When the title of this week’s episode of Doctor Who was realised, fandom rejoiced. At last us viewers would be leaving the central control room to see more of the wondrous time machine. We all knew that the interior of the TARDIS was huge, but since the series return, other than a few corridors we have not seen much else. In the original series run there were several tours into the depths of the TARDIS, most notably in The Invasion of Time, where we found that much of the insides looked like a twentieth century power station and that the Doctor had a massive boot cupboard. This time, what would we see?
So, did Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS live up to our expectations? Well, for me the answer is both yes and no. It is true that we got to see more of the TARDIS than we have in a very long time, and some of the places we are shown are superb. We get a fleeting glimpse of the often mentioned swimming pool and a beautiful Gallifreyan telescope (so the TARDIS has its own observatory), and we finally get to see the eye of harmony in all its glory. However, much of the action takes place yet again in corridors. Personally, I would have loved to have seen something from the old series. How great it would have been if Clara had stumbled across Nyssa and Tegan’s bedrooms, or even just a room decorated with the old white roundels. This aside, what we did see was impressive. The supporting cast, however were pretty one-dimensional and unlikeable, so I found myself not caring when one of them dies. But this is not really their story; it is of the TARDIS and of secrets.
The episode begins with the Doctor taking down the TARDIS’s shields to allow Clara to pilot the ship. Bad idea. A salvage crew, the Van Baalen brothers and their android companion Tricky, mistake the TARDIS as space junk. Once they use a magno-grab get their claws into the TARDIS, they bring about a meltdown of the engines. The Doctor is catapulted out of the TARDIS into the salvage space craft, but Clara is left inside as the TARDIS spews poisonous gas. On the pretext of the salvage of a lifetime, the Doctor enlists the aid of the Van Baalen brothers to journey inside the stricken ship to rescue Clara. It is never mentioned in the episode, but it is certain that the Doctor would have gone back on the deal. Imagine the disruption to the timeline if Gallifreyan technology got into the hands of these people. He already knew that the Van Baalen brothers would not live up to their responsibilities, seeing that they were using tech that was banned and willing to lie to the authorities about casualties when they thought the Doctor was dead. Instead he tells them what they want to hear. Remember, the Doctor lies. It’s good to see the Doctor’s dark manipulative nature rear its head again, as once they all inside he locks the doors and pretends to have set the TARDIS’s self-destruct to force them into helping him. ‘Don’t get into a spaceship with a madman. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that?’ he quips. He’s obviously enjoying his deceit.
The poison gas threat is a little too quickly dispensed of, as the Doctor turns on the air-conditioning, but there is a greater threat. Burnt zombies are stalking them. And if that isn’t enough, the salvage crew try to to steal parts of the TARDIS, resulting in the TARDIS ‘getting huffy’ by reconfiguring the layout so they cannot get out. The Doctor did warn them that a TARDIS tantrum was coming on.
On our journey through the ship, even though there were no white roundels there were some nice nods to the past. Clara discovers Amy’s toy TARDIS, and the magnify glass that Donna used in The Unicorn and the Wasp. We even got to see the Doctor’s cot again. However, it was the whispered voices of past companions and Doctors that excited me.
One of the TARDIS’s rooms that also impressed was the library. It looked as if Clara had stumbled into Hogwarts by accident, with a massive room full of books including a shelf containing the Encyclopaedia Gallifrey in potion form. But it is the book The History of the Time War that every fan would give his right arm to read. Clara takes a peek, and recognises that the Doctor is mentioned in the text. She doesn’t seem upset or disturbed by what she reads, only saying ‘So that’s who’. What she discovered is sure to rear its head by the end of the season.
Throughout this episode there were secrets. The android Tricky was really human, and in reality one