Scene: A family of Whovians watch the latest Doctor Who episode. Their thoughts about it range from middling to low (the children) to downright turned off (the grownups.) Our fearless recapper speaks to her adorably bespectacled husband afterward, wondering how to summarize the experience. Husband reminds her that, as part of their marriage vows, it is his responsibility to deal with the things she does not like and that make her cringe.
In other words? This week’s guest recapper is Alex Doyle, the man ridiculous enough to have married the likes of me. Maybe he can makes sense of this one.
“Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.”
-The Sound Of Music.
Ah, Doctor Who, you magnificent bastard. Star of fantastic episodes like The Doctor’s Wife, where an unstoppable evil puts our protagonist in a situation from which he cannot possibly escape. And yet he does, clever boy that he is, for the solution was in front of us viewers all the time. Yes, he emerges victorious in a stunning emotional climax that resonates with us all, and there’s not a dry eye in the house.
This is not one of those episodes.
The episode opens with film school style shots of a fence and leaves. (Note those leaves ‘cause they’re gonna be important later. Really, really important. They might even SAVE THE UNIVERSE!) The Doctor observes the British version of that guy from Will & Grace walking down the street. “Will” is hit square in the face by the Biggest Leaf Ever. It’s impact is so staggering that by the time he’s managed to pull it off of his face (and this takes so long you’d think the leaf was trying to lay it’s eggs in his stomach) he’s wandered out into traffic and is nearly run over. He is saved at the last second by a cute woman, so you know there’s gonna be some chemistry there.
Through a touching family montage, we discover that the young couple are Clara’s parents, the mom dies young, and they’d never have met at all were it not for the mutant, face sucking leaf. (Did I mention how that thing stuck on his face? I think there was a typo in the script and they were supposed to have a “leech.”) The Very Important Leaf is kept for Clara’s scrapbook.
Cut to the doctor taking Clara to the location and time of the thing she most yearns to visit: “something awesome.” The Doctor has brought her to The Rings of Akhaten, where atmosphere bearing asteroids float around a sun, and there’s a golden pyramid, which is sure to play no part in this episode, for, just like rope bridges that only exist to be cut down while being traversed, pyramids are convenient locations for human sacrifices, curses, and the dead coming back. Here we’ll get two out of three, or maybe three if we could hear what The Doctor was thinking…but I digress.
Clara and the Doctor visit an alien market and there’s a once-in-a-thousand-year festival going on. While wandering through, we learn that the TARDIS translator must be wonky, because Clara has a complete inability to understand a barking alien merchant who rents space mopeds, which begs a question: are they going to be riding mounted vehicles in every episode? And, more important, will one of these modes of transportation eventually include a Tauntaun? The merchant can apparently only be paid in objects that have deep sentimental and emotional value. So when you visit Akhaten, don’t bring your American Express card, and say ‘eff you’ to Visa, ‘cause if the merchants there don’t honor The Gift Of The TARDIS, your cards won’t be worth crap.
The Doctor wanders off in time for us to see two dudes from the local priesthood looking for a similarly dressed young girl who’s hiding from them. They ask Clara if she’s seen The Queen Of Years, and then bugger off. Well, I’m sure that young lady is in no sort of trouble and won’t be appearing later in the ep…HOLY SHIT THERE SHE IS. And Clara chases her down, and offers to help hide her. And then a trio of Cenobite/Dark City wannabes come hunting for her as well. Why? ‘Cause they’re creepy as hell, that’s why.
Clara dodges them and she and the Queen Of Years slink back to the TARDIS but it won’t let her in, ‘cause if it did, well, that’d be story over then. After a touching conversation about fear, Clara discovers the girl is supposed to sing a song to a dead god or something at a performance that night and she is petrified to screw it up. Clara manages to talk her off her anxiety ledge and HANDS HER BACK TO THE PRIESTHOOD ? Dafuq? No good can come of this. Absolutely none. This kid is so clearly a sacrifice that she’s got a freshness date tattooed on her somewhere.
So the kid goes to sing. And much to my surprise everything seems to be going well. Clara and The Doctor attend her performance like parents at a fourth grade band concert. Did I mention the priest singing to the withered looking alien in a glass case in the pyramid? Well there’s one there. And the girl is singing to him too. Then some stuff goes wrong and the girl is sucked up in a Wizard Of Oz style bubble and is pulled towards the pyramid. (Remember the pyramid? Huh?)
The Doctor and Clara run to get the space moped, and Clara gives up her dead mother’s ring to rent it. Or buy it. You know, the whole rent to own program is kind of screwed when your economy is built on largely meaningless sentimental tokens. Anyway, they get to the temple and pry their way in. The priest keeps trying to sing the god behind the glass to sleep, but like a cranky two year old, it ain’t working for shit, so the priest stops singing, gives his name, and twists something on his wrist and vanishes with what I can only assume was an alien ‘peace out’. The thing in the glass case tries to break out, the Cenobite wannabes show up, and the doctor holds them off while the Queen and Clara escape to the outside of the pyramid. ‘Cause, you know, it’s better than the Screwed Up Thing Under Glass and his backup singing Screwupettes that are keeping the Doctor busy.
Then the thing in the glass breaks out…and dies! But not before shooting a ray of something into the sun that turns it into the bad, bad acid trip version of the baby head sun from Teletubbies. Oh, and the Cenowannabes just vanish, ‘cause: whatever.
So having left the pyramid’s interior soundgarden, The Doctor is left facing the black hole sun that wants to eat everybody’s experiences, and will expand to consume the whole universe if left unchecked. The Doctor gives Clara a touching speech on how heavy elements are made and sends her and the Queen back to the theater to be safe. The Doctor then offers up all of his experiences to the sun with what’s supposed to be a deeply meaningful monologue about his life, and the Jackhole sun pretty much says – “Yeah. That’s great for starters…what else ya got?”
And it turns out he’s got Clara and the Amazing Face Sucking Leaf! She whips that thing out like a cross in front of Dracula and informs the voracious jack o’ lantern sun god thing that it represents all the days her mother never had, and infinite possibilities, which causes it to die, either due to overeating infinite possibilities, or from infinite saccharine poisoning.
With the monster dead, The Doctor regains his memor…wait. What? He never even lost his memories? So he was pretty well just fine after this thing “fed?” So this thing that’s gonna eat the universe was really just gonna take a whiff or two of the universe and call it a day? Well. Glad we offed that life-sniffing dick. Anyone else wonder what the Akhatens are going to do without a sun? No? Just me, then.
So, the day is saved. Clara goes home. The Doctor gives her her mother’s ring back, as it’s the least the moped rental place could do since she saved their asses from a solar system sized…sniffing. Still SOL on The Leaf, though, and, as we close, we see The Doctor either wondering what the hell Clara is, or what the hell this episode was about.
Alex Doyle is a writer for Sweatpants & Coffee. He is an avowed Whovian. He is married to Barbara Sirois Doyle.