Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 7, Episode 7 of BBC America's "Doctor Who," titled "The Rings of Akhaten."
I have to admit that I wasn't crazy about this episode for the first 40 minutes or so, and I was ready to write it off as the typical "the Doctor shows off the universe to his new companion" piece. But then the last minutes were so heavy with dialogue about existing, being and memories, points that are probably more relevant to understanding why Clara exists than all the scenes with her parents (although I'm not discounting those). Even though I really didn't care for the "The Rings of Akhaten" at first, I can appreciate it for the role I think it'll play in explaining Clara. So, let's get on with the recap.
To find out more about Clara, the Doctor is time-stalking her, even going all the way back to 1981 to witness how her parents met. Clara's mom Ellie saves Clara's dad from being run over by a car after the biggest leaf ever covered his face and distracted him while he was walking. After a romantic date, Clara's dad presents Ellie with "the most important leaf in human history," because it led to them meeting. They marry, Clara is born and the Doctor checks in on her a couple of times, including at the cemetery after her mom has passed away. She's holding on to her mother's travel journal (the one from the last episode), with the leaf tucked inside. The Doctor finally shows up at Clara's door in the present day to whisk her away on her first adventure.
Since they can travel anywhere in space and time, and Clara doesn't know where she wants to go first, the Doctor takes her to the Rings of Akhaten for her first view of space. They arrive in time for the Festival of Offerings, and Clara meets Merry Galel, a child who is the Queen of Years. This civilization sings songs to their old god (which they sometimes call grandfather) to keep it sleeping and from devouring them. Merry has run away because she's scared of messing up during the ceremony, but Clara -- who we've established is a genius with children -- is able to convince her that it's okay to be scared and Merry returns to perform her portion of the song.
During the performance of the "Long Song," something goes horribly wrong and Merry gets transported to the pyramid of the old god. Since Clara and the Doctor never walk away from dangerous situations, they rent a flying moped (they're big on flying machines that aren't the TARDIS this half of the season, aren't they?) to travel to the pyramid. There they find the old god encased in a glass box. At first, Merry is willing to sacrifice herself to save all of them, but the Doctor convinces her that she's unique, the only person in the world just like her, and it would be a waste to sacrifice herself. They'll find another solution to appease the old god.
At this point in the story, we find out that the thing encased in glass isn't the old god, and the old god is actually a massive fireball that's going to consume them all. The Doctor decides to feed it and lull it back to sleep with his memories, since he's lived for thousands of years and he should have enough experiences. However, he can't satisfy the creature and Clara comes to rescue him. She sacrifices her parents' leaf to the god, with the leaf not only representing the past, but the infinite possibilities that could have been and never were. This provides enough memories that the god is full and goes back to sleep. Clara and the Doctor then return to the present day, and Clara makes sure that the Doctor wants to travel with her for who she is and not because she reminds him of someone else.
Design-wise, this episode is definitely a "Star Wars"
rip-off tribute. As someone who just likes the original trilogy films, but doesn't worship at the Temple of Jedi, even I saw the obvious references to the cantina in Tatooine. And I swear that the Doctor was brandishing the sonic screwdriver like a green light saber throughout the episode.
In an interview with TV Guide, Jenna-Louise Coleman shares that the second-half of the season will drop hints as to who Clara really is and the audience will get the big reveal during the season finale. From what we learned last week and this week, I'm betting that Clara can be alive several times because she is composed of memories that never die (and this is a horrible guess that'll probably change next week).
All alarm clocks are horrible, terrible things, but I will agree that a reptilian vampire that wants to suck your soul dry does win the title of "the world's nastiest alarm clock."
Where would you go if the Doctor offered to take you anywhere in time and space? With all the infinite possibilities, I'd also pull a Clara and just want to go somewhere "awesome."
"Doctor Who" airs Saturdays, 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.