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.