor that is vaguely reminiscent of, oh, an epic speech by the Doctor, and there’s a lot of singing.
In the end, “Rings” is yet another reasonably tolerable episode that does its best to try to be more than what it is. The problems with Jenna Louise-Coleman’s Clara continue. As I said before, I do like Ms. Coleman immensely, but her character has yet to bring the emotional weight that her predecessors did. With Rose, we got a character whose frustrations with her lot in life were palpable. Donna’s life was similarly empty for different reasons, as was Amy’s. Clara’s plight is similar to that of Martha Jones. Both characters were played by good actresses, but both were replacements for beloved companions and struggled under the weight of that prejudice. Martha at least benefited from some good scripts, but Coleman has yet to find her niche.
The problem is that we don’t really care about Clara yet. Her backstory is very pedestrian and lacks the kind of impact that previous companions enjoyed. The only thing that’s interesting about Clara is the mystery that surrounds her, which has nothing to do with her personal character. In the end, this has probably been the most disappointing companion launch in the revived series.
That said, “Rings” does provide us with another epic speech, ably delivered by Matt Smith, but it seems somewhat overwrought and forced. Previous speeches by the Eleventh Doctor were set up to be the culmination of major plot points. In this case, it just sort of happens, and as much as we care about the Doctor, it doesn’t have as large an emotional payoff as it should.
“The Rings of Akhaten” gets Three Acorns out of Five.