Recap video and review of Doctor Who – Series 7 Episode 10 – Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS:
“Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” was an episode I wanted to love, going in. However, as with many Doctor Who episodes that air close to the finale, I simply felt it was okay. The human story at the heart of it didn’t really do as much for me as last week’s “Hide” or even “Cold War” from the week before. That said, my lack of enthusiasm for the episode doesn’t mean that there weren’t a ton of really interesting ideas in play here. We got a more in-depth look into the structure of the TARDIS than we’ve ever seen, including a full tour which featured the previously mentioned but unseen swimming pool, architectural reconfiguration system, the library and even the heart of the TARDIS itself. We also had The Doctor (Matt Smith) confessing to Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) that he saw her die twice, while Clara confessed to The Doctor that, thanks to having read an excerpt from The History of the Time War book in his library, she knows what his true name is. Unfortunately, these revelations are all undone by episode’s end, as The Doctor reaches through a tear in the fabric of time to give his past self a literal reset button. It’s a plot device that’s tongue-in-cheek, in many ways, but it also does real damage to what little narrative progress we got this week, revoking the revelations and character development that the adventure brought to the fore, particularly Clara’s recognition of just how scary and, potentially, dangerous The Doctor can be. Of course, this criticism depends on whether or not you believe that the reset button actually did wipe Clara’s memory of the adventure. I think there’s just barely enough room to make an inference that, perhaps, it didn’t. All in all, the episode introduces some interesting concepts that should come back to the fore as we approach the finale.
The TARDIS is targeted by a salvage operation, led by the Van Baalen brothers, older brother Bram (Mark Oliver) and domineering younger brother Gregor (Ashley Walters). They’re joined by an android named Tricky (Jahvel Hall) who assists them in their salvage operations, as they search for spare parts. In the ensuing chaos of being pulled aboard the Van Baalen’s ship, Clara is lost in the endless corridors of the TARDIS, while The Doctor is left to confront the Van Baalens to secure their help in rescuing her. Gregor, however, is only interested in salvaging the TARDIS for spare parts, and has no interest in finding the girl. Yet The Doctor indulges his own madman tendencies, locking the doors and setting the TARDIS’s self-destruct sequence for an hour (later bumping it down to a half an hour) to compel the brothers to help him search. It’s a clever gambit, as we later learn that there isn’t actually a self-destruct sequence after all, and that it was merely a trick by The Doctor. But it works all the same. The brothers search the ship, bringing out Gregor’s villainy as he steals a machine-replicating power cell, and basically does everything he can to actively hurt the TARDIS, which is a living ship. Meanwhile, Gregor has Bram return to the console and begin taking it apart, piece by piece. In an act of defense, the TARDIS begins changing its architecture, making an endless series of corridors to trap the Van Baalens as a means of preventing them from leaving the ship with any of her parts. And it only gets worse from there, as mysterious zombie creatures inhabit the ship — creatures with a sinister link to Clara.
The episode is at its best during these moments of genuine adventure, where the parties are divided and dealing with threats of their own: for Clara, she’s constantly on the run from the creatures let loose in the ship. The Doctor, meanwhile, must contend with the Van Baalens, particularly Gregor, who seems to care more about salvaging parts from the TARDIS than in rescuing his android companion — who is revealed to be the youngest Van Baalen brother, a whiz kid who was promoted to captain of the ship by their late father. Gregor and Bram’s jealousy at being passed over led to the decision to turn their brother into an android for their own sick amusement. It’s a pretty messed-up story, and makes Gregor one of the more contemptible one-off villains of the season so far, though, like with many of this season’s contemptibles, he gets a sort-of redemption of his own by episode’s end. It rang false to me, in many ways, but hey, Steven Moffat era Doctor Who tends to either redeem its villains or reveal that they were never all that bad (the monster in last week’s “Hide”, or the villain in “Cold War” the week before). I guess Moffat is just sentimental — or really optimistic about the inherent goodness of others. Either way, it doesn’t really bother me the way it does some other viewers amongst the fandom, even if I didn’t think it really worked here.
Yet all of this is kind of easy to forgive when you consider how rare it is to get an episode centered on the TARDIS in the first place. The Heart of the TARDIS is the trippiest visual on this show in ages, and The Doctor’s despair upon believing that he’s truly lost the ship beyond all recovery is harrowing stuff. And I loved how the dynamic between Clara and The Doctor shifts, as Clara grow increasingly frightened by The Doctor, who insists that Clara has died twice, and that she’s a mystery to which he just doesn’t know the solution. “I look at you every single day and don’t understand a thing about you!” We’re actually seeing The Doctor being slowly driven mad by his inability to solve Clara. However, his almost hostile reaction to Clara’s presence dissipates once he realizes that Clara doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. Clara isn’t some alien or android or trick — she’s just Clara. The mystery remains, yes, but The Doctor is relieved that there isn’t a sinister motive behind Clara’s presence.
Ultimately, “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” is a good, if underwhelming, episode. Yet I still haven’t really lost confidence that the season is ramping up for a big conclusion, given the amount of backstory and hints we’ve been given the past two weeks about Doctor Who mythos. There’s a larger story in play here, and while the little picture occasionally suffers when set against the big one, I’d be genuinely surprised if the big picture didn’t prove worth the trouble.