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Doctor Who "The Rings of Akhaten" Review: The King and Queen of Years

Doctor Who S07E07: "The Rings of Akhaten"

Doctor Who has become incredibly popular in the U.S., and part of the result of this popularity is that sometimes, episodes feel self-aware, like they're striving to be accessible to a wider audience. I don't mind accessibility. I don't revel in feeling elitist about the TV I watch; in fact, that's what I've always liked about Doctor Who—in the beginning, it felt like I was peeking in at a tiny corner of a giant universe of stories. What I understood felt like a privilege, and what I didn't understand felt like a personal challenge to catch up on. Lately, the Who team has been working hard to make it possible for viewers to jump in at any point in time, and while I'm all for new fans, it's left me feeling like the Whoniverse has shrunk a bit. Thrillingly, "The Rings of Akhaten" reopened the universe for me. That's the good news. 

Now, let's talk about the episode. 

It began with a series of flashbacks that painted a picture of a family. First, a couple met when an errant leaf blew off a tree, making that leaf the most important piece of foliage in human history. Then we followed the couple as they fell in love and had a baby—and of course, that baby was Clara. The Doctor, in his effort to figure out who Clara is, had gone back to check in on her childhood. The last flashback we saw featured Clara standing at her mother's grave, holding her talisman, the 101 Places to See book. 

The Doctor returned to modern-day Clara, as he promised, and she made the decision to travel with him… that day. They journeyed to a solar system of seven planets, grouped around a pyramid on a tiny planet—where the residents of the solar system believed all life had originated. "Did it?" Clara asked. "Well, that's what they believe. It's a nice story," he replied. They ended up in a busy outdoor market where tons of aliens of all types bustled around, growling and grunting and making weird beeping noises. Everyone was there for the Festival of Offerings, an event that happens every 1,000 years when the Rings of Akhaten align. While shopping around for fruit made of light and mopeds, we learned that currency in this universe is psychometry, or more simply, sentimental items that are psychically imprinted with history.

Clara happened upon a little girl who seemed frightened, and followed her to make sure she was okay. That's how we met Merry (Emilia Jones). She was the Queen of Years, and her job was to be the vessel that held every single piece of information about this local culture. During the Festival of Offerings, it would be her job to sing a special song to keep the old god, a.k.a. Grandfather, asleep. Merry was afraid of getting it wrong, and Clara soothed her by telling Merry a story about Clara's own mother, who promised that she'd always find Clara no matter what. 

Clara and the Doctor went to the Festival of Offerings to cheer Merry on as she started singing her song. The song was a lullaby, to keep Grandfather asleep. The people at the festival were offering up their sentimental gifts to Grandfather, and it all seemed like a peaceful, lovely affair… until the singing stopped. Everyone was horrified. Merry had been taken into the pyramid via some sort of tractor beam, and the Doctor and Clara followed by trading one of Clara's mother's rings for a space moped. They wiggled their way inside the structure and found themselves stuck there with Merry and a monster who was waking up... and it was not happy about being awake. The Doctor trapped the monster in a very sturdy looking glass box while they tried to figure out what to do. 

You see, this monster had everyone convinced it was a god, but really, it was just a vampire that fed on people's stories, their souls. Anytime he threatened to wake, they'd send him a pure soul to devour. Merry didn't want to be eaten, but felt like it was her duty. The Doctor disagreed, delivering one of my favorite—and one of the most multi-layered—lines I've heard on this show in a while: "Just because he eats your soul doesn't make him a god."

The Doctor, Clara, and Merry fought off the Vigil, the creepy (but well-dressed) guys who were there to make sure the Queen of Years was fed to Grandfather, and they managed to get away—but not before the monster emitted an enormous beam of light. There'd been a bit of a tactical boo-boo. The ugly monster wasn't Grandfather, it was Grandfather's alarm clock. Grandfather was an entire gas giant of a planet. And now that he was awake, he'd consume the seven worlds, and then he'd move on to others. So the Doctor had to fight it, but before he did, he made Clara run away with Merry, because "if we're holding something precious, we run, and we don't stop running until we are out from under the shadow," perhaps indicating some wisdom the Doctor had recently acquired. 


He was left alone with Grandfather, just a tiny silhouette of a man in front of a pulsating, red-hot planet. And what did he offer up? His everything. All of his memories, all the things he'd ever seen, all the stories that made up his own soul. Obviously, the Doctor has seen things you wouldn't believe (hi there, Blade Runner!), he's lost things we'll never understand—this man has history. And scenes like this are where I think Matt Smith really shines. He's great at being charming and funny, but he can also be wonderfully intense.

The Doctor offered up a lot of stories to consume, but Grandfather wasn't done, so Clara rushed back to the Doctor's side to help. She didn't have as much history, but what she did have was squandered potential, in the form of her mother who passed away. Her mom didn't get to live out the rest of her life, so there was an infinite amount of stories that could have occurred but never did. There's a difference between what was and what should have been, and that difference was enough to feed an old god and put him back to sleep. The people of this solar system thanked Clara by giving her back her mother's ring (used to pay for the aforementioned moped), and Clara learned that the Doctor had been spying on her history. He tried to explain that she simply reminds him of someone who died, but Clara (and this is why I like her more and more with each episode) wasn't charmed—on the contrary, she was rather pissy to learn that the Doctor is using her as a "bargain basement stand-in." They left knowing each other a little better than before.

