The Rings of Akhaten (TV story)

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The Rings of Akhaten was the seventh episode of series seven of Doctor Who.

In it, the Eleventh Doctor's new companion, Clara, took her first trip in the TARDIS to an alien planet. Clara's mother, Ellie Oswald, previously seen in The Bells of Saint John: A Prequel, was also shown to have passed away eight years before Clara met the Doctor properly.

This marks the first time that the TARDIS translation circuit hasn't worked properly for the Doctor's companion on their first trip to a place where their native language isn't spoken; the Doctor could understand Dor'een perfectly, but all Clara could hear was aggressive barking. However, Clara could understand Merry's humanoid species and when everyone sang. This could have been one of the TARDIS's signs that it didn't like Clara (for a very good reason), along with refusing to open the door for her; not being able to understand aliens would scare Clara into never staying on as a companion.

This marks the first time the Doctor has extensively researched someone he chose to take on as his companion. Although he normally would just accept others without any such action, Clara warranted such investigation because of the other versions of her that the Doctor had previously met.

The Impossible Girl arc continued in this episode, with the Doctor not being able to find any answers as to why there are multiple Claras throughout history. So far, it appears to have been nothing more than a coincidence. However, the Doctor remains suspicious as to whether Clara is some kind of trick or trap meant to ensnare him. It wouldn't be until two years later in Hell Bent that the reason Clara has been a part of the Doctor's life was revealed.


Clara Oswald wants to see something awesome, so the Eleventh Doctor whisks her off to the inhabited rings of the planet Akhaten, where the Festival of Offerings is in full swing. Clara meets the young Queen of Years as the pilgrims and natives ready for the ceremony. But something is stirring in the pyramid, and a sacrifice will be demanded.


The wind blows autumn leaves and a wooden gate closes. One large, reddish-orange leaf rattles on the tree. A young man dressed in a suit, fumbles with an unfolded map as he walks down a pavement. The Doctor peers out from behind a copy of The Beano Summer Special 1981. The young man looks around in confusion when suddenly a leaf falls from the tree into his face. He stumbles into the street and the path of an oncoming car, but is pulled aside by a young woman. She asks if he is all right and he smiles.

Ellie first meets Clara's father.

Sometime later, the two are sharing an umbrella and stumble up to a doorway in laughter. He pulls out the leaf and she asks why he kept it. He explains that "this precise leaf had to grow in that precise way, in that precise place, so that precise wind could tear it from that precise branch, and make it fly into this precise face at that exact moment. And if just one of those tiny little things had never happened, I'd never have met you. Which makes this the most important leaf in human history." They kiss; the Doctor frowns and walks away in the rain.

A montage shows Dave and Ellie raising their newborn daughter Clara. Dave comes to visit Clara in the nursery while Ellie is rocking her. A few years later, Ellie shows toddler Clara her book, 101 Places to See; the little girl enthusiastically points to a location in the book.

The Doctor is next seen getting hit in the face by a football and falls down. He pops up with his hands in a defensive gesture as Ellie asks if he's all right. Among other things, he says that's he's possibly a touch embarrassed and seriously asks if that's dangerous. Laughing, Ellie tells him that it's not. Dave brings primary school-aged Clara over and she's introduced. Dave laughs that Clara is imitating a football player. The Doctor gives a warm smile and greeting to the little girl.

A teenage Clara, holding her mother's book, stands with her father in mourning over the gravestone for "Ellie Oswald, beloved wife and mother, born 11 September 1960, died 5 March 2005." Hiding behind a tree, the Doctor watches as neither Oswald can find the words to comfort each other. He returns to the TARDIS, which shows an image of Clara graduating high school on the monitor; he's been investigating her past to make sure she's just a human girl. Information on Oswin, Victorian Clara and the present day version appear rapidly on the screen, much to his increasing disbelief. Frustrated, he pushes the screen away and declares, "She's not possible."

2013. Clara is sitting on the stairway outside her home with her book; she seems impatient, waiting for the Doctor to arrive. She hears the TARDIS land, the door open, and she smiles and jumps up as the doorbell rings.

