Why The Rings of Akhaten could have made a great finale
Guest contributor Anthony Willis gives an alternate take on the divisive Series 7 episode.
I know, I know, I know, The Rings of Akhaten is largely disliked among a portion of Doctor Who fans so you’re probably thinking why would or should it be a series finale? To start let me just go on record as saying The Rings of Akhaten is one of my favourite Doctor Who stories of all time. Now this article is not your typical ‘A Case for’ article because I believe that I couldn’t do the episode enough justice to make the ‘haters’ consider Rings to be a better episode than they first thought. What I am proposing is that given a different scenario the episode could have been a great series finale.
The problems with Rings
The Rings of Akhaten gets a lot of criticism for, in my opinion, things that don’t really matter. Things like, the overuse of the Sonic Screwdriver, being too fast paced and underutilised aliens are among the most popular of complaints. Now I am going to assume that all of these could easily be avoided with extra runtime and that the Sonic Screwdriver issue is something that effects most of the recent Who episodes, so not a problem for this episode specifically. When it comes to the pace of the episode, I personally think for a 45-minute limit, Neil Cross and everyone else involved got it spot on. A common problem in today’s fictional media is the pacing at dramatic moments. In some movies you have a bomb that’s got, say, a minute to go and it takes 5 minutes of screen watching time before it blows up. This is both annoying and unrealistic. I find the moments where the pace is ‘too fast’ in The Rings of Akhaten to be more realistic to how the events that are happening onscreen to actually be.
I think that mystery of the leaf was introduced and solved too quickly in the series as it is; If Rings were to be the finale it should have started like it was in The Bells of Saint John, a mystery at first. Then slowly bit-by-bit in each episode leading up to the ‘Rings finale’ we would piece together what the leaf was until it suddenly becomes the item that saves the day. If the Rings finale was a thing then a change would be needed where I think the leaf sacrifice would have to come in a bit sooner. Rather than the Doctor’s memories not being enough to kill the God it should be as it’s stealing his memories Clara saves him by offering an infinite number of memories over the Doctor’s. This I feel would only work if Rings were a finale however because it reflects how The Name of the Doctor turned out, Clara saving the Doctor from death. Whereas I don’t think something like that could work so early on in the Doctor/Clara friendship.
The Series 5 finale was THE defining moment for Matt Smith as the Doctor. Don’t get me wrong, I loved his Doctor from the start, but the ‘Stonehenge speech’ was the best moment of the finale and indeed the series. Every series should have an ‘epic speech’ like this and when better to do such a speech than in the finale? The closest we got to such speeches in the Series 6 and 7 finales were the Doctor’s conversations with River which didn’t really have the same ‘epic’ feel to them, they were wonderfully emotive yes, but not ‘epic’. The Rings of Akhaten brings us not only ‘The Series 7 speech’, but in my opinion ‘The 11th Doctor speech’. Matt Smith’s performance of the speech is by far the best acting I’ve seen in the revived series of Doctor Who. A speech this grand needs to be how you end the series, not be placed bang in the middle of it.
Subtle references to the 11th Doctor’s End
This episode is littered with moments which subtly say that 11’s time is coming to an end. Similar to the foreshadowing lines from Ood Sigma and Carmen “Your song is ending” from when the 10th Doctor was coming to an end. Let me explain, the songs that the Akhaten population songs consist of two themes, resting and waking.
The ‘resting’ parts are sung first with lyrics such as “Rest now, my warrior, Lay down, my king” and “Rest now, your hardship, it’s over.” Now for me that foreshadows the 11th Doctor’s upcoming regeneration, we know that for some he is known as a warrior and others a king, they’re singing about the 11th Doctor and that the hardship he’s had to go through as that incarnation is now over.
The second theme is waking, with lines such as “Live, Wake up Wake up” and “Let the cloak of life cling to your bones” which sounds to me a very poetic way to describe the act of regeneration. A new man is about to live and wake up, the cloak of life being the regeneration clinging to his bones changing very cell in his body keeping him alive, but at the same time putting the old man to rest and giving the new man life.
Finally, the Doctor and Clara give speeches to do with this same theme, again in subtle way. The Doctor talks of how the God has ‘people who’ve lived in terror of it and its judgement’ and that it’s merely just a parasite that feeds on the lives of others. For me the Doctor is judging the God on things the Doctor himself is guilty of. He has people who worship him and people who fear him. The Doctor has left people in so much terror of him that whole armies have formed in that fear. At the point where the Doctor is about to offer up his memories to the God he appears to realise this, being so much like the God he knows that his memories might be just the thing to kill it. This is not the case in actual fact the past and present is not enough to kill the God, but rather the possibilities of the future. Again this foreshadows the coming of the 12th Doctor, the 11th Doctor will rest, but his future will give be more powerful because of the infinite possibilities of his future.
In conclusion, I think if the series was rewritten slightly and some of the problems people have with The Rings of Akhaten fixed, then it could have easily been an excellent finale. The Rings of Akhaten would have to be tweaked of course, but the speech and songs of the episode perfectly foreshadow the 11th Doctor’s departure in such a subtle way where it becomes not only an excellent episode, but had the potential to be a highly emotive way to end the series.