DOCTOR WHO 7.10: “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”

journey01You might call this “Inside the Spaceship — the Extended Cut,” because at last DOCTOR WHO explores more of the Doctor’s wondrous stolen vehicle than ever before. On the (slightly) downside, this story was a pretty much what I was afraid it would be: a travelogue of the TARDIS, providing teasing glimpses of the interior over the course of a narrative concerned with other matters.

Inside the spaceship: The Doctor (Matt Smith) wants to help smooth relations between Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and the TARDIS by teaching his new companion how to fly the ship, so he puts it in “Basic Mode.” Almost the instant Clara touches the controls, the TARDIS is rocked by power loss, explosions and music is heard. Outside, the TARDIS grasped by gigantic metal magno-grab arms and cast onto a pile of debris aboard a salvage ship run by the Van Baalen Bros: Gregor (Ashley Walters), Bram (Mark Oliver) and the android Tricky (Jahvel Hall). As the Doctor frantically tries to regain control, Clara asks if there’s a way to fix the damage. “Oh, yes, big, friendly button,” he tells her. Then the console explodes. Something rolls toward Clara and she picks it up, but it’s too hot to handle and she drops it. Aboard the salvage ship, the Van Baalens think they have a derelict escape pod, but Tricky spots two feet in the junk pile — which belong to the Doctor. He blames them for breaking his ship, and then realizes Clara is trapped inside. He enlists the brothers to help search for her, promising them the salvage of a lifetime.

jopurney02Inside the spaceship: Clara awakens in a corridor with pain in her burned hand. She wanders to a door with a red light and debates opening it She does, and is confronted by a huge fireball. She runs until she hears a growling noise and takes refuge in a room containing the Doctor’s cot and a model of the TARDIS once built by Amy Pond. In the console room, the brothers are astonished by the size of the TARDIS but refuse to look for Clara, so the Doctor locks the doors and activates the TARDIS self-destruct mechanism, forcing the brothers to help. Clara moves on and finds a library, including a book called The History of the Great Time War. She pages through it and mumbles, “So that’s who…” before she hears the growling and hides again. We see the dark source of the noise: a zombielike creature. Clara notices the burns on her hand are in the shape of letters. She returns to the console room only to confront another zombie. The Doctor finds the console room and senses an “echo” of Clara. He uses Gregor’s scanner to locate her and creates a temporary bridge into the echo and pulls Clara out before the zombie touches her. Gregor asks the Doctor to end the countdown and the Time Lord reveals the self-destruct gambit was a ruse. However, the TARDIS engines have become unstable due to time leakage from the accident, so now they all have to find the engine room and prevent it from exploding. Along the way, Tricky is surprised to be injured, so the Doctor forces Gregor to tell the truth: He’s not an android. The brothers played a trick on Tricky after he lost his memory in an accident. Bram sneaks back to the console room and begins dismantling to central console, but he is attacked by a zombie and apparently killed.

The group is forced to pass through the containment chamber holding the Eye of Harmony, which powers the TARDIS and is currently emitting dangerous radiation. More ossified time zombies confront the group, and Gregor’s scanner reveals one zombie’s readings are similar to Clara’s. The Doctor confesses the zombies are versions of them from the future — roasted to death by the Eye of Harmony. If he can shut down the engines that future doesn’t have to happen. But Tricky and Gregor are touched by their zombie doppelgangers and become conjoined and absorbed by them — the same fate Bram met. The Doctor and Clara flee toward the engine room and find themselves perched on a cliff. Fearing the worst, the Doctor asks how she can be here when she’s died twice before, but she doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he realizes she really is just an ordinary girl. Believing the cliff to be an illusion, the Doctor and Clara make a leap of faith — and land in the engine room. But they are too late: It has already exploded, and the TARDIS is trying to contain the energy in a stasis field, but it won’t last. The Doctor realizes there is no way to fix the problem. Clara glances at her hand and sees the burn letters resolved into “big friendly button.” The Doctor realizes they have to go back to the moment of the disaster and activate the magnetic beacon (the device she grabbed that burned her hand). Returning to the console room, the Doctor prepares to take the beacon into the past via the time rift. Clara asks what she will remember and points out that she read his name in a book. He tells her she won’t remember anything. The Doctor steps into the past and rolls the beacon to Clara. He warns his old self, who takes the beacon from her, reads the words and activates it. The magnetic beacon keeps the salvage ship’s magno-grab arms from seizing the TARDIS, and both ships go their separate ways.

journey03So… the TARDIS interior at last. The only other times the TARDIS interior was central to the plot were in the Fourth Doctor story “The Invasion of Time” and the Fifth Doctor’s “Castrovalva,” while what lay beyond the console room played a bit part in “Terminus” and more significantly in “The Doctor’s Wife.” Older fans will be familiar with the sad tale of the industrial strike that forced the producers to abandon sets for TIOT and use existing locations – mostly brick walls – to stand in for the corridors of the TARDIS, making the interior strange but less-than-impressive. Although it worked wonderfully for the cloister room, in my opinion.  But this season there was no such obstacle, so the interior was carefully designed.

