It’s no understatement to say that I’ve been waiting for this episode of Doctor Who for a looooong time. I’m very glad that the British sci-fi series returned to us in 2005, but the newer version of the series has been shamefully light on exploring the innards of the TARDIS — an infinite time-space vessel with a mind of its own that is both a container for and key to the wonders of the universe.
“Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,” then, offers our first real look beyond the iconic Console Room in modern Doctor Who, and it does not disappoint on that level. But you may be disappointed if you expect it to take us any further toward solving the riddle of the Doctor’s new companion Clara Oswin, or unravel the TARDIS’ ongoing beef with the lovely young woman.
The whole thing begins when the TARDIS gets swept up by a salvage operation with a shameful secret. Clara is thrown deep into the bowels of the ancient Time Lord vessel, leaving the Doctor topside to persuade the wrecking crew that his seemingly little ship is the “salvage of a lifetime” — which he’ll gladly give them, if they help him retrieve his companion.
No sooner have they entered the Console Room and flushed out the dangerous fumes than the Doctor turns the tables on the opportunists, setting a countdown to self-destruction to inspire their efforts. Even after the parties strike a “deal,” though, the salvage team’s leader is only interested in picking apart the wondrous machine, but the TARDIS fights back. Many faint voices from the past are heard as one wrecker tries to dismantle the console after splitting off from the group — a taste of what’s ahead in November’s 50th anniversary special, perhaps?
Meanwhile, Clara is dodging zombie creatures that have appeared out of nowhere as she navigates the TARDIS’ labyrinthine corridors.
She finds her way to the Doctor’s impressive library, and flips through a tome chronicling the history of the Time War until she finds a reference to the Doctor that seems to connect some dots for her. (At least someone is getting some answers…)
The Doctor and his captors/captives finally encounter the zombie creatures for themselves, and soon they reunite with Clara in an “echo” of the Console Room, pulling her into their space just as the creatures are closing in on her. Girl rescued, the wreckers think they’ve secured their prize. Oh, the self-destruct countdown? All a trick! No such thing!
Except … the TARDIS has been destabilized and they’re all doomed anyway. Only one thing can save them: A “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,” of course. Here we see the legendary Eye of Harmony, an example of the impossible Time Lord stellar engineering that powers the machine — and we learn the secret of the zombie creatures, which forces the Doctor to reveal to Clara that he’s met two other versions of her in the past and future, both of whom have died. Again, at least someone is getting some answers!
The Doctor works out how to prevent the accident that fatally damaged his TARDIS, but it means that none of this ever happened, and Clara loses her memory of all the secrets she’s learned. Likewise, the salvage team has no recollection of the dark, personal secret of theirs that was finally aired in the corridors of the Doctor’s ship — but there is hope of a better future for them. For the Doctor and Clara, only questions remain.
The Doctor’s devious manipulation of the salvage team was fun to watch — he really can be ruthless when his friends are threatened, and he will show no mercy in the face of such destructive and careless greed. For all his claims of staying in the shadows now, this is the Doctor of old, who tricked the Daleks into destroying their own world with a stolen Time Lord weapon, and sentenced each member of the Family of Blood to their own personal hell. This is a glimpse of the Doctor he fears himself becoming, who “became too big” and provoked a war with the Silence.
As a “realtime” episode, “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” blows away previous Doctor Who format experiments like “42.” And the claustrophobic landscape of the infinite time-space ship, while predictably industrial, works better than the abandoned buildings used in the classic series’ “Invasion of Time.” Whimsical touches like the library, a swimming pool and steampunk observatory balance out the submarine-style corridors and oppressive dying star chamber.
Clara’s visit to the library and her discovery there will no doubt fuel the fan theories that she is the little girl in the Library introduced in the David Tennant story “Silence in the Library” — the same episode that introduced Professor River Song at the end of her character’s life. Before time is turned back in this episode, Clara reveals that she has learned the Doctor’s name — which was River’s revelation in her debut, and the only thing that secured the Doctor’s trust in her at the time. We’re due to get another visit from River in the season finale, “The Doctor’s Name.” Coincidence?
But first, up next, Dame Diane Rigg makes her first appearance in Doctor Who, along with her daughter Rachael Stirling:
The Crimson Horror – Episode 11
There’s something very odd about Mrs Gillyflower’s Sweetville mill, with its perfectly clean streets and beautiful people. There’s something even stranger about the bodies washing up in the river, all bright red and waxy. When the Doctor and Clara go missing, it’s up to Vastra, Jenny and Strax to rescue them before they too fall victim to the Crimson Horror!
Episode credits: Written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Saul Metzstein (Upstairs, Downstairs).
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