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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Doctor Who Review: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Doctor Who

Generations of Whovians have wondered what lay in the deepest corners of the box that's "bigger on the inside". In the classic series we've seen companions' rooms and other sections, but never have we had a topsy turvy adventure leading straight to the heart of the TARDIS itself. "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" certainly delivered on its promise, and gave us a few extra bits along the way.

When the TARDIS is caught in the magno-grab of a salvage vessel, things start to go very very wrong. The Doctor and Clara are separated, a tear in time appears on board, and there are burning zombie monsters running amok. The Doctor asks for the help of the Van Baalen brothers in rescuing Clara, offering them the salvage of a lifetime.

Doctor Who
Tons of wires and a wooden box! Congratulations!
Let's put the adventure of the episode aside for a moment and talk about what we saw (and heard) inside the  Big Blue Box. Now, for a whole list of references you can check out BBC One's blog, The Fourth Dimension. As Clara ambles around (and in some cases races through) the corridors, we get a glimpse of a few different rooms, like the observatory with a gigantic telescope (which you might remember from the Series 2 episode Tooth and Claw). We get to see a room with a kind of living metal tree with glowing orbs that can grow any type of device or machine that the Doctor requires. And, finally, at long last, we get to see the swimming pool.

Doctor Who
In a surprise twist and crossover, Moriarty unveils his plan to destroy Clara.
Clara also comes across the enormous TARDIS library, stacked high with all kinds of books and documents. In it she also finds items from the past such as the Doctor's cot (or crib, for us Americans), the wooden TARDIS made by a young Amelia Pond, and the Seventh Doctor's first umbrella. And, when hiding from the Time Zombie, she stumbles into the Encyclopedia Gallifreya. I thought it was really interesting that the Time Lords kept an oral record of their history in bottles, as that is the oldest form of passing down stories, culture, and history. Among the mumbles and whispers we could hear something about "The Medusa Cascade". But what she comes across before that sent my fan-sense a-tingling.

Doctor Who
As Clara flips through the pages of the history of the Time War, she spots something that intrigues her above all else. Although she is interrupted by the Time Zombie, she is able to see something that makes her say "So that's Who."

Yes. Clara Oswald has learned the Doctor's name.

Getting back to the story, Bram Van Baalen is tasked with junking the entire TARDIS console for scrap. When he lifts open a piece of the control panel, we (and maybe he?) hear a multitude of voices from the past. Our friends at the TARDIS Data Core wiki has provided a full list:

  • The voice of Susan Foreman says, "I made up the name 'TARDIS' from the initials: Time and Relative Dimension In Space." (TV: An Unearthly Child)
  • The Third Doctor saying, "The TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental" and his companion, Jo, asking "What does that mean?" (TV: Colony in Space)
  • The Eleventh Doctor saying, "You sexy thing!" then Idris (the TARDIS in human form) replying, "See, you do call me that! Is it my name?" followed by the Doctor's exclamation of "You bet it's your name!" (TV: The Doctor's Wife)
  • The Fourth Doctor saying, "That's trans-dimensional engineering. A key Time Lord discovery." (TV: The Robots of Death)
  • The Ninth Doctor saying, "The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn't get through that door, and believe me they've tried." (TV: Rose)
  • Martha Jones saying, "It's just a box with that room crammed in!". (TV: Smith and Jones)
  • Amy Pond saying, "We're in space!". (TV: The Beast Below)
  • Ian Chesterton asking, "It can move anywhere in time and space?" (TV: An Unearthly Child)
  • The Fifth Doctor asking, "You've changed the desktop theme, haven't you?" (TV: Time Crash)
Bram was later admitted to the psychiatric ward of the TARDIS
Now, I thought it was a little weird that he could just lift up the console like that. In Boomtown, Blon Slitheen  does so and is turned back into an egg. In The Parting of Ways, when Rose looks into the heart of the TARDIS that way, she becomes the Bad Wolf, and that leads to the Ninth Doctor's regeneration. Perhaps, because the ship was shut down, Bram could look into it (and climb down) unscathed. That is, until he met a Time Zombie down there.
Doctor Who
"I just wanted to see if you had any Jergen's!"

