As for young Emilia Jones (ten when this was filmed, and real-life daughter of former boy chorister Aled Jones), well I cannot be mean about her. As Merry, Queen of Years, she overcomes the thinness of the material, carries off her scenes with aplomb, and really sells Merry’s mixture of naivety and knowledge, her natural childlike fear.
She brings out the empathic side of Clara, who is clearly drawn to children – both in this life (as a childminder back on Earth) and as her other self (in Victorian times). While Jenna-Louise Coleman continues to impress… and I can’t quite believe I’m about to type these words… Matt Smith is, for once, underwhelming.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I usually extol him to the stratosphere, but the director lets through a tad too much mugging and the Doctor’s giving-it-large, get-a-load-of-me grandstanding in front of “Grandfather”, the Halloween pumpkin star, is uncomfortable to watch. I don’t believe any of it.
The events on Akhaten don’t even have a proper ending. The “Grandfather” star appears to have been extinguished, and of course we’re left wondering what happens to Merry and all the other poor souls after it’s gone. The Doctor later tells Clara she saved everyone, but how are they existing? Wouldn’t the asteroid rings have dispersed without their centre of gravity?
Arguably the more persuasive section is the prologue, before we reach Akhaten, in which the Doctor checks out Clara’s background. He observes her parents Ellie and Dave’s first meeting in 1981, a love-at-first-sight/saved-from-death incident that reveals the significance of Clara’s maple leaf (seen last week pressed inside her 101 Places to Visit book). It’s a flurry of poignant moments in three and a half minutes, flicking through to Ellie Oswald’s death in 2005, with Jenna-Louise Coleman convincingly “teenaged” at the graveside.
This isn’t by any stretch the feeblest 21st-century episode, but when the supply of Doctor Who is on such a drip-feed – one season split over two years – I hope for better than this. Fortunately, Mark Gatiss’s Cold War (next week) is a massive improvement.