Although the cloister bell was heard in this story, the cloister room itself was bypassed. Instead we got to see some very interesting new rooms, including the observatory (which looked suspiciously similar to the light chamber in “Tooth and Claw”); the architectural-reconfiguration room, which apparently is responsible for… er, reconfiguring the TARDIS interior but not connected to the chameleon circuit; and the library, which is as vast as one would hope. There he has the Encyclopedia Gallifreya, knowledge stored in liquid form!

Also in the library, the Doctor has a book called The History of the Time War, which I presume the Doctor has not read – because reading “fixes” the words as unchangeable, according to “The Angels Take Manhattan.” But how could Clara know the Doctor’s real name is in the book, unless it says something like, “… also known as the Doctor…”? That would make her the only character besides River Song to know the Doctor’s real name. But now she’s forgotten it.

journey04This is the first time the much-mentioned TARDIS swimming pool has been seen since “The Invasion of Time.” And it’s a different pool, since that one was jettisoned in “Castrovalva.” But the pool was back by the end of the 10th Doctor’s reign. I assume when the TARDIS took on the “coral” design it rebuilt the pool. When the TARDIS reconfigured itself in “The Eleventh Hour,” it kept the pool. Now that she knows where the pool is, perhaps we can look forward to Clara donning a bathing suit and going for a dip?

Another returning feature was the Eye of Harmony. The Eye is actually a star suspended in time at the moment of its collapse, harnessing the potential energy of the collapse that will never happen. In its first appearance, in the Fourth Doctor story “The Deadly Assassin,” the Eye was hidden under the Panopticon on Gallifrey and it beamed energy to power TARDISes throughout time and space. The singularity was balanced against the mass of the planet to keep it contained. In the 1996 TV movie, it was revealed that the Eighth Doctor’s TARDIS (and presumably others) had an Eye of Harmony onboard to provide its own power. That’s why the Eye is there now, but the Doctor did not explain the relationship between the Eye in the Panopticon and the one aboard the TARDIS.

Of course, this brings up a HUGE continuity problem: If the TARDIS has an Eye of Harmony onboard, then why did the Ninth Doctor insist he had to stop on the dimensional rift in Cardiff to power up the TARDIS with rift energy? One presumed that the destruction of Gallifrey in The Great Time War forced the Doctor to come up with a substitute for the Eye at the Panopticon. But if there was an Eye onboard, how could the TARDIS have been drained of energy by the journey to Pete’s World in the 10th Doctor story “Rise of the Cybermen”? The Eye’s power is infinite, so it wouldn’t have mattered if the TARDIS had switched universes. And perhaps the reason a TARDIS is infinite is to balance its mass against the infinite potential energy of the singularity?!

Aside from that gaping plot hole, I also really did not like the Doctor resorting to rewriting time in order to save the TARDIS. It makes a mess of the narrative and leaves open the question of why he doesn’t do it more often – there cannot be that many Fixed Points in time! I suppose we could justify it by suggesting the timeline was already muddled because the damaged TARDIS was “leaking” both past and future, so his interference wasn’t so much interference as taking advantage of an unusual situation: There isn’t always a convenient time rift to toss a message through.

journey05Also, I must confess that the time zombies totally threw me out of the story, because I knew that there was no way that those creatures were normally in the TARDIS, so I was distracted by trying to figure out what they were and where they came from instead of concentrating on the quest to rescue Clara.

Among the missed opportunities I lament: a chance to revisit the “secondary” console room from the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, introduced in “The Masque of Mandragora.” (And, for that matter, the 10th Doctor’s beloved coral control room.) And what about the Sontaran patrol that entered the TARDIS in “The Invasion of Time” but never came out? What happened to them? Maybe they were jettisoned in “Castrovalva,” but it would be nice to know for sure, and what better opportunity will there ever be?

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

  • How many tight scrapes could the Doctor have gotten out of if he had taught previous companions how to fly the TARDIS?
  • How did the Doctor and Clara end up so widely separated: She was unconscious in a corridor, and he was outside the TARDIS! How did that happen? When was there time for him to fall out and get buried in rubble?
  • The appearance of the cliff in the TARDIS engine room reminded me of the sea-powered engines seen in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.”
  • The white nothingness of the engine room recalled the Zero Room from “Castrovalva.”
  • How could Tricky possibly believe he’s an android just because his brothers told him he was? The gag couldn’t have gone on for more than a week before he realized he was breathing and got hungry and needed to use a restroom, etc.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Never get into a spaceship with a madman!” — the Doctor

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