 Meanwhile, the Doctor, Tricky, and Gregor are trying to navigate the labyrinth the TARDIS has created because Gregor has stolen one of the orbs. It leads them back to the console room, which the Doctor describes as en echo (much like the pocket universe in Hide, last week). Clara, too, is stuck in an echo console room, but she has company. Using Gregor's sensor, the Doctor finds Clara and pulls her into their echo console room before the Time Zombie can touch her. Wibbly-wobbly, indeed.

As the team heads towards the center (or centre, for our British readers) of the TARDIS, they see images of the past and the Doctor reveals that there is a leak in time somewhere on board. As they continue on their way Clara hears a rumbling overhead. Then, in one of the more thrilling parts of the episode, beams start bursting through the walls and they run for their lives. When they find the two salvagers, Tricky is has been impaled through the shoulder by a beam. He tells Gregor to cut the arm off, as he is an android and can get a new one. But it's revealed that Gregor and Bram played a joke on their younger brother, and after an accident gave him cybernetic eyes and a new voice box and told him he was an android. Now that is going to make for one awkward Thanksgiving.

After Tricky is freed, the team needs to cross a very dangerous room. They need to pass by the Eye of Harmony. As I mentioned in my review for Hide (in which they used a subset of the Eye to enhance Emma's powers), the Eye of Harmony was integral to the plot of the 1996 movie and had been mentioned once before in the classic series. Here, we see it in its full awesomeness. A sun turning into a blackhole, trapped in its state of decay so as to power the TARDIS. Time Lord technology at its finest.

Doctor Who
Don't worry, it'll only turn you into a Time Zombie.
But the Time Zombies catch up with them and trap them between doorways. The Doctor reveals that what they're running themselves. The future has leaked into the TARDIS as well as the past, and it seems that the Doctor has failed to save Clara again. The remaining Van Baalen brothers try to fight off the monsters, but are turned into their zombie selves once again. Clara and the Doctor run, and find themselves...outside. But no, they are actually still in the TARDIS, very close to the engine room. This reminded me a lot of the wave-powered engine room of the ship in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship...just with less pterodactyls.

Doctor Who
Muuuuch better.
It's here that the Doctor finally confronts Clara. Is she a trick? A trap? How is it that he has been met her at different points in time, where she has died, and yet here she is once again right in front of him? But the Doctor, sensing how afraid and confused she is, realizes that although their meetings are strange, she is no one and nothing but Clara. Together, they make a leap of faith and jump into the heart of the TARDIS.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Also aboard the TARDIS? An old Templar knight.
Which, of course, is unlike anything we've ever seen (although it did remind me of the Zero Room in the Fifth Doctor's first episode, Castrovalva). The TARDIS, in what looks to be a room totally out of time and space, has contained the explosion temporarily. The Doctor becomes distraught because he cannot figure out a way to save the old girl, who had always been there for him. But when he holds Clara's hand he notices something, that it had been burned....and that burn had written itself into her flesh: Big Friendly Button.

Doctor Who
"Good thing...because I was SOL there for a second..."

In the biggest (and probably most literal) Deus Ex Machina ever, the Doctor reaches through the rift in time and tosses the device used by the Van Baalen brothers over to his past self. Clara picks it up and is burned, and when the Doctor retrieves it he laughs and pushes the button (if only Staples had a product placement deal). Time resets itself, the Van Baalen brothers are reunited, Clara and the Doctor continue on their journey, and the TARDIS races through time and space once more.

Overall I thought this was an absolutely exciting episode. We saw more of the TARDIS than ever before, had a race through tight corridors and expansive rooms, were given some wonderful recalls to the past, and given hints that will lead us directly to the 50th anniversary special. There were a few misses I thought: I would like to have seen another old console room instead of another echo room, and I thought the Van Baalen brothers were a pretty week ensemble. But the Time Zombies were very creepy and unsettling, especially when we learned who they were. And I can forgive the "deus ex" bit, because it was necessary for the Doctor and Clara to be saved, and it also leads us into the 50th. I wonder, though, now that that Doctor knows that Clara isn't some kind of trick, how he will go about finding out exactly why they keep meeting at different points in time.

Doctor Who
No reason to put this here, I just thought it looked pretty.
Secrets keep us safe, but they also keep us in suspense!

Until next time (....and space),

- Joe

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