That’s not a typo in the title. I’m calling it a “reviewcap” because it’s mostly a recap with my thoughts, few as they may be, tossed in. This is the internet, we make up words to fit our needs. Actually, I think that’s kind of how language has always worked.
While “The Bells of Saint John” was a mostly lighthearted episode, this week’s installment took the route of grand alien adventure. While I loved both episodes, this one felt more like a classic Who tale. The bulk of the action takes place not on Earth, but on the inhabited rings of Akhaten, home of seven races on seven worlds, all orbiting the same star.
Remember: Stick around for the quotes at the end. I’ve even transcribed the rather intense monologues from the climax of the episode.
The story starts grounded enough, though, with the Doctor back in 1981 presumably trying to solve the mystery of Clara Oswald. In the process we learn the importance of the leaf Clara kept in the book, “101 Places To See.” When she said, “That wasn’t a leaf, that was page one,” we finally understand that the leaf was the reason her parents met. In other words, the beginning of a series of events that caused her to come into existence. Her father called it the most important leaf in human history.
We’re treated to flashes of Clara’s early life. The Doctor is there at the playground where he meets a very young Clara and her parents, then he’s at the cemetery in 2005 shortly after the death of Ellie, Clara’s mother. Back in his TARDIS he finally declares, “She’s not possible.”
The TARDIS appears outside Clara’s home the next day, just as she told the Doctor to do at the end of last week’s episode and Clara wastes no time in getting aboard for her turn as companion. The Doctor asks her where she would like to go. After freezing over such a broad question, she answers, “Someplace awesome,” and they’re off to the rings of Akhaten. After a brief stop for a scenic look at the rings from afar, they land the TARDIS in a market filled with aliens that looks like a scene straight out of Star Wars.
The market doesn’t trade with money, but instead objects valuable to the buyer. Precious objects are psychically imprinted with their history, so the more history they have the more valuable they are.
Clara comes across a young girl who’s running off to hide. The girl is Merry Galel, “The Queen of Years.” She holds every bit of history of the cultures of Akhaten in her mind. It’s her duty to sing a song in front of a god to keep it asleep inside the glass case in the pyramid where it resides, but she’s afraid she’ll mess it up. Clara comforts her and returns her to her people.
Once the ceremony begins and Merry starts to sing to the old god, or “Grandfather,” all the people in attendance offer gifts of value to feed the old god. Everything seems fine, then, naturally something goes wrong. The ground shakes, the old god awakes, and Merry is lifted away toward the pyramid.
In a continuation of the motorbike theme, Clara and the Doctor hop aboard a space scooter to try and save Merry, but she’s whisked through the very heavy door which then drops closed behind her. The Doctor gets the door open with his sonic, but it’s very heavy and he can’t hold it open for long. Tired, he finally relents, locking them all inside.
The old god wants to eat Merry’s soul. It’s awake, ready to devour all the history and stories in Merry’s mind. The Doctor promises Merry she doesn’t have to sacrifice herself, but before they can escape a trio of strange creatures known as “The Vigil” appear. If the Queen of Years is unwilling to sacrifice herself, it’s their job to feed her to Grandfather.
They use some form of sonic bursts to push the Doctor and Clara away, but the Doctor blocks their second attempt with his sonic screwdriver. Merry opens a secret door with a special song and the trio escape just as Grandfather breaks free of the glass case and shoots an energy beam at the star Akhaten before collapsing dead.
The old god is living inside Akhaten itself and Merry says it’ll eat all the souls of the seven worlds. When it’s done it will travel across the stars eating all the souls it encounters.
The Doctor tells Clara to take Merry away on the space scooter while he fights the old god on his own. He tells the creature it’s just a parasite feeding off the lives and memories of the people. Then he tells it to take his memories, hoping his long life and many memories will be too much for the creature. It appears to work, but then the creature reappears in the star.
Clara takes the space scooter back to the pyramid where the Doctor is standing. With her is the book “101 Places To See” and in that book is the leaf. Page one. The most important leaf in human history.
The leaf is full of stories and history, but it also contains something much more powerful. It holds a future that never existed due to her mother’s untimely death. It holds infinite potential futures that never got lived. When the creature consumes the leaf, it’s too much and, finally, the creature dies.
As I stated in my opening, this story had all the hallmarks of a grand and classic Doctor Who story. The menacing creature, the grand attempt by said creature to destroy every damned thing, alien planets, and a cultural mythology woven into the creature’s existence. The ending with the Doctor in a showdown with his foe only able to actually succeed thanks to his companion is also an earmark of the classic tales. Although the importance of a companion to the Doctor is something that’s really been brought to the forefront more in recent years, it’s always been a staple of the show.
