Monday, 29 April 2013
Episode Review - "Journey to the Centre of the Tardis"
"Journey to the Centre of the Tardis" is one of those episodes that doesn't come along too often - one that takes something you'd wished for since you were a child...and turns it into reality on the screen in front of you. Season 6 was the last time it happened - with Neil Gaiman's "The Doctor's Wife" fulfilling that childhood wish of the Doctor and the Tardis actually talking to one another. "Journey to the Centre of the Tardis" fulfilled another wish - that of exploring the innards of that incredible, wonderful and infinite blue box. It was hyped beyond belief - and that's always a concern as the overhyping leads to disappointment in certain quarters. Not this one. I wasn't disappointed - but I don't really go in for all the spin and hype.
I'm honestly not sure what people were expecting - personally, I'd have been more than happy with an entire episode of Matt Smith's Doctor showing us around the Tardis like some hyperactive tour guide - but in a 45 minute episode that needs a plot and characters how much of the Tardis did you really expect to see? We actually saw quite a lot - definitely more than I thought. We got to see the library, swimming pool, artefact room, observatory, Eye of Harmony and engines, not to mention endless corridors, echoes of the future and past together with time zombies and a not very likeable salvage crew. Not bad for 45 minutes.
The Tardis herself was obviously the first star of the episode. Ejecting the Doctor to keep him safe whilst leaving Clara trapped on board once again showed us the antagonism between two of the "ladies" in the Doctor's life. However, having done that, the Tardis DID lead Clara to one of the "echo" console rooms to keep her safe and, I guess if she wanted to she could have kept Clara out of the Library, etc. Unease between the two but no battle lines drawn yet then. Just WHAT is it between these two? What does the Tardis know or sense? What is she trying to protect the Doctor from? I mean, there were definite maternal feelings between the Doctor and the Tardis - so much so that even Clara commented that the Doctor is like a "guy who can't ask a girl out unless his mother approves". These feelings seemed to be reinforced later in the episode when the Doctor noted that the Tardis had always "been there for me, always taken care of me". The constant stroking of the console by the Doctor, his words of reassurance to the Tardis take on a much deeper meaning after watching this episode. For 900 years, she really has been the one and only constant in his life - a truly symbiotic relationship because I honestly can't see one surviving without the other. True love exists - and it exists between a Tardis and her Time Lord.
It was the rooms we wanted to see though - we were shortchanged in 1978 when the interior of the Tardis in "Invasion of Time" consisted of hospital corridors and again in "The Doctor's Wife" where one corridor was "redecorated" and re-used time and time again. We weren't shortchanged this time. The artefact room was wonderful - with the Doctor's cot, Amy's handmade Tardis etc; the swimming pool and observatory we didn't get to explore but the piece de resistance was the library. Oh, that library. I want to live in that library - it was a thing of absolute beauty with some delightfully creative touches such as the Gallifreyan Encyclopedia being in liquid form which is right up there with the "fish that swim in fog". Of course, the library contains books. One book in particular. "The History of the Time War" was perplexing. It was on a pedestal - not hidden away. Judging by the title, it wasn't in Gallifreyan - and who wrote it? Someone who, presumably, knew the Doctor's name. Now, this was another piece of intrigue. Clara flicks through the book, reads a few lines and says "so that's who...." before being interrupted by a time zombie. I can't make up my mind whether it would have said something very obvious like "John Smith aka the Doctor" or whether the name was one Clara recognised and put two and two together. Another option is that the book mentioned the last survivor of the Time War - and as it seems Clara heard the Doctor's speech in "The Rings of Akhaten" she obviously knows that's him.
The Doctor, of course, had his own issues as regards Clara. The mystery of who she is seems to be consuming him - he obviously cares for her deeply and we were shown this more than once in this episode. From his noting that the salvage of a lifetime wasn't the Tardis, it was Clara to his despair when he thought she would die again at the Eye of Harmony and his total relief when she didn't know what he was talking about near the engine room when he told her about the "other" Claras. That confrontation was partly for our benefit - to show us that Clara believes herself to be a normal girl. It's doubtful that she is but SHE believes herself to be... and does the Doctor? It depends on whether he remembers their conversation after time was reset - I suspect he does because he commented at the end about living "two days in one". Going forward it's going to be very, very interesting to see what, if anything, Clara remembers.
I would have been happy if the episode was JUST the Doctor, Clara and the Tardis but there were a few more characters to contend with. The salvage crew were disposable. They didn't add an awful lot but they gave us a bit of villainy with a touch of redemption at the end. The time zombies were really quite fascinating - products of alternate timelines - so, in essence, Clara died yet again...this time at the Eye of Harmony. They were creepy, threatening and very well directed so that you never really saw them in focus. It was a very powerful scene when Clara realised that one of the time zombies was, in fact, herself. Her disbelief and shock a strong counterpoint to the Doctor's despair. Having "died" a couple of times before, the audience is now left with a little bit of doubt - not much...but you can't really be sure anymore that Clara won't "shuffle off this mortal coil" again in the future. Rory Williams, eat your heart out.
Of course, the "big friendly button" at the end was a terrific leg-pull - and to be fair, it was there right at the start of the episode. After fandom complaints about resets I found it really funny that they used a device that had been labelled "big friendly button" - and it was red, of course. It didn't bother me - we saw a crack in time similar to Season 5, there was time leakage all over the place, echoes of the past and future...it was pretty obvious that there would be a timey-wimey resolution.
From me then, lots of love for this episode. In particular, the chemistry between Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman is off the scale and the character of Clara has bought out different aspects to the Eleventh Doctor. Clara seems real in a way that others haven't. A real person with real problems and issues - she's smart but scared. She doesn't take everything in her stride - a few trips in the Tardis and previous companions were treating it as normal...Clara doesn't. The Doctor, of course, is intrigued...she's a mystery he can't solve and it's driving him to distraction. He's very much drawn to her - their little touches and hand holding being evidence of this. Hat's off therefore to both Matt and Jenna - Matt is just perfect from week to week and Jenna is really hitting her stride.
Kudos also to Mat King - who directed the episode with such aplomb - and Stephen Thompson who somewhat redeemed himself after "Curse of the Black Spot" (where practically the only good thing was Hugh Bonneville).
The voices heard when Bram tries to dismantle the console - I heard Ian, the Third Doctor, the Fourth Doctor and the Ninth Doctor but for a full list then go to the BBC Site.
Whispers. Now, I'm probably barking up the wrong tree here but there were "whispers in the dark" last week in "Hide" and now we get whispers when the Gallifreyan Encycylopedia leaked. Links to the Whispermen perhaps? Are they like the Silence and already there?
Episode Rating: 10/10 - as far as this episode goes, if I could then I would "hug it and squeeze it and call it George"...