Series 7, Episode 11
Doctor Who has always been a series where the possibilities are infinite. They are able to travel through all of time and space. But not only that, the ship which enables the Doctor to do that is very interesting too, and its rare we get an episode focusing on it. As stated, it’s mainly the device which allows them to travel wherever they want to go. In this episode we get to explore the TARDIS itself.
An episode last series, The Doctor’s Wife, one of my all-time favourite episodes, used the idea of the TARDIS potentially being a dangerous place to be trapped. The reason in that episode was that it had been taken over by an evil entity called House, while the ‘soul’ of the TARDIS had been put into the body of a woman named Idris. The main point of that episode was that we got to know the TARDIS herself better and the Doctor’s relationship with her. Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS is more about getting to know the TARDIS as a place rather than as a
person living being.
The sights we see in the TARDIS are those that have been hinted at but not seen in previous episodes, such as the swimming pool and the observatory. Clara sees both of these as she walks past. Then she sees an impressive library rather like the one the Beast gives Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Clara response to this sight is “Now that’s just showing off”.
There are also some more surreal elements. The library itself has books in liquid form, which are stored like potions in bottles and come out as voices in purple smoke. Then there’s the architectural reconfiguration machine, which looks a bit like a metal tree, with glowing orbs growing from it. Its purpose is to make other machines. We also see the heart of the TARDIS, which is in a white room, and in the form we see it has already been exploded and the pieces of the engine are held frozen in time in the hope they can be pieced together. However the Doctor says there is no way to do it, but after seeing that Clara has the words Big Friendly Button burnt on her palm he figures out a way to find the exact time that the TARDIS became damaged so he can go back rewrite what has happened and prevent it.
There are similarities to The Doctor’s Wife in terms of the peril they find themselves in, such as the characters being trapped in a maze and finding themselves in the same room they started in, as well as visions of horrific potential futures. The difference between the threat in The Doctor’s Wife and the threat in Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS really is the intention of the one in control. House was very evil, so he was just doing it to be sadistic. In this case the TARDIS has been damaged and as the Doctor himself states, she is acting rather like a scared animal. The monsters of the week are what appear to be creatures made of molten lava with red glowing eyes. The twist, which I can’t speak for anyone else, but I saw it coming, is that one of these is Clara in a possible future where she dies having been burnt alive during this TARDIS disaster.
The Doctor and Clara get some further development in this episode. In the beginning they are doing their usual banter, the Doctor saying the TARDIS is more than a simply an appliance (“We’re not talking cheese grater here!”) and Clara comparing him to guys who can’t date a girl their mother disapproves of. But things go further as the episode goes on. Clara finds out the Doctor’s real name in a book about the history of the Time War, and the Doctor tells her about the other incarnations of her he has met, Future Oswin in Asylum of the Daleks and Victorian Clara in The Snowmen. He even gets angry with her, asking if she’s a trap. Poor Clara is baffled and confused at all this, and after seeing her react this way it’s reiterated by the Doctor that Clara is just a normal girl. Having reset time these revelations have been wiped from Clara’s memory, but they serve as hints for what is to come.
The weakest part of the episode is the reason for the TARDIS becoming damaged. It’s not the reason per se, but that it adds little to the episode. A salvage crew of three men, Gregor, Bram and Tricky find the TARDIS and, not knowing what they are dealing with or at first that it is a living thing, they try to break into it causing it to leak fuel and time internally. They come aboard the TARDIS and the Doctor tricks them into helping him explore it to find a lost Clara. One problem is with so much going on we have barely any time to get to know these characters. What we know is that they are the Van Baalen brothers. The youngest, Tricky, appears to be an android, but it turns out he was almost fatally injured in an accident causing him to lose his memory and have to be rebuilt using mechanical parts. As a joke to relieve boredom the other two told him that he was an android. Again there isn’t much time to focus on this, but it’s an incredibly nasty thing for them to do. We get a hint that it may have been motivated by jealousy as Tricky was apparently their late father’s favourite son because he was the smartest, but it really makes you dislike the other two.
I think this episode would have been much, much stronger had they not included the salvage crew and found some other way for the TARDIS to be damaged, as it would have worked much better if the Doctor and Clara were the only characters with speaking parts in the episode. It would have allowed more time for further exploring the Doctor and Clara’s relationship and story arc this series, although what we got as far as that was concerned was still good. The episode also provided us with an opportunity to see the inner workings of the TARDIS.