Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

VerityEpisode09-300“The Rings of Akhaten” divided opinion in fandom, and we here at Verity! were no different. Listen as Deb, Erika, Liz, and Tansy hash it out. Was it dumb? Fun? Or both? Did the Doctor face a massive soul-eating god? Or an ineffectual Great Pumpkin cosplayer? We answer these questions (or at least discuss them) and more!

^E

Also covered:
The Reign of Terror with a 3-year-old!
Eastercon watches Doctor Who!
Four members of Verity! nominated for Hugo Awards!
Doctor Who: The Reunion on BBC Radio 4!

Download or listen now (runtime 59:39) 

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Comments on: "Verity! Episode 9 – The Prisoner of Akhaten" (19)

  1. Noah Soudrette said:

    You ladies are absooutely lovely. Congrats on the Hugo noms.

    • Why thank you kindly! (For your compliment, for listening, and [on behalf of my nominated cohosts] for the congratulations!)

      ^E

  2. Hi there, I’ve been listening to your podcast since the beginning and it’s fantastic. I always gain insight into a different point of view. (I’m a big Doctor Who podcast geek I admit – Radio Free Skaro and Two Minute Timelord are some of my faves.) Also, in the interest of disclosure, I write Doctor Who analysis and reviews for Whatculture.com. Anyway – I thought “Rings” was basically a big mess. The ideas behind it were sound and intriguing to explore but there was way too much “high concept” and not enough action. I kept thinking that this script really needed to be stripped down and edited – it felt like a first draft. Also the resolution, if you can even call it that, was weak. Potential energy as a kind of weapon to defeat a monster is an interesting idea but it was handled in a very hokey way. The design of the villains was well executed but they were under-used and there were too many layers of them which over-complicated an already bloated story. I do believe, however, that Neil Cross has great promise as a writer for Doctor Who and judging from his other work, he will only get better. I’m glad we’re getting some new voices this season. Thanks so much for the always thought provoking podcasts and congratulations on the Hugo nominations!

  3. Sabrina said:

    First of all: Congratulations on the Hugo nominations! 😀

    Some notes while listening to you:
    – Aliens: I heard the anecdote that they sort of made all the alien masks on the side in anticipation that one day they might need lots of them and they wouldn’t have the time/budget to make them all at once. Ever since I imagine when the guy in charge got the note he was getting all teary eyed “My time has come!” lol
    – Location: They were visiting the rings that are around the planet Akhaten. So yes, they were standing on some sort of asteroid/planetoid (and I assume there are forcefields of all kinds in place to keep it all together and provide air to breathe). Akhaten itself also isn’t a sun (there is clearly another light source on the left shining onto the planet and it’s reflecting the light). By the end of the episode they’re in the planet’s shadow so you only see the red glow from the parasite villain.

    My thoughts:
    I absolutely loved The Rings of Akhaten! And yes, I cried. Weirdly enough I’m from the camp of people who usually don’t cry or at best tear up a little. But this one pulled all the right heartstrings. In result I feel very passionate about it so please excuse me while I write a long winded essay, haha.

    I have to say that I’m a sucker for character episodes and RoA was filled to the brim with wonderful character building moments! I don’t mind it when the villain isn’t centre stage as long as the characters are well written. Neil Cross might not be a sci-fi writer but he is a Doctor Who fan (as far as I heard) and in my opinion he took the emotional backbone of the show, added a ton of call-backs to earlier episodes and characters, and condensed it into 45 minutes of awesome. In most ways it’s a very typical “companion meets alien planet” episode: We get introduced to the companion’s family background, we get exploring new places, we get the companion reaching out to some local alien/person, we get references to the Doctor’s past, we get the companion and the Doctor helping people and even some fun dialogue in between.

