Doctor Who, series 7.11: “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” by Steve Thompson


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Spoilers Ahead

“Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” highlights another aspect of Doctor Who that the Moffat era has delighted us with exploring: the nature of the TARDIS, the most constant of the Doctor’s companions.

Clara is lost in the depths of the Doctor’s TARDIS which is damaged and captured by intergalactic salvage crew Van Baalen Bros., who want to sell it for scrap. However, the Doctor threatens to destroy the TARDIS by putting it in lockdown and activating the self-destruct if the salvage crew doesn’t help him find Clara. [Via TARDIS wiki]

Whenever the Doctor brings anyone new into the TARIS, immediate sense of wonder upon seeing the interior, and everyone points out the obvious: it’s bigger on the inside. There are quirks about the ship, as well as hints that it’s got a personality, but for the bulk of the classic series, and even for the better part of the the relaunch, there’s little more than just the eccentricities of a man in love with his ship–the innocuous personifications by a captain who refers to his vessel as “she.”

It all changed with Rose taking in the heart of the TARDIS in “The Parting of the Ways,” as it showed almost a personal omnipotence, and most significantly with the brilliant series 6 episode: “The Doctor’s Wife” by Neil Gaiman. We have a face to go with the TARDIS, as well as a more distinct personality. Finally, in the past few episodes, Clara has had a hard time of it trying to get along with the TARDIS. We’re not sure why that is–is it jealousy? The TARDIS hasn’t acted this way with other companions, which makes me wonder: is there something else wrong with Clara, something that makes the TARDIS deeply uncomfortable?

In the past few episodes, we’ve been treated to references to the previous incarnations of the Doctors (and this one more than most). We have significant references to Tom Baker‘s Doctor. For the past year, after just a bit of dabbling here and there with some of the essential Who story arcs (“Genesis of the Daleks,” “Dalek Invasion of the Earth,” and others), I decided to just go whole hog into the bowels of the nearly 30-year original run of Doctor Who. I recently watched a fantastic arc in which the TARDIS’ interior received a decent amount of attention: “The Invasion of Time” in which the Doctor and Leela are pursued by  Sontarans through the labyrinthine TARDIS interior.

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“Journey” recalls that romp through the corridors of the TARDIS and adds to it, taking us through the TARDIS at breakneck speed, giving us glimpses of things we’ve seen or referenced (including the observatory from “Tooth and Claw“), the swimming pool, and the library. It’s a delightful episode that threatens Clara and the Doctor just as they get closer to one another and closer to answers about Clara’s problem with the recurring death. There are poignant moments between the two of them, as well as between the Doctor and his dying friend as he struggles to save both Clara and the TARDIS. I have to say that Matt Smith has completely come into his own in this series. He plays jolly, romping explorer one minute and then deep, aged Time Lord with secrets the next–and at no point does it feel forced or contradictory. He’s doing a fantastic job.

Once again (this might be a mantra…), the side plot does nothing for the episode. There are two brothers and an android who hope to plunder the TARDIS for salvage–but wait! The android isn’t an android! He’s actually the third brother with bionic eyes and arms–it was just an elaborate prank. I don’t buy it, and it was an unnecessary distraction from an absolutely delightful episode. I’m so invested in the Doctor and Clara that I absolutely don’t need to see other things that don’t build them up at all–the only thing they were good for was being the catalyst that got the TARDIS to go all labyrinthine  This episode could have been about the damaged TARDIS with the two of them exploring it as it was about to self-destruct–or myriad other plots, but the brothers were the weakest point in an otherwise stellar episode.

Next week returns us to the setting of this year’s Christmas special–and I suspect maybe the return of The Great Intelligence.

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