New Series

Caves and Twins: The Rings of Akhaten


I used to write games reviews for a magazine that had a disc of 101 games and playable demos on a disc mounted on the front. Because the appeal of the mag was the opportunity to play the games you were reading about, you weren’t allowed to criticise any of the games.

I had to find all sort of ways to intimate that, perhaps, this wasn’t the best game you would ever play; perhaps the graphics were a little basic, game play might be straightforward and none too taxing and maybe it’s “one for the kids” – but it’s still really good, yeah?

I was reminded of these reviews I used to write when DWM started printing reviews by Rebecca Levine a few years ago, where it was frequently painful to see her trying not to give the early duffer episodes a slagging. DWM seems to have given up offering any meaningful critiques of new episodes these days, plumping for an ‘everything is great’ position on the new series, though Graham Kibble-White’s stuff is generally worth reading regardless. EDIT: GKB has absolutely slated Akhaten since I wrote this, and was fairly sanguine about Cold War and Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS too

However, if the Radio Times gives your new episode of Doctor Who a less-than-resounding write-up you know you’re in trouble. The RT – essentially the Beeb’s print mouthpiece when it comes to programming – criticised Matt Smith’s acting as unconvincing and Murray Gold’s lullabies as ‘thin’. Coming from one of Doctor Who’s oldest friends – and one hardly known for its stinging criticism – that amounts to a demolition; the equivalent of me putting the boot into one of those awful PC games years ago.

The lullabies were indeed ‘thin’ – if you take thin to mean ‘mawkish, empty, soulless rot that couldn’t sustain a quivering lip, nevermind resolve a baffling plot point’, though I have no doubt that some idiot is trying to organise Doctor Who fans to buy the bloody tunes en masse in an effort to propel it to number 33 in the charts.

And Matt Smith did have a shocker. This is only partly his fault, though, as the dreadful script would have given any actor a hard time. That this was pointed out in what is still essentially a BBC organ tells its own story – as does the fact that the ’10 our of 10! Brilliant! brigade on Outpost Gallifrey have given it a pretty terrible review by their low standards.

It’s eight years since Doctor Who was back on our screens and, curiously, this season – 7B or whatever it’s called due to Moffat’s inability to produce episodes on time – has aped the brought structure that RTD adopted or his first few years. If The Bells of St John was Matt Smith’s Rose and next week’s Cold War the quasi-historical (also written by Gatiss) The Unquiet Dead, then Rings Of Akhaten was 2013’s The End of the World.

That comparison does not flatter Neil Cross’s first effort as End of the World is one of the best new series stories – an effort that introduces the audience to the thrilling possibilities of space and time travel, with the first of what would turn out to a depressingly familiar climax, namely one that made little logical sense whatsoever and tried to make you cry. Still, at the time it was all very new and thrilling.

Rings of Akhaten was neither new nor thrilling. It was tired, uninspired and boring. As a check on the series’ general health it was not reassuring. That Moffat could have commissioned a story where The Doctor and his companion talk a monster to death with some vague hand-waving at love and memories is depressing, though perhaps not surprising given Moff’s habit of having ersatz, unearned emotion switching off plots.

What, exactly, is the motivation here? Without the context of this familiar trope (by my reckoning love has saved the day in every Christmas special under Moffat thus far, The Big Bang and Let’s Kill Hitler at the very least) it would at least look sloppy. But this meme seems to be the default position for how stories end now – and we’ve head three years of it. Apart from my mates who are fans, no-one I know watches Doctor Who any more – the series has shed casual viewers like maple leaves these last couple of years.

The fairytale aspect to Moffat’s series initially seemed charming, but the lack of threat, suspense, danger, terror or agency that such an approach entails – when no-one dies and the slate can be wiped clean and the goodies win simply because they believe they will – means that we can’t invest anything in it. Who cares if the Doctor dies – he’ll come back to life. Who cares how they’re going to get out of this one – the monster will be defeated because the Doctor loves his companion, or vice versa – heck, someone will love someone and that’s what counts. Who cares if the Doctor and Clara are being menaced by monsters or facing an unopenable door when you can wave a sonic about like it’s a magic gun?

There are no consequences any more in Who. Explanations don’t matter. Logic is for losers. We’re all Captain Emo now. In online discussion fora it’s popular for fans who like an episode to question why those who don’t keep watching. It’s a truly witless question, but tonight I found myself asking it – of myself.

Not since 2010 have I regularly enjoyed Doctor Who and the thing that really worries me is that I don’t viscerally dislike it, like with some of RTD’s efforts or anything by Helen Raynor or Chri Chibnall, I just don’t care. That’s down to bad writing, bad script editing and Moffat’s lack of vision.

Considering that tonight’s episode was about telling tales, the current series’ inability to craft coherent stories should strike me as ironic. Alas tonight I didn’t dwell on that irony. I simply turned over to You’ve Been Framed 15 minutes before the end.





Caves and Twins? What are you dribbling on about? GO HERE