Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The Doctor: The TARDIS will get huffy if you mess.
Production Code: 3.10.
Doctor Who Season: S33 (Ep10).
Story Number: 236.
What a story title…
“Journey to the centre of the TARDIS” – the title raises expectations to an extremely high level. There have been forays beyond the console room before, most notably in The Invasion of Time (an extensive but not exactly TARDIS-y interior), Logopolis & Castrovalva (a few much-more TARDIS-esque rooms) and, recently, The Doctor’s Wife.
That 2010 story was mainly some dimly-lit corridors – it did however include the masterstroke of reusing the previous console room of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors’ eras.
The Eleventh Doctor is actually on his second console room now. A cool calm cold-metal sanctuary from the buzz of adventures. The Doctor is teaching his companion how to fly the spaceship which has been set to a more basic mode for Clara (who’s not quite convinced of the wisdom of actually talking to the TARDIS as if it were part of the crew), and with complex shields not part of the equation there’s an opportunity for a passing salvage ship.
It seems appropriate for this story that the gently-agitated though peaceful conversation that the Doctor and Clara are sharing in the cool is disrupted by some Metal (or are The Cult really Goth music? Probably).
Talking of Metal, Heavy Metal was the title of the French Science Fiction magazine that showcased Moebius and his comic-strip imaginings. This tale recalls the classic DWM comic Junkyard Demon, and the comicbook grabbing hands, the TARDIS small as it is held by the ship, give sense of scale and ambition, like The Rings of Akhaten, perhaps seen only previously in the Doctor Who Magazine comics.
(As we’re talking Metal, note it’s the music that breaches the “hull” of the TARDIS.)
The happy TARDIS crew are contrasted with that other the other ship – the three of the salvage craft, Tricky, Bram, Gregor. The Doctor is literally thrown into this different social mix.
This trio are coaxed into the TARDIS, the environment. The TARDIS the character though, is one of the trio of the other crew, each of the crews have their machine-character, (Tricky or the TARDIS).
The TARDIS shouldn’t normally be a place of danger and peril – and if there is a Doctor Who story to be told there has to be some sort of danger and peril – The Doctor’s Wife came up with a rationale.
This time’s it’s The Toxic TARDIS, with Clara thrown inwards.
It’s not all peril, as there are moments of wonder as Clara (and we the audience) explore some of the TARDIS: the Doctor’s memorabilia room; she passed an observatory & the famous swimming pool; the huge and ornate library.
Though the previous week’s episode, Hide, was a terror tale, this is horror. Why? As Hide was all sounds and the unseen, and the dread of what might be next, and this is more visual than that.
We see terrible things. The inhumanity of brother to brother, a horrific realisation. We see the zombie-like figures, the TARDIS in no longer a haven but a house of horror.
One of the most shocking scenes involves the Giger-esque biomechanical nature of the TARDIS not obvious from the current Console Room – when Gregor removes “her basic genetic material”, you could understand this was an affront to the TARDIS, this sacred grove being trespassed against.
The “Echo rooms” – this is a curious phrase, as the strand of sound and music from the previous story Hide is continued, indeed that story had the “Echo universe” which was a different but parallel place.
Bram manages to lift up the lid of the console of one of these rooms (see also The Parting of the Ways) though doesn’t manage to avoid the “zombies”. (These zombies, there is something of the Full Circle Marshmen about them.)
Clara is pulled in to the console room, like a ghost haunting the other room, but not before pausing in that spectacular TARDIS library and reading something that fascinates in “The History of Time War”, (cheeky Moffat).
“Why have you got zombie creatures? Good guys do not have zombie creatures. Rule one basic storytelling” – Clara is reunited with the Doctor. They begin their journey to the centre of the TARDIS.
The horrific realisation of how Tricky has been treated by his brother is prompted by more horror in this story – a rod through the shoulder.
Pursued by zombies, they make their way through the most spectacular room so far, even more so than the Library, with some geek continuity as well as we see the Eye of Harmony (of The Deadly Assassin and The TV Movie, although maybe continuity isn’t quite the right word).
It’s very well-crafted Doctor Who, a big emotional scary kick-ass action scene with strong-but-not-too-strong for 6.30pm horror.
There is a real sense of peril, genuinely thought Clara might die audaciously re-begin with fourth Clara. The horror story continues with the revelation of what the zombies actually are.
Our two heroes, having escaped the Eye of Harmony room – what happens next – it makes full use of it not being a normal story, all bets are off.
Again a leap of faith is required (like Hide), for the final threshold.
It’s a hugely tense scene – with an awesome setting – as the Doctor quizzes Clara on just what is going on with the different versions of herself, though he seems ultimately relieved and satisfied, “You’re just Clara, aren’t you?”
The heart of the TARDIS, geography, mythology.
Resolution for this story, follow the music – to a big button. “I am the Doctor” merging to “Fire Woman” by The Cult – as they follow the music, the music that was playing when they got into all this trouble.
As the other crew leaves these two-days-in-the-space-of-one with a more harmonious relationship with the “machine” of their group, perhaps Clara, drying her hair from the swimming pool, is understanding her fellow crew, including its “machine”, slightly more too.
One of the best of this season, and really exceeded the great expectations created by the story title.