    But overall I loved what Cross did with Clara as a character and how he makes her her own person and differentiates her from – let’s say- Rose. (Why Rose? Cause Rose references are still creeping up everywhere and it reached a point where I’m really wondering what’s up with that. But I digress.) It’s great to see Clara’s past, her relationship with her mother and ultimately how she deals with her loss. We had a similar way of exploring Rose’s childhood and loss in Father’s Day but Cross makes a point of showing how the two are handling the situations rather differently which avoids a sort of “been there, done that” feeling. Some people also bring up Amy in that context but imo her growing up without her parents hasn’t been explored that much during S5 and it was fixed eventually anyway. I feel like after two episodes with Clara I already know her better than I’ve ever known Amy. The only thing that feels a bit creepy is the Doctor stalking Clara and her parents through their lives but then again I like that they make a point that she’s had an ordinary life and not something like Amy’s crack in the wall. I also like that in the end Clara calls him out on his bullshit. It’s always great to see when a companion stands their ground!

    And like in Bells of St. John the references to the past are all over the place. They really do turn it up to eleven for the anniversary year, don’t they? If Bells of St. John was The Idiot’s Lantern mixed with a bit of Partners in Crime then this episode is The End of the World mixed with Father’s Day. Not just as a rough template in terms of taking the companion on their first space adventure but also with the visuals with all the aliens and most prominent the silhouette shot with Nine/Rose and Eleven/Clara in front of the sun/planet. The background of Clara’s family is also linked to Rose in at least two ways: The similarity to the cars that ran/almost ran over their dads and Clara’s mum died the same day as the events of “Rose”. On top of that there are of course the little things like the Susan reference or the Doctor’s martial arts reflexes (Venusian Aikido!) and the broad strokes like the whole “We don’t walk away.” / “But when we’re holding onto something precious, we run.” dynamic which really sums up what they always do in a rather lovely way. And of course everything in that epic speech!

    So yeah, great episode! I’m really looking forward to “Hide” and hope that Cross stays on board for a while. Did I mention that I love this!?! 😉

  4. Ray Adamson said:

    Well,there was clearly much pleasure discussing this story amongst Verity! even if not everybody enjoyed experiencing it as much.It is strange how the most emotionally manipulative stories like Doctor,the Widow and the wardrobe,Closing Time,Vincent and the Doctor and Rings of Akhaten seem to prove controversial continually.I can’t hate on it but i don’t especially want to champion it either.I’d prefer everybody to resist comparisons with End of the World though as it is not in the same universe as it,nothing in the story gets close to portraying how Rose got so disconcerted by the alien environment, or her realisation that she is absolutely dependent on this stranger she knows nothing about.Rings is never that evocative and convincing,even if it has more aliens.It’s too superficial as a comparison.The Moxx so rules.Compelled to protest about the comments about the Doctor stalking Clara through her history,he has been unable to intervene when she has died twice before and has been looking for her because he really is scared it may happen again.It’s about protecting her as much as sussing out the mystery she presents to him.I’d say the Doctor is more like a guardian angel than a stalker.Until the Doctor has some theories about what’s happening with her,he can’t even be certain another version of her isn’t in danger somewhere else.It’s actually essential he knows as much as possible about her to work out what’s happening.Have to say that i’m a bit suspicious about Moffat’s apparent reluctance to feature Villains in individual stories considering he’s quite a Hinchcliffe era fan like RTD.Maybe it’s because of his overall storyline for the eleventh doctor.I’d definitely like to see a villain in the tradition of Mavic Chen,Tobias Vaughn,Mehendri Solon,Harrison Chase,or the War Chief.I thought Mdm. Kovarian was very nasty and had an obvious personal hatred of the Doctor but we know so little about her now,she was a plot device as much as a character.Moffat did admit he had a long term storyline at the Q&A of Asylum Of The Daleks.A recurring villain would surely be useful considering how long Doctor Who has been back now.Amused and bewildered by L.M Myles’ proclamations of adoration of KROLL.[Giant,green,slimy ,tentacled.]Disturbing,she’s like a scottish swampie.

  5. I still wonder whether what the Doctor destroyed was a gas giant or a star. If it was a star then the planets orbiting are all going to freeze and either way the gravity in that system is now screwed up if whatever the Doctor was fighting is just gone. At the end of the episode I was like “Hey wait a minute he’s doomed these people!”