As I mentioned above, I loved this episode for how it jolted me back into feeling like I was peeking into a portion of the fully-formed universe. But that's not the only way I evaluate an episode of Doctor Who. Besides the world we visit in any given episode, I also try to consider the character development that takes place, as well as the successfulness of the plot itself. I thought "The Rings of Akhaten" did a great job of showing Clara off a bit more—her refusal to be seduced by the Doctor's usual charms, her past with her mother, her own maternal instincts. I also liked how the Doctor delved into the fact that he's comprised of 1,000 years of pain and travel and memories—something that's often acknowledged, but not always explored. 

As for the plot itself, well, it did what Doctor Who plots often do: It started off very strong and fizzled out a bit. The Vigil and the monster we thought was Grandfather both looked cool, but were barely used. Plus, it didn't seem like Grandfather's feasting on the Doctor's memories/stories/soul seemed to alter the Doctor in the slightest. I thought perhaps such an experience would render the Doctor unable to recall his own history, or make Clara forget about her Mom, which would have really raised the stakes; instead, it seemed like they were both just sharing their histories. Sharing them with a pretty bad monster planet vampire, sure, which I imagine would be unpleasant, but that's just not as threatening as having everything you've ever known taken away from you. 

Overall I'm happy with how the series is progressing, and I'm excited to feel that old Doctor Who peeking in on a corner of the universe magic tingling through me again. Like Clara's mom, this series is chock-full of potential for what could be. 


What'd you think of the episode?



NOTES


– First off: This guy. Love him.

– I was glad that Clara didn't have an immediate answer for what she'd want to see if all of the universe was open to her. I wouldn't have any idea either.

– Nice reference to the first Doctor, traveling with his granddaughter! 

– I watched the Doctor's "moped noise" probably five times. What an odd sound that was!

– Nice Indiana Jones references in the artwork for this episode, as well as the sliding-under-the-door-and-reaching-back-for-your-screwdriver moment! 

– These guys really like the Lake District, huh? 

– The resolution of this episode reminded me a bit of Ghostbusters 2, when the New Yorkers outside start singing "Auld Lang Syne" and help fight Vigo the Carpathian. 

– I definitely think, given that Clara has died twice, that the idea of "infinite potential from what should have been" will come up again and become a major storyline. 

Comments (116)
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I loved the music and singing in this episode. I really think the show shines with its inventive music. I really love that Clara is not in awe of the Doctor and can go toe to toe with him. Some viewers are guessing that Clara was sent by the Great Intelligence to taunt the Doctor. I think maybe all of the love Clara had for her mother, and her mother's unfulfilled love for traveling to new places is spread throughout time. The marketplace reminded me of a scene in the Farscape premiere episode and of course Star Wars A New Hope bar scene. But that's just me.
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Does anyone else have that impression that when the star stops feeding on him, the Doctor looks ... a bit disappointed ? As if he was so tired of living that he was expecting - hoping - to die ? I mean, he says "infinity is too much", something like that, and, as he points out, he's got a lot of pain and loss in his veeeeeeeeeeery long life.
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I really enjoyed this episode-I've watched it twice already! The first time during the Doctors big speech I was trying to pay attention to what he was saying and not miss anything. The second time I understood what he was saying and I'm not ashamed to say that I cried a little.

I really like Clara as a companion, though I liked Victorian Clara's spunk and wished this Clara possessed it as well, she is still a great character and I am already counting her as one of my favorites!

Can't wait for the new episode! Why are weeks so long!
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Am I the only one who caught the ominous tone when Clara says "I don't think it likes me" when she tries to open the TARDIS?
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Not at all, a bunch of people are assuming that it's significant. After all, we know the TARDIS is sentient as well as very timey-wimey (in human form, knew the future and had trouble with tenses). And for some reason it wasn't translating everything for Clara on the planet (barking language).

Plus the ominous shot of the TARDIS at the upwards angle, it looked intimidating.
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I felt very much like the TARDIS was jealous of Clara... LOL
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I watched this episode and is there anyone else out there that thinks there's something .... off? about The Doctor. I mean, when Clara left at the end of the episode he had this really odd (and slightly ominous) expression on his face that I just can't seem to figure out. He's darker. Scary. I don't know. I might be crazy, but the way he looked at Clara as she left was almost the way he would when he sized up some unknown threat? I'll have to watch the episode again.
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I found his expression a little weird too, but hey, who knows if Clara isn't (unwillingly) actually a threat ?
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I still wonder whether what the Doctor destroyed was a gas giant or a star. If it was a star then the planets orbiting are all going to freeze and either way the gravity in that system is now screwed up if whatever the Doctor was fighting is just gone. At the end of the episode I was like "Hey wait a minute he's doomed these people!"

This half of the season is a bit of a mystery to me. When I watch I love it because finally new Doctor Who but then after I think about the episodes they seem a bit mediocre to me. A lot of stuff seemed to be a retread of prior ideas in the last two eps either from another episode (like the beast below) or an elements of the companion (meeting them as a child, companion being at the center of some big mystery from the beginning etc.) The intro to Clara also felt very familiar mostly because Bells of St. John was her 3rd appearance and 2nd intro story so that was to be expected. What I wouldn't give for just a regular companion to travel with the Doctor that isn't the crux of a conspiracy against the Doctor (Amy), fated to travel with him (Donna), or have this huge mystery surrounding her (Clara), at this point that would almost be a novelty. It seems these days companions have to have a gimmick to travel with the Doctor. I just want to go back to him just meeting someone and taking them on adventures.
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Doctor Who? So what happens if he gets to Trenzalore and, because of this episode, can't answer the question that must be answered because he no longer knows?
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I don't think it STOLE his memories, he just shared them. I mean, from the stuff he was saying as it was eating stuff... that would mean he just lost most of his memories and life and there was no hint afterwards that he was confused and such.
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When the credits roll with the Doctor Who theme and I don't see written by Steven Moffat, then my expectations immediately drop... somewhat. This ep was similar to the first future adventure with Amy in season 5, a warm up to the new companion (in fact, I think all companions choose to see the future first? someone check me). The plotline is safer, it separates them so the new girl knows what she's getting into, and she's always saving him in the end... somewhat.
So, I agree it's a fairly forgettable story used mostly to setup key plot points for future eps- Clara's mother, her adventure book and the numbers (is it her age or something else?) and timey-wimey leaves. Maybe I should start tossing leaves into the street to see which cute idiots with tiny faces that I can save.
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It's hit-or-miss for the first companion journeys. About half of the first's are to the past and half to the future.

