Apr 29 2013 11:15am

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

Doctor Who, Journey to the Center 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.

Doctor Who Series 7: ‹ previous | index | next ›
Philip Gonzales
1. BatmanJesus
I assumed the TARDIS left the book out or even created it whole cloth on purpose. I don't think anything that happened to Clara was random.
Joris Meijer
2. jtmeijer
It was a nice and dark episode, I liked the way Clara was alternating running away, and exploring in wonder and without fear (mimicking the Doctor at some level).

Do people remember facts from the timeloops though (there is definitely more than one), or only emotions and feelings?
3. vole
"does that mean we can suspect Clara remembers more than she’s letting on?"

In the final scene she had wet hair and a towel. The implication being she remembers where the swimming pool is...
4. Nicholas Winter
@3: I took it mean that Clara has quarters on the Tardis now and took a shower and changed clothes as cleaning yourself up by taking a swim would be a silly way to get clean.
Steven Halter
5. stevenhalter
When Clara reads from the history of the time wars (I think the Tardis put it there specifically so she could read it and that's why it isn't in Gallifreyan) She says (I think)
"So that's who"
This almost sounds like she recognizes the name when she sees it.
6. Puff the Magic Commenter
I think Clara is a TARDIS. Specifically, I think she's the lost Corsair's TARDIS.

- The Doctor's TARDIS is apparently jealous of her.
- She keeps dying and being reborn as the same person.
- She appears to read Gallifreyan.
- In "The Doctor's Wife," Idris referred to the other junked TARDISes as her "sisters."
- Speaking of which, last week Neil Gaiman -- for no obvious reason -- linked on Twitter to his FAQ for "The Doctor's Wife," which when you read it seems to have more to say about The Corsair than about Idris.

Related, though I don't know to what significance: In "Hide" The Doctor used balloons to describe the pocket universe. He used the same analogy with Amy and Rory about House's bubble universe in "The Doctor's Wife." House has had the run of a TARDIS now. Any chance he'd be back soon?
7. Russell H
Another nice continuity touch was when the console was being dismantled, hearing the babble of voices of past doctors and companions leaking out of it, as if it "remembered" everything said in its proximity. I though I could make out Susan's voice explaining the meaning of "TARDIS" from the first episode, something in the Third Doctor's Voice, and possible something in the Ninth Doctor's voice. Could anybody make out any more?
8. Elayne169
@Russell H

My closed captioning specified the name of the person (including which doctor) said each statements and it said more than I made out. I am at work right now so I can't list them all, but if you recorded it, I'd recommend trying it with CC turned on.
Jenny Thrash
9. Sihaya
The Doctor said two things in the episode that explain the book: 1) The TARDIS is messing with Clara. 2) The TARDIS makes everything. So yeah, I agree with you.
Ursula L
10. Ursula
Since River did her PhD thesis on the Doctor, surely one section would have to be a history of the Time War, and the Doctor's role in it?

I don't see the Doctor having the patience to sit down and write a book, and it seems a bit out of character for the TARDIS to put thoughts in such a liniar format as a book that Clara or another human could read.

But River? Practically the first thing we learned about her is that she's a writer. Her spoiler journal, her PhD thesis and the Melody Malone mystery are all things we've seen her write, in-story, and her successful academic career implies a lot more published writing.
11. cj_wildcat
@ Russell H.

It took me a few times, but I picked out the Fifth Doctor, Martha and Ian. Someone else said Donna was in it too, but I haven't been able to pick her out yet.
12. koseighty
I'm pretty sure The Doctor's name is Bob. Bob Roberts.
13. bryan rasmussen
I'm pretty sure the Doctor said Bob's your Uncle in the previous episode.

Anyway the problems about the doctor's name:

has to be big and important (otherwise why does it have to be kept secret) and should be something that Clara would recognize.

If clara is just a human girl with nothing else going on about the only things that would fit would be God or Jesus Christ or Buddha or something major like that, but then she would have been freaked out by that.

lower than that - Saint George?

But if Clara is not just human it opens the possibiliities to not be something stupid like the above ones.
14. koseighty
I'm still missing the whole reason that we are supposed to care about The Doctor's name. We haven't been offered enough reason why we should care.

Isn't being The Doctor enough?

If the Big Reveal reveals him to be a petty criminal named Bob Roberts that stole a TARDIS, then it will be a let down. If the Big Reveal reveals him to be more than The Doctor (some demi-god or something), then 50 years of The Doctor will be lessened by a super man slumming it as a time lord.

