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13 April 2013 @ 05:17 pm
The Rings of Akhaten  
I'm hoping reggietate was pleased. She has been bemoaning for a while the total absence of NuWho stories set entirely within alien cultures. I liked it. Though, as with much of NuWho, I felt slightly short-changed, as if the story was over before it had really begun.

I hear that certain portions of fandom were offended by the singing. To which my first reaction is oh fandom! and my second is odd flashbacks to the reception of the book, Transit. Transit was Doctor Who meets Cyberpunk and there was a fair bit of pearl-clutching about the possibility that the Doctor might ever be in the same general vicinity as people who were having sex or might, gasp, meet a prostitute in the course of his adventures. It was also, stylistically, very different from anything that came before it (in Doctor Who, though not in Cyberpunk) and although the style wasn't criticised to nearly the same extent as the content, I've often wondered if part of the adverse reception was because a lot of Dr Who fandom wasn't, perhaps, as SF-literate as it liked to think it was.

However, while Transit's reception was, I think, quite illuminating in terms of the make-up and assumptions of Who fandom at the time, a kick-back against the existence of singing in Dr Who is mostly rather odd. If it had been a "musical" episode I might have understood it (though I'm personally very fond of musicals and would love to see Dr Who attempt one) but since the singing was absolutely part and parcel of the story itself it seems strange to object to it in a "Doctor Who can't contain..." kind of a way.

Russell Davies always resisted the production of a Doctor Who episode set entirely among aliens on the grounds that viewers could not relate to it. His insistence was always that there had to be humans at the heart of every story. The fan reaction to The Rings of Akhaten makes me wonder if he was right. After all the singing was intimately part of an attempt to portray an alien culture and a reaction against the singing is, perhaps, indicative of a more general reaction against the strangeness of it all. I'll confess I've not read any reviews criticising the singing, but I have seen a couple of bemused "I did not understand" kind of reviews which does suggest that the story was struggling to convey the alien culture.

I also wonder if my own reaction, that the story seemed kind of slight, was because the time required to actually portray an alien culture ate into too much of the time that could be used to tell a story. I think the jury is out on that one since, as I said above, I've had similar reactions to a number of NuWho episodes.


Other than that I liked it. I liked the aliens and their culture. I liked the singing, though I think I'd have liked it better if more effort had gone into making it sound actually alien. I'll be very interested to see if the wider reception of the story can convince the production team to attempt this kind of thing more often.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/95060.html.
 
 
 
philmophlegm: I'vegotasportscarphilmophlegm on April 13th, 2013 04:26 pm (UTC)
That pretty much reflects my feelings - I really liked the setting, and I wish there was more SFness in new Who. But it was a little bit plot-light, which meant that the setting was somewhat wasted. It deserved more story and two episodes.

For the second consecutive episode I hated the bike scene.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 13th, 2013 04:34 pm (UTC)
I think there are times when the limitations of the 45 minute format really show (at least for a show like Doctor Who which has, in general, an entirely new setting every week), and it's often when an episode is trying to divide its attention in some way.
wellinghallwellinghall on April 13th, 2013 04:35 pm (UTC)
This, definitely.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on April 13th, 2013 04:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this. I didn't actually notice that there were no humanoids (apart from the ridged cheekbones-no-we-are-not-Star Trek-alien choristers). Trees and wood again.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 13th, 2013 04:33 pm (UTC)
I was possibly primed to notice it since reggietate and I had been discussing the possibility that week.
wellinghallwellinghall on April 14th, 2013 04:25 pm (UTC)
I noticed, and was disappointed (although not particularly surprised).
Celeste: dw: eleven-amy-roryceleste9 on April 13th, 2013 05:57 pm (UTC)
OMG, I was so happy to have an episode on another planet! I hate that aspect of New Who, that they never seem to go anywhere.

But people complained about the singing, really? I enjoyed it and I thought it was a nice attempt to show us another culture, which New Who doesn't seem to want to do very often. I don't know, I guess my opinions are the minority? I don't much pay attention to the fandom as it seems to be filled with a lot of wank.
reggietate: river-doctorreggietate on April 13th, 2013 06:43 pm (UTC)
OMG, I was so happy to have an episode on another planet! I hate that aspect of New Who, that they never seem to go anywhere.