    This half of Series 7 is a bit of a mystery to me. When I watch I love it because finally new Doctor Who but then after I think about the episodes they seem a bit mediocre to me. A lot of stuff seemed to be a retread of prior ideas in the last two eps either from another episode (like the beast below) or an elements of the companion (meeting them as a child, companion being at the center of some big mystery from the beginning etc.) The intro to Clara also felt very familiar mostly because Bells of St. John was her 3rd appearance and 2nd intro story so that was to be expected.

    What I wouldn’t give for just a regular companion to travel with the Doctor that isn’t the crux of a conspiracy against the Doctor (Amy), fated to travel with him (Donna), or have this huge mystery surrounding her (Clara), at this point that would almost be a novelty. It seems these days companions have to have a gimmick to travel with the Doctor. I just want to go back to him just meeting someone and taking them on adventures.

    Love the Podcast! 🙂

  6. Mike Rasor said:

    Great episode (of the podcast not Doctor Who)!

    As for my thoughts: I hated Rings of Akhaten with the fire of a thousand jack-o-lantern suns. I had absolutely no emotional investment in the story and at one point found myself wishing they would have just let the little girl die so the story would have been over sooner. I’m usually a sucker for this kind of story, but this might have been the worst writing I’ve seen on new Who yet. It was pretty to look at and the music was great, but those elements should enhance a narrative not replace it. What we ended up with was a series of vague plot points and far too much expositional dialog (rule number one of writing: show don’t tell).

    Overall, the story failed to use the hour to effectively tell a story of any kind. While I liked the idea of the Doctor going back to investigate Clara’s life, too much time was spent on this. It’s as iff the production team thought the audience was so stupid that we couldn’t connect the dots ourselves and realize the importance of the leaf. I didn’t need to see the Doctor having another encounter with little Clara (and isn’t it weird that she remembers him standing off in the distance at her mother’s grave but not the two times she actually spoke with him as a child). Additionally, while I liked the singing, I didn’t need quite so much of it unless it was going to actually accomplish something at the end. Those were minutes wasted that could have been used to make me care about something in this story.

    While I like Clara, that is not the same as being emotionally invested in her, and that is especially true when the emotional stakes are not about her losing her life but rather about losing a leaf. I get that it’s important to her, but ultimately she still has all of the emotions tied up in the leaf safely locked away in her heart. I might have liked this story more if it had been placed later in the series at a point when I knew and cared more for Clara. It might have also helped Cross to have to do a little less heavy lifting on explaining Clara’s past.

    Additionally, anytime you have a villan or villans that don’t speak or don’t have facial expression it’s a minus in my book. Your villan has to be a character not a prop and this story utterly failed to deliver in that respect. Again why should I care about a story which has no real antagonist for the protagonist.

    Finally, this story continues what I find to be a disappointing trend under Moffat; making the companion the main character. I’ve watched Doctor who for nearly thirty years. I want to watch stories about the Doctor. In new Who there has always been a greater emphasis on the companions than in the classic series, but RTD knew how to balance this in such a way as to tell stories about both the Doctor and the companion. Under Moffatt, it seems as though the show is about the companion and the Doctor is just a supporting character. Clara makes the connection with the girl and Clara saves the day. The Doctor on the other hand gets to give us exposition and use his magic wand, I mean sonic screwdriver, to provide us with plot conviences.

    I’ll try to end on an up note, I liked the idea that the TARDIS doesn’t like Clara. That might explain why the translation circuits are only selectively working for her. Either that or bad writing. Anyway hopefully as we learn more about the mystery of Clara, I’ll be able to rewatch this episode and see how Moffatt was laying the ground work for an explanation of the larger ark (perhaps the only reason the possibilities in the leaf defeated pumpkin face was because Clara herself represents some kind of infinite possibility). Until that happens I have to say this episode was an utter failure.

  7. The guards were called the Virgil I believe. Even though there was some good bits I generally found the episode to be disappointing (probably because of the plot). The one thing I will say is the singing went a little too long.

    I’m really looking forward to Cold War and the Ice Warriors. Mark Gatiss is one of my favourite writers so yeah looking forward to see what he came up with.

