This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free review is here.
Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS
“Salvage of a lifetime?”“I feel pretty confident I can deliver on that”
We were promised, back at the launch for the second half of Doctor Who series 7, that Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS would deliver on its title. That it would take us deep into the throes of the Doctor’s vessel, and wouldn’t cheat us by quickly building some stuff in a warehouse and passing it off as the TARDIS. You’d be hard pushed to say, on that count at least, that we’d been let down.
Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS, after all, gave us the best tour of the craft that we’ve arguably ever had in Doctor Who. Sure, we’ve seen the Eye Of Harmony before (particularly in the McGann TV movie, although not quite so CG driven!), and we’ve taken in parts of the TARDIS across a range of adventures. Here, though, we went round the library, saw the heard-of-but-previously-never-seen swimming pool, and toured the endless corridors (lots of them), that at one stage turned into a Raiders Of The Lost Ark-esque obstacle course. In fact, the ‘outside’ sequence near the end even had echoes of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. No chilled monkey brains in the TARDIS kitchen, though.
If all concerned didn’t love making this one, particularly on the production design side, then we’d be genuinely surprised.
For an episode that’s set to take its place in Doctor Who lore, though, the whole thing actually started with more of a nod to the Alien franchise instead. Thus, we got a three-man crew, one of whom apparently being an android, targeting the TARDIS as a possible salvage job. Said crew is then stuck on a seemingly empty space vessel, with a creature prowling its corridors who you wouldn’t want to meet. You can’t help but wonder if John Hurt got the call for this one first, before he was signed up to the 50th anniversary special.
This three man crew, as we learn later on, had a bit more to it than first appeared, as the android turned out to be literally part of the family. This is all nicely done, but it’d be remiss to say it was close to the most interesting part of the episode. Instead, it was the guided tour of the TARDIS, and the continual development of Clara (who we had a ‘fake’ version of again as well, for the second week running), that took precedence.
The bulk of Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS, then, was taken up with recreating a family friendly version of Alien on the TARDIS. For director Mat King, the job was clear: using the control room and a corridor set or two, along with a pick and mix of lighting options, to take on the age-old Doctor Who challenge of shooting sets from as many different angles as possible, to make it look like a labyrinth on the inside. Job done, to be fair. Some may have found the endless traipsing around TARDIS corridors a little bit wearing, but not us: we could explore the thing all day. This felt like the Doctor Who some of us grew up on (not for the first time in this run of episodes, either).
Furthermore, the episode showed as a few of the things at the end of said corridors. The architectural reconfiguration system was the most impressive, and it’s when we see rooms like this that it all adds colour to the constant reminders that the TARDIS is a ship with a personality and characteristics of her own.
Clara in particular discovered a few things of interest. Some nick-nacks of Doctor Who past for starters, before she landed in the TARDIS library, and found a book that may have some ramifications towards the end of the series. After all, having explored The History Of The Time War book – Dorling Kindersley is probably bidding for the rights right now – Clara now knows the Doctor’s name. She’s bloody good at opening big books at appropriate pages, too. We bet she breezed her GCSEs.
It’s little secret that the show has been building up to the revelation of the name of the Doctor, to the point where it’s basically become the title of a future episode. But will it be that straightforward? Do people actually want to know the Doctor’s name, or is there something more significant at play here? Clara knows, the Doctor knows, the people who have worked on the series finale know. We, of course, don’t. Bah.
There were constant references to the characterisation of the TARDIS throughout the episode, although nothing on the level of Neil Gaiman’s inevitable double bill companion piece, The Doctor’s Wife. But writer Steve Thompson still left us enough to nerd out over, and made sure too that the episode left ample room for us to walk through attractively framed corridors.
The creatures, though, were intriguing. Wisely kept in the dark for the early stages of the episode, these foes gradually got more dangerous, before building up to a bit of a revelation. The zombie-like growlers, the latest example of practical work that seems to be on the up in this current run of Who, had a link to Clara.
This served two purposes. One, it meant that current Clara is now aware of what’s gone before (as well as holding some juicy information on the Doctor). And secondly, it’s added yet more mystery to the character herself.
Why are these two creatures stalking the TARDIS? Is that why the TARDIS doesn’t like her? Is she a figment of the TARDIS, a relative of it, made of some kind of the same material? Is she Billie Piper? Can she sing and dance? Does she have a Time Lord link? Is there a Great Intelligence plot at work here?
As long as she doesn’t turn out to be an iteration of River Song or something, we’re enjoying the speculation. As the Doctor said, “I look at you every single day and don’t understand a thing about you”. Why is that?
Still, while Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS may at times have relied a bit too heavily on its central treats, at the expense of a particularly strong individual narrative, we enjoyed it a lot. The story trade off proved to be one that we were more than comfortable with here. TARDIS episodes don’t come along very often after all, and Who fans of any vintage are likely to have found things to like here. Lots of things to like.
There was a pet hate of ours used (and we really, really hate it), which we can’t avoid talking about, namely the reset switch. But in its very slight defence, it wasn’t a 100% reset at least, as we saw from the crew of three at the end of the episode that things had slightly changed. It didn’t feel quite like a full-on Last Of The Time Lords moment, but it sailed rather close to it. Endings are not a strong point of Doctor Who episodes of late. We wonder whether the TARDIS is now fatally damaged though, or if that got put back together as the big button was hit. If it is broken, and basically dying – and the Doctor did say “there’s no way I can save her now” – then that may point towards significant ramifications ahead. Also, did Clara really forget everything? Time will tellt here. One more TARDIS thing, too: the key the Doctor uses says Smiths on it. A hint for the future?
There’s lot to mull over here, and we enjoyed Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS an awful lot, accepting it had one or two niggles. After all, we described it last week as nerd-bait, and we saw nothing in the 45 minutes of the episode to readdress that view. We pretty much wanted to watch it again the second it’d finished.
Next week? Strax, Vastra and Jenny return (surely someone, somewhere, has had a chat about a spin-off show for them by now) in Mark Gatiss’ The Crimson Horror. And there’s the small matter of Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg, too. More nerd gold might just be seven days away. Hope so…
[One quick note. There’s been a slight update to this review since it first went live, as pointed out by some of the commenters below. The reason was a misread of something in the episode, that I caught on the live broadcast and didn’t update in time! Apologies for that, but it seemed fairer to point out myself that I’m an idiot, rather than quietly delete it and hope you all wouldn’t notice! – Simon]
Our review of the last episode, Hide, is here.
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