Much as I love it, that's my biggest complaint about it - that they hardly ever get away from Earth. Back when Doc 3 was in exile there, it made sense, but even then he was always trying to leave. Not because he hated Earth so much, but he was a citizen of the universe, and he loved to travel and see things never seen before. I used to like it when he'd just wander about randomly finding trouble and putting it right, even if the people he was helping were blobby aliens with purple tentacles.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 13th, 2013 07:11 pm (UTC)
Well I only have it second hand that people complained about the singing so take with a pinch of salt but, yeah, apparently "singing has no place on Doctor Who". I'm fairly divorced from Who fandom now, especially new Who fandom though it wouldn't surprise me at all to discover that it was classic Who fans who had problems with the singing.
reggietate: river-doctorreggietate on April 13th, 2013 06:22 pm (UTC)
I think the 45 minute format is part of the problem - less time to experience the culture in a more gradual and natural way. I did the the fact it was completely away from Earth, but I thought the street market scene at the beginning was too Star Wars cantina, and the pyramidy stuff made me expect Sutekh's people to be behind it all.

A lot of the Tumblr end of fandom seemed to love this ep. How representative they are is anybody's guess :-) Visually it was splendid, and just goes to show what can be done, but I found it a mite boring in parts. I agree that the singing was nice but should have been more alien-sounding (perhaps without words?)

I'd still like to see more stories set out in the galaxy at large. The Doctor set out at the beginning to travel and explore, and it takes something fundamental away from his character if you have him forever hanging about on Earth. I don't believe that the audience is so parochial, either - even though I liked the Third Doctor's Earth-bound era, I don't remember disliking stories which took place in alien cultures, or away from Earth but with humans. The companions have always been the gateway to the alien cultures the Doctor dives into - the Doctor explains the strange worlds, the companion translates that into something we as viewers can empathise with. I think RTD was wrong not toreally grasp that nettle after the first series.

louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 13th, 2013 07:09 pm (UTC)
It's hard to know the extent to which the 45 minutes plays into the problem. As someone was pointing out over on DreamWidth, Star Trek used to regularly introduce an alien culture, plus problem, plus story in 45 minutes.
reggietate: river-doctorreggietate on April 13th, 2013 07:25 pm (UTC)
That's true. Maybe the writers have just lost the knock of defining a culture in small but telling details. It's hard to put a finger on what's lacking. Too much tell, not enough show? There have been two-parters in classic Who which only had a running time overall of five more minutes, yet seemed to have more in them. Or are we just remembering them with rose-tinted specs?

Edited at 2013-04-13 07:27 pm (UTC)
daniel_saunders: Eleventh Doctordaniel_saunders on April 13th, 2013 09:05 pm (UTC)
I'm surprised about the reaction to the singing, as I hadn't seen anything on it. Then again, fandom hates The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon in The Gunfighters (I think it's rather catchy and fun!), so it doesn't surprise me.

I think it suffered from not having enough alien-ness to make it an exercise in world-building with the plot secondary, but not enough plot to have the alien-ness as mere background detail. Between two stools, in other words.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 14th, 2013 01:03 pm (UTC)
That's probably an accurate assessment.
bigtitchbigtitch on April 14th, 2013 07:31 am (UTC)
I thought it was an OK episode. I dislike cute kids, even alien singing ones.

It was only half an hour after I watched it that I had to go back and watch on iPlayer to check that yes, The Doctor did actually blow up their planet. That might have some long-term implications for that society I feel, that weren't adequately addressed in the show!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 14th, 2013 01:04 pm (UTC)
I thought it was some kind of moon he blew up (though the point about the implications stands - see the endless literature on how the ewoks are doomed).
bigtitchbigtitch on April 14th, 2013 01:19 pm (UTC)
I thought it was the big planet the moons were orbitting. Either way he destroyed their religion! As Margaret Slitheen said his 'happy-go-lucky little life leaves destruction in its wake'.
louisedennislouisedennis on April 14th, 2013 02:32 pm (UTC)
Ooh! you know, you could be right! Rings of Akhaten and all that!
rodlox: if i am wrongrodlox on April 25th, 2013 07:50 pm (UTC)
not a living sun? knew I missed something.

the economy was a little confusing to me - you buy things by exchanging items of emotional/memory value to yourself (nobody lies? what of pickpockets?)

...but the Doctor offered up his memories and experiences to the Old God. (and then seemed none the worse for wear afterward)
Kargicq: Neuromancerkargicq on April 14th, 2013 04:43 pm (UTC)
I hated it. I particularly hated the ludicrously perky-in-a-ditzy-way girlfriend, and the total cheesiness of the plot (that leaf!). I liked the singing as music, but yeah, Marc's cousin could have tried to make it sound at least slightly alien rather than like something that wouldn't raise eyebrows in the CoE. I generally admire the ambition & scope of Dr Who, but that was one of those episodes that makes me think "Remind me why I am watching a kids' programme (without my kids)?" A few more episodes like that and I won't bother in future.
-N
wellinghallwellinghall on April 14th, 2013 05:34 pm (UTC)
"Singing in the CofE is quite unlike singing in the Roman Catholic church ... or singing in the Methodist church ... or singing ... "

Some Radio 4 comedy, many years ago.