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Saturday, 18 May 2013

Doctor Who - Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS

A nerd-tastic set up manages to stay the right side of plausible


With any story which explores a previously unexplained aspect of a show's mythology, there's always the possibility that whatever revelation that is made will anger more than it might please. Or to put it more succinctly, the Midichlorian problem from Star Wars.

The Doctor and Clara are meandering across space when they get caught by a passing salvage ship. The damaged TARDIS lands on board the salvage vessel (manned by the Van Balen brothers), and Clara is nowhere to be found. After trapping the crew inside the TARDIS and activating a self-destruct timer, the episode is ready to explore the previously unexplored mysteries of the TARDIS.


The salvage of a lifetime. (image courtesy of guardian.co.uk)

What follows is a very enjoyable though overall frustrating adventure that suffers from a couple of crucial flaws. The main problem lies with Ashley Walter's character Gregor, the leader of the salvage trio. With the clock ticking away, it's not long before Gregor suggests that they split up to speed up the search for Clara. Unsurprisingly, Gregor is not interested in finding Clara; his mind is fixed on salvaging as much as possible from the TARDIS. They eventually find themselves in a room which contains the architectural reconfiguration system (aka a machine that makes machines). Rather than appreciating the wonder before him, Gregor decides to take a circuit system for himself. The TARDIS is not best pleased and creates an endless maze in order to keep the circuit from leaving the ship.

At this point, I struggled to believe that Gregor would continue to think that he could win. When faced with a machine as miraculous as the TARDIS, he wants to destroy it and sell it on piece by piece. Despite the strange wonder he sees in front of him, he decides not to listen to the Doctor, the one person who has a grasp of what the TARDIS is capable of. It was too unbelievable, even for a character as despicable as Gregor. It served a greater function to the plot (the TARDIS' playful tricks causing more problems for the crew), but this was at the expense of character integrity.

The first half of the episode was certainly the weaker part. Clara was essentially left alone to stumble through some of the hidden delights of the TARDIS such as the swimming pool and a grand library. Eventually Clara is reunited with the Doctor and the brothers and all seems well. The self destruct countdown was fake, a necessary motivation for the brothers to stay and help. However, the TARDIS' engines are very damaged. This real problem ramps up the threat and drives the episode forward.


A menace at the heart of the TARDIS. (image courtesy of digitalspy.co.uk)
A rift in time is causing the past and future to spill into the present. Echoes, doppelgängers  and some very threatening volcanic rock figures are causing all sorts of problems. Tricky, the android brother, gets injured by expelled fuel rod. Gregor's refusal to cut him free reveals that Tricky is not an android, but a human. After an explosion which damaged his eyes and voicebox, his brothers decided to play a joke on Tricky. They convinced him he was an android but let the joke play out too long and didn't tell him otherwise.

Unfortunately, this too felt unbelievable. Tricky was in line to become captain of the ship when their father died, but Gregor wanted this for himself and made his own brother into his subordinate. Everything that followed from the reveal of this deception was very good and well acted, but the initial reveal itself was too far-fetched.

They eventually reach the Eye of Harmony and with the volcanic figures closing in, the Doctor's worst fears are seemingly coming true. He has worked out that the figures are their future selves, but it's only when he sees himself that he realises that they must be able to interrupt their own timeline. The Doctor and Clara manage to escape, though Gregor and Tricky aren't so lucky as they fuse together into the twin bodied volcanic rock figure as the future had always intended.


The Eye of Harmony. (image courtesy of telegraph.co.uk)
They reach the engine room where The Doctor works out how he can reset time. This involves the use of that most feared plot device, the Deus Ex Machina; presented here as a Big Friendly Button. Initially this felt lazy, but I've come to appreciate more thanks to the nice reveal involving Clara's burnt hand. Unfortunately, the big time reset makes most of what happened in the previous 40 minutes irrelevant. The overarching story of this series concerning the Doctor's name is teased once more. Clara discovers it whilst hiding in the library and almost spills the beans, only for the Doctor to stop her and erase all  memory of it with his Big Friendly Button.

Ultimately, Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS was not the disaster it could have so easily been, but the do-over at the end means that it was rather inconsequential in the grand scheme of the show.

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