Last season, in Neil Gaiman’s writing debut on “Doctor Who,” we learned that his time and space machine, the TARDIS, was actually a she, and that she was in love with The Doctor. The episode was aptly, if creepily, titled “The Doctor’s Wife.”
This season we have seen the TARDIS take a positive dislike to new companion Clara Oswald. Could it be jealousy? Or something else altogether? In this week’s episode, with Clara trapped inside the damaged TARDIS, she, and we, might get the answers we’re looking for, or maybe not. Check out my recap and review of “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” after the jump…
Here’s the sneak preview for this week’s episode:
The script for “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” is by Stephen Thompson. Previously Thompson worked on “Who” with the fun pirate romp “The Curse of the Black Spot,” and has worked with showrunner Steven Moffat before, writing some of the better episodes of the brilliant “Sherlock.”
And even though the preview gave us much to anticipate, and how thrilled I was to see Thompson take another go at our favorite Time Lord, we don’t really get the answers, nor the TARDIS interaction (or reaction) we may have been hoping for. We certainly get a rollicking little adventure, lots of nods to the past, and some revelation of a sort on Clara – we do not get anything we were expecting. But maybe, that’s a good thing. The last thing “Doctor Who” should ever be is predictable.
We get an amazing amount of information and fun before even the opening credit sequence of “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” We’re introduced to a three-man space scavenger crew, who much like the cyborg gunslinger from earlier in the season (“A Town Called Mercy”), have the stink of a back door pilot about them. I liked the Van Baalen Brothers a lot, especially the android brother, Trickey.
There is also an amazing camera shot of The Doctor and Clara circling the TARDIS console. Kudos go to director Mat King for that excellent piece of work. What I said about predictability even extend to how we see the visuals. I would like more of that. And again, we have another audio treat from the New Wave, or thereabouts in history, inexplicably, “Fire Woman” by The Cult. I am loving the musical cues this last half of the season, from Ultravox to Duran Duran to The Cult, it’s a great touch.
As it turns out our salvage team has latched on to the TARDIS, and seriously damaged the old girl. The Doctor ends up outside his Police Box in the salvage bay of the Van Baalen Bros., with Clara trapped inside the ship spewing toxic fuel. With red lights flashing and the cloister bell ringing, we know Clara is in big trouble by herself, and so does The Doctor.
Our favorite Time Lord offers the crew ‘the salvage of a lifetime’ to help him find Clara. They think he means the TARDIS. Once everyone gets over the whole idea of the TARDIS being ‘bigger on the inside,’ and The Doctor drops that ominous bit about it being infinite inside, he gets nasty. Don’t get The Eleventh Doctor angry.
This is something we have learned about the Matt Smith Doctor, from the very start, he can be very threatening when he wants to. From his first warning to the seekers of Prisoner Zero when he claimed that Earth was under his protection to his dynamic speech at Stonehenge to almost all of his enemies – you do not get this Doctor angry. If he wants something give it to him.
He sets the TARDIS to self-destruct, in first one hour, then a half-hour, then locks the Van Baalens in – effectively blackmailing them into helping him find Clara. Do not mess with this Doctor indeed. In his own words, “Don’t get into a spaceship with a madman.”
There are many nods to the past in this episode as Clara wanders the TARDIS, including audio from the past featuring William Hartnell, Jon Pertwee, and Tom Baker, as well as David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston. We finally see the legendary swimming pool, and the gigantic library. There’s also the wonderfully exotic liquid library of the Encyclopedia Gallifreya from which audio of The Doctor and The Master bleed from. She also finds and reads a copy of “The History of the Time War.” And yeah, baby, we finally see the Eye of Harmony. It is nerdgasm time, folks.
Of course, nothing is ever so easy. One of the scavenger crew steals a piece of the TARDIS and won’t put it back. From the description it’s part of the ship’s DNA, a machine that makes machines, kinda sounds like the chameleon circuit to me… but isn’t that broken? Anyway, this ticks off the TARDIS, and it starts to fight back, and by changing the layout of the ship constantly, it keeps them from leaving.
Meanwhile Clara is being pursued by something, seemingly blurry visioned Sleestaks, and they soon are also after The Doctor and the salvage crew as well. Things are worse than anyone thought. These are them, after they all die burning. The Doctor finally comes clean to save Clara.
It’s all about Clara. It all comes down to who or what is Clara. We don’t really get an answer this episode, but in a weird way, at least The Doctor is satisfied. And Clara gets the best line of the show, “Good guys do not have zombie creatures. Rule one, basic storytelling.” And yeah, once again, she basically saves The Doctor. Again. This little bit of coincidence is getting more than a bit annoying.
I usually hate deus ex machina endings, but Moffat and Thompson pull off a bit of a miracle here. They do the impossible, in advancing the plot, the characters, even the temporary possible spin-off characters, and then pressing a theoretical and literal reset button, and putting things back the way they were. It’s almost as cool as J.J. Abrams simultaneously preserving old Star Trek continuity while creating a brand new one. They are getting their cake and feasting on it as well.
We didn’t find out who or what Clara is, or why the TARDIS dislikes her, but we did find out what she’s not. We got a peek into The Doctor’s head regarding her. We know from the Van Baalen Brothers that at least one person remembers what happened – could Clara remember what she read in that Time War book? We’ll have to wait and see…
And in closing, here’s a taste of next week’s episode:
Looks like a return to Victorian England, our favorite time and space tossed Sontaran and Silurian, guest star Dame Diana Rigg, and a possible return of the Great Intelligence. See you next time!
P.S. And the week after that – Neil Gaiman and the Cybermen!