This past weekends episode of Doctor Who, The Rings of Akhaten, marked a welcome return to form for everyones favorite time traveler with two hearts. It isnt unreasonable to say that the show has floundered a bit recently, but with Rings, the show seems to have gotten back in touch with the things that make it great once again. The episode, scripted by Neil Cross (Luther, Mama, the upcoming Who episode Hide) finds the Doctor travelling once again, this time with the still-mysterious Clara Oswald by his side. Were given some needed and interesting backstory for this incarnation of Clara at the start of the episode, but the bulk of our story deals with her and the Doctors first real adventure to the seven planets of the Akhaten system, just as the inhabitants are preparing to celebrate The Long Song, meant to placate the Old God. Its a breakneck adventure of an episode, filled with great character development, sights that take your breath away, and moments that make you swell with joy even as they yank at your heart. In short, it is an expression of everything that makes Doctor Who so great to begin with, and a return to the elements that I believe have been lacking in the Moffat era. So, here are 10 reasons why The Rings of Akhaten is the best Doctor Who episode in years.....
10. The Doctor
At long last, weve been given an episode that brings the Doctor not only back to form, but front and center in his own story. A major criticism of the Pond era on Who (and one that I agree with) is that it became more about the companions than the Doctor at times. Here, that trend makes an about-face. Sure, Clara is featured prominently in the episode (which only makes sense, with her new companion status), but in the end, it all comes back to the Doctor himself. Matt Smith gets a chance to show off some facets of the 11th Doctor that have been hidden beneath the surface, almost forgotten, for ages now. As a character, the Doctor has remained unfortunately underdeveloped in recent episodes in Series 7.1. Changes in the Doctor were hinted at, but never properly or fully executed. We saw a darkness growing within him, but with the departure of the Ponds, it seems to have simply fizzled out. Taking its place, however, have been the makings of a refreshingly interesting character arc for everyones favorite Time Lord. In the Christmas Special, we witnessed a grieving Doctor, furiously fighting against his own nature, refusing to help humanity because of the losses he had suffered. In The Bells of St. John, the Doctor had turned from grief to obsession (with understanding Clara), but still wasnt quite the brilliant, quirky man we remembered. With The Rings of Akhaten, we see a true return on the part of the Doctor, a true embracing of his own undeniable nature. He has a choice about helping Merry and the others on the 7 planets, and his declaration to Clara says it all: We dont walk away. At long last, the Time Lord has returned, and it is a welcome sight.
Matt is a freelance writer and aspiring TV and film scriptwriter. He has a bizarrely eclectic skillset, and the interests to match. Find more of his work and ramblings over at the Breakwater Industries page on Facebook. He is a regular contributor to WhatCulture.com, and his work has also appeared in the essay collection "Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion", published by Titan Books.