Saturday, October 26, 2013

50th Anniversary Countdown: Doctor Who 7.11: "Journey to the Centre of the T.A.R.D.I.S.

“Salvage of a lifetime. You meant the ship, I meant Clara.”
-The Doctor

“Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” had the potential to be a really intriguing episode of “Doctor Who,” but a “big, friendly” reset button at the end of the episode kind of ruined it for me. Clara learned so much about the Doctor, and has such, had the potential to be a really special companion, by in resolving the episode’s crisis, the Doctor made her forget all of it. Actually, now it’s starting to make me think of what happened to Donna back in the day. This isn’t quite so tragic, because Clara will have future adventures with the Doctor to remember, but I still don’t love the idea of erasing the companion’s memory of something. Anyway, it doesn’t really surprise me that the author of this episode is Steve Thompson. He’s the “other” writer on “Sherlock.” You know, the one who isn’t Stephen Moffat or Mark Gatiss? I always found Thompson’s “Sherlock” episodes to be the weakest of each season, and I guess that carries over to “Doctor Who” as well.

The premise of this episode is pretty cool. The Doctor and Clara are bouncing around time and space, as they do, when a space salvage vessel grabs hold of the TARDIS. This made me think of the late, great “Firefly,” which made me happy. The atmosphere of the salvage ship was vaguely Serenity-like, although you know Captain Mal wouldn’t hold with tractor beaming unsuspecting vessels passing by. He was too honorable for that sort of thing. Anyway, this particular salvage vessel is crewed by the Van Baalen brothers, Gregor and Bram, and their surprisingly life-like android, Tricky. We later learn that Tricky is actually human, but he was in a bad accident which resulted in loss of vision and speech and amnesia. So his brothers thought it would be a good idea to let him think he was an android. Some brothers they are. As we see throughout the episode, the Van Baalen brothers (with the exception of Tricky) are pretty much just out for themselves. They care about the latest score, and that’s it.

The cool premise, however, gets bogged down with twenty pounds of plot trying to fit into a five pound bag. Everything that happens in the episode is kicked off by the TARDIS sustaining some serious damage when the Van Baalens tractor beam her into their ship. The Doctor finds himself outside the TARDIS after the crash, but Clara is stuck inside. He promises the Van Baalens the salvage of a lifetime if they help him save Clara, and he appears to set a timer on the TARDIS’s self-destruct sequence to give them a little extra motivation. The Van Baalens, however, even with that motivation, keep getting distracted trying to take pieces of the TARDIS. One of them tries to strip down the console, while the other wants to steal some living metal that the TARDIS can use to make any machine you can think of. The living metal room was really beautiful, actually. It looked like a tree with lanterns on it. The TARDIS doesn’t like people taking her apart, obviously, so she starts rearranging herself to try and confuse the Van Baalens.

Meanwhile, Clara’s been running around lost in the TARDIS, trying to escape this burned mummy looking creature that keeps chasing her. She finds herself in a storage room of little trinkets, and then she hits the motherlode. She finds the TARDIS library. In it, she finds a book called “The History of the Time War,” and she learns the Doctor’s real name. Although, of course, she doesn’t say it out loud, so we still don’t know what it is. The episode overall gave us a glimpse of many areas of the TARDIS that we’ve never seen before. I especially enjoyed the cameo by the in-ground swimming pool (that I think was used to catch River when she was falling back in series 6). That’s what really ties the whole episode together, I think. Delving into the TARDIS, the true heart of the show. Anyway, Clara is reunited with the Doctor and the Van Baalens pretty early on in the episode. The Doctor figures out that there’s a crack in time, and she is still in the TARDIS, just on a slightly skewed timeline, and he uses that knowledge to bring her in sync with everyone else. There’s still the problem of the burned mummy creatures to deal with, though. There’s plenty of running around the TARDIS trying to avoid them, and it’s obvious that the Doctor knows what they are and doesn’t want to say. It turns out that they’re the future of Clara, a Van Baalen brother, and Tricky. They got burned up in the T.A.R.D.I.S. power source, which is a dying star that Time Lord technology has managed to perpetually hold back from becoming a black hole.

The Doctor thinks that if they interrupt the timeline by keeping the Van Baalens from getting burnt up, then maybe Clara will be okay, too. That plan doesn’t work, though, because the Van Baalens end up dying in the power source room despite the Doctor’s best efforts. The Doctor and Clara find themselves in a room with a big cliff, which the Doctor realizes is the T.A.R.D.I.S. trying to prevent them from reaching her heart. They have a big confrontation, where the Doctor starts grilling Clara about the previous two versions of her he has met. Clara knows nothing about Oswin or Victorian Clara, so she’s pretty freaked out by this. The Doctor finally believes Clara, and he asks her to trust him one more time as the jump over the cliff and into the T.A.R.D.I.S. engine room. The engine is shattered in pieces, but the T.A.R.D.I.S. has slowed down time to keep the epic explosion from happening immediately.

The Doctor has a remote that could potentially disable the salvage ship tractor beam, and he decides that the only way to get out of this predicament is to go back in time and deliver the remote to himself and Clara before the T.A.R.D.I.S. is damaged. Clara is upset because she doesn’t want to forget all that she has just learned about the Doctor and herself. The Doctor smugly says that having some secrets is a good thing, and Clara doesn’t protest that too much. I do so hate the excessive use of the reset button on this show. So yeah, the Doctor steps through the rift in time and gives his former self and Clara the “big friendly” reset button, they push the button, and all is well. Clara is just getting ready for bed following a shower, and the Doctor asks her if she feels safe, and Clara says that of course she does. That’s clearly not going to last for long.

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