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New Series Episode 101:
The Rings Of Akhaten

Plot

The Doctor takes Clara to a market in the system of rings surrounding the planet Akhaten, the gathering place for the people of many worlds. All of them harbour a belief in the godlike “Grandfather”, who must be appeased with song and story. Central to these rites is the Queen of Years, a role currently filled by a frightened young girl named Merry whom Clara befriends. But when the Queen of Years' ceremony goes wrong, the Doctor's intervention reawakens an ancient power -- forcing both time travellers to risk the things they treasure most.

Production

In late summer 2012, just a few months after finishing Hide for Doctor Who's Spring 2013 run, Neil Cross was invited by executive producer Steven Moffat to contribute a second script for Season Thirty-Three. This would be new companion Clara's first trip in the TARDIS, and hence actually precede Hide in the running order. Cross was initially doubtful that he had the time to accommodate Moffat's offer, but was finally won over when he learned that the production team wanted a big, colourful science-fiction spectacular filled to the brim with aliens and outer-space settings.

Early on, Cross' script (a first draft of which was completed in early October) bore the functional title “Alien Planet”. This reflected the author's 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.

Akhaten was an homage to the unknowable alien gods in the stories of HP Lovecraft

Tiaanamaat was devised with the Mos Eisley cantina from the 1977 feature film Star Wars in mind. The space mopeds were inspired by the speeder bikes in its second sequel, 1983's Return Of The Jedi, and were a suggestion of Doctor Who producer Marcus Wilson. Akhaten was originally referred to as Akhet, a name which survived in references to the Sun Singers of Akhet. It was an homage to both the unknowable alien gods depicted in the macabre stories of HP Lovecraft, and the anthropomorphised moon in Georges Méliès' iconic 1902 movie Le voyage dans la lune (that is, A Trip To The Moon).

As the script progressed, Moffat encouraged Cross to include material featuring Clara's parents; this resulted in the deletion of some business involving Artie Maitland, one of the children for whom Clara was caring. It also meant that Clara became the key figure in the defeat of Akhaten, whereas originally this was accomplished by the Doctor. As production loomed, the episode gained the title The Rings Of Akhaten.

Directing Cross' script -- made on its own as Block Nine of the production schedule -- was Farren Blackburn, who had been responsible for the 2011 Christmas special The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe. Blackburn's first order of business was the flashback material to be filmed in Newport, with Clara's parents meeting in 1981 at Rupert Brooke Drive on October 22nd. The next day, the Doctor met four-year-old Clara in a playground on Goldsmith Close, while Clara's mother's gravesite was in St Woolos Cemetery; Blackburn's team then wrapped the day on the TARDIS set at Doctor Who's Roath Lock studio home.

Many of the alien costumes had been accumulated by Neill Gorton in anticipation of a Mos Eisley-type setting

From this point on, virtually all of The Rings Of Akhaten was recorded at Roath Lock. Much of this work involved a large number of extras dressed as various aliens; many of these costumes had been accumulated by Neill Gorton of Millennium FX over the years in anticipation of being called upon to help realise a Mos Eisley-type setting. October 24th and 25th saw the recording of scenes in the TARDIS and the Tiaanamaat marketplace, while on the 26th attention turned to the abandoned building where Clara finds Merry. October 27th offered an opportunity to go head back out on location, with cast and crew returning to Rupert Brooke Drive -- this time, to a home which would pose as the Oswald household. Then it was back to Roath Lock for more material in the market and the abandoned building.

The next week was principally concerned with the Apex Temple, with filming on the interior set spanning October 29th to November 1st, followed by material outside the pyramid on the 1st, 2nd and 5th. The latter day also saw the TARDIS console room in use again, and effects shots of the space moped were captured. November 6th was dedicated to sequences in the amphitheatre. Blackburn then spent the 12th and 15th on effects shots and pick-ups. On the 26th, the shot of the TARDIS materialising at the Maitland residence was filmed on Beatty Avenue in Cardiff during the making of the season finale, The Name Of The Doctor. Finally, Clara waiting inside the house was recorded at Roath Lock on November 30th.

Sources
  • Doctor Who News.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #37, Autumn 2014, “The Rings Of Akhaten” by Andrew Pixley, Panini UK Ltd.

