Doctor Who, Series 7, Episode 11: “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”
Written by Stephen Thompson
Directed by Mat King
Airs Saturdays at 8pm (ET) on BBC America
This week, on Doctor Who: The Doctor races to save Clara from within the bowels of the TARDIS
The TARDIS is a wonderful creation. It’s the second best invention of the series, after regeneration, which is just too handy not to have at number one. It’s a living, sentient, ever changing space/time ship that, as explored in season six’s fantastic “The Doctor’s Wife”, has been the most constant and perfectly matched Companion for the Doctor since the series premiered in 1963. Given the constraints of television however, particularly on the tight budget this series has almost always struggled with, for most of the series’ history, the camera has stayed out of the interior of the TARDIS, taking only occasional strolls to the swimming pool, a secondary control room (love the paneled look during the Fourth Doctor’s tenure!), or the Zero Room, not to mention the seemingly endless corridors.
This week, that changes, with the first serious look into the interior of the TARDIS since “The Invasion of Time” or “Castrovalva”. Fortunately, the production team seem to have squirreled away a sizeable chunk of the budget to do the ship proud. The most recent interior scenes, in “The Doctor’s Wife”, were hardly anything to write home about; here, the TARDIS looks gorgeous. The look of the corridors meshes well with the new design of the console room and other oft-mentioned rooms, such as the library and pool, get their due. The library in particular is gorgeous and Clara’s line that it’s the TARDIS just showing off is appropriate and telling of their cordial, but somewhat strained relationship.
Some may have expected the writer, Stephen Thompson, to back away from actually showing the heart of the TARDIS, the Eye of Harmony, or other significant and much storied areas of the ship, but he takes on the challenge and the visual effects team do a great job executing his vision, making these rooms just as epic and memorable as they need to be. The etching in the glass bulbs of the architectural reconfiguration system is a lovely detail and the occasional illuminated portholes glow with a not unfriendly, but certainly HAL-like light, adding a much needed reminder that the TARDIS is alive and watching.
That’s not the only 2001 reference either- the opening moments bring a pleasant surprise as the score quotes from and plays with the famous musical phrase from “Also Sprach Zarathustra” . After a while, the underscoring becomes a bit repetitive, circling back to a variation of the Eleventh Doctor’s theme a few times too many, but on the whole, it’s a memorable and effective score. Also used as music, briefly, is a series of intertwined excerpts from episodes past, when one of the salvagers investigates the console. We clearly hear Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter and first Companion, describing the TARDIS as she did in the pilot, “An Unearthly Child”, along with the Ninth Doctor talking to Rose in “Rose”, and many other Doctors and Companions throughout the years. It’s a beautiful detail for long-term fans of the series and the kind of touch completely welcomed, particularly during the 50th anniversary year. Moffat and company have been throwing details like this in, here and there, throughout the back-half of the season. Hopefully there will be more shoutouts as restrained as this in the coming weeks.
Unfortunately, not everything works in “The Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”, and the single biggest and most frustrating flaw is something the series seems to have become utterly reliant upon. The reset button. Here, it’s a literal button, at other times, it’s been more figurative, but either way, Moffat and the rest of the Doctor Who team need to stop working their way into corners they can’t get out of without cheating. The most glaring example is still the conclusion of series three, though “The End of Time” gives that a run for its money, but even on a smaller scale, Moffat and the other Who writers keep going back to the “alter the timeline”/”convenient memory wipe” well and it needs to stop. If there’s no better solution to a timey-wimey problem, don’t go the timey-wimey route.
Moffat has been working overtime to get fans interested in the mystery of the Doctor’s name, but honestly, very few seem to care and even fewer want an answer. Here, Clara finds out his name. From happening to page through a book for a few seconds. That hardly fits with the significance given River’s knowledge of his name in “Silence of the Library”/“Forest of the Dead”. The “one time [s]he could” learn the Doctor’s name is… by leafing through a book he keeps on display in the TARDIS library? But this is only brought up to tease viewers, because a few moments later, Clara conveniently forgets the whole episode. This tidy solution is an emotional contrivance as well- now the Doctor needn’t deal with the fallout from revealing to Clara that he’s been withholding vital information he knows that she wants and deserves to hear.
In the episode, this resolution works well enough and the groundwork is laid for it throughout with Clara’s hand, but in the larger context of the season and series as a whole, it’s incredibly sloppy. RTD struggled with this kind of deus ex rewrite-history-a, Moffat struggles with it as well, and it’s an issue that often presents itself with time travel stories, which can so easily fix conflicts this way. That doesn’t make it less frustrating as a viewer. One can’t help but expect at least one more such contrivance in the episodes to come this season, particularly concerning the Doctor’s name. Hopefully this prediction will prove unfounded, though, and all in all, this is a fun, interesting, revealing episode that lives up to the high expectations of its title.
What did you think of the episode? Anyone else frustrated with the Big Friendly Buttons? What did you think of the TARDIS interiors? Which rooms on the TARDIS would you most want to explore? Post your thoughts below!