  8. I agree with those who have complained about the plot holes and unexplained parts of the episode, and I echo most of the questions others have posed already- where was the Doctor for that chunk of time at the beginning, why isn’t the TARDIS translating, are the people left without a sun, are the Doctor’s memories GONE now, etc. It gives me an unsettled feeling, not knowing if those are plot holes, deliberately placed plot devices, or if I’m just particularly slow/not paying attention.

    Perhaps rather surprisingly after all that, I did actually enjoy the episode! Truth be told, even the controversial ones that inspire debate and outright rage amongst some fans, don’t usually bother me too much. 42 minutes spent with people (albeit fictional ones) that I love is still enjoyable even when the story sucks, and we almost never get two crappy episodes in a row. It’s not that the issues in the story don’t bother me, I just enjoy the telling of it anyway. Maybe this is a character flaw- I’m either too forgiving, or not discerning enough. 🙂

    I also saw the Doctor’s “stalking” as more of a guardian angel thing. He doesn’t understand Clara, he’s trying to figure her out, and he’s already so fond of her. With a time machine at one’s disposal, who wouldn’t go back and peek in on someone in that situation?

    I’m very much looking forward to the return of the Ice Warriors. One of my sons cut out a photo of one and brought it in to show his preschool class this week, as they’re learning about the letter I. None of his classmates know what it is, but he was so excited. 😀

    • I realized I phrased that like I thought it WAS one of the supposedly crappy episodes, which I don’t. It was a feely-good episode, which I like just as well as the ones with a great mystery, or a rock-solid explanation, or nearly perfect writing, or fancy sci-fi tech.
      (I need to not re-read my posts, because it makes me want to add on and clarify. Gosh, what if someone misunderstands something said on the internet?!)

  9. I think it helps one’s understanding of the episode, Deb, to realise that fandom has largely been wrong about the nature of the threat in this episode. It wasn’t a sun. At all. It’s never described as a sun. When visualised, it’s clear that the sun must be screen left somewhere. Indeed, the Doctor says that the people believe Akhaten is the planet from which all life in the universe sprang. Planet. Not sun. And it’s only believed to be a planet.

    The Doctor then admits to making a semantic boo-boo. He misunderstood what the nature of Akhaten was. He didn’t understand it was a being. Old Grandfather. A living being.

    So it’s not a star. It’s not a planet. It’s a vampire god that has the ability to change its mass and and look like a scary jack-o-lantern. It is an entity about which we know precious little: no worse than Kroll, Fenric, the Great Intelligence, the Mandragora Helix, or any other bit of amorphous nonsense we’ve gobbled up with a spoon over the last fifty years.

    And because it’s not a star or a planet, I don’t understand why your objection largely rests on going “one step beyond” the usual suspension of scientific disbelief that the show requires. The ability for something to look like something else is not without parallel in the real world.

    I mean, imagine your adrift in the ocean, Life of Pi style. And you, like Pi, come across a humpback whale. if you had no idea what a whale was, wouldn’t you think that it was just a big damn shark? Wouldn’t you imagine that its properties might include big teeth and carnivorism? In the same way, we look at this “thing” called Akhaten on the screen and we think it might be a star. Or we hear the Doctor at the beginning of the episode and we think that it’s a planet. But that’s not what the episode actually, ultimately tells us.

    Ironically, the whole, glorious point of the episode was that you don’t have to buy into what other people say. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself on other people’s altars. The only thing you have to do is not walk away when there’s danger. Keep fighting. Figure out how to help others in the best way that you, uniquely, know how. And yet here goes fandom off on a group grump, thinking this was a star, and that therefore the episode is ridiculous because its main villain is a star that looks like a jack-o-lantern!

    I find it fascinating that you—and, to be fair, many others—would oppose this episode on scientific grounds. This episode? Of all the episodes of the Moffat era? This is where the scientific scales got broken?

