Doctor Who: Quantum Immortality
As Amy Pond said, "Okay, kid. This is where it gets complicated."
There's a thought experiment in quantum physics birthed from the observation that inside an atom some particles appear to be moving in two different directions at once. Now, that seems impossible, and in a way it is. In another way, it's not. The theory of quantum suicide states that while the particles did in fact move in both directions, we end up in a universe where it only went in one. The other immediately creates a parallel universe where it went the other way.
Now extrapolate that to a human life. When you woke up this morning, you decided to hit the snooze button and were five minutes late getting on the road to work. A car that you would have otherwise missed had you left on time has now ended your life. You no longer exist in that universe.
When you woke up this morning, you didn't hit the snooze and you left on time. You never hit the car. You continue to exist in this and multiple other universes created from that decision. This act of dimensional creation constantly plays out until you have literally exhausted every single possibility of survival. In the end, you die in the last universe you could possibly be alive in. That's quantum immortality.
"The Rings of Akhaten" starts kind of slow, honestly. The meaning behind the leaf in Clara's book is revealed as a bit of happenstance that brought her parents together and that her father kept and passed on to Clara. Meanwhile, The Doctor tails Clara through her childhood, desperately trying to figure out how she is the same girl he met in "The Snowmen" and in "Asylum of the Daleks."
When dealing with new companions, there's a couple of episodes that are essential to their acclimation. You have the "Rose" episodes, where the companion first proves him or herself capable of saving The Doctor when he needs saving. Then you have the first date episodes, where they go someplace very amazing because let's face it, The Doctor is a showoff. It's not always in that order, and sometimes they're the same episode, as in "The Beast Below," but that's the general gist. "The Rings of Akhaten" is one of the combination episodes.
I think that we can safely put behind us fears that Doctor Who has gone from The Amy Show to The Clara Show. We do spend a lot of time with our new companion, but even when she's on screen, Jenna-Louise Coleman keeps the focus on the story. Her mystery takes a backseat to a mysterious little girl who as the repository of all her solar system's history is to be sacrificed to a massive parasite god.
What I find so amazingly fascinating about these last two episodes is how much The Doctor has changed. I swear they're putting Matt Smith in old age makeup, or perhaps he is just really that good of an actor. Regardless, his Doctor is actually regressing. No longer is he the bumbling clown that Smith borrowed so heavily from Patrick Troughton.
A comparison between the Eleventh Doctor and the First.
No, Eleven is re-becoming the First Doctor, and if you're really willing to pay attention, you can see it. For the first time since a throwaway line by Nine in "The Empty Child," The Doctor explicitly mentions his granddaughter Susan. His dress has returned to a more gentlemanly attire not seen since his Eighth incarnation, and most closely associated with William Hartnell. Physically, he is less engaging and more frail, and in this episode especially he subtly apes certain mannerisms associate with One.
Smith has admitted to being exhausted by the role he plays so well, and I think we're beginning to see him as he prepares for his exit, whenever that may be.
As the episode comes to a close and the god awakes, The Doctor offers to feed it in one of the greatest scenes ever shot in Doctor Who, and in arguably the best acting Smith has ever done. The Time Lord pours out his heart, the universes he's seen collapse, the genocides, the losses, the terrible, terrible secrets known only to him. It's the epitome of the Lonely God interpretation of the character, and The Doctor collapses in tears as even his near-infinite sorrow isn't enough to sate the demon.
Remember the quantum immortality? How many universes could there be for one such as The Doctor? After a thousand years, where in an unbelievable number of universes he didn't survive to rise and fall again? The weight of all that survival presses down on The Doctor, but even this isn't enough.
Clara offer the god her leaf. Not as a repository of her own experiences, but as the keystone of an infinite number of universes where things turned out differently. All the days her dead mother never had. It's a poisoned pill of quantum immortality turned upside down and force fed into the greedy gullet of a story-phage.
In an essence, Clara willingly gives up her own narrative to allow The Doctor to triumph.
I stand by my theory that Clara is in some way the show itself. Her existence serves to lead The Doctor to the realization of his existence as a figure we can believe in. She is the guide to the fields of Trenzalore, where Eleven will fall and we learn "Doctor Who?" In a way, "The Rings of Akhaten" was somewhat pedestrian just as an adventure... but what it hints at is marvelous.
Do you have a theory about Clara? Compare it to our Top 10 Theories About the New Doctor Who Companion. Or perhaps you'd like our guide to the classic villain that's returned this season, the Great Intelligence.
Jef With One F is a recovering rock star taking it one day at a time. You can read about his adventures in The Bible Spelled Backwards, or argue about Doctor Who with him here.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events