This week’s ‘Doctor Who’ is an exciting one as it is the first proper adventure for Clara. Oddly enough, this companion is unlike any of the Nu-Who generation as she doesn’t readily jump to the prospect of travelling with the mad man and his blue box. She waits a day (and in our case a week). A lot can happen in a day…
If you recall, the last scene of ‘’The Bells of Saint John’ had Clara telling the Doctor to return the next day for her answer to whether she will join him as a companion. We were left with the Doctor saying now is the time to find out who she is – and that’s what we see him do in the beginning of the episode. The Doctor watches as Clara’s parents, David and Ellie, meet, court, have baby Clara and raise her. He was even there at the funeral of Clara’s mom on March 5, 2005. After witnessing all this, he determines she’s “just a girl but she can’t be! She’s not possible!”
It’s the next day for Clara as waits for the Doctor to return. She clutches the book “101 Places to See’ that once belonged to her mother. Inside the TARDIS, she asks several questions about the concept of time then tells him she’d like to go somewhere “awesome”, so he takes her to the Rings of Ahkaten, an asteroid belt surrounding a giant red planet. Within the asteroid belt is a rock which contains the Holy Pyramid of the Rings of Ahkaten, the holy site for the Sun Singers of Akhat. There, 7 worlds share the common belief that life in the universe all originated on the planet Akhaten. Whether or not it did, it’s a nice story and that’s what they believe says the Doctor.
They head over to the site and Clara is in the middle of a marketplace. The Doctor reminisces and tells her that he forgot how much he liked it there and that had visited the area once before with his granddaughter. (At this point, my jawed dropped at the mention of Susan! What a wonderful nod to the classics!) The scene reminds me of the 10th Doctor taking Donna to a marketplace in ‘Turn Left’ as they try out the local cuisine and take in the atmosphere. He tells her that everyone is there for the Festival of Offerings which occurs every 1000 years or so. As they continue to look around, the Doctor tells his new companion that the currency on the asteroid are objects of sentimental value. It follows the paranormal science of psychometry, the psychic imprint of an object. The more sentiment that the object holds, the more valuable it is.
Clara turns to look at something and when she turns back, the Doctor is gone. As she looks for him in the marketplace, she runs into a Merry Galel, the Queen of Years, who looks scared then runs away. Clara finds her and helps Merry to hide and leads her to the TARDIS. Unfortunately, the TARDIS doors are locked and Clara can’t get in. Clara thinks the TARDIS doesn’t like her. A sense of foreshadowing here? Could Sexy found a companion that she doesn’t want near the Doctor? Or maybe it could be as simple as the fact that Clara doesn’t have a key to open the door?
As the two hide behind the TARDIS, Merry explains that she is running away because she is scared. See, she is a vessel of the history of the people and needs to sing a special song to a god and is afraid she’ll get it wrong. Clara shares a story about a time she was afraid of getting lost and one day she did. Her worst fear comes true. But then her mum found her and told her a story that night that wherever she may be and however lost she may feel, she will never really be lost because her mum will always be there and will always find her every single time. Now I think those last three words will need to be remembered further into the season as it was again repeated as those it held some importance.
Clara returns Merry to the priests who take her to an arena with the Doctor and Clara looking on. Merry begins to sing a song and the Doctor explains that she and the other man joining in the singing are singing to the mummy of the temple which they call Old God or Grandfather. They are singing a lullaby to keep the Grandfather asleep, a tradition that has gone on for generations. Those in the arena then offer mementos to feed the Old God. The audience then joins in to sing the lullaby, but something terrible seems to happen. The earth begins to shake and Merry is trapped in an energy shield.
The Doctor and Clara go after her with Clara having to trade in her mother’s ring for a shuttle scooter as they go and attempt to save Merry as she is pulled into the pyramid by the energy beam. The chorister continues to chant for the Old God not to wake from slumber as Merry panics as to what to do next. The Doctor and Clara hear the little girl scream as she sees the mummy’s eyes glow.
The two manage to get the door open hoping to get Merry out but she refuses to leave. She pins Clara against the glass of the Old God’s cage, willing to sacrifice herself or else the Old God will eat everyone. Unable to hold the door up any longer, the Doctor rolls in and allows the door to close behind him locking them all with the soul eating alien. Given the opportunity to run away by the Doctor, the chorister stops chanting and announces that the long song has ended with him as he teleports out.