I really question the wisdom of going down this road.
15. Zwirko
I wonder if the Tricky character was named after the musician known as Tricky? On some of Tricky's early albums his singing voice sounds almost identical to the synthetic voice used in this episode.
Alan Brown
16. AlanBrown
This episode had some glorious details to it, but in the end the plot was just a bit too timey-wimey for me. Time paradoxes can be a lot of fun, but they are risky as a plot element, because they need to be handled just right in order to work effectively.
I would have said that this episode had a bit too much of a "deus ex machina" feel to it, but then I realized that the phrase "god from the machine" pretty much sums up what the show is about, the person with sometimes god-like powers emerging from his magic machine week after week.
I remember that in the past, Tardis travelers remembered what happened during a time loop because of their proximity to the Tardis, but in this episode it doesn't appear to be the case, in fact, the Doctor counts on Clara forgetting. Kind of like those fixed points in time, which appear and disappear based on the needs of the plot of the week's episode.
Besides the basic plot, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why the Doctor thought he needed help from the salvage brothers. And I thought the monsters being shambling burn victims kind of repulsive. And I still don't have a good fix on Clara's character--after all, we have seen so many different Claras, I am not sure who is who.
But in the end, there was more good than bad with this episode--all those little details as we traveled through the Tardis were so fascinating that I am going to have to watch it again!
17. NiktheHeratik
It's likely enough to be a famous quasi-mythical character like Merlin. Obviously, people would get confused if he told them he was Merlin and after dozens of times having the same conversation, he just started saying he was "The Doctor" and it stuck.
Thomas Thatcher
18. StrongDreams
I only hope Moffat had an answer for the name business before he started it.
19. TomT
@14 - The entire mystery of the Doctor and who or what he is dates back to the first series. Occasional hints where dropped by various Doctors through 6 that implied there might be a bit more to him than we knew. Then when Doctor 7 came along the writing team decided that to much of the mystery of who The Doctor was had gone out of the show.

So during Doctor 7's term the team started playing up the mystery of the 3rd member of the founding Triumverate of Rassilon, Omega, and ???. They implied some conection between The Doctor and that mysterious unknown/unnamed 3rd member of the triumverate and had several of the founding triumverate's toys show up and respond to The Doctor as if he where not just an authorized user but a superuser of them. And then the show was canceled.


A book was written that is ambiguous in if it is canon or not. It was written by the lead writer and proported to finish out and answer the mysteries spawned during the 7th Doctor's run. It originally was a propsed episode and was nixed from that because it answered to much. ... The book is Lungbarrow and you can look it up and read the details if you want. Interesting and leaning slightly towards it being canon is that from 2002 - 2010 it was available as a free ebook from the BBC website.

So for anyone who hasn't seen the 1st series with all 7 Doctors keep that bit of background in mind. Moffet isn't just pulling the mystery of who or what The Doctor is out of nowhere. It comes solidly out of bits of earlier Doctors and most specifically from a deliberate effort in the 7th Doctors time.

You'll note I didn't actually go into the various speculations raised by what was done with the 7th Doctor because we have no idea how much of it is held to by the current people running things. If your curious about what was maybe planned and might have been canon on how The Doctor is sort of vaguely maybe the reincarnation of a god ... do a google search on lungbarrow and read teh wikipedia entry. they do a decent job of sumarizing the book there.
kos eighty
20. koseighty
@19 TomT,

In my mind, you reenforce my point. For 50-ish years they've played with the mystery of who The Doctor was previous to becoming The Doctor.

To answer that question is a huge risk. And, I believe, no matter the answer, it can't help but be a let down. If it's Bob Roberts, average joe, then why all the build up? If it's something grand it risks diminishing The Doctor and everything we've seen him do -- oh, well yeah, he's god's great-grandson, of course he can rush in and save the universe. *yawn*

In my opinion, it's a question that should continue to be hinted at and toyed with. It risks the same results as a sitcom built on the sexual tension of two people who's writers decide after years of toying with you they're going to marry the couple.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's going to be the best plot point in Doctor Who history. I actually hope I am wrong.
21. Koan The Barbarian
Twenty comments and not one mention of the Monster of the week possibly ripping off Danny Boyles Sunshine in terms of the make-up AND the weird warp effect that was applied to the camera every time they apppeared.
22. IXO
So perhaps this was explained and I missed it... or just didn't understand, but whose feet were lying underneath the Tardis when it was found? Tricky identified it as 'organic life detected.' Looked like women's boots...
23. IXO
So perhaps this was explained and I missed it... or just didn't understand, but whose feet were lying underneath the Tardis when it was found? Tricky identified it as 'organic life detected.' Looked like women's boots...
24. Ser Tom
Wow, a whole lotta call backs in this episode. Unfortunately they flew my so fast it was hard to catch them all. It was great to get a sort of guided tour of the TARDIS.

