We also get important information about the origin of Clara Oswald: She is… well, nothing special. Which is interesting, because the Clara we know is far from ordinary. It’s not every day we meet a barmaid/governess/soufflé chef/Dalek who has died onscreen twice, right?
Curious, the Doctor (Matt Smith) follows Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) in the past and discovers that her parents met cute (her father, blinded by a falling leaf, stumbled into traffic and her mother saved him) and her mother died young, when Clara was a teen. Clara keeps the leaf in her book, 101 Places to See, which belonged to her mother.
Clara asks the Doctor to show her “something awesome,” so he brings her to the planet Akhaten. Representatives of all the species that live on the seven planets of the system have gathered on Akhaten’s rings for the Festival of Offerings, which occurs once every 1,000 years when the rings align. As the pair explore a local market, Clara meets a number of exotic species – and one particular little girl: Merry Galel (Emilia Jones), the Queen of Years. She is frightened because she has the important job in an upcoming ceremony of continuing a never-ending song that keeps their Old God, also known as Grandfather, asleep. Clara reassures the girl and gives her the courage to accept her role in the ceremony. Later, the Doctor and Clara watch as the ceremony begins and Merry picks up her part in a duet with a Chorister (Chris Anderson) who is singing in Grandfather’s sacred pyramid on another rock in the ring. But the Chorister falters and everyone stops singing; the Long Song is ruined! The end of the lullaby causes a golden energy field to snatch Merry from the viewing room and drag her to the pyramid.
The Doctor and Clara follow on a rented moped, but Merry is locked behind a door with a frequency-modulated acoustic lock. The Doctor manages to wedge the door open with his sonic screwdriver, but Merry refuses to leave, feeling it’s her fault the Old God is waking. She telekinetically pins Clara against a glass sarcophagus containing Grandfather’s Mummy (Aidan Cook) as it begins to revive. The Doctor tells Merry she didn’t make a mistake; she was always intended as a sacrifice to the mummy. As the creature begins to break out of its cage Merry agrees to run – but they are stopped by the uniformed soldiers of the Vigil, whose job it is to feed the girl to the mummy. The Doctor holds off the Vigil by matching their sonic weapons with his screwdriver until Merry can sing open the lock on a door to escape. Clara won’t leave the Doctor, but the mummy breaks his cage and… fires a beam of light at the planet Akhaten. The Vigil disappear and the Doctor realizes he made a mistake: Grandfather isn’t the mummy; Grandfather is the planet Akhaten!
Merry says Grandfather will devour every living being in the solar system and then rampage across the galaxy. The Doctor dispatches Clara to return Merry to the viewing chamber while he faces down the planet. He realizes the planet hungers for stories like the lullaby, so the Doctor tells Akhaten the story of the people who worship him – and adds in his own story, overwhelming the Old God with the tale of his own vast life experiences. But this also exhausts the Time Lord, and as he falters, the planet revives. Clara suddenly arrives and feeds the Old God “the most important leaf in human history” – the one that brought her parents together. The leaf is suffused with all the lost potential of Clara’s mother’s short life. The truly infinite possibilities of stories that might have been overload the god and render the planet dormant.
Show-runner Steven Moffat explained that for this story, he wanted the Doctor to finally take his companion someplace “awesome” after failing to do that so many times before. So here the Doctor takes Clara to a place filled with colorful aliens celebrating a happy event to demonstrate what traveling with him can be like. I think it was nice to see the Doctor succeed at impressing his assistant at last.
The idea that the Akhet system used psychometry as a form of currency is something rather unique to me. The idea of using something of sentimental value as currency seems to make sense on its surface, but if you think about it, that makes everything very expensive. I mean, instead of trading bits of paper that have assigned value, one has to give up an object that really means something. When Clara gave up her mother’s ring, she was surrendering something in which she had invested a lifetime of memories. That seems far, far more valuable than any object you could rent. Paper money has value, but it isn’t worth anything to me, sentimentally speaking.
I greatly enjoyed the comic relief of the Doctor communicating with moped vendor Dor’een by barking. It gave Smith a chance to indulge in a bit of silliness. Can you imagine the First Doctor communicating by barking? As for why the TARDIS didn’t translate Dor’een’s barking for Clara, the show has done this sort of this before simply for comic effect, and it has been noted before (say, in “Fires of Pompeii”).
Am I the only one who realizes that Clara couldn’t enter the TARDIS because it was locked – and the Doctor hasn’t given her a key yet? Why is so much of fandom jumping to the conclusion that the TARDIS doesn’t like her? Is it just because Clara took it personally? Remember, Capt. Jack Harkness used to think the TARDIS didn’t like him, either. When Clara was running back to the TARDIS, I was thinking to myself, “How is she going to get in? Isn’t the TARDIS locked?” And, sure enough, she couldn’t get in. But there’s no conspiracy at work.
The Doctor also mentions the Hooloovoo, a species from the late Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Adams was, of course, script editor for DOCTOR WHO’s 17th season and wrote “The Pirate Planet,” “City of Death” and “Shada.” Adams’ Hooloovoo are an intelligent shade of the color blue.
The Sun-singers of Akhet believe that all life in the entire universe originated on Akhaten.
The Doctor’s affinity for Earth is illustrated by his references to the nursery rhyme To Market, To Market (when he said, “Home again, home again, jiggety-jig”) and Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter, mentioning “shoes and ships and sealing-wax, cabbages and kings.”
Now that the Doctor has battled a living planet to go along with his previous encounter with a sentient sun (in “42”), will he next take on an intelligent moon? Or perhaps a comet with a bad attitude?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“There is one thing 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