Our journey tonight begins with the Doctor cleverly trying to figure out who Clara is and where she came from. The episode opens on a man walking down the street while the Doctor peers over his paper to get a better look. Suddenly, a leaf blows from the tree and straight into the man’s face. As the man is temporarily blinded, a car starts to head his way and just as you think he’ll be run over, a woman pulls him from the road and brings him to safety. You immediately see the sparks between the two.
Next, we cut to the same couple standing under an umbrella after a date and the man gives her a gift…the leaf. He saved it because “this exact leaf had to grow in that exact way in that exact place so that precise wind could tear it from that precise branch and make it fly into this exact face at that exact moment…and if just one of those tiny little things had never happened, I’d have never met you. Which makes this the most important leaf in human history.” The speech ends with a kiss, and thus begins the story of Clara’s parents.
Fast forward through Clara’s life, flashes of her as a baby being held, taking her first steps, reading with her mom, playing ball, and then enter the Doctor, who gets kicked in the head by one of Clara’s balls while he is spying and ends up talking to her parents and then to Clara herself. Then we see Clara and her father at her mother’s graveside crying and clutching her 101 Places to See book to her chest. The Doctor is watching from the nearby trees and re-enters the TARDIS and looks at his screen while it flashes images of Clara and different “versions” of her, as he declares that she’s NOT POSSIBLE.
Clara hears the TARDIS noise and she’s still clutching her 101 Places to See book and then they are off on their first adventure together. When the Doctor asks her where she wants to go and after a little pondering she declares she wants to see something AWESOME. The Doctor opens the doors and brings her outside as she marvels over what is in front of her, which the Doctor tells her is the Rings of Akhaten.
They then move in to get a closer look and when the exit the TARDIS they are in a sort of market square with various alien life, and as he is telling Clara what each are named, he also says that he forgot how much he liked it there and that they should come back more often. When Clara asks if he’s been there before, he says yes, he’s been there with his granddaughter.
As they both explore, he explains their currency which is not money, but things that have a sentimental attatchment. The more treasured they are, the more value they hold. They are then split up, and Clara sees a young girl (Merry) run past who looks very scared. She decides to go after her. She finally catches up to her, and once they start talking, the girl tells her story. She has to sing a song in front of all her people, a special song that she is singing for a god, and she’s afraid she’ll get it wrong. Clara talks her through it, and the girl leaves with the men who were looking for her.
The Doctor shows back up and the ceremony begins where he and Clara run in a few minutes late and scamper into the stands. Merry begins to sing her song and the people of the Rings of Akhaten offer their gifts to the god (grandfather). The ceremony is going according to plan until something happens and Merry is being taken away in a bubble of some sort. The Doctor gets up to leave as Clara follows him asking if they are just going to walk away. The Doctor replies that there is one thing she needs to know about traveling with him, they don’t walk away.
Clara pays the price for them to rent a moped by giving her mother’s ring, and they set off to save Merry. They make it to the pyramid and the Doctor opens the door. The Doctor struggles to keep the door open as Clara tries to talk Merry into leaving. In the meantime the grandfather is waking up and wants to eat their souls. The god has Clara trapped to the front of the glass where he is encased, while the Doctor explains to Merry that she did not get the song wrong, it was just time for the god to awaken and apparently feed on her.
Merry says that their god chose her. The Doctor explains that he is not a god. It is a vampire and she doesn’t have to give herself to him. He tells her what a unique person she is and that sacrificing herself would be a waste. When she asks if she doesn’t what will happen to everyone else, the Doctor tells her they will be fine. When she asks how, he tells her there is always a way. Merry looks at the Doctor and asks him if he promises, and he crosses his hearts.
As they try to get away, the Vigil come to get Merry to feed her to grandfather. Once they’ve momentarily defeated the Doctor, they take Merry and start to walk away, but the Clara returns the Sonic screwdriver to the Doctor and he stops them long enough to get Merry back and for her to sing open a secret door where she, Clara and the Doctor escape to.
We then see the grandfather awake, we find out that it’s not actually grandfather, just grandfather’s alarm clock, as the Doctor so amusingly puts it. He explains to Merry and Clara that he’s made a bit of a tactical error, and that they being encased in glass was not grandfather, but the planet behind it. Merry reminds him that he promised and the Doctor takes off to fight the monster.
The Doctor feeds the monster with his memories and in this moment you see a side to the Doctor that is rarely seen. All the hurt and pain and anguish and devastation and love and loss that he has ever felt is visible in every word that he utters and every line on his face. You can see every one of his one thousand years, and it is a moving and heartbreaking moment. But even the Doctor’s long life and memories aren’t enough to satiate their god.
So off sets Clara back to the pyramid where she then offers her leaf to the still hungry god. Her leaf. The most important leaf in human history. A leaf full of stories, full of history, and full of stories that never got lived. A whole future that never happened…the future of her mom. The infinity of a future not lived was too much for the god’s appetite and the Rings of Akhaten was saved.
The Doctor takes Clara back home, and Clara remembers seeing him at her mother’s grave. When she asks him what he was doing there, he says he had to make sure. When she asks of what, he says that she reminds him of someone who died. Clara says that whoever it is, it’s not her, and that if he wants her to travel with him, that’s fine, but for her, not as a stand in for someone else. The Doctor assures her that wasn’t the case. The Doctor then pulls out her mom’s ring and gives it back to her from the people of the Rings of Akhaten as a gift for saving them. A gift for her, Clara. No one else.
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