Doctor Who #912: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

"Picture the biggest ship you've ever seen. Are you picturing it?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.27 2013.

IN THIS ONE... Into the bowels of the TARDIS, with scavengers and crispy time zombies.

REVIEW: We've been waiting for this idea to be done right ever since The Invasion of Time showed the TARDIS interior to be a disappointing collection of disparate real-world locations. On a production level, it does. I just wish Steve Thompson, writer of The Curse of the Black Spot, hadn't been tapped to script it. In both cases, the premise writes itself. It's what the writer adds to it that makes it a success or a dud. Sadly, it's the latter. Of course, some things do work. Visiting the TARDIS, even in disaster mode, offers a lot of nice surprises. The space-bent corridor and back-up console rooms were explored in The Doctor's Wife, but we finally see the pool, a huge library, an observatory, the tree-like structure that gives the TARDIS the ability to create rooms and stuff, the Eye of Harmony (see Theories for more on this), and landscapes that hark back to the New Adventures novels' ideas about the ship. Could have done with more props from the show's history, but the time fracture gives us lines from the show's past - all about the TARDIS - and that's cool (I recognize Susan, Docs 3, 4 and 9, Jo, Ian...).

Unfortunately, we're also strapped with some terrible guest characters. The salvage crew is made up of two "jerks who don't listen" (TM), the type of one-dimensional character that exists only to create obstacles for the heroes I find especially irritating, and their kid brother whom they've apparently brainwashed into thinking he's an android as a joke. He's the nice one, but what's the point of him? He's a machine who turns out to be a living being, just like the TARDIS? He's not what he appears, but Clara is? If it's a question of theme, it's muddled and ill-resolved (the new timeline has the jerks magically stop teasing Tricky, with perhaps the worst acting this season). I have very little use for this subplot. The other threat comes from "time zombies", burnt creatures that are actually future/potential versions of Clara and the brothers who spent too much time exposed to the Eye. While I'm always game for a timey-wimey plot, even if it's all going to be undone at some point, that having your flesh liquified would turn you into an enraged monster is complete nonsense! At the very least, we're missing some technobabble to make it work.

This is a problem that recurs again and again in Journey. It presents us with something interesting, but just misses the mark in terms of justifying it. We're teased with the Doctor's name in the History of the Time War, for example, but why would the Doctor leave that book lying around for any companion to find? And who wrote a book about something that was taken out of history anyway? The time rift inside the TARDIS, and the ship's engine room frozen mid-explosion are both conspicuous because they don't tie into the still-unexplained TARDIS explosion from Series 5. I'm not saying Journey would have been the right place to resolve this long-standing issue, but then, it shouldn't tease us with yet another TARDIS explosion caused by a glowing crack in spacetime. Speaking of resolutions, aside from that Tricky android business, what we get does work. The Doctor finally confronts Clara about her impossibility, and realizes there really is nothing sinister going on (and since only he remembers these events, he can keep playing things close to the vest). And the way the timeline is undone, revealing we were watching a 2nd timeline already (at least; the friendly button had already made an appearance) is a satisfying paradox of a solution.

THEORIES: I know some fans bristled at the idea that the Eye of Harmony was found inside the TARDIS, just as they bristled when it showed up in the Paul McGann movie. After all, sacrosanct Time Lord canon (i.e. Bob Holmes' overrated mystery-destroying The Deadly Assassin) says the Eye is inside Gallifrey itself, which itself contradicts The Three Doctors (kind of) where the black hole that powers Time Lord society is clearly shown to be in space somewhere. So how does it all tie together? Maybe we just don't understand the TARDIS' pocket dimension. Looking at the Eye in this episode, the idea that it is a small star that fits inside a big black room is an illusion. Even the smallest star would be several kilometers across lest it burn itself out too quickly. I propose that there is only one Eye, a star harnessed by the Time Lords somewhere in space. To power their society, they have created portals to it, apparently leading to the planet's interior. Smart, as you'd lost the least power in the exchange. Now, what if each TARDIS also leads to that star so it can feed off it directly? We only need the one Eye to make this work. If true, the Doctor could theoretically take a rocket ship out of that room and into Gallifreyan space.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I thought for sure this would be an episode worth revisiting if only for the references to the past, but even my freeze frames didn't yield much. Beyond its fun premise, it's a rather frustrating exercise.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

This one was a disppointment. In concept, I love the idea- but too many interiors were 2D pictures, it was done using the drab grey corridors of this new redesign, and the plot was... lacking. Eye of Harmony exploration/explanation was welcome, as was the audio montage in the console room, but... unfortunately, I was still left feeling that this sort of story hadn't been justice, just as I was post-Invasion of Time.

As a side note, we watch these via iTune son the computer, connected to the TV through an HDMI, which does weird things to the black levels. Anything too dark becomes pseudo-inverted, like an LCD screen viewed from a steep angle, and its very hard to tell what's going on. This issue first became apparent during this episode because it's so dark, especially in the beginning. However, considering the ethnic makeup of the crew, I did get some stares, and laughter, when i started complaining that "there's something wrong with the blacks!" during the opening scenes.

" the type of one-dimensional character that exists only to create obstacles for the heroes I find especially irritating"
Ugh. Agreed. But sadly, as discussed before, a Who staple.

"We're teased with the Doctor's name in the History of the Time War, for example, but why would the Doctor leave that book lying around for any companion to find? And who wrote a book about something that was taken out of history anyway? "
And, what point did this have, other than as a major red herring, since his name was dodged in Name of AND Time of? And wasn't that a secret so strong he would only ever tell it to one person... and yet, it's in a book on public display?

Awwww... so harsh on Deadly Assassin. :-( I did like the further expansion on the Eye, and I like your take on it for tying them together.

"Beyond its fun premise, it's a rather frustrating exercise."
that's the perfect way to sum up this much-anticipated letdown.


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