    For once Moffat has allowed—for he certainly did not write—actual, hard science as the cause of a fantastic conclusion. This isn’t his usual fairy tale nonsense; it’s about as pure an example you’re going to get of science fantasy. It’s not “Daddy love” conquers all. It’s not “click your heels together three times and you’ll go home”. The crux of the episode that contains the significantly fantastical element of psychometric economics is basically Carl Sagan 101. It’s the Doctor saying, “The improbability of your existence, Merry, does not afford you the right to sacrifice yourself unthinkingly. You must resist because you are, in a scientifically demonstrable way, unique.” And what is so amazing about Clara is that at that moment she falls in love with the Doctor. You can see it on her face. What gets to her isn’t the time travel, or the bigger-on-the-inside police box, or even that he sweetly guarded her the week before. No, this amazing new companion, who clearly has a sense of agency not really seen since Martha—not so genuinely felt since Sarah Jane, and not so sassily-rendered since Polly in “The Highlanders”—-falls in not-necessarily-romatic-but-it-wouldn’t-be-awful-if-it-were love with the Doctor because he gives a scared little girl power through basic science.

    So to me the objections Deb and a huge swath of fandom have raised about bad science are not only based on a fundamental misread of the story, but they unfairly drown out the genuine, unassailable science at the story’s core.

    • I can’t speak for Deb, but I think that the fact there’s such a widespread mis-read (despite loving the story, I wasn’t clear on the planet/sun/god thing) is a huge failing of the episode (whether it be the fault of the writing, direction, or some of both). That seems to me like enough of a reason to feel pretty “meh” about it right there, so I completely understand why lots of people aren’t fond of it. And this is only one of a number of story elements that aren’t clear. Add in the fact that there’s an emotional core to this story that isn’t gonna grab everyone, and I have no trouble seeing why it’s divided fandom so thoroughly.

      ^E

  10. Bob Davidson said:

    Maybe this has already been said but I thought the market/settlement and the pyramid where on two asteroids that occasionally pass each other and the enemy was the planet they circle around.

  11. For me the problem with “Rings of Akhaten” is not how scientifically accurate it may be but that it is simply trying to do too much. There are some great ideas lurking within that mess of a story but 45 minutes is not nearly enough time to explore them all. I’ve come up with a list of ten and I’m sure I’ve missed some:

    1. Sacrificing another person to preserve your own life
    2. Worshipping a “god” that requires that kind of sacrifice
    3. Viewing another being as a commodity – not as a person worthy of respect but as a sacrificial lamb, created to serve your own needs
    4. The power of memory and how it shapes our identities
    5. Is memory so powerful that it can imbue objects with an emotional impression?
    6. The power of music – how it can be used to shape thought and emotion
    7. The importance of speaking out – not being afraid to let your own voice ring out and respecting other voices
    8. Choir singing as a metaphor for balance and harmony and in counterpoint to illustrate the desperate and rigid voice of the frightened mob
    9. Coincidence versus Destiny (Did the leaf really determine the fate of Clara’s parents or did they just decide to believe that it did?)
    10. The importance of fighting for what you believe in and the ability to let go of what you believe in when you recognize it as harmful to others

    These are all intriguingly powerful ideas to explore but not when you try to cram them into one episode. I’ll say again though that I do believe Neil Cross shows a lot of promise and I don’t believe it’s fair to judge him on the basis of one episode. I’d actually rather he go too far than hold back because that means he’s willing to take risks. I’m greatly looking forward to his next episode because even though I personally felt this particular story was flawed I can recognize the talent and intelligence behind it.

  12. […] of all the various opinions voiced by the hosts of Radio Free Skaro, Verity, and Two Minute Time Lord, I align most with Chip of the latter, who was pleased the show still has […]

  13. […] Rings of Akhaten” Podcast My Last […]

  14. […] Tansy, MARKETPLACE! That’s what I kept thinking of when the Verity! podcast team were discussing “The Rings of Akhaten” a few weeks ago! (sorry David, no other talking about things you haven’t seen […]

  15. […] Tansy, MARKETPLACE! That’s what I kept thinking of when the Verity! podcast team were discussing “The Rings of Akhaten” a few weeks ago! (sorry David, no other talking about things you haven’t seen […]

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