In the TARDIS console room, she asks about the nature of time ("not made of strawberries"), and if the TARDIS can go anywhere ("within reason"). The Doctor asks her where she wants to go and see. Clara freezes, saying she doesn't know; it's like forgetting what your favourite book when someone asks you. The Doctor patiently waits by the controls, as Clara thinks to herself about where to go. She smiles and says she wants to see "something awesome". The Doctor complies and begins working at the controls.

{{video|Welcome to The Rings of Akhaten - Doctor Who The Rings of Akhaten preview - Series 7 2013 - BBC One|thumb|left|"Welcome to the Rings of Akhaten."]]The Doctor walks her out of the TARDIS, with her eyes closed, into the light of an alien sun. He bids her open her eyes so he can welcome her to the Rings of Akhaten. A golden pyramid comes into view. It is the Pyramid of the Rings of Akhaten, a holy site for the Sun-singers of Akhet. This is a system of seven worlds, orbiting the same star, and they believe that all life in the universe originated on Akhaten. Clara asks if it's true; the Doctor shrugs off the questions, saying that it's a nice story they believe.

Clara asks to go see it, and the Doctor complies parking the TARDIS in an alien market.

The Doctor points out species in the market.

The Doctor says that most of the people around are local species, and points out some: some Pan-Babylonians, a Lugalirakush, some Eukanians, a Hooloovoo and an Ultramanta. He does a ritual greeting with a Terraberserker of the Cadonian Belt, mentioning that they're not common. He says he forgot how much he liked it there — he'd been there a long time ago with his granddaughter. Clara's a bit shocked at this confession, but the Doctor's moving fast. She runs after him and he presents her with a glowing blue fruit. She takes a bite as he scans it with his screwdriver. She shakes her head at the taste.

The place is crowded because of the Festival of Offerings, and a creature comes up to Clara, barking and growling at her. The Doctor returns, barking himself to communicate, and introduces Dor'een to Clara. Dor'een had been asking if they want to rent a moped. Clara asks what it costs and the Doctor explains that they don't use money here. They use objects of sentimental value as currency; "Psychometry. Objects psychically imprinted with their history." She dislikes the idea, thinking it's terrible to have to give up something important to you in trade. The Doctor says it's better than bits of paper, so she says that he should pay, as someone who's a thousand years old should have something that he cares about. The Doctor pulls out his sonic screwdriver, then shakes his head and puts it back.

Dor'een in the market.

Clara turns her back for a moment, finding that the Doctor has walked off again. She goes looking for him. A little girl, wearing crimson robes, bumps into her and runs off. Shortly afterwards, two men wearing similar robes, presumably monks of the religious order of that system, ask Clara if she'd seen the Queen of Years. Clara is confused, asking who they mean; seeing that she has no clue, they search on.

Worried about the girl, Clara heads for where she ran. This leads her to a messy area filled with junk. The girl runs, and Clara slowly follows. They startle each other and laugh. The girl says she's hiding and is confused and sceptical that Clara doesn't know her. The girl says she needs help to hide, and Clara knows the perfect box. Three figures wearing black uniforms with brass buttons and facial masks appear and start whispering, calling out for the girl. Clara takes the little girl to the TARDIS and tries to open the doors, but they are locked. She rattles the doors a bit, then states that the blue box just doesn't like her. Clara gets a little angry, but she forgets it when the little girl ducks behind the TARDIS. She tells Clara that her name is Merry Galel, and she's the Queen of Years. She was chosen to become this as a baby when the previous Queen died. She knows every story, poem, legend, and song of their culture. She's scared because she has to sing a special song to their god to keep him from waking.

Clara tells Merry that everyone's scared when they're little. She had been scared of being lost until she'd gotten lost once. Her mum found her and took her home, and told her that no matter how lost she was, her mum would always find her. Afterwards, Clara was afraid many times, but never of being lost. Merry believes Clara when she tells her she'll get the song right, and Clara takes her back to the men in red robes who were looking for her. The Doctor comes up, eating the glowing blue fruit. He's curious as to what she's been up to, to which Clara tells him that she's been blending in.

