Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Greatest Story Ever Told, or One of Them Anyway: Doctor Who and the Rings of Akhenaten

            Right oh. . .


            Teenaged suicide, school shootings, conspiracy theories and Wagnerian Opera. No wonder nobody wants to read this blog!

           So, just this once, I’m going to write about something happy. In this post, I am not going to write about Rehteah Parsons (damnit, will we never learn??) and I’m not going to write about the Boston bomber. I’m not to write about Margaret Fucking Thatcher, and I’m not going to write about Climate Change, and I’m certainly not going to write about my bleedin’ Visa Bill.

            Nope, I’m going to write about something happy for a change. To make up for lost time, I’m going to write about the single happiest thing in the world, the one thing guaranteed to carve a smile on the most granite of grumpy faces. I’m going to write about the 100% effective, never been known to fail diamond-tipped happy drill, the best thing humanity’s ever come up with, the great compensation of dwelling on this merciless mud ball earth. . .

            That’s right: I’m going to write about Doctor Who.


            Doctor Who is the Greatest Story Ever Told. It is so much better than that other one, for reasons we shall see. Doctor Who is magic. Is joy. Is the repository of all that is great and wonderful in the human imagination. If you don’t like Doctor Who, then we’ve got nothing in common and you need to go away. Shoo.

            Now I’m not going to write about this week’s episode of Doctor Who, which I haven’t seen yet, and I’m not going to write about last week’s episode with the Ice Warrior (why bring back the bleedin’ Ice Warriors if you didn’t want an Ice Warrior style monster? Why bring back a big, hulking monster if you didn’t want a big hulking monster for the story?). I’m definitely not going to write about how next November’s 50 Year Anniversary story is apparently only going to celebrate the last eight years (No Baker, Davidson or McCoy??? Go fuck yourself Moffat. Go fuck yourself.) No no, I’m going to talk about the episode before that one, the “Rings of Akhaten”, by Neil Cross.


            I’m going to write about “Rings of Akhaten” because it made me happy, and that’s the theme for today. It made me righteously, uproariously happy. It made me sing, dance, laugh and cry (and every time they interrupted it with adverts for Tim Hortons Panini rolls, I did cry). I loved this story. It was the best story I’d seen all year, the best story I’d seen in many years, possibly the best story I’d ever seen.

           Yes you read that right: “The Rings of Akhaten” may very well be the greatest Doctor Who story I have ever seen.

            Is that enough hyperboyle for ya? Well too bad, I’ve got a whole lot more on the way. . .

             I may of course change my mind next time I watch Genesis of the Daleks, or Logopolis, or Earthshock or The Caves of Androzani. But here’s the thing:

            When a franchise has gone on for this long, when a story’s been told for this long, sometimes the only thing left to do is make the story about itself. Not in some stupid post-modernist sense – I don’t mean textual self consciousness, or self parody or winking at the audience or any of that nonsense. I mean just getting to the heart of the matter, finally recognizing what the story’s been about all this time.

            “The Rings of Akhaten” is a story about stories, what they are and why they matter. Basically, they’re two things: memories and hope. Memories “of love and loss and birth and death and joy and sorrow”, or in other words, all the things that make us human. And Hope, for the future, for what May Be.
            (I suppose Fear may be the other side of the same coin, but happiness is the theme for today, so I’ll stick with Hope).

            It’s an explanation I think would have made Bradbury proud (Peace be Upon Him). 
            That is was said here in the context of Doctor Who is all the more appropriate: after all, who is the Doctor but an eternal storyteller? What does he give us week after week after week but another story? And what is that makes us human if not stories?

            And what a story. . .

            “ All the elements in your body were forged many many millions of years ago in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so many millions of years those elements came together to form new stars and new planets and on and on it went. . .until eventually they came together to make you. . .

            Writer Neil Cross is basically paraphrasing astronomer Lawrence Krauss here, who once said "nevermind Jesus, the stars died so you could live!" The context here is that the Doctor is telling the story to the Mary Galhel, the "Queen of the Years", a little girl of no more than ten.  Young Mary has been raised from birth to sign lullabies to, and if necessary, give herself up to her planet's angry god. In a breathtaking display of cultural insensitivity, the Doctor imposes his values on her by basically insisting this is bollocks:

           " You are unique in the universe. There is only one Mary Galhel, and there will never be another. Getting rid of that existence isn’t a sacrifice: it is a waste!”
            In other words, no God is worth more than the life of a child.

            Or anyone for that matter.

            Let the Boston bombers suck on that!
            In a world where people are told to give their lives at the drop of a hat. For Gods and Ideologies and Causes. Either to throw away their lives or devote their whole lives to something else. Here we’ve got something different:

             You matter. Not those invisible men in the sky or their petty jealousies. You matter.  People matter, human beings matter. Nothing’s more precious. That, deep down, is the message of Doctor Who. It’s always been the message, since William Hartnell landed the TARDIS in a scrapyard on Totters Lane. But it’s never been put more beautifully than in “The Rings of Akhaten”.
           The STARS died so you could live!
            Now isn’t that a much better story than that OTHER one they always tell which goes on about how wretched and sinful you are?  


  1. Alas, I have since learned this happy-pill has been known to fail: there actually are some people out there who do not like Doctor Who.

    I should not be surprised at this, nor will I despair. Doctor Who is for the young-at-heart; some folks will always be old-at-heart.

  2. Update: apparently this story came dead last in the fan polls. Dead. Last. I give up! I should not be surprised: the world is full of creationists, philistines and jihadists. A world like doesn't deserve the Rings of Akhaten. A great many of these alleged fans claim to like Rose Tyler. . .