Rose's first journey was to the future, to Earth's end. Though their first adventure was on contemporary-era Earth.

Martha Jones first journey was to Shakespearean England. THEN she went to future traffic-filled Earth. Though their first "adventure" together was contemporary-era Earth (at the hospital).

Donna Noble's first journey was to Pompeii just before the Volcano lit up. THEN she went to the future Ood-filled planet. Though their first TWO adventures together were on contemporary-era Earth. THOUGH TECHNICALLY, they met in space when she got teleported to the TARDIS in her wedding gown; I don't recall if it was also at a different time.

Amy Pond's first journey was a museum in the future, followed immediately by following the future space-liner that River was escaping. Which then crashed on that alien planet filled with Weeping Angels.

Clara's first journey was to that planet in (I guess?) the future. But their first adventure together... well, it's hard to say when that was since we don't know if the ClaraS are the same.
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It was just an okay episode. It was a fairly forgettable story all companions get early in their tenures: 'they realize they can be fantastic if they just let themselves be'.
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I didn't love this episode, but I didn't hate it either. It was just kinda there. I'm either really moping about Amy and Rory being gone or the 11th/Clara combo is just not going to mesh for me. I really like Clara as a character so far, and I think the actress portraying her is doing a great job. I also really love Matt Smith as the Doctor. But I'm not liking them together. Reminds of 10/Rose. Loved Rose with 9 (Eccleston) and I loved Tennant as 10. Did not like them together at all.

I don't know what the plan is for the River story these days, but it looks like they're going to push the flirtation angle with Clara. And I wish they'd steer away from that since I'm a much happier viewer when the romantic aspects of the companions do NOT involve the Doctor. (But hey, that's the great thing about Dr. Who.....if you don't like the direction the show is going, just wait a season or so.....it's guaranteed to change....been doing it for 50 years with a 15ish year break thrown in, of course.) Continuing my curiosity about the Doctor/River story line, it occurs to me that we've seen the first time the Doctor met River, we've seen the first time River met the Doctor, and we've seen the last time River met the Doctor (presumably). What we haven't seen, according to the clues of their meetings, is the last time the Doctor meets River, which one could infer from Silence In The Library/Forest of the Dead, would be when the Doctor gives her his sonic screwdriver. I don't know if they plan on showing us that or not, though.

At any rate, at least I like both the Doctor and Clara enough for it to keep being a great show for me. Even if I never grow as fond of them as I did the Pond/Williams combo, it'll still be good. And I have enough faith in Moffat as a showrunner to think I'll continue to enjoy it a lot.
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Is that the first time we have gotten the sad history of the Time Lord from Matt Smith (you know, the idea that it is entirely possible that he is actually from the future and because of what he did he managed to survive the universal apocalypse that made him be alone and why he doesn't seem ever ready to totally destroy the Daleks because they might be the only ones other than him left)? I was trying to remember and I couldn't imagine anything besides David Tennant as that was kind of the theme of his last season.

I really liked that Clara's reaction was more in the hey creepy stop that vibe than charming vibe. It even made me actually have a thought of, wait, I think she knows something....I am liking how they are bordering between the Doctor being absolutely obsessed and freaked out and liking her a lot. Until the Christmas episode when I heard she was to be the companion, I kind of thought, crap this is going to be a super sad storyline that the Daleks figured out the best way to torture the Doctor. Now I don't know, is she possibly a Time Lord too?
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The Tenth Doctor traveled to the end of the universe with Martha and Captain Jack. This is where The Master came back.
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No, I meant the speech.
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the Lake District is a wonderful place.
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So they say, been there twice and it rained cats & dogs so I couldn't tell really... PLUS rain=bloody cold!
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Loved It! More, please.
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That episode was absolutely brilliant.
Clara and the Doctor are just excellent actors, they both shine together and individually :-)
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I wouldn't say it was a bad episode, but it didn't hold my attention as good as the previous episodes of the reboot.. it reminded me of the Pompeii episode with Donna (and a pre-Amy Pond Karen Gillan), which I liked, but the subject matter of this episode just seemed kind of stale.
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Great episode. Young girl was good too. But acting is such a hard job, you may have a small role on stage, movies or TV at one time but finding a new role can be very hard, mostly for young ones, not yet fully develop with acting skills. Such a difficult/ hard job.
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In the Review (good, BTW), Emily says that Grandfather went back to sleep. I did not get that impression at all. It seemed to me that what the Doctor and Clara imparted to Grandfather (infinity) had the exact effect Doctor expected, which was an overload, and caused Grandfather to depart forever, thus freeing the Seven Worlds. Did anyone else get this?
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I think that's probably what happened but then what are the 7 worlds going to do without a stellar energy source, you'd think all life would die almost instantaneously.
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I'm confused but a few things there. It looked (to me) like the big thing was a gas giant that eventually started glowing when "Grandfather" woke up.

