Review: DOCTOR WHO S7E11, JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE TARDIS (Or, Mysteries And Secrets Fuel An Exploration Of The Doctor's Time Machine)

Contributing Writer; London, England
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Review: DOCTOR WHO S7E11, JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE TARDIS (Or, Mysteries And Secrets Fuel An Exploration Of The Doctor's Time Machine)
The notion of discovering more about the Tardis will always be enticing. It's essentially a big box full of secrets and there's so much about it that I'd love to discover or at least have explained in more depth. To really uncover its inner workings runs the risk of demystifying something at the very centre of Doctor Who, though, so it's no surprise to see that "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" reveals only small details while keeping as much as possible close to its chest. It develops and then resolves itself in a largely nonsensical fashion, but it manages to be reliably entertaining too.

We follow the Doctor and Clara separately as they both react to a surprising and dangerous situation that involves scavengers attempting to rip apart the Tardis for parts that they could potentially sell. There's a shocking level of emotion to this, as it's oddly painful to watch something so essential to the way this show works left in such a vulnerable position. Despite the presence of these people attempting to salvage bits of the ship though, this is an episode that doesn't really have a straightforward villain.

At times, it looks like it may be an examination of the Doctor's relationship with the Tardis. It's a dynamic that brought us one of Doctor Who's most inventive and memorable episodes of recent times, "The Doctor's Wife." Neil Gaiman's wonderfully written adventure proves just how much material there is to mine in this relationship. While "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" is also memorable, it doesn't have as clear an idea about the personality of the Tardis and comes off as a bit muddled and incomplete. For an instalment that seems to promise a revelation of its secrets, there is surprisingly little that is presented effectively.

Indeed, this is an episode that is incredibly confusing and rushed. It's hard to pretend that it's not frantic and messy, with it being full of technobabble, disorienting camerawork and, of course, characters running around through corridors. However, I still think there's a great deal to enjoy here, largely because it is a genuinely creepy and atmospheric episode that knows how to keep the audience gripped.

This is also a very strong episode for Clara and I'm glad to see that it acknowledges my concerns about the foundations of the Doctor's partnership with his new companion. There are inherent problems with his distrustfulness of her and I like how he realises that she's not a trick and is just an ordinary person who is very frightened. I think it's clear now that whatever is going on with Clara is definitely something that she is unaware of. This development should signal a change in the Doctor's approach to her, but the episode's all-too-convenient ending robs it of any progression.

That this episode really features a reset button both makes me groan and makes more sense than expected. There is definitely some suggestion that lessons have been learnt despite time being rewritten, though, so while neither the Doctor nor Clara will remember what has occurred there is an indication that a similar confrontation will arise in the future.

It's a shame that working out what actually happens for most of "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" is such a difficult task because this has many of the ingredients that a truly special episode of Doctor Who requires. Sure, the plotting is a complete mess and the resolution is rather irksome but there are some great character moments in this episode that make it worth it. The atmosphere and visuals are also terrific, making for a slice of slightly nostalgic bafflement that somehow turns out to be a lot of fun.
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Ben UmsteadApril 28, 2013 3:15 AM

I wasn't expecting more than a tease of a few dozen or so secrets mixed in with all kinds of lovely timey-whimey nonsense. So I had a good time, wasn't confused in the slightest. The plotting actually felt pretty tight considering how manic it was. Nothing really made me confused. What was something that confused you, Simon? At any rate, love the idea that the time lords harvested stars, relocated them into a fixed state of decay to feed off the burnt up energy. Love it.

Simon CocksApril 28, 2013 4:19 AM

Yeah I like some of those ideas too. The confusion just comes from slapdash plotting… A minor issue but one that I remember having is wondering how does the Doctor ends up out of the Tardis when it crashes? Also, I’m completely stumped by what exactly happens at the end of the story? (I mean, I understand it on the simplest of levels, but the logic of it is all technobabble and the show doesn’t even try to have it make sense.)

There’s a lot during this episode that is either intentionally confusing or poorly put together. What about that subplot with those three brothers? Thinly drawn characters are expected, but they don’t act with any rationality and just drag proceedings down. I also think this is a little too chaotic for the show and I appreciate when it tries to slow things down just a little.

I do like the episode in the end, mostly because it’s a lot of fun and sets an enjoyable tone, but I’m not sure I would consider the plotting to be tight.

Ben UmsteadApril 28, 2013 6:08 AM

Difference of opinion then. Not a great episode by any means, but like last week a lot of fun. Plotting was tight in that it didn't get ahead of itself and then trip up, kept things fairly straightforward. Pacing on the other hand, yeah that was manic. I've rarely expected things to slow down in the Moffat era. He and his crew rarely seem to play that way. They sure can, but he like the lighting fast whiz-bangery quite a lot. Sometimes to a fault. But last night's worked.

It was clear to me the brothers' rational had completely dissolved because of being so isolated in space, and more likely, because of what happened to their father and brother, and then what they did to their brother. Space can make people behave, well, not like... people, and in some sense loose it. I think the major issue here is that the actors didn't really sell it well. All the pieces were place, however fast they zipped on by, but I think they played somewhere oddly between dumbfounded and greedy.


Ben UmsteadApril 28, 2013 6:16 AM

As to how the Doctor got outside of the TARDIS. I just figured the TARDIS put him there. It knows things, understand things, not even the Doctor can fathom, and thus, does stuff like that from time to time.

And I am curious, in regards to the ending, what were you stumped about in particular?

Simon CocksApril 28, 2013 11:51 AM

Thanks! I’m delighted to be covering the show and I really enjoy it (although sometimes with a couple of reservations, as you can see!).

I think you’re right that the problem with the brothers comes down to the actors not conveying what the writers are trying to get across. That’s one area that was too rushed and not given much of chance to develop. If it was trying to give an interesting angle on loss of humanity in space, I don’t feel it was made clear enough.

You’re probably also right that the Tardis protects the Doctor by putting him outside, but it is unclear and I was hoping for more of their dynamic. (I’m a big fan of ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, that’s a fantastic episode.)

It sounds like you’re a fan of pre-revival Who too so I’m wondering what you think about the idea of revealing his name. Personally, I’m hoping they don’t reveal it because it might spoil some of the mystery around him.

Ben UmsteadApril 28, 2013 3:31 PM

I am a fan, pre-revival... to a point. Like many Americans I saw the original show on public television here (in my case this was the mid 90s; I would watch after SNL). So I've actually never seen much from the first three doctors, but seen massive chunks for 4 and probably the entire runs for 5,6, and 7. Haven't revisited since those adolescent years though.

So, having said that, I am hesitant about the whole name reveal. or what could be a reveal. Moffat seems to be taking the title of the show so, so head-on, something the show has rarely done from what I understand. I mean the "Doctor Who" joke has been around for ages, but they'd maybe toss it out there in some form, what? maybe once every few years...