Finally exploring the infinite depths of the TARDIS, we indeed take a ‘journey’ this week on Doctor Who. Does this harrowing adventure prove as entertaining as it is informative?
Let’s bitch it out.
‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ clearly delivers the strongest episode of this latter half of the season so far – and S7 of Doctor Who was in desperate need of it. I must say it was positively delightful to finally see what lies beneath the TARDIS. As impressive as the console/control room has been all these years, it pales in comparison to the rest of the ship, which we’ve only ever heard alluded to in episodes past (of the rebooted series anyway). Finally, the TARDIS feels like a proper ship as well go venturing through its luxurious decks. Even better, as Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) wanders through with wide-eyed wonderment, she serves as a wonderful stand-in for us viewers as we are equally as bewildered as she runs from room to room.
The plot of this episode is incredibly simple: The Doctor (Matt Smith) desperately searches for Clara who has been inexplicably thrust into the bowels of the ship after it sustained some significant damage at the hands of the bumbling and (painful archetypal) Van Baalen brothers. And there’s a time limit to find her because the TARDIS is leaking fuel or some other toxins due to its damage. Presumably, repairing the TARDIS is quest number two once Clara is found – but honestly, the plot points that prompt the titular ‘journey’ aren’t the most interesting. Rather, the discoveries that Clara finds while wandering the TARDIS and the Doctor’s subsequent reaction/concealment of her questions is what makes this episode a clear winner.
Finally we get some progression on the who/what Clara is, or at the very least acknowledgement of the fact that we don’t know who or what the heck she is. While at the moment(s) of life-threatening danger the Doctor reveals to her that he’s met her twice in the past and witnessed her death, even admitting to being the direct cause of it in one instance. She claims complete ignorance, which is believable, but what’s important is that the relationship between the two has invariably changed going forward with this revelation. Add to the mix Clara’s little education whilst reading the conveniently placed ‘History of the Time War’ where she haphazardly turns to the page revealing The Doctor’s real name and presumably all his secrets. I definitely have gripes with the way this information is presented to us – it’s far too constructed for my liking, but if it gives us progression on the road to finding out more about the personal histories of both Clara and the Doctor and their relationship, I can overlook the artificiality of the moment.
Unfortunately, the episode ends with The Doctor rebooting the entire day, hence preventing the damage to the TARDIS, Clara’s visit to the library and the Doctor’s revelation to her. But for some reason I’m optimistic that all of this information isn’t completely stricken from the record and will pop up again in some form very, very soon. How that will happen – I have no idea, but the character progression seems far too significant to just be dropped altogether.
I also loved that we got some more plays with the nature of time and space as the poor TARDIS created rips and paradoxes for our protagonists amidst its wreckage. Again, I think the ‘re-starting the day’ is a lazy way to give us resolution, but the very fact that we saw explanations about worm holes, time folding back on itself and experiencing time loops had me excitedly confused. I certainly missed this kind of head scratching as opposed to the rushed exposition that I simply didn’t care about in our preceding episodes. Doctor Who needed to return to its time travelling roots, and even if we just get snippets of it this week, it felt reinvigorating. Let’s hope the remaining episode of the season continues with this momentum going forward.
- I could have done entirely without the time zombies and the Van Baalen brothers, but I understand their function in giving us episodic suspense and narrative exposition, but yeesh – were anyone else’s eyes rolling as much as mine during the whole ‘tiny shred of decency’ nonsense? It was far too much sticky-sweet sentimentality for my liking.
- As Alasdair Wilkins also noted in his review at AV TV Club, I found it very unsettling that the Doctor was completely dismissive of the fact that his little ‘self-destruction’ game cost a man his life. It doesn’t seem in line with his character at all – I always presumed this Doctor treasured life of any kind.
- As much as they functioned to move the story forward, once the Van Baalen brothers are dumped from the adventure and we were left with just the Doctor and Clara, a palpable lightness and relief overcame me. We got some serious character development and some damn good acting, making me wish that the show didn’t shy away from the challenge of having an episode rest entirely on our two leads.
What did you think viewers? Do you think Clara will remember what the Doctor told her about their past encounters? Do you think she’ll remember his real name? Will it ever be revealed to us? Will she discover the library once more? Who wrote the book, ‘The History of the Time War’ and are there other copies floating around? Give us your theories in the comments below.
Doctor Who airs at 8pm EST, Saturdays on BBC America.