The finale with the Doctor’s monologue to the creature, and then Clara’s was great. Even though the Doctor’s efforts were bested by his companion, it wasn’t through any supernatural ability. It was only the possession of something with infinite emotional and sentimental potential that allowed Clara to do what the Doctor couldn’t. It was an elegant way of letting the companion be the hero without making her something more than human (at least for the moment).
I’m really enjoying this run of episodes more and more. Jenna-Louise Coleman’s performances are making it easy to accept Clara. She could be on track to become one of the better companions of the entire show’s history. I know it’s really early to say something like that, but she fits the role so well already that I’m putting that out there now.
Witty Banter and Grand Monologues:Clara: So what’s it made of, time? I mean, if you can just row right through it it’s got to be made of stuff like jam’s made of strawberries. So what’s it made of? The Doctor: Well not strawberries. No. No, no, no. That would be unacceptable. Clara: So we can go anywhere? The Doctor: Within reason. Well, I say, “Within reason.” The Doctor: I forget how much I like it here. We should come here more often. Clara: You’ve been here before? The Doctor: Yes, yes, yes. I came here a long time ago with my granddaughter. Clara: Hang on! Clara: So how much does it cost? The Doctor: Uh, not money. Something valuable. Sentimental value. A photograph, love letter, something like that. That’s what’s used for currency here, psychometry. Objects psychically imprinted with their history. The more treasured they are the more value they hold. Clara: That’s horrible! The Doctor: It’s better than using bits of paper. Clara: Then you pay. The Doctor: With what? Clara: You’re a thousand years old, you must have something you care about. Clara: Why are we walking away? We can’t just walk away! This is my fault. I talked her into doing this. The Doctor: Listen. There is one thing that you need to know about traveling with me. Well, one thing apart from the blue box and the two hearts. We don’t walk away. The Doctor: Okay, time to let go. Clara: I can’t. The Doctor: Clara, you have to. Clara: Why? The Doctor: Because it really hurts. Clara: Did you just lock us in? The Doctor: Yep. Clara: With the soul eating monster? The Doctor: Yep. The Doctor (To Merry): Hey, do you mind if I tell you a story? One you might not have heard. All the elements in your body were forged many, many millions of years ago in the heart of a far away star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart forming shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. Until, eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. There is only one Merry Galel and there will never be another. Getting rid of that existence isn’t a sacrifice, it is a waste! The Doctor: Stay back! I’m armed…with a screwdriver. The Doctor: Actually, I think I may have made a bit of a tactical boo-boo. More of a semantics mix-up, really. Clara: What boo-boo? The Doctor: I thought the old god was Grandfather, but it wasn’t. It was just Grandfather’s alarm clock. Clara: I say leg it. The Doctor: Leg it where, exactly? Clara: I dunno. The Lake district. The Doctor: Oh, the Lake district. It’s lovely, let’s definitely go there. We can eat scones. They do great scones in 1927. Clara: It’s really big. The Doctor: I’ve seen bigger. Clara: Really? The Doctor: Are you joking? It’s massive! Clara: We don’t walk away! The Doctor: No, we don’t walk away. But when we’re holding on to something precious we run. We run and run fast as we can and we don’t stop running until we are out from under the shadow. Now, off you pop. Take the moped, I’ll walk. The Doctor (to the creature): Oh you like to think you’re a god. But you’re not a god, you’re just a parasite. Eat now, the jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others. You feed on them. On the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow. So…so. Come on, then. Take mine. Take my memories, but I hope you’ve got a big appetite because I have lived a long life and I have seen a few things. I walked away from the last great time war. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out moment by moment until nothing remained. No time, no space, just me! I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a mad man. I’ve watched universes freeze at creation’s birth. I have seen things you wouldn’t believe. I have lost things you will never understand. And I know things. Secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken. Knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze! So come on, then! Take it! Take it all, baby! Have it! You have it all! Clara (to the creature): Still hungry? Well, I’ve brought something for you. This. The most important leaf in human history. The most important leaf in human history! It’s full of stories. Full of history. And full of a future that never got lived. Days that should have been that never were, passed on to me. This leaf isn’t just the past, it’s a whole future that never happened. There are billions and millions of unlived days for every day we live. An infinity. All the days that never came, and these are all my mum’s. The Doctor: Well? Come on, then. Eat up. Are you full? I’d expect so because there’s quite a difference, isn’t there, between what was and what should have been. There’s an awful lot of one, but there’s an infinity of the other. An infinity is too much, even for your appetite.