That large item in the middle appeared to me to be a Gas Giant and not the star / sun. And that the star / sun was kind of off-camera and just providing light.

And then it looked like the Gas Giant disappeared which would mess some stuff up (that asteroid belt for starters) but the planets would still revolve around their star.

But if it was their actual star, they'd be screwed proper.
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I don't think it was a star, I think it was a planet "from which all life sprung" according to the "nice" story.
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I LOVE Doctor Who but this episode and the last have left me slightly disappointed. I believe it has something, if not everything, to do with the time spent telling us about Clara rather than being involved in a DW adventure where we gradually learn of her character. I think I'd prefer to have a lead in like this, about Clara's parents, and then an episode that deals with the mystery that is Clara. The switch to an adventure, that didn't feel much like one, didn't work for me. Also, the story that she told Merry had nothing to do with comforting the girl and HER fear which felt contrived to make us learn more about Clara and not to progress the story line.
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This felt very much like the Starwhale episode when the Doctor first picked up Amy. I'm not sure if it's coincident or not, and I loved getting out into alien space-time rather than more human space-time, but it would be nice to not worry that they're defaulting to a formula.
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I felt the same way, although I did not hate this episode the way I hate the Beast Below, quite possibly the worst Doctor Who episode in the show's history. But they share some problems - both tried too hard to show us how awesome the new companion is, and both wasted atmospheric set-ups on very spotty resolution. "Oh, we're out of time! Here, have a deus ex machina and some schmaltz!" But here, I felt like the resolution was not well explained and I didn't understand it. With the Starwhale, I felt it was over-explained but was just stupid. Both episodes also featured the companion actress giving a surprisingly good performance considering the limitations of the script, so that's promising.
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I enjoyed the episode but I don't think it will be one that I rewatch. The first half was stronger, with the marketplace and Clara's wonder at being in such a profoundly different environment. And I liked the idea of the big bad being an angry planet (well, they had a star that was alive in 42, why not an evil planet?).

The negatives were the second half that dragged. The first bit of singing we was lovely, when there a duet. The latter singing by the crowd served as a plot point but didn't seem to have any effect on the grandfather so it seemed like filler to me. Also, while I loved Matt Smith's speech (it reminded me of the one he gave at the end of The Pandorica Opens), I don't really see how his life experiences and memories would have the same effect as singing a lullaby or devouring souls. Apples and oranges. Plus, while the leaf had sentimental value to Clara, I can't see how it would have more power than all the Doctor "fed" to the planet.

But my biggest gripe was the monster in the box. First, I don't recall the Doctor putting him in the box, I thought he was just in one. But I missed the remark that he was just an "alarm clock" (huh?) to the REAL grandfather. He seemed like a completely unnecessary character...was the singing actually to appease him? Why would it affect this vampire-like creature? Or was the whole singing a red herring and the idea was always to feed the Queen to the monster so he could devour her soul? Really, the angry planet was an interesting enough concept, we didn't need any new monsters.
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I loved thechristmas episode, but Clara seems to have lost some of her spunk. Also, I think they need to decide how to say Clara. This ep and the Xmas the first syllable was like Clark. Last ep first syllable like Claire.
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I agree. Victorian-era Clara had a lot of spunk AND was able to keep up with the Doctor intellectually. She figured out his plan due to their running with an umbrella AND perfectly placed where the invisible ladder was. AND she seemed less freaked out by the TARDIS dimensions than 21st century Clara. Quite a feat, I would imagine that would freak out people from back then a lot more than today.

Sure, New-Clara hacked The Shard but it's ambiguous of how much of that was "her" and how much of that was due to Computer Skills being downloaded into her brain. Also, when she got restored properly did she loose those skills at the end?

New-Clara is still cheeky (snogging booth, LOL) but otherwise acts a lot different than Victorian-era-Clara.

As for Future-Era-Oswin... hard to say. She didn't interact directly with the Doctor much (just over the PA system) but she came across as VERY cheeky and obviously super-smart.
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clara never had spunk, IMO Doctor Who is going in the wrong direction, I really don't like Clara at all
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ur n ass!! clara stands next only 2 rose
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Rose Amy and Rory Donna Martha Lady Christina Astrid are all better than Clara
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Donna was the d worst [she was insufferable]... d only way i cudda pass through her episodes was bcuz she had rose, martha or jack guest starin in them... amy was also very boring in her latter part....... however clara is the hottest dr Who companion ever; she's animated n perky...... i just <3 her!!