In a room in the pyramid, a man in red robes sings to a mummy. He switches out with the Chorister.

Merry continues the Long Song.

Clara and the Doctor arrive to view a ceremony. The Doctor shushes Clara when she tries to ask if they're supposed to be there. There is some grumbling, then silence as Merry looks at Clara before she begins to sing a duet with the man in the pyramid. The Doctor reads the program and tells Clara that they're signing the Long Song, a lullaby to keep the Old God, or Grandfather, asleep. There has been a Chorister singing this endless song for generations. Others in the audience hold up offerings, gifts of sentimental value, to feed the Old God. The viewers, including the Doctor, join in the song.

The Chorister in the pyramid falters, and they all stop singing, looking around in confusion. The Chorister raises his hood and continues. The ground shakes at the pyramid and in the viewing room, and a golden energy seizes Merry and starts moving her towards the pyramid. She screams and Clara asks if anyone is going to help her. She follows the Doctor, who is already leaving, saying he can't just walk away because Clara talked Merry into doing this. He replies; "Listen, there is one thing you need to know about travelling with me. Well, one thing, apart from the blue box and the two hearts. We don't walk away."

He walks up to Dor'een, barking, then pats his pockets and looks back to Clara. He tells her he needs something. She's confused, saying that he must have something himself. He pulls out the screwdriver, saying; "I don't want to give it away because it comes in handy." She looks down and quietly takes her mother's ring from her hand and hands it over. They take the moped and fly it out to the glowing ball carrying Merry. Clara almost takes her hand, but the little girl flies into the pyramid.

Merry screams.

Clara and the Doctor land at a doorway protected by a frequency-modulated acoustic lock. He says that he really can't open it, as it changes too quickly, but he'll try anyway. He bizarrely attempts to knock the door down, only succeeding in hurt his shoulder in the attempt; even a Time Lord isn't strong enough to knock down a stone door. Inside, the Chorister continues to sing. Merry walks closer, saying that she doesn't know what to do. The mummy's eyes glow red and she screams.

The Doctor manages to open the door, but it's very difficult and heavy to hold up. As Merry won't leave, the Doctor is unable to do anything other than hold the door up. Merry won't leave, as she believes that it is her fault the Old God is waking, and she doesn't believe Clara any more because Clara was wrong. Looking at the Old God, Clara says "He is ugly, but I don't think he's big enough." Merry tells Clara it doesn't feed on flesh, but souls. She telekinetically pins Clara to the glass around the Old God, and then says that he doesn't want Clara, he wants her, but if the others don't leave the God will eat them too.

Chorister Rezh Baphix declares the Long Song has ended with him.

The Doctor says they're never going to leave, then hums a bar and lets go of the door. Clara asks if they've just been locked in with the soul-eating monster, and the Doctor says yes. Clara questions if the Doctor can get them out preferably before their souls are eaten, to which he says is possible. Her attention is then drawn to the Chorister, who is still singing; she asks the Doctor why he's even bothering. The Doctor approaches the man, explaining he's attempting to keep the Old God from waking up. With a smirk, the Doctor explains that there is nothing that can be done, the Old God is waking and the best option is to run. The Chorister stops and declares that the Long Song has ended with him. He presses a button on his wristband and teleports away.

The Doctor states that the song is over and aims his sonic screwdriver at the glass case. The mummy awakens with a mighty roar, frightening Clara, whose back is to it; the Doctor passes out the mummy's attempts to break out as him having a stretch. The Doctor tells Merry that they didn't wake him; he woke because it was time to wake up. Merry is as a sacrifice for the monster, because if she's going to do this voluntarily she should know why. Every time the Old God threatens to waken, the Queen of Years is offered as a sacrifice to put him back sleep; it feeds on her story. Clara reminds the Doctor that Merry said it ate souls. The Doctor tells her "Souls are made up of stories. People we lost. People we found against all odds." To calm Merry, the Doctor tells her a story she doesn't know; she is unique in the universe and there won't be another person like her. The Old God is a 'vampire"; it'll eat her soul, but that doesn't make it a god. If Merry doesn't offer herself, everything will be fine.