@22 &23 - excellent point. I do recall The Doctor saying or implying at one point that he had tried to fix the TARDIS several times and that everyone kept dying, and apologizing to Clara, then promising to get it right this time.

re: The Doctor's Name. I don't think it should ever be revealed.

re: Clara. I have a theory. Could she possibly be another Gallifreyan who had/has used/had used upon her a Chameleon Arch? If so, it would explain her being able to pass as a normal human girl and not having any memories of any other life.

Also, her exclamation, "Oh that's who..." when reading the history of the Time War could have nothing to do with The Doctor's name. Maybe it was, "Oh that's who The Doctor's companion was back then." or something similar.
25. Unipeg
Didnt anyone notice that the picture of the Brothers changed in the end? It now included the father. This may be a clue to who Clara is.
Parallel universes or times?
F Shelley
26. FSS
Count me in with those saying the Doctor's name should stay secret. It would take away from the fun, likesnl revealing Pat's gender...
27. Elizabeth226
The problem with Clara being under the influence of a Chameleon Arch is that her human history has been solidly established, and that backstory has been looked into by the Doctor.
28. Andrea K
@Unipeg - the picture changed to include Tricky, now that he knew he was really a human part of the family.
29. NickM
@7, 8: I barely heard the voices the first time, someone tipped me off about 'a' voice, so I was listening more closely on my 2nd watch. I happened to record it on a VHS tape and watch through a not-HDMI connection so I realized the captions were giving all the details. In order of speaking:

SUSAN: Well I made up the name TARDIS from the initals: Time And Relative Dimension In Space

3: Dimensionally transcendental

JO: What's that mean?

4: That's trans-dimensional engineering. It's bigger inside than out.

9: The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan couldn't get through that door. And believe me, they've tried!

AMY: We are in space!!

MARTHA: Box with that room just rammed in.

IAN: That thing that looks like a Police Box, standing in a junkyard? It can move anywhere in space?
30. NickM
I enjoyed the looped, timey-wimey aspect of the story. Perhaps because it reminded me of "Cause and Effect", one of my favorite ST:TNG episodes.

And some great quotes from it too:

"We've had 2 days crammed into the space of 1." "Why would you say that?" "I don't know, I say stuff. Ignore me."

"Don't get into a spaceship with a madman. Didn't anyone ever teach you that?!"
31. Tamlyn
It was fun. Once it was over and I started thinking about it lots of questions and issues cropped up for me - so I stopped thinking about it. The good was outweighs the flaws.

I especially liked the Doctor's acceptance of Clara as completely human. He hugged her properly instead of awkwardly! Hopefully that acceptance will carry on and he won't be so suspicious about her (since he remembers it all even if she mightn't).

I wish we'd had a glimpse of places like bedrooms/bathrooms/a kitchen as well as the pool and stuff. They could even have thrown a current-incarnation Clara souffle remark in.
Miss Kai
32. wolfkit
@17 In 'Battlefield Earth' he was named as Merlin but told Ace that he hadn't been - yet. urther on in the same ep he finds a note written by himself that he has not yet written.
33. Decaf Bread
I have only one complaint about this episode that no one else has touched on. I'm fine with the ending that reset itself, I mean, Dr. who kind of has to rely on that option sometimes. But I don't get the 'how'. How did that grenade thing reset time? Earlier in the episode it was decribed as some kind of ship disabler. So I'm kind of lost as to 'why' that device managed to reset the clock.

If you need to bring the timeline back in time, go for it, it's a show about a time traveler after all. And normally Dr. who is really good at making those kinds of things believeable and understandable but this time it fell short for me.

That aside, I loved getting a more indepth look in the TARDIS!!! There really is a pool!!! :D
34. charming quark
TomT @ 19 - I poked around at Tardis Data Core, and after looking up Lungbarrow and following some links, I now have my own theory about who Clara might be (or at least be linked to somehow). All I'm sayin' for now.

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