This past week's “Rings of Akhaten” may be the most crowd pleasing episode of Doctor Who in quite some time. Steven Moffat took a step back from this one leaving the episode, instead, scripted by Neil Cross (Luther, Mama).
The beauty of “Rings of Akhaten” is that it brings the audience back to the Doctor (Matt Smith) a bit. During the last season (or, one might argue, TWO seasons), the focus has been dominated by the companions; first with the epic story surrounding the Ponds, and now the ever mysterious Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman).
Well, the truth is we still don't learn a heck of a lot about Clara. The story opens, however, with a trip taken by the Doctor into Clara's childhood. It is here that we learn of the loving relationship between her parents and her mother's eventual death. Given this concrete history, we see the Doctor wrestle with whether Clara really is timeless or just another girl in the present.
Apart from that brief backstory, the adventure picks up like a classic Doctor Who episode of old as the Doctor scoops up Clara at her residence and whisks her away to see something amazing. In this case, the planets of the Akhaten system. It is here that the inhabitants of the system gather every generation to honor (yet not awaken) the Old God. The scenery is incredible. It will take your breath away whether you're watching it on a giant screen or a tiny smart phone. Such a visually appealing and other-worldly setting is just what Doctor Who fans need to rekindle their wonder and amazement.
Also, expect to be delighted with a reference the Doctor makes to his own granddaughter! Blink and you'll miss it. The original companion to the first doctor in 1963 was Susan Foreman (played by Carole Ann Ford). From the tearful farewell in 1964 until now, the whereabouts of Susan remain a mystery. Despite the Doctor mentioning on multiple occasions that he is the last of the Time Lords, there is no reason to believe that his beloved granddaughter is not still out there. Perhaps the writers aim to bring her back into our heads? Or perhaps it was simply to please fans by connecting the stories.
One of the best bits about Doctor Who is putting the puzzle together. Matt Smith certainly spreads his acting wings during a plea to the Old God that reminds us how astoundingly awesome and inexplicably painful it is to be who The Doctor is. Yet, after decades of watching, we still know precious little about him. This time around, his companion is the same way. Some will tire of the guessing game, others will remain transfixed. “Rings of Akhaten” is an enjoyable ride for whichever type of Doctor Who dan you may be. There are great characters, beautiful scenery, both witty and heart wrenching dialogue, and, of course, the Doctor saving the day in an hour of brilliant television.