The Vigil try forcing Merry's sacrifice.

Merry lets Clara go, just in time for Clara to see that the Old God has started cracking the case. She sneers at the Doctor for downplaying the danger. When they attempt to leave, the temple shakes. Merry explains that if the Queen of Years refuses to be fed on, the Vigil are to feed her to the Old God. The Vigil appear. They knock the Doctor and Clara unconscious and lead her to the mummy. Clara rouses first and gets the screwdriver to the Doctor. He holds off the Vigil with the sonic. Clara asks Merry if she knows a secret way out of the pyramid. Merry recalls a secret song and sings it, opening another door. They run, but Clara goes back for the Doctor. He holds back the Vigil again as the mummy breaks the glass, and a beam of light shoots from him into the planet. The Vigil disappear and the Mummy appears to die.

The Doctor explains that they're gone because Grandfather is awake and they're no longer needed. He declares that he's made a tactical mistake. He thought the Old God and Grandfather were the same thing, the Mummy, but "it was just Grandfather's alarm clock". Akhaten itself is the Old God; an evil grinning face appears on the star. Merry states Akhaten will eat everyone in the system and then continue across the stars. Clara and the Doctor talk about going somewhere else but she knows he's going to stay to fight it. He sends Clara off to save Merry and turns to confront the star. Clara returns Merry to the viewing platform. Merry wants to help, so she stands and begins singing a new song. Their resolve to fight back against him shocks Akhaten.

The Doctor smiles and begins to tell a story to Akhaten, a story about the people singing to him, and about the things that the Doctor is and knows. Akhaten sends tendrils of energy out of its mouth, which pierce the Doctor and begin sucking out his experiences. "I walked away from the Last Great Time War. I marked the passing of the Time Lords. I saw the birth of the Universe and I watched as time ran out. Moment by moment until nothing remained, no time, no space, just me! I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a mad man! And I watched universes freeze and creations burn! I have seen things you wouldn't believe! I have lost things you will never understand! And I know things, secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken! Knowledge that will make parasite Gods blaze! SO COME ON THEN! TAKE IT! TAKE IT ALL, BABY! HAVE IT! YOU HAVE IT ALL!" the Doctor roars. The Doctor slumps to the ground, hurt and exhausted from having his precious memories fed on. Akhaten begins going back to sleep.

However, much to the Doctor's horror, Akhaten isn't full; it's waking back up. Clara remembers her mother's words and heads back to the Doctor. She asks if it's still hungry, offering it the most important leaf in human history, which is full of her mother's lost life, a whole future that never happened. The entity feeds on the infinite possibilities represented by the leaf. The Doctor, reviving, declares that he must be full, as infinity is too much, even for his appetite. The star recedes again, this time seemingly asleep for good.

The Doctor returns Clara to her home. She realises that she'd seen him at her mother's grave. He confesses that she reminds him of someone he knew, someone who died. Clara tells the Doctor that he shouldn't see her as a replacement for his old friend, but to treat her as herself; he agrees. He gives her back her mother's ring, saying the people that she had saved wanted her to have it back. Clara leaves the TARDIS for home. The moment she does, the Doctor gives a grim look after her.


Uncredited cast[[edit]]


General production staff

Script department

Camera and lighting department

Art department

Costume department

Make-up and prosthetics



General post-production staff

Special and visual effects


Not every person who worked on this adventure was credited. The absence of a credit for a position doesn't necessarily mean the job wasn't required. The information above is based solely on observations of the actual end credits of the episodes as broadcast, and does not relay information from IMDB or other sources.


Alien species[[edit]]


Cultural references from the real world[[edit]]

The Doctor[[edit]]

  • The Doctor tells Clara that the one thing she needs to know about travelling with him, "apart from the blue box and the two hearts", is that they never walk away.
  • Clara mentions the Doctor being 1,000 years old.


  • The Doctor mentions that he has come to the Festival of Offerings once before with his granddaughter.


  • The Doctor mentions the Time War during his speech to Ahkaten.


