Well, episode number 2 of this second half of the season just aired. 'The Rings Of Akhaten' initially seemed to be an Egyptian or Arabic themed story, judging by it's promotional images, but I found it had more in common with earlier RTD-era stories, notably, the Ninth Doctor story, 'The End Of The World' and to a lesser extent, the Tenth Doctor story, 'Gridlock'.
It's probably too soon to say, but with a new look for the titles/opening theme, TARDIS and a new companion, I sensed a sort of repeat of a formulaic approach. Last week's showy, fast-paced, London-centric episode reminded me of the very first 2005 episode, 'Rose', while this one was like 'The End Of The World' in a few ways - it seemed to be cheaper, studio-based (save for a few opeing location shots), and a little less substantial, story wise. Almost as if they needed a smaller 'aside' to pad out the series before the heavy hitters come in (Ice Warriors next week, folks!).
Instant reactions to the episode from comments I've read on Facebook and Twitter suggest that it wasn't well liked at all. Some compared it to 'The Beast Below' as there were small similarities.
Simply put, the Doctor is first seen at key moments in Clara Oswald's life: as he seems to be intrigued by her recent appearances in his, he is shown observing Clara's parents on the day they meet and (rather creepily) as they take their child out to the park. Then later at the funeral of Clara's mother.
The Doctor comes back to present-day, where he picks Clara up and asks her to pick a destination. She just says, "somewhere awesome!" and they step out on The Rings Of Akhaten - literally a billion bits of rock circling a giant planet. Clara sees a shining pyramid in the distance and asks to visit it.
Soon they are wandering round an alien-filled town and Clara is enjoying all the sights and sounds, when, for no adequately explained reason, the Doctor nips off for a second, leaving Clara alone. She sees a frightened child named Mary who seems to be running from someone.
It turns out that she is part of an ages-old ritual where the aliens sing a never-ending lullaby to keep some kind of powerful, soul-eating 'deity' asleep. Clara persuades Mary to be confident and perform her duties, and soon The Doctor and Clara are watching the ceremony, when it seems to go awry. Mary is dragged off her feet and away into the air.
The Doctor and Clara jump onto a 'Flash Gordon styled flying bike and set out to rescue her. Nothing major happens, apart from door/sonic srewdriver shenanigans, quickly-despatched threats and the whole story is rounded off with the Doctor offering his 1000 years of memories as a kind of supersized meal to the fiery CGI monster planet, while Clara offers a leaf of great sentimental value. All's well that ends well then.
While not terrible, it's not terribly exciting either. I'm not sure what the budget was on FX, CGI or costumes (a lot of alien suits here), it felt like one of the cheaper, thrown-together episodes.
Acting performances were good but not as sizzling as last week's episode. I'm sure the demographic audience of children liked it enough, but it seemed to lack a certain 'oomph' - no real threats, no deep drama, and the 'love conquers all' schmaltzy ending has been done much better before, elsewhere in WHO (The Empty Child for example?)
I gave it a 4 out of 10