The Old God awakens and begins to bang on the glass walls. The Doctor tries to reason with Merry and tells her that she didn’t awaken the Old God, it was just was his time to wake up. This is not a god, it is a vampire that feeds on the memories and stories of people. He tells her a tale of how special she is and that there is only one like her in the entire universe and the many years and events it took the universe to create someone as unique as her. To get rid of her existence is not a sacrifice, it’is a waste. Clara looks on as though those very words touched her heart.
He promises that the people will still be safe if she refuses to go through the ritual and Merry takes his hand, released Clara from her bounds and the three start to get away. Except, according to tradition, if the Queen of Years refuses to go through the ceremony, the Vigil will come to feed her to the Old God. And so they do knocking the Doctor and Clara out of the way as they take Merry to the glass cage.
But it’s not over until it’s over, and the two wake up just in time to save her. Merry sings a secret song that opens a secret door, but just when you think it’s safe, the Doctor states he may have miscalculated. The mummy in the glass cage is not the Old God – it was just his alarm clock. The Old God is the planet! Merry panics as according to legend, the Old God will eat them all and spread across the system eating the 7 worlds and when he is through, he’ll expand throughout other galaxies looking for more worlds/memories to eat. The Doctor sends Clara back on the shuttle moped to bring Merry back as he stays behind to fight the Old God. But the Doctor seems scared at the enormity of the situation.
Back at the arena, Merry wants to help the Doctor so she begins to sing and those in the arena begin to sing with her. In true Doctor fashion, he sacrifices his memories to save the universe hoping that his secrets and many adventures is enough to fill the hunger in the alien parasite. He offers himself and we see that the Old God does take his memories but it is not enough.
Then Clara flashes to her mother telling her she will always come and find her every single time and then sees the Doctor tell her “we don’t walk away.” She rides back to the temple and offers her most prized possession: The leaf in her book. She tells the Old God that the leaf is the most important leaf in human history, filled with stories of the past and of hopes of the future that never was.
The Old God begins to feed on the leaf and implodes with fullness of an infinite amount of possible memories. The universe is safe once again thanks to Clara and the Doctor.
The Doctor returns Clara home and she comments that it looks different but in reality it is she that is different. She remembers seeing the Doctor at her mom’s grave and the Doctor explains it away as he was checking because she reminded him of someone. He then takes out her mom’s ring out of his pocket and tells her the people wanted her to have it as a thank you for saving them.
As she leaves the TARDIS, the Doctor watches her still unconvinced she is “just a girl”.
Where do I begin in this observation portion of my recap? There is so much to talk about! The nods to the classics, the implications of future story arcs, possible theories about Clara? While the reviews are mixed on this episode written by Neil Cross, I actually found it very enjoyable and romantic especially with Cross’ sentimental writing style regarding the importance of the leaf not only by Clara’s father David and Clara, but also by the Doctor in his story about Merry’s importance in the universe.
One of the reasons is Matt Smith’s soliloquy to the Old God. It cannot go unmentioned as I felt it presented him with a fine example of his acting skills and the torment of being a Time Lord. Here is it to relive the moment:
“I have lived a long life and I have seen a few things. I walked away from the last great Time War, I marked the passing of the Time Lords, I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out, moment by moment until nothing remained. No time, no space, just me. I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman. I watched universes freeze and creations burn. I have seen things you wouldn’t believe. I have lost things you will never understand. And I know things, secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken… knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze! So come on then! Take it!”
Time and time again, the Doctor is willing to sacrifice himself for other worlds. While in the past, the Doctor seems to come out fairly unscathed (there is always a part of him that is affected by his sacrifices), this seems different. Maybe it’s because we know that down the line the recollections of the Doctor will begin to get spotty (as it has already begin to be suggested before with the Doctor not remembering who the Great Intelligence was in ‘the Snowmen’). Does this event exacerbate the process of his losing memories?
Has this episode given you any more clues to Clara yet? I’m going to go out on the limb here and say that she may be the Doctor’s version of Rose’s Bad Wolf.
What did you think of the episode? Comment below with your thoughts and theories and I’ll let you know of mine below!