Story notes[[edit]]

  • Early on, Neil Cross' script (a first draft of which was completed in early October) bore the functional title Alien Planet. This reflected Neil Cross' process of first conceiving the sentient planet Akhaten with its two concentric ring systems (where the pyramid-like Apex Temple lay in the inner ring, and the market asteroid of Tiaanamaat lay in the outer), and developing its people and their religion, before building the plot around this setting.
  • Unlike the previous episodes of Series 7, this episode does not introduce a new variation of the Doctor Who logo.
  • This is the first regular television story featuring no significant Human characters or link to Earth other than the companion(s) since either TV: The Girl Who Waited or TV: Asylum of the Daleks, depending on whether converted Dalek puppets are considered "human", and the first of such with an actually significantly-sized guest cast since either TV: Planet of Fire or TV: Dragonfire, the latter featuring a supporting cast largely of Humanoids of unidentified species.
  • This is the first episode since her departure that does not have Amy Pond referenced and inadvertently affecting the plot or story. The word "Pond" was what got the Doctor to come out of retirement in the television story The Snowmen and an image on the cover of the book she wrote, Summer Falls, became a manifestation for a Spoonhead in the television story The Bells of Saint John
  • The basic plot has commonality with the Doctor Who Magazine comic story, Thinktwice. As in this story, the Tenth Doctor in Thinktwice fights an enemy that takes memories, and he proposes to defeat that enemy, the Memeovax, by "overloading it" with his own memories.
  • This story features the debut of the incidental music track "Infinite Potential", a melancholy version of "The Long Song". It was later reused with the theme "Trenzalore" and a small sampling of "The Sad Man in a Box" to frame the Eleventh Doctor's regeneration scene in the television story The Time of the Doctor, later released as part of a reprise included in the official soundtrack release for the Series 7 specials.
  • Ellie Oswald is shown to have died on March 5, 2005, the same date as the events of the television story Rose.
  • The scene where pilgrims join Merry Gejelh in singing was intended to be similar to the scene from the classic movie Casablanca where people join in singing of "La Marseillaise" to drown out a Nazi song.[3]
  • This episode was ranked as Doctor Who Magazine readers' least favourite Eleventh Doctor story in their 50th anniversary poll of 2014. In 2023, it was replaced by The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. (DWM 593)
  • Neil Cross had already written Hide and was initially doubtful that he had the time to accommodate write another script, but he was finally won over when he learned of the production team's ambition for the story. As such, his new script would actually air first.
  • Marcus Wilson suggested the space mopeds.
  • The concept behind having the episode based around an alien planet occurred to Steven Moffat, Caroline Skinner, and Marcus Wilson when realising they had done big location pieces in the first half of the season with A Town Called Mercy and The Angels Take Manhattan, but had none for the second half. They decided to do a story set in "a world created in our studios to make you really feel you're out there", rather than having the Doctor "promise unearthly wonders to his companions, and then get them trapped in an underground tunnel". As such, the episode was designed to allow the Doctor to actually show his new companion the wonders he had promised.
  • The episode replaced a slot that was going to be a script by Chris Chibnall, but he was unable to write it due to his commitment to Broadchurch.
  • Jenna-Louise Coleman named this one of her favourites episodes of the second half of the seventh series, as it was the first adventure for Clara which allowed the audience to watch the story "[begin] again".
  • The episode originally had a different pre-credits sequence, which consisted of a long scene in the kitchen of the Maitland house in which Clara informs the Doctor she cannot come and travel with the Doctor because she has responsibilities to her job, and Artie Maitland asks if the Doctor is her boyfriend. Neil Cross' intent was to juxtapose this "mundane" scene with the vast scale of the planet. However, Steven Moffat thought that at the time in the series the Doctor should be investigating Clara through her parents and Cross revised to include the leaf, an idea Moffat approved of.
  • The living planet was originally referred to as Akhet, a name which survived in references to the Sun Singers of Akhet.
  • The episode comprised Block Nine of season seven.
  • This was the second of four episodes produced by Denise Paul, while Marcus Wilson turned his attention to The Day of the Doctor; he would instead be credited as series producer.
  • The production team aimed to show "the best alien planet" in the show.
  • The flashbacks were the first material to be filmed.
  • The shot of the TARDIS materialising at the Maitland residence was filmed on Beatty Avenue in Cardiff during the making of The Name of the Doctor.
  • Originally the resolution was to be the Doctor defeating the planet with his speech, which Neil Cross likened to "facing down one of Lovecraft's Old Gods: an alien so alien that it's practically a supernatural being." Steven Moffat pointed out that the Doctor had given similar speeches before and was more interested in Clara saving the day. After thinking about it for a while, Cross realised he could incorporate the leaf into the solution.
  • According to Matt Smith, there were "between 50 and 60 prosthetic aliens" in a scene set in an alien market.
  • The Doctor features minimally in the first act because Matt Smith was busy filming pick-ups or reshoots for Nightmare in Silver.
  • Millennium FX's Neill Gorton remarked that he had "always wanted to do a scene like the Star Wars cantina" and had worked on different moulds in his spare time in case they could be used in the future, as making thirty different aliens at one time would be out of the budget.
  • Most of the aliens in the bazaar are made of bits of props left over from previous aliens or ones from other BBC shows.