Original Transmission
Date 6th Apr 2013
Time 6.15pm
Duration 43'45"
Viewers (more) 7.5m (14th)
· BBC1/HD 7.5m
· iPlayer 2.3m
Appreciation 84%


Cast
The Doctor
Matt Smith
Clara
Jenna-Louise Coleman
Dave
Michael Dixon
(more)
Ellie
Nicola Sian
Merry
Emilia Jones
The Chorister
Chris Anderson
The Mummy
Aidan Cook
Dor'een
Karl Greenwood


Crew
Written by
Neil Cross
Directed by
Farren Blackburn
Produced by
Denise Paul
(more)

Series Producer
Marcus Wilson
Stunt Coordinator
Crispin Layfield
Stunt Performers
Dani Biernat
Gordon Seed
Andy J Smart
First Assistant Director
David Mack
Second Assistant Director
Heddi-Joy Taylor-Welch
Third Assistant Director
Danielle Richards
Assistant Directors
Gareth Jones
Louisa Cavell
Location Manager
Nicky James
Unit Manager
Monty Till
Location Assistant
Iestyn Hampson-Jones
Production Manager
Phillipa Cole
Production Coordinator
Claire Hildred
Assistant Coordinator
Gabriella Ricci
Production Secretary
Sandra Cosfeld
Production Assistants
Rachel Vipond
Samantha Price
Assistant Production Accountant
Rhys Evans
Assistant Script Editor
John Phillips
Script Supervisor
Rory Herbert
Camera Operator
Joe Russell
Focus Pullers
James Scott
Chris Reynolds
Grip
Gary Norman
Camera Assistants
Meg de Koning
Sam Smithard
Cai Thompson
Assistant Grip
Owen Charnley
Sound Maintenance Engineers
Ross Adams
Chris Goding
Gaffer
Mark Hutchings
Best Boy
Stephen Slocombe
Electricians
Bob Milton
Nick Powell
Gafin Riley
Gareth Sheldon
Supervising Art Director
Paul Spriggs
Art Directors
Amy Pickwoad
Lucienne Suren
Set Decorator
Adrian Anscombe
Production Buyers
Adrian Greenwood
Holly Thurman
Standby Art Director
Nandie Narishkin
Assistant Art Director
Richard Hardy
Art Department Coordinator
Donna Shakesheff
Prop Master
Paul Smith
Prop Chargehand
Ian Griffin
Set Dresser
Jayne Davies
Prophands
Austin J Curtis
Jamie Farrell
Jamie Southcott
Standby Props
Helen Atherton
Rob Brandon
Dressing Props
Mike Elkins
Paul Barnett
Graphic Designer
Chris Lees
Graphic Artist
Christina Tom
Storyboard Artist
Andrew Wildman
Petty Cash Buyer
Florence Tasker
Standby Carpenter
Will Pope
Standby Rigger
Bryan Griffiths
Practical Electrician
Christian Davies
Props Makers
Penny Howarth
Alan Hardy
Props Driver
Gareth Fox
Construction Manager
Terry Horle
Construction Chargehand
Dean Tucker
Scenic Artist
John Pinkerton
Assistant Costume Designer
Fraser Purfit
Costume Supervisor
Carly Griffith
Costume Assistants
Katarina Cappellazzi
Gemma Evans
Make-Up Artists
Vivienne Simpson
Sara Angharad
Allison Sing
Casting Associate
Alice Purser
Assistant Editors
Becky Trotman
Katrina Aust
VFX Editor
Joel Skinner
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Ricketts
ADR Editor
Matthew Cox
Dialogue Editor
Darran Clement
Sound Effects Editor
Paul Jefferies
Foley Editor
Jamie Talbutt
Graphics
Peter Anderson Studio
Additional Visual Effects
BBC Wales Visual Effects
Online Editor
Geraint Pari Huws
Colourist
Mick Vincent
Original Theme Music
Ron Grainer
Casting Director
Andy Pryor CDG
Production Executive
Julie Scott
Post Production Supervisor
Nerys Davies
Production Accountant
Jeff Dunn
Sound Recordist
Deian Llŷr Humphreys
Costume Designer
Howard Burden
Make-Up Designer
Barbara Southcott
Music
Murray Gold
Visual Effects
The Mill
Special Effects
Real SFX
Prosthetics
Millennium FX
Editor
Sam Williams
Production Designer
Michael Pickwoad
Director Of Photography
Dale McCready
Line Producer
Des Hughes
Executive Producers
Steven Moffat
Caroline Skinner

Updated 17th June 2015