Doctor Who Series 7

A Big Friendly Button: Doctor Who: “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”

Being the sort of fan who has been dying for an episode set on the TARDIS for years now, the latest offering from Camp Who was something of a treat. We’re no closer to unraveling Clara’s mystery, but now we have officially seen the swimming pool (and it is thankfully no longer in the library). On the other hand, if big shiny reset buttons upset you, this episode was likely not your cuppa.

For the sake of brief recapping, two brothers and their android buddy are working an illegal salvage operation and decide to salvage the TARDIS. Clara gets stuck inside while the ship is leaking poisonous fuel into the air, and will be dead before long, so the Doctor tricks the crew into following him into the TARDIS to find Clara. Time goes a bit wrong in the process, and it seems as though they’re all going to die. The Doctor fixes the timeline by rewriting it, preventing anyone from remembering what happened. Which is just as well because the Doctor left a big helpful History of the Time War book around for Clara to just go and read his name from, and also explained how impossible she was. The switch is flipped and it’s as though the whole journey never took place. Maybe.

Doctor Who, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

Though the Van Baalen brothers are set up to be some pretty nasty villains for this episode, they happily don’t live up to the title, proving that if you’re going to go up against the Doctor, playing the home field is always going to end badly for you. It also shows the Doctor displaying one of his more fascinating leaderships skills—he proves yet again that the only reason most people listen to him is because he manages to sound ever-so-authoritative when it counts. And then is rude enough to laugh at everyone for it. “Hah, you actually believed my funny little countdown!” The fake threat is adorably passed off, and you do have to love the Doctor’s audacity with it.

On the other hand, you would think the Doctor would have learned not to lower the shields by now, as that is what caused “Time Crash” in the first place. The Fifth Doctor would not be pleased with how well his future self listened to his advice.

For continuity fans, this episode was laced through with so much lovely detail. We finally get to see the Eye of Harmony in its entirety, with a lovely and simplistic explanation for newer fans who are wondering what the heck it would be doing onboard a spaceship of any kind. The junk room Clara ends up in shows her handling the Seventh Doctor’s umbrella, the little TARDIS Amy built, a magnifying glass that likely belonged to the Fourth Doctor, and the cradle that the Doctor claims was his as a wee one. We also finally got glimpses of the library and the Olympic-sized swimming pool, and an observatory with a telescope in it that looks as though it was lifted directly from Sir Robert’s Torchwood Estate in “Tooth and Claw.” (When did he go back and get that?)

Doctor Who, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

Doctor Who, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

Doctor Who, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

Doctor Who, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

Other gorgeous items include the Encyclopedia Gallifrey, which are liquid and contained in glass bottles. How they are imbibed is entirely up to your imagination—could they be like a pensieve from Harry Potter? Do you have to drink them to obtain their wisdom? Who cares, they’re beautiful, and exactly the sort of thing you would hope to find on the TARDIS. As was the architectural reconfiguration system, the part of the TARDIS that allows it to create literally any machine you can think of. Little items in the set dressing were always on the mark, as we see in the console room’s hexagonal paneling. (The hexagon as a shape is very important to Time Lord engineering and architecture—it’s the reason the console itself always has six sides, and TARDIS’ themselves are meant to be piloted by six people.) In addition, every time we get glimpses of certain areas or objects in the TARDIS, we hear echoes of the past; River falling into the swimming pool, all of the companions learning about the ship, the Time Lords talking of the Time War. As though each piece of the Doctor’s past is physically contained within the TARDIS itself, and it can’t help but leak out through the walls.

The B-plot with the Van Baalen brothers was a solid science fiction concept that deserved more screen time than it got, but still delivered on its twist. There are some beautiful emotional notes in the story, for instance: Tricky is under the impression that he can tell that the TARDIS is in pain because he’s a fellow living machine. His brother slaps the suggestion aside because he knows that Tricky is human, but the mere fact that Tricky wants to have that connection with the TARDIS by virtue of his believing they are similar perhaps says more about human nature than anything. The idea of being made to believe you are less than human, and the prejudice that Tricky was enduring at the hands of his own family to keep him down, was wrenching and really should have led to extra development. Or Tricky should have been made a companion. But maybe that’s just my personal bias speaking there because I loved him.

Doctor Who, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

The monster of the episode, of course, wasn’t really a monster and was frankly a bit darker than I would have expected a family show to go. Being stalked by your deformed, burned near-corpse? That would have given me some serious nightmares as a kid. The episode likely could have done away with them—there was a enough danger and immediacy in needing to fix the TARDIS.

To the episode’s Dues Ex Machina solution: having one in itself was not the true issue with the episode. Doctor Who practically runs on them, as do most science fiction shows with wobbly science. If anything, this particular one was notable for seeming to poke fun at itself—the “Big Friendly Button” certainly got a laugh from me. However, the problems in using it spring up when all that was finally revealed in this episode is systematically taken back. Clara’s plot has been moving on rather slowly, so having the Doctor finally reveal to her what a puzzle she is was a relief… but now she doesn’t remember.

Doctor Who, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

Or then again, she might. The end of the episode show that the Van Baalen brothers have not just gone back to the day before the episode happens. Something about what they learned on the TARDIS sticks, and we see that an entirely different present has been built for them. One in which Tricky knows he is human, and Gregor is no longer a horrible person. If that much bleed-through and alteration occurred, does that mean we can suspect Clara remembers more than she’s letting on? Such as… the Doctor’s name perhaps?

Questions and thoughts:

  • We’ve seen that the TARDIS does not translate Gallifreyan writing for companions the way it does every other language, and it seems likely that any book written on the Time War would be written in Gallifreyan, since it’s not as though other groups had direct access to the war to find out what happened—it was time-locked. Was the book written in the Doctor’s native language? If so, how could Clara read it?
  • Um… how does Tricky not bleed out from the giant gaping wound he receives? Even if Gregor kept a piece of the rod in his shoulder to prevent it, he’s still got a great big hole in him.

Doctor Who, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

  • When Clara reads the Doctor’s name, she does not seem shocked by it or upset. This suggests that whatever the Doctor’s name is, it is not something that will change anyone’s perception of him. Meaning that whatever this big reveal is, it will only be meaningful to people who know the show.
  • I’m hoping that maybe the TARDIS put the Time War book out to be mean, because if the Doctor’s just gonna leave that thing lying around on a pedestal, what exactly does he expect is going to happen?

Emily Asher-Perrin will take a set of those encyclopedias now, thanks. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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