dnt worry u'll fall 4 her 2 just give her by the end of the season. btw sorry to call u n ass =D
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Granted this episode was not as exciting as "The End of the world" (First Trip with Rose), The Shakespeare's Code (First trip with Martha), Fires of Pompeii (Donna), The beast Below (Amy Pond), but it did give a good insight and establish Claras character well...
However, the final speech of Matt Smith, seemed like a shadowy echo of David Tenants speech in "The Christmas Invasion" (2005) where he establishes who he was...it seemed to just want to reassert Matt Smiths speech in "The Eleventh Hour" and still come out short.
Overall great stepping stone for Steven Moffat to work his magic and keep us thinking of RYCBAR....
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I don't know, but the sets just looked ridiculous. Reminded me of the first Star Trek.
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Was SO much singing truly necessary for the story?
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It meant something to that society, so I think it would have really undermined the episode to NOT have that much singing.
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I liked the idea of the episode more than the episode itself, if that makes sense...I just feel like it could have been MORE. More thrilling, more shocking, but it just played out in quite a relaxed manner. I had this same problem with The Power of Three - which was, of all the final Pond outings, my most anticipated - only this episode had much more potential with the emotional beats. I'm so very easy to make cry, and I can tell, had this been handled more carefully, it may have really got to me. Maybe I felt that the Doctor's moment was really misplaced in an episode where we learnt so much about Clara's past. I love seeing those big moments for the Doctor usually, but I feel that it was kind of just thrown in there at the last minute, whereas they could've kept that for another episode where it felt climatic and big and emotional and EARNED. But it just kind of happened, like everything else just kind of happened, and then it's Clara who really ended up getting the job done, and it didn't resonate that much because the Doctor had just had HIS big moment. This really could've been the most genuinely heart-felt episode that we've had in quite a while, but it was ruined by forced sentimentality and too many grand sacrificial gestures by the Doctor and then Clara immediately after and then we were kind of just done.
I may be feeling more critical than usual, because rereading this I certainly sound a bit arrogant - sorry! - but this episode made me feel very little for anything.
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This was an ok episode undone by cardboard sets and sentiments. Infinite potential? Everybody has infinite potential, every queen of years has infinite potential, yet that's never been enough before. A giant planet that eats emotions, and its plan is to kill everybody it sees? But then what will it eat? And why was it a giant jackolantern? The dopey boxed alien "alarm clock" guy made no sense either.

The first 2/3rds finally felt like it was getting on track as a Doctor Who series, even if it did have a doofy wander-off to set up Clara and the whole storyline that comes with the kid-centric types of episodes like this, but once we got to the temple it started to look cheap and the emotional impacts of the writing felt forced and syrupy. Then you have the Doctor really putting in a basic effort to fight things and it just stopped delivering for me altogether.

If Clara turns out to be Susan or her daughter, I'd kind of like that twist, it'd fit in with the 50th anniversary, and this episode expressly mentioned coming to this place with Susan.
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You write this was an OK episode? But then you perfectly explain that this episode was in fact an epic fail. The promise of a nice twist doesn't save this travesty in my book. You are way too forgiving on this one. Where is your usual harshness? I miss it.
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This just wasn't a big enough misstep compared to the previous episode. This had things that felt like honest Doctor Who for a while, the hint of exploring something new and different, traveling through time and space, but eventually it wore out its premise with an accumulation of stuff that didn't work.

Perhaps that's a sign that Moffat's run is so bad that when an episode is just middling it isn't bad enough to throw me because I've acclimated to over-the-top awful.
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I cried. I don't usually cry in TV episodes, but Matt Smith's acting moved me to tears. Love Clara and can't wait to see what else happens!
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I LOVE IT!
Some many tips, references, and layers.

And the final speech, fantastic!
It reminded us WHY this character, this one.. is one of the most fascinating, impressive and complex characters on Tv History.

"Ï'll tell you a story." - The Doctor says...
and that phrase reminds me (I had forgotten) of how Amazing this "story" is:

"I saw the birth of the Universe and watched as Time ran out,
moment by moment until nothing remained.
No time... No space... just me!!"

"I've walked in Universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman."

"I've seen things you wouldn't believe."
"I've lost things you'll never understand."
"And I KNOW things. Secrets that must NEVER be told."
"Knowledge that must never be spoken."

....and I would like to add here what came to my mind next...

"and I know I'll be alone, and I help... even knowing that it will all end... with me."

"I'm the Doctor..."

MID SEASON HAS JUST BEGUN FOR ME ;)
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For all of Moffat's run I've sorely missed old Who's ability to set up tense situations and stick with them. There use to be a grand scheme to each serial, which the remake used to be a bit hit and miss in reproducing, and Smith's run has all but eradicated. I think maybe the writing team like their own premises a bit too much and plan ahead a bit too little. Singing and rom-com antics took up half the episode, leaving no room for a climax, so we got the by now awfully overplayed "Doctor talks a baddie to death" thing.

I agree with the review, though, it's a shame. This show looks gorgeous. I love the retro Tardis. I love the retro Doctor outfit. The actors are great. This could be magnificent and it isn't, and for as much as I want to be positive, I'm a bit angry about that, really.
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I think it's a Peter Principle type of thing, Moffat's just better at writing episodes than he is at running a television show. I've actually found the peaks to be higher in the Moffat era, episodes like the Eleventh Hour, the God Complex, the Lodger, Vincent and the Doctor, the Doctor's Wife, Asylum, Vampires in Venice, Amy's Choice, even Let's Kill Hitler . . . I could go on. There have been may episodes I've loved. But the show is uneven, and the valleys are deeper too. Specifically as much as I like the Big Bang by itself, none of Moffat's season arcs have come off very well, and especially A Good Man Goes to War and The Wedding of River Song just don't work as episodes and make the stories that lead up to them less, rather than more. And he's publicly said he lets writers and directors do whatever they want with the show, which is fine if you've got Neil Gaiman or Toby Whithouse writing for you, but there have been some stinkers. Part of his job as showrunner is to figure out when an episode is not working and fix it. The downside of the RTD era was the show was broader with less real, less human characters, but the upside was quality control. With the notable exception of that horrible Absorbaloff episode, the RTD era churned out its fair share of mediocrity but very little total crap. Overall S7 has been much more consistant, so maybe Moffat is getting his legs under him at last? Here's hoping.
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Yeah, I mostly agree. The caveat I'd have is that the last few seasons seem like all episodes have those high and lows within each one of them. I have very few times been entirely on board with an episode (The Doctor's Wife and The God Complex, but that's about it), but most episodes have at least one great moment in there somewhere.

