In a lot of ways, this episode feels like an Indiana Jones adventure in space. The Doctor visits an ancient culture and investigates their mystic rituals. I especially enjoyed the Indiana Jones allusion as the Doctor rolls through a closing door and then reaches back at the last second to retrieve his sonic screwdriver after it fell out of his pocket. This season the BBC has been releasing promotional images for the episodes, and this one was obviously influenced by the Indiana Jones movie posters in that it is modeled after the old adventure serial posters. The episode also had a bit of a classic Who feel to it, in that it was focused more on the culture and history of these peoples than the adventure itself. In particular, it reminds me of “The Aztecs,” which was a First Doctor adventure where his cultural ignorance leads to the Doctor humorously getting engaged by accident.
One of the most interesting aspects of the culture is that their currency is not money, but rather objects of sentimental value. The more personal history is attached to an object, the more it is worth. So often in sci-fi, alien cultures are still depicted very much like our own. One of the aspects that I have always enjoyed about Doctor Who is that the writers are not afraid to create worlds that function extremely differently than our own.
This was the first episode from writer Neil Cross, and he did a great job. The script was sharp and witty while still remaining emotionally grounded. The effects in the episode were spectacular, as well. The make-up and computer effects give the episode a cinematic feel that is usally reserved for the series finales. With an episode this epic, it makes one wonder what they can do to top it for this series finale.
As for the overarcing storyline involving the mystery of Clara, we do not get much new information. The episode did not focus much on this aspect; however, the TARDIS locked Clara out, and she mentioned that she thinks that the vehicle does not like her. It makes sense that the TARDIS would not like her due to the paradoxical nature of her returns from death. As for setting up other future plot developments, the Doctor does mention Susan. Susan was the first companion on the show, and she was the Doctor's granddaughter. In addition to the mention of her, there were also many references to grandfathers. There have been rumors that Carole Ann Ford may return soon to reprise her role as Susan, and these references make me think that there may be some validity to the buzz. Although, personally, I always believed that we have already seen the return of Susan, and she was the mysterious old woman in “The End of Time.”
There is only one real problem I had with the episode. Unfortunately, I cannot explain it without spoiling the end. If you have any desire to watch the episode without it getting spoiled, then you should probably stop reading right now.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW
It is discovered that Grandfather is not in the temple but is actually the star itself—which makes one wonder if it is somehow of the same race as the living star from “42.” I do think that the resolution is pretty great in that Clara is actually the one to save the day and not the Doctor. My problem comes from what happens after they stop Grandfather. The star implodes and is obviously destroyed, which would lead to the death of everyone on the seven planets in this system. Now, maybe the Doctor could create some sort of artifical star to save them, but there is nothing to indicate that this is the case. Despite this plot hole, “The Rings of Akhaten” is still an enjoyable episode that makes me look forward to “Hide,” which will be out later this season and will be Neil Cross' second Doctor Who episode.