In ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ the villain is variously referred to as Old God and Grandfather. Towards the end of the episode it reveals itself to be the planet Akhaten itself. A being of immense power it sustains itself on souls and is millions of years old.
What exactly is the old god? The Doctor certainly doesn’t believe it is divine, merely a very big parasite. We can also assume that he didn’t believe it really existed before it revealed itself, giving the impression to Clara that the locals religious belief was wrong.
A clue may be found in the natives of the seven planets believing that life began on Akhaten. Later the Doctor tells Merry that her body is forged by elements that exploded from a faraway star millions of years ago.
It could be that life in the system did begin on Akhaten. The Old God could issue forth the rare elements of life, that they might develop into the varied species that could provide it with the souls it craved. It could slumber for millions of years while waiting for this process to occur.
Just when did The Old God make its presence known and feed for the first time? The Doctor says that the Choristers have been singing the Long Song for millions of years. It safe to assume that this process didn’t occur spontaneously. Something must have led to this process.
It is stated the Old God feeds on souls, with the Doctor elaborating that is actually the story of the person. During this episode we don’t actually see what happens when process is completed although the Doctor suggests that Merry won’t survive the experience.
It could be that millions of years ago the Old God awakened and began draining the souls of life forms in the solar system. It could be that people started to pray or sing to the Old God, providing enough psychic energy to lull it back into hibernation.
There is also a chance that this was just a coincidence and that the Old God had simply absorbed enough energy and was waiting for the population to grow back for another harvest. None the less the process of singing to the Old God began. For generations the choristers sang to save others.
This episode occurs on the Festival of Offerings, something that occurs on every thousand years when the rings of Akhaten align. Part of the process is for the Queen of Years to sing to the Old God, but the Doctor later suggests that she is a sacrifice.
This does make make a certain sense, as Merry says that she has been taught every legend, song and poem of the seven worlds. If a soul equates to a story they are making her the perfect meal for the Old God.
The problem is we don’t know if this sacrifice only occurs on the Festival of Offerings. Merry says that she was chosen when she was a baby, when the last Queen of Years died. It is possible that the Queen of Years died when she was sacrificed but it could have been something else. Since the locals would know how long they had until the next alignment they could have chosen a baby as a new replacement.
This does raise some important questions. Why choose a child if the richness of the soul, the story of their life, was important to the Old God. Wouldn’t an older person, bolstered by possessing the stories of the seven worlds, be more appealing?
It could be important that the Queen of Years be a ‘virgin’ sacrifice. By that I mean that she does not have a story of her own. She is merely a vessel for the planets history. Possessing her own story could ‘spoil’ the flavour.
Further more if the offering was so important, and bear in mind that this is a civilisation that spends millions of years singing to a planet as part of their religious ceremony, why run the risk of having only one Queen of Years who might die or simply be unable to perform her duties?
It makes more sense to have several candidates for the Queen of Years. They need not even be aware of each others existence. The only thing that makes this unlikely is that Merry considers herself to be so famous that Clara would know of her.
However, none of the other people in the market seem to register her presence. Considering that they are all here to attend a religious ceremony in which the Queen of Years is the centrepiece none seem to know what she looks like.
If Merry had lived a sheltered life she could have been told of her importance but the public don’t actually know the girl who will play the role, allowing for any one of the many secluded Queen of Years in training to step into that position.
The very idea that a new Queen of Years is selected the moment an old one dies suggests a continued need. We don’t know the exact lifespan of the alien races involved but it is unlikely that it is thousands of years.
While the most likely scenario is that they are sacrificed between offerings there is another option. It could be that the ruling bodies simply don’t know when the Old God might awaken.
The Festival of Offerings might be a religious ceremony to appease it but they don’t know for sure that the alignment has any significance. The role of Queen of Years is simply a safety measure, ready for when the Old God awakens.
If the Queen of Years is a sacrifice everyone seems very surprised by this fact. While a ceremony that occurs once every thousand years may seem infrequent remember that this has been happening for millions of years. You would think people would know what to expect if every time the Festival of Offerings occurred the Queen of Years died.
Unless of course it happens in secret. Merry is transported across to the seclusion of the pyramid. It might be that the public don’t know what occurs there and are simply told that the Queen of Years has joined the Old God or retired from public view. Since the next Festival would be a thousand years away most people would loose interest in what happened to her.
The Old God could have awakened because the Doctor and Clara prevented Merry from being sacrificed. The mummy could have acted as a proxy, syphoning the energy to the planet below.
The Vigil are evidence that the Queen of Years have caused problems in the past. Their role is to ensure that she fulfils her duty. This indicates that previous Queens have resisted.
Since the Vigil possess the ability to use both teleportation and telekinesis and travel in groups they seem overpowered compared to the young women who take the role of Queen of Years.
There are two things this could indicate. Firstly that it is so important that the Queen of Years fulfils her role that the Vigil were designed to eliminate any chance of resistance. Secondly previous Queen of Years might have gathered enough followers to provide enough opposition that the powers of the Vigil were warranted.
The mummy is obviously an important figure, so much so that Merry mistakes it for the Old God. It is very likely that this person was able to forge a link with Old God, since the Doctor describes it as its alarm clock.
It could be that this person was the one would communicated to the others what the Old God wanted in order for them to be spared. It could be that he abused his position, presenting himself as the god itself, so that he might be worshipped.
It could also be that the person is the Old God. He may have found a way to shed his physical body, his mind ascending and taking control of Akhaten. This would explain the humanoid features the anger Old God displays.
While everything indicates that the Old God is a powerful, sentient being there is another possibility. Given its absorption of memories it could be some form a data collecting machine, perhaps one made from psychic energy.
Its function could simply to have been to record the history of the seven planets. Every thousand years it ‘downloads’ the latest information from the carefully prepared Queen of Years.
If this were the case who would have designed the Old God and for what purpose. What would its creator do when it discovered that it had been destroyed, along with millions of years of information?