But hey, I hate the notion that it's RTD versus Moffat. That's so nerdy. At the end of the day it's about whether the show is good or not, and the most nerddom I'll allow in there is maybe asking myself whether this hits the notes classic Who hit for ten year old me.
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Moffat's work hasn't been anywhere near as good as his episodes during Russell T. Davies era; it has even made me miss that era. Aesthetically the show is better than ever, but despite the decent setups I frequently find myself disappointed by episode's end more often than not. I loved the premise of the second half, so hopefully things will improve.
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There is a big difference in the tone and directing of the episodes between Davies' and Moffat's tenure. I find that most people really tend to prefer one over the other, even if they like them both. I think Smith/Moffat's first season was my favorite season ever of Dr. Who. I can't say I've enjoyed the 2nd and 3rd seasons as much. But, like I said above, if people aren't digging the direction of the show, just hold on, it's guaranteed to change. The pendulum is over my way right now, I guess, away from the Tennant era, in which I would like select episodes really well, but overall did not like the entire seasons. (Honestly, other than Blink and the two-part Human Nature/Family of Blood, Martha's season was terrible for me. Didn't like it at all, even though I liked her and Tennant.) Well....actually I did like Eccleston's season rather well, and it's probably my 2nd favorite season of the new show. The 9th Doctor and Rose worked really well for me. I also really liked the 11th Doctor and Amy/Rory worked really well fro me too, but I find I'm having trouble with 11/Clara, even though I like both of them individually.
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Have to agree with alrizarr ....Sadly i feel the same disappointment occasionally bt lets not forget Moffats brilliance in "Blink" "The empty Child" and "The library"... Sometimes its not so much as Moffats failure but rather missing David Tennents charisma and brilliance! For me he still is the best Doctor!
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I loved David Tennant's portrayal, but I've learned to like Matt Smith too. While I still rank Smith as a lesser Doctor than Tennant, I blame part of it on the writing.

Finally, you state: "lets not forget Moffats brilliance in 'Blink' 'The empty Child' and 'The library'... ". I don't disagree, but curiously all those episodes were in Russell T Davies' era. Steve has had flashes of brilliance in other episodes, but nothing as memorable now that he is running things. I think running a longer show like Doctor Who, while being spread with other projects, hinders him... maybe if the season was shorter he could get back to writing classics.
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After an engrossing beginning (alien planets and races) and middle (the bit in the pyramid had some great tension and danger), the ending ruined the episode for me. I enjoyed most of the singing, although the last bit where everyone sang "wake up" over and over grew more and more irritating the longer it repeated. It's one more Who episode in which victory is won by Care Bear stares. Obviously the Doctor's words are a major weapon on many occasions, but I still prefer for the Doctor to do something inventive in order to outwit the threat. "I know this never occurred to you before, but did you know that you can feed on nonexistent events?"
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Regarding the review, I don't think we need so much quoted from the episode. It's review to read after watching, not to re-read the episode as-is.

Overall, I thought this was a weak episode of Doctor Who. The ease with which they solved the problem was childish. It was nice to visit another world, but it felt like 'The Kids Guide to Aliens' or something like that.

What Moffat is missing in my opinion is the connection between the problems faced and real-life understandable consequences. You might as well have an episode where the Doctor fights the entire universe with his screwdriver at this stage. It's too early in the season to kill off anyone. So why go that direction? I don't really get that. At this stage, the really interesting story seems to be who Clara is. And we didn't spend enough time on that.

Instead we saw Clara be EXACTLY the same as the previous companions - in a place she has no understanding of, yet once curious is happy to run around helping people without any feeling of wonderment, fear or surprise, getting by particularly well even with zero knowledge of what is around her. That's the sort of stuff for Kids TV.

I'm really hope this show grows up. It was showing possibilities before (mainly when it involved River). But this season and especially this episode is a huge step backwards towards 'Doctor Who as a kids show'. Shame.
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I also had a problem with nothing being taken away from the Doctor. It seemed like the ultimate sacrifice at first but ended up being nothing. They could at least have had him disoriented and explain that when the gas giant monster died all the memories/the soul of the doctor would have been released and returned into his body. That would have made more sense. But maybe that is what happened when the monster relapsed and I just missed that bit... Well acted though with the tears and everything, Matt Smith is a great actor.

I did love the implication that all the Doctor had experienced in over a thousand years was not enough to beat the monster but the infinity that apparently lies in Clara's history (I just asume it includes every version of Clara including all her pasts and presents) was enough for the monster to overeat.
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Love this episode! There have been a lot of changes recently, and since Moffat took over it's felt like an entirely different show. This was the first episode that actually felt like part of the the show as an entirety. The mention of Susan was the most obvious, but while The Doctor was yelling at Grandfather towards the end it felt like Matt Smith may have been channeling a few of the past Doctors.

As far as story lines go there were some gaps around the middle when they were in the temple with the alarm clock/god or whatever it was. However I get the feeling that in trying to make each episode a stand alone movie they maybe were trying to fit too much in; because there have been a few episodes this season that have done that. Or maybe it goes back to the fact that they sometimes have to cut clips to make the episode fit the US time slot.
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"The Doctor trapped the monster in a very sturdy looking glass box while they tried to figure out what to do."
Emily, the "monster" was in the glass box, even before the Doctor got there...

"Anytime he threatened to wake, they'd send him a pure soul to devour"
Anytime?? One Queen of Years (a person full of stories), only at the festival of offerings. One soul / 1000 years.
Plus the choristers sing all the time, as the threat is always there.