  • The Doctor would regenerate or give away his regenerations. This turned out to be false. The golden light that the Doctor was connected with was his memories, not regeneration energy.
  • Clara's mother was killed in the Auton attack shown in TV: Rose. This was neither proven nor disproven.
  • Whilst the Doctor is watching Clara at her mother's grave, a Time Beetle can be seen on the tree. It is simply the way that the vines and ivy intertwine with each other that creates this illusion.


The episode was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 6 April 2013. Overnight ratings showed that it was watched by 5.5 million viewers live, a 28.8% audience share. When time-shifted viewers were factored in, the final rating rose to 7.45 million, making it the sixth most-watched programme of the week on BBC One.[4] In addition, The Rings of Akhaten received over two million requests on the online BBC iPlayer in April, coming in first for the month on the service. The episode also received an Appreciation Index of 84.

Filming locations[[edit]]

to be added

Production errors[[edit]]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • The crack on the glass case containing the mummy disappears and reappears between shots.
  • When Clara tastes the exotic fruit, it is rather obvious that Jenna Louise-Coleman is simply touching the prop to her mouth, not actually eating it.
  • Just before the wipe from the scene, in which Clara tells the Doctor to bring her somewhere awesome, to the scene where the Doctor brings Clara to the Rings of Akhaten, Matt Smith accidentally tears open a control panel.
  • Just before Clara gets onto the moped to rescue the Doctor, and just after the flashback in which the Doctor says, "We don't walk away," the scene cuts to the Doctor doubling over in pain. All though this does not appear in the closed captioning, the Doctor can be heard mumbling, "What more can you want?" The music and sound effects cover this up, and it appears that the producers may have tried to erase this dialogue in post-production. The volume must be turned on extremely high in order to hear this remark.
  • There are numerous instances in the episode where extras dressed as aliens had little or no make-up around the eyes, making the masks obviously look like masks.
  • When the Vigil throw Clara into the wall, the wall moves when her back collides with it.


Home video releases[[edit]]

Series 7, Part 2 DVD cover.

DVD & Blu-ray releases[[edit]]

  • The Rings of Akhaten was released on DVD and Blu-ray as part of Doctor Who Series 7 Part Two in region 1/A on 28 May 2013, region 2/B on 27 May 2013, and region 4/B on 22 May 2013.
  • Also, this episode was released as part of the Complete Seventh Series boxset on DVD and Blu-ray in region 1/A on 24 September 2013, in region 2/B on 28 October 2013 and in region 4/B on 30 October 2013.

Digital releases[[edit]]

  • This story is available for streaming via Amazon Prime Video.
  • It can also be purchased on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. The digital Series 7 boxset also features prequel episodes and Pond Life.
  • In 2015, it was released by BBC Worldwide on BitTorrent and iTunes, in A Decade of the Doctor bundle to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the new series. It included introductions by Peter Capaldi, Earth Conquest: The World Tour and an episode guide.
  • In the United Kingdom, this story is available on BBC iPlayer.

External links[[edit]]