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Doctor Who Review: “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” (SPOILERS)

Journey 4

In 1978, there was a six-part Doctor Who story featuring the Fourth Doctor called “The Invasion of Time,” in which the final two episodes took place within the bowels of the TARDIS itself, which was really shot in a disused hospital. Since then, while portions of the ship’s massive interior have been seen or mentioned, the full impact of what’s actually inside the Doctor’s space and time machine had yet to be visualized, until this week, of course. Steve Thompson’s “Journey to the Center (or Centre) of the TARDIS” did exactly what it said on the tin, and even gave voice to some of Clara’s (and the audience’s) concerns or confusion about what might be going on. It was full of wonder, mystery, suspense, and awe. More than a few times I said “holy shit!” out loud to the nobody in my apartment with me. Is this the same guy who wrote “Curse of the Black Spot?”

This episode is absolutely wonderful. There’s so much going on for something that’s essentially limited to one location (albeit an infinite one). We learn a lot about what kinds of things are in the TARDIS, we learn a little about the Doctor before it gets bled from Clara’s memory, there are monsters that are explained incredibly well, there is a family drama (which is probably the weakest link in the episode), and we finally, again, get to see the swimming pool, which has been spoken about forever and was only seen once in the aforementioned “Invasion of Time.” This is an episode written by someone who clearly loves and respects the history of the show, but also knows how to weave drama specific to the current regime. I’d expected a lot of references, but I didn’t expect so much revelation.

Journey 1

While trying to get the TARDIS and Clara to get along, the Doctor puts the ship in basic mode, which leaves it wide open to a trio of scrap dealers to try to salvage. This does not do the TARDIS any favors and causes a pretty catastrophic engine leak. Clara gets lost somewhere in the ship and the Doctor tricks the three junkers into helping him find her. There are also very creepy ash-covered people with red eyes, you know, in case things weren’t tense enough.

As Clara makes her way from room to room, she passes an observatory and the pool before hiding in the massive library. In this library are volumes of the “Encyclopaedia Gallifreya” as well as a book about the Time War. Yeah. Just a book containing everything we’ve ever wanted to know about the most catastrophic event in the entire Doctor Who universe. Clara seems to have found something of interest (she says, “So that’s who,” which probably refers to the Doctor’s name which she later claims to have learned), but she gets distracted by impending death.

Journey 3

The Doctor and the scrappers also come across a room with the various circuitries that the TARDIS has at her disposal to make anything mechanical. This proves too enticing to pass up for the leader and most reprehensible of the scrapping brothers (who makes their little brother think he’s a machine for fun!?!? What a wanker!) and he takes a piece of it. The TARDIS responds by creating a labyrinth that not even the Doctor can get through.

There are so many great concepts in this story. One being that the Doctor and Clara are in the same space but slightly off in terms of time, like a light switch. Another is the way time overlaps itself the closer they get to the leak. They see echoes of what they’ve done and, we later find out, echoes of what hasn’t happened yet. We also get to see the Eye of Harmony itself, which gives the TARDIS its time travel power. It is pretty amazing. A quantum-locked sun nearly going supernova; it’s really a wonder they don’t burn up immediately.

Finally, the biggest and best surprise to me in this episode is that the Doctor finally confronts Clara with what he knows about her. It was bound to occur sooner or later, but honestly, I had expected later. She’s very confused but doesn’t get bent out of shape or too freaked out about it. In fact, when the Doctor says once everything is back to normal that she’ll probably forget everything, she expresses how much she’d rather that not happen. She’s such an interesting, well-rounded, and complex character. I feel like Clara is a real person, albeit a mysterious one, and not just a personality with plot attached like I sometimes felt Amy was. And, to be a broken record yet again, Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt Smith are the best. The. Frigging. Best. I’m constantly impressed by how well they play off each other. I hope Clara sticks around for a good long while.

Journey 2

I really don’t know what to make of Steve Thompson as a writer. So far, between this show and Sherlock, he’s written four episodes that have aired. He wrote “The Blind Banker” in series one of Sherlock, which is fine, but is easily the weak link of those three episodes. Next, he wrote “The Curse of the Black Spot,” which was boring, poorly paced, and obvious. If Series 6 of Doctor Who represents Moffat’s weakest year so far (which I think it does), then that episode is the weakest of that. Then, Thompson turned it way around for “The Reichenbach Fall,” which ended the second series of Sherlock, and which was absolutely excellent. Now he writes this, about which I can’t say enough good things. You’re baffling, Mr. Thompson. I don’t really know what to make of you.