No wonder you liked the episode with this much attention.
Worst episode in a long time.
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The biggest flaw of this episode is it felt like it should have been in the old series. by old I mean back when it was doctors 1-7. The old series had crap effects but they were inventive and every "story" stretched out for a couple of episodes. This episode felt like a highlight reel of a really good ep... I would give it a solid 6.5. The writing was eh and the "villain" was sort of pffffft. But for that, Matt Smith dudee can that boy monologue. Yes... it has been done a lot recently like the affinity for bow ties, fezzes and all things "cool" but its just a strength in Matt smith to pull it off swimingly. (yup big 11 fan girl here) But more then that Jenna LC as Clara. The whole leaf thing felt a bit like someone watched Blink and wanted to turn the concept of all the "unlived days" as a way to save and not just die BUT just the emotion behind it. Plus the bargain basement line. I mean in a lot of ways I wish thats what Martha said to 10. sighhhhh anyway i think you gave a fair review Emily. :) I too watched the barking with much amusement and wonder.
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I wasn't too crazy about this ep either but Matt Smith's monologue was GENIUS
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One of my favorite Doctor Who episodes EVER! Beautifully done, great story, settings, characters. Episodes like this are what made me fall in love with the series. Perfect 10!
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There does appear to be a lot of negative feelings towards this episode and, while maybe not being the greatest episode of Doctor Who ever (see "Blink" or "Journey's End"), it has a long way to go before an episode like this can be said to be "killing [the series] slowly". If every episode was just dark and depressing and full of upsetting emotions, the series would have no followers and would be ruined. The writers are trying to find a balance between hugely climactic episodes and somewhat light hearted episodes that are just there to entertain. I think this episode was crucial because it gave us a chance to understand Clara; she isn't madly in love with the Doctor (Rose/Martha/..any female companion ever), she isn't a bitch (Amy). She is witty, naive, and caring. And these are traits which we, as the viewers, needed to see early on to help us bond with the character. If we think back they did a similar thing with Amy, whose second episode ("The Beast Below") showed her willingness to confront the Doctor due to her belief in the goodness of people and life. This is a part of the story telling process, and it plays a key role in ensuring that later episodes pack the necessary emotional punch that people who watch Doctor Who love.

Also, point that everyone appears to be neglecting, and maybe I'm wrong here, but didn't the whole "alien god that consumes thoughts and histories and stories without actually having a proper physical form" seem very similar to the "Great Inteliigence", who started off as snow, and then was next seen as data on the internet. Maybe this "god" was some representation of what he will become if he keeps growing and gathering more memories and histories
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An episode doesn't have to be dark and depressing to be great.
But there is more and more focus on appearance, effects and cheap tricks, and less on the story itself.
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That was complete shite and emily v gordon are you been paid by the bbc as you have no idea what makes a decent episode of doctor who.
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Well, I'm not being paid by the BBC and I loved it. That's the beauty of Doctor Who, there's so much to it that every one can get something different out of it. If this episode isn't your cup of tea then maybe the next one will be.
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My main issue with this episode is how the sonic screwdriver has turned into a weapon. Since when does it fend of beams like something out of harry potter? Meh. I dunno. was a little disappointed by this one.
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This was definitely an episode aimed at Children.
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Well the show has always been "for children" It's certainly not their fault if we grown up children keep watching LOL!
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Sigh - I didn't like it at all. Found it a bit boring and a bit stupid. As a lifelong Dr Who fan (and I watched the first ever episode live on the BBC) I am worried that if someone doesn't get some decent writers working on it soon it will just fizzle out and die. Compare this episode with something like "The End Of The World" and they are just worlds apart in quality. Come back Russell, Steven Moffat is killing your creation!
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I do strongly agree. It's becoming more and more childish too. Moffat's tone is sentimental, RTD's tone was curious and imaginative. The new interior of the TARDIS stands metaphorically for the decline of the show.
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Wait... do you mean the first episode of the new series or first doctor who ever? like the unearthly child? Because Doctor who is not RTD's creation. It's Verity Lambert's.
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killing it slowly.....
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Oh please. Dr Who, the Musical? Other than the fact it's been done so much better in BUFFY and LEXX this episode moved about as fast as a glacier. The aliens were constructed over several years and that seems to be the whole point of this pointless episode, to use up all those masks. The big bad was an alarm clock and there was no menace as it never got out of its box. Then the real threat is a big red planet with a face,. Was it meant to be the Great Pumpkin rising out of its pumpkin patch to be confronted by Linus? Finally we get the now obligatory BIG SPEECH from The Doctor who has obviously seen BLADE RUNNER sometime in those 1000 years of life. This writer obviously likes the reset button and forgotten the first rule of good writing, that everything has consequences. If you offer your memories there should be a cost, like the Daleks forgetting you entirely. I thought the Pirates episode from the previous series was the worst episode ever but this runs it a close second.
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Not my favourite sort of episode. Places with silly-looking aliens with a DARK secret that ends up being a sillier-looking alien that is EVIL that does EVIL things that must be stopped! I'm usually groaning through those episodes, they reduce Doctor Who to nothing more than a children's show. So large parts of this episode felt like a throw back to many of the worst ones from the Davies era and before, especially with some uncharacteristically cheesy-looking visuals in the episode. AND...I got sick of the songs very quickly - not because I'm intolerant of that sort of thing as I'm a musical person and watch Glee, Smash & Nashville - because the style sounded too similar to the Christmas Carol special music and the show really needed a different musical style this time. BUT...it picked up when the big bad was revealed to be a planet and the Doctor's excellent monologue refocussed the episode thematically on experiences and potential. Plus the early stuff and parts of Clara's content were very good. This was my weakest episode of what I feel has been a very strong season so far and I hope that in the future it can create episodes around the exploration of alien civilisations without falling back on silly-looking, evil aliens, as it is a show that should aspire to serious science fiction and not just alien-themed horror.
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Terrible episode. All that singing was a waste of time, and too many things were too ridiculous.

If that leaf represented an infinite amount of information, then so did the doctor, and every other thing/person the "god" had "eaten" before. The doctor has seen a lot and done a lot, but there are infinitely many things he hasn't seen or done.

If all the "god" ever did was to read someone's mind, then why were they afraid of it? The doctor still had his memories left after the "god" had taken them.

I liked the beginning, where the Doctor was observing Clara and her parents. I also liked this piece of dialogue:

Doctor: I've seen bigger.
Clara: Really?
Doctor: Are you *kidding*?! That thing is *massive*!
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I thought it was a good episode. I like that the occasional adventure fizzles out every once in a while. He can't always choose the best place and time . The TARDIS apparently chooses some moments for him, and those are jam packed with stuff. The trips with less to keep them running are good for character development.

And I was happy to see him investigating this Clara manifestation from a linear time aspect. His last few companions have had serious time dimension issues, so it's good to see he isn't looking to let the universe unravel on him again. First Rose held the power of a TARDIS, and created Jack Harkenss'the face of BO, Donna was part Timelord, Amy held the meories to rebuild the universe, and River, her daughter was part Timelord/married to the Doctor/ we're not done with her. Martha seems like a bit of a fly-by compared to that, but she has the UNIT connection, so maybe we're not done with her. So it was good to see him looking into it more than simply letting whatever her secret is hit him in the face.

The universe might still be in jeopardy when it's revealed, but at least he's learning, even at 1200 years old. never too old.

And they explained the leaf right off the bat. terrific.
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Awesome poster for the show, as well (or rather, art work -- probably not an actual poster).
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I thought it was a great episode, though I agree it fizzled a bit in the middle. The ending tied it up nicely. My only question is if the people are now in the dark, since their sun is gone.
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Akhaten was a planet, not a sun.
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Sure was bright! And yet, when it died out, the reflections from the camera lighting at the same angles did not. And as erinahbing pointed out... the quotations.
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As the Doctor said at the beginning of the episode.
"Can you feel the light on your eye lids? That is the light of an alien sun"
"seven worlds, orbiting the same star"
"Sun Singers"

But still, it feels as if someone had mixed the concepts of "planet" and "star" at BBC...
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Loved the references, not only to Susan, but also his meeting with Omega (for those that don't know, he was the Time Lord that made time travel possible for them by starting the black hole that powered the whole of the Galifreyan civilization. It was a 3rd Doctor serial). I'm hoping this season will have more references to the past of the Doctor. Next week brings back the Ice Warriors, can't wait.
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wow, you know your Doctors. didn't know about that.
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Not a fan of this ep. It literally did not really get interesting until the very end when the doc was giving the his sacrificial speech which as stated in the review wasn't really a sacrifice at all. I read some of the comments and see I wasn't the only one who was confused that Clara didn't understand the aliens. Maybe the TARDIS really doesn't like her like someone suggested but you'd think the Doc would have brought it up like "you don't understand them?, I wonder what's wrong?" Just so happens in this faraway place we run into these humanoids who speak English or these humanoids just happen to be the only ones that Clara understands? Yeah, ok.
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This part at least I understood. The TARDIS doesn't like her the same way it doesn't like Captain Jack, because she's some sort of time/space anomaly and is Just Not Right. The ship will allow Jack (and Clara) to board when instructed to by the Doctor, but they don't get to come in of their own accord. At least it hasn't fled to the end of the universe to avoid her. Yet.
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The TARDIS can take a while for a newcomer like Clara to get translation service, and there were a lot of different languages involved. It was a bit cheap to keep it going and not even get a mention though.
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They've been playing with "The TARDIS translates everything" for a while now, it actually led to an argument between my sister and I about whether The Doctor can actually speak every language or if he relies on the TARDIS translation as well. He speaks baby and horse and now barking alien, but is that him or the TARDIS?
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A similar thing happened when Donna and the Doctor went to the Shadow Proclamation in "The Stolen Earth". The Doctor spoke to the Judoon in the Judoon language, and Donna didn't understand.
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And maybe the fact that she shouldn't "be possible" is messing with the Tardis.
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Which circles back to why didn't the Doc mention anything about it? Maybe he's just attributing it to the oddity of her situation in general but clue the audience in folx.
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The TARDIS translates any alien language into English.
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That's what I thought it was supposed to do but apparently it picks and chooses which alien language it's going to translate?
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I think that this episode might have explained the missing numbers in Clara's book. It is 2013 and Clara is 24, Clara's mother died in 2005 which would have made Clara 16, one of the numbers that is missing in the book. The other number missing is 23, maybe her father died last year. Maybe she did not look at or mark the book during those times while she was mourning the death of her parents.

Loved the reference to Susan, that was a nice little call back to the past even if they did not go to deep into it.
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Her father isn't dead! The Doctor said in the last episode that he called her while she was asleep.
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You are right he did mention that. However, last year was the year that the mother of those kids died. Depending on how close she was to Clara, it may explain why Clara did not have the time or will to mark the book for that year.

Maybe the numbers have something to do with the fact that we have encountered two different versions of Clara. Almost like she was plucked from her timeline and placed in these different lives only to die and return to her real life without knowing it. Granted, it is a bit far fetched but it is not out of the realm of possibility.
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Actually, the ending reminded me of "We Are the World" (literally), with everyone singing and swaying.
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