(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode… or unless you don’t care if it’s spoiled for you. this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “Hide”)
(get my downloadable discussion guide to “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” for teachers, librarians, and everyone else who needs to keep kids amused, engaged, and educated at DoctorWhoTeachersGuides.co.uk)
Really? A giant reset button? An actual in-fact for-real big-friendly reset button? Really?
I’m not sure this episode works on any scale imaginable. There’s tons of little fiddly plot stuff that simply makes no sense. How did the Doctor end up outside the TARDIS when it got pulled aboard the salvagers’ ship? Why the hell would the head salvage guy tell his dumb brother to “get back to the console, strip it apart” when as far as he knows, that console is the only way for the Doctor to stop the self-destruct countdown he’s convinced the brothers he’s started? Why are the burnt zombies menacing everybody, even killing that one Van Baalen brother? Instead of being, like, dead? (I’m not even gonna get into the questionable physics of who burns and how, and who doesn’t, in the Eye of Harmony room. Also: see below for a dorky rant about the Eye of Harmony being on the TARDIS in the first place.)
In the medium scale, there’s all the wandering around the TARDIS that the title seemed to promise us. And all we get is corridors that look like they’re right outta every other science fiction spaceship?
Sure, we glimpsed the pool and the observatory and the junk room
and the library…
but only just glimpsed. And what a disappointing paucity of the sort of weird cool stuff you’d expect to find on the TARDIS. Worse: none of it mattered one whit to the story.
And as always, none of that would matter if the big picture was satisfying. And here’s the problem with how it’s unsatisfying: either it’s setting up things for a payoff still to come and doesn’t care that it doesn’t work on its own merits (which it should), or it’s not setting up a payoff still to come, which means it doesn’t work at all.
Here’s what I’m talking about.
Clara is a conundrum… and I don’t mean the conundrum that’s puzzling the Doctor. She clearly senses that the TARDIS is at least semisentient — and she believes that it has, more than once, locked her out of the TARDIS — yet she refuses to make nice like the Doctor wants her to. She even insults the Doctor and the TARDIS in the opening scene here, by calling it “bonkers” that he wants the TARDIS and her to be friends.
Wouldn’t any reasonable person be just the teensiest bit worried that the ship might react to her even more vindictively than (she thinks) it already has? The TARDIS could suck all the air out of the room she’s sleeping in, or take off and scramble the coordinates and leave her stranded, or something nasty. (We might figure that the TARDIS wouldn’t do that, because it would make the Doctor unhappy and the TARDIS loves the Doctor, but Clara doesn’t know any of this.)
So, Clara could simply be a poorly written character who behaves inconsistently from episode to episode. Or she could be deliberately written as an annoying whiny little brat. Neither of these things is particularly interesting, and even feel manipulative in a story arc that is supposed to be about how mysterious and intriguing she supposedly is.
Or there could be reasons why the way that that Clara is behaving toward the TARDIS make sense… at least to her. Could the Claras somehow be the TARDIS, small self-contained echoes of the sentient being at its heart, perhaps spawned by the exploding TARDIS as a way to save itself and scattered across spacetime? (How the TARDIS used Clara’s own image to represent itself to Clara — in “Hide” — could be a clue to that.) Or maybe the TARDIS has already been very vindictive toward Clara, and, I dunno, dumped clones of her across spacetime in a fit of ire.
That’s pretty outlandish, but at least it would be something that might possibly begin to hint at some sort of explaination for Clara’s odd behavior (or at least it might when we eventually learned such a thing). The thing is, we’ve had no hint of a reason why Clara behaves as she does (like why here she’d tell the Doctor here that she’s “counting on” “anything” happening to her, yet in “Hide” she didn’t want to go after the ghost they had arrived to hunt).
It all might make sense in the end, but we need a little something to make sense now. Multi-episode arcs are great, but they have to stand on their own, too.
As for the TARDIS exploding…
…and the crack in spacetime…
Either this is the same explosion and the same crack that still remains unexplained (or they are related to or connected to those events), or they aren’t the same. If they are connected, has the connection been undone with the reset button? If they aren’t connected, isn’t this retreading ground that’s been covered before… also unsatisfyingly?
But perhaps most frustratingly is that there’s some really good stuff here. The Doctor is very dark and bitter and angry and suspicious and capricious in this episode.
(And Clara is really convincingly, properly scared by him:
a reaction you might expect he’d inspire more often.)
He’s intense and he’s chillingly calculating, things we haven’t seen Matt Smith’s Doctor be before — it calls to mind, appropriately, the occasional coldness of David Tennant’s Doctor, and Peter Davison’s, particularly because it seemed to come from nowhere, and reminded you suddenly that he’s not human, and he’s not a nice kooky cute young man. He’s ancient and alien. He flat-out lies to the Van Baalens when he promises them “the salvage of a lifetime” — there’s no way in hell he was going to hand over the TARDIS to them, not even for the sake of Clara. He flat-out lies again when he convinces them he’s set the TARDIS to self-destruct; I’m not sure we’ve ever seen the Doctor bluff like that before. We see him genuinely unnerved by the mystery of the multiple Claras, and genuinely worried that she has learned his name. (Her muttered “So that’s who…” suggests that the name she reads in the book means something to her, that it’s a name she has heard before. When the Doctor tells Clara that “Secrets protect us. Secrets make us safe,” is he thinking about himself? Does his name need to be secret to protect him? If so, from what?)
But all of that — all of that good stuff — gets erased by a big (un)friendly reset button. As if it never happened.
Random thoughts on “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”:
• Ooo, very James Cameron:
Very Colonial Marines.
• Clara wants to know if the Doctor put the TARDIS into basic mode because she’s a girl. He says no… and then he smirks:
At this point, I’m wondering whether the Doctor is afraid of catching girl-cooties.
• So, who wrote The History of the Time War?
Gallifrey is gone, as are all the Time Lords, so it couldn’t have been them. The Daleks aren’t exactly known for their literary output. The Doctor doesn’t seem to have the patience required to write a book, nor the interest to do so. And as far as we’ve heard — I think Jack mentioned this once? — the Time War seems to be nothing but a distant rumor or dim myth to the rest of the civilized universe.
So who wrote this? Is there a lot more to the Time War than has yet been hinted at? That we’re going to see, I mean…
• An encyclopedia in a set of bottles?
Like a pensieve? Or like a Jim Croce song?
• Didn’t we see this in Raiders of the Lost Ark?
And didn’t we pretty much see this in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?
• Since when is the Eye of Harmony on the TARDIS?
I mean other than in the not-very-good American Doctor Who movie that we try to pretend as much as possible never really happened (except that it gave us Paul McGann as the Doctor)?
Sorry to be such a total dork, but the Eye of Harmony was beneath the Panopticon on Gallifrey, and it supposedly powered all of Time Lord civilization. It was, like, a total flub that it somehow ended up at the heart of the TARDIS in that bad attempted reboot.
Sure, Gallifrey is gone now, but why on Earth would the Eye of Harmony have ended up in the Doctor’s TARDIS?
• Great quotes:
“Don’t get into a spaceship with a madman. Didn’t anyone ever teach you that?” –the Doctor
(next: “The Crimson Horror”)