So very much to chew on in this episode, but overall, I loved it. The direction by Who newcomer Mat King was excellent and made the various hallway sets feel like they were part of a massive network of corridors in an infinite ship. The look of the exploding engine room was also very spooky and cool. Really, the only thing I didn’t think worked was the relationship story of the three brothers. It wasn’t awful, it just didn’t need to be there, especially when there was so much else going on in the episode. I’d have been perfectly happy if they didn’t have the brother-is-a-not-android storyline. Minor nitpick, though. Otherwise, great job, everyone! I could also talk about all of the many references to things, but the BBC has gone ahead and listed them all very nicely for you.

 

Next week, we go back to Victoriana with Mark Gatiss’ “The Crimson Horror,” featuring Strax, Jenny, and Vastra as well as guest stars Diana Rigg and her real-life daughter Rachael Stirling. Mr. Gatiss loves gothic horror, so what I hope we get from him is a story with limited plot contrivances. He has director Saul Metzstein, who’s done a lot of great episodes this series, at the helm, so it could definitely be a cracker.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQWfp3NAoTE&w=615&h=346]

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38 comments

  • To me, the writing is taking the stupid path of other series, such as LOST and the other ones like that, where they open up too many future story lines that I really stop caring. I love Dr Who, but stop trying to make it in to another LOST that gets lost.

    • The jury’s still out, but it does feel a bit like the trend towards “mysteries” which aren’t mysteries at all; just a bunch of random stuff that you are made to expect is somehow connected in a way that makes sense yet is never adequately explained.
      Every episode now has the Doctor exclaiming what an amazing mystery Clara is, and yet nothing particularly interesting has happened with her in months. It’s all tell, no show.

  • Completely agree with Tsuliwaensis. I find Moffat’s Who to be horribly sexist. It extends far beyond the female characters totally lacking a definition of self outside the Doctor; the show fails the Bechdel test more than half the time now!

    I don’t tend to think “as a woman…” when I watch TV. But it infuriates me Moffat introduces a third recurring character (after Amy and River) whose selfhood is based entirely around the Doctor. He does this for no male characters; men are allowed to be real. Women, however, must exist solely for the Doctor’s interest in order to be worth Moffat’s time. It’s alienating.

    • I think you’re partly right as far as there being too many characters who seem to exist only insofar as they relate to the Doctor. But don’t forget that Rory had a parallel relationship with Amy. He was entirely in her thrall. This wasn’t exactly a subtle shading; he took her last name after all.
      I’m inclined to look beyond this for the moment with Clara; as she may turn out to be a creation of the future Doctor, or the TARDIS a la Badwolf, or some kind of fixed point, etc.

  • Moffat seems to be forgetting that some continuity is still necessary. Like, if the Eye of Harmony is on board, why stop in Cardiff to refuel? And there was something last week or the week before that bunked some 10th continuity, too, but I forget now.

  • As someone stated before the blurry camera usage was annoying. I guess the effects house made horrible costumes for the zombies. So bad that they couldn’t show them. Tsk, tsk…

  • I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who sees this stupid episode. No progress on Clara’s story. Is she his granddaughter? Is it the Doctor as a female from the future? At this point I don’t care. Clara’s not being utilized properly and is being wasted. These story arcs are going on too long. They end up being too complicated, full of plot holes and end up having a way too quick resolve. Resign Mr. Moffet before you do any more harm to the series. Your ego has surpassed your humbleness. Don’t become another George Lucas.

  • Sad to say, but in the near future, everyone is going to look back on the current series and realize that the Emperor had no clothes. We’re all so excited about the Clara mystery, the lead-in episodes to this series, and Coleman’s energy that most of us are giving a serious pass to a string of weak episodes.
    First of all, there has been ZERO progress on the Clara story. The best we have gotten so far has been The Doctor telling Clara that she existed in the past and future, which is A) Something the audience has known for months, and B) Something erased from the character’s memory almost immediately. Now, all of this may turn out to be the best story in the history of the show, but for the moment, it’s entirely expectation. The pass has not been earned.

    Almost every episode of late has followed the classic “Bad Dr Who Episode” formula of a build-up that goes on for so long that there’s no time left in the show to actually resolve it legitimately. Instead, we get some music, a bunch of fast-talking bullshit, and magically the story is resolved. It’s a cheap cheat, and it’s not living up to the high reputation that the show earned for itself over the past few years.

    As to this episode in particular, I’ll leave the details of the plot to io9’s review, which said it best. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but when the “rules” are completely arbitrary, personal investment in the story falls off. How interested can you possibly be in the answer to “How’s he going to get out of this one?” when the answer is literally that he’s going to push the “Get out of this one” button? On top of that, the monsters made no sense and were added for the cheapest possible fear factor. It felt like filler in an episode that had plenty of room for TARDIS eye-candy to fill up space.

    Really hoping that things turn around soon.

  • Glad to see you acknowledged that we’d seen the pool before when Leela was taking a swim. (Swoon!)

    Regarding Clara losing her memory of the day, it was interesting that in the final scene she was drying her hair with a towel. (Another Swoon! 35 years later.) Did she remember where the pool was and take a swim?

  • sorry, but this was a letdown episode.

    reason 1: clara can suddenly read circular gallifreyan (ooooh right the native language history of the time war would be in english)? ummm, no.

    reason 2: i must be missing the 10th doctor cuz the comedy bumbling, wonky running 11th doctor is getting tired to watch.

    reason 3: a weak explanation/cause of the constantly out of focus camera trick time zombies

    reason 4: clara still not developed past doe eyed and constantly staring at it all.

    :/

  • As to why the Time Zombies were trying to kill their former selves, the only reason i can think of is to create a paradox. If they kill their former selves then the Time Zombies will then not exist and won’t have suffered the horrific death/extreme pain/supernatural happening that created them.

  • Sorry to disagree with everyone here, but I HATED this episode. It was the “Jump the Shark” for me. Steven Moffet needs to resign and let someone else take over. He’s officially reached the “God Complex”. He had to show the pool, and the library just so he can put his STAMP on it and let the world know that it was he who showed it. Some things are better left to the imagination and after 50 years he destroyed that. The story was stupid, the center of the TARDIS looked like a bunch of car parts floating in a white room. The whole zombie thing was confusing as to if they were incinerated, why were they chasing everyone. Stupid story. The actress playing Clara, whom I think is a beautiful and brilliant, looks a bit too young now. She looks more like a 12 year old. My other problem with this season is that this Moffet story arc thing is old. Give us some more single episodes that don’t heavily tie into the others. Just some good old fun. It’s clear that the Who team is really trying to Americanize the series and is ruining it severely . Moffet needs to resign. And that’s coming from someone who thinks Matt Smith is the best Doctor ever along with Tom Baker.
    Everyone is entitled to an opinion and this is mine.

  • the sexism ruined it for me, I don’t even know if I would’ve liked the rest of the episode because I watched it while being angry. why do they keep doing that? it’s such a shame… I just can’t believe for second that the doctor is a sexist, it doesn’t make the least bit of sense.

    and if you don’t understand what I mean translate the “are you dumbing this down because I’m a girl”-scene from sexism into racism, that usually works for people less sensitive to these things. doesn’t that secret smile of the doctor just make you cringe? and isn’t that completely displaced in a show about an alien who’s supposed to be super smart? makes me sad… and you know, angry.

    also, calling clara a salvage, not really helping either. I already have to ignore the fact that once again the companion isn’t chosen because she’s an awesome human being but because she’s a riddle that needs solving. and I’m really trying my best to still being able to enjoy the relationship between the two, no need to add to that. these are the times where I miss RTD so much… he is so much better at creating and exploring characters and making people matter without turning them into things.

  • I’m with Zelim and DavidL… to me this episode is average at best, and having the solution all revolve around one of the worst kind of time paradoxes does not help it, nor do the pointless “monsters”(who are alive and trying to kill their “earlier” selves why? Did I miss a line with the “why”?). It seems that those who got the most from this episode did from mainly the longterm “reveals.” But the story and most dialogue was lacking to me. But I should have known, it is titled that way (expository rather than more complex)– “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”, which is exactly what it says, instead of “Salvage of a Lifetime”, which would imply much much deeper goings on … a title which would intrigue on several levels– what is being “salvaged”, whose lifetime, or Who’s “lifetime”?, TARDIS jealousy?, etc.).

    Think I’ll go watch “Hide”(which I would have titled “Time for Love”) again, a top-tier episode IMO, one of the tightest I have seen (I’ve only seen about 70-80 epsiodes, mostly of 9th through 11th of course). Or “Rings of Akhaten” (the other Neil Cross ep), one of the grandest… the Doctor’s “speech” to Merry is one of the most epic moments of any television show I have ever seen.

    Digressing, so a grade for this episode, “Journey to the Centre of the Tardis”… low B-, right around average. Much better than “Fear Her” and “Curse of the Black Spot” and “Night Terrors”, much lesser than “Hide” and “Blink” and “Dalek”.

    (Pardon time) But hey, any episode of Doctor Who is better than most of the tripe festering out in the vast desiccated TV wastelands, right? Right.

  • I’m not getting the love for this. If Voyager had pulled this same story (which it did. Called Year of Hell) It would have been called for its cliches. but it gets a pass because its the Doctor?

    A whole episode predicated on an actual “reset button”…

    and I thought the Doctor couldn’t go back into his own time stream? I guess its OK along as the story needs him to.

  • It seems I’m in the minority. This episode really disappointed me and that’s something that rarely happens. To me, it feels like the hype around the episode was something that neither the plot nor the budget could live up to.

    Sure, we saw the swimming pool, but only as a bit of CGI seen through a briefly-open door. Would it have dented the budget to have a scene on location at, e.g. Bristol South Swimming Pool? Sure, we had the wonderful spectacle of the TARDIS’ library, but I’d have liked to have seen more of it. After the episode, my impression of the depths of the TARDIS is lots of little corridors, all alike.

    For me, the episode didn’t add anything important to the overall Who mythos (e.g. Chekov’s Architectural Reconfiguration System) and it’s for that reason that if feels like a let-down. It didn’t need the bogeymen, it didn’t need all that wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. All it needed was a vengeful TARDIS taking its (family-friendly) revenge on the junkers who attacked it, with some decent Clara / TARDIS moments added in.

    The episode could have been on a par with “The Doctor’s Wife”. Instead, despite some nice touches, it was instantly forgettable (much like the effect of the Big Friendly Button).

  • The Tardis is sort of all-powerful and invulnerable, except when the script needs it to have serious problems, then a little bump makes it go all life-threatening. I’ve been watching lots of Star Trek lately, up to halfway through Voyager, and they have the same problem, ships that are super teriffic, until they need to receive signals from a planet, or something, and then there’s too much interference.

    Didn’t Tom Baker wander around the Tardis, and discover the wood control room? It seems like we saw a bit of the Tardis in the transition from Tom to Peter’s Doctor. I should go watch some of the old shows, the new ones are just missing something for me (or maybe they have too much production for me.) This one was a bit better, but it always seems to be trying to make everything too important, instead of just having adventures.

  • I like your reviews, Kyle.
    It seems you can enjoy the show for the fun it’s trying to be, just like i’m trying to.

    this was a pretty great episode, and even if I didn’t like EVERYTHING about it, I still enjoyed watching it.

  • Its okay Zelim, you are Opposite Man. But to you, we are all Opposite People. Its just how the show goes. I quite enjoyed “The Beast Below” and that episode is pretty universally panned, by Moffat himself even.

  • I don’t quite understand how it is that I completely and totally disagree with these reviews. It doesn’t seem to fail, the episodes I like the most get panned, and the ones I like the least, get rave reviews.

  • Actually is this more about the Doctor than Clara? Is it about his dark side? Does she somehow keep getting rewritten because she keeps dying at the hands of the Doctor’s failure to save her.

    argggggggh! i keep thinking i’m not hooked on this series, but its clearly got under my skin and is rattling my tiny brain.

  • Overall i thought this was the best episode so far. Entertaining, nostalgic, a nice glimpse of the Doctor’s darker side. good stuff!

    I was hoping this would be the episode that gave us a decent sized step ahead with the whole Clara situation. It didnt really happen, maybe next time. I dont want full resolution, just a step in the right direction.

    Until that happens……..

    I wonder if the TARDIS actually likes Clara and is trying to protect her from the Doctor. The Doctor has a history of somewhat ruining his companions lives.
    It let her find out more about him, it kept re-routing her to the console room (the safest part of the TARDIS) In the last ep at first it wouldnt let her in when she was trying risk going to save the Doctor in the bubble universe, and the empathic psychic warned her about the slither of ice in his heart.

    Will Clara remember anything from this episode, or be left with an inkling of what happened. At the end one brother protected the “android” and repeated the Doctor’s line about having a bit of decency, suggesting that a sort residue of what happened has stayed with him.

  • Possibly one of my favourite episodes of the new season, one point i’d make is that I personally liked the 3 brothers relationship element. The revelation did a nice flip on the “human/android” reveal trope, with a much more emotive touch.

  • Liked this one. Was totally puzzled over their use of Fire Woman by The Cult in the background at the beginning (awesome song, just not what I’d expect on DW) until they brought it back again after we learned who the fire people really were.

  • I loved this episode. I thought it was the best this season. I loved the intensity. One problem I have had with this season is that it has at times missed the sense of imminent danger or intensity. I loved that the doctor confronted Clara aout her past selves and the zombified Claras was fun. I agree the whole android/brother relationship was weak. I can’t wait for future episodes.

  • Great episode…only one question…why does the Tardis allow Clara to discover the Doctor’s name? She very well could have directed her away from the library and the History of the Time War book. So, why didn’t she?
    “I always took you where you needed to go” – Yep, the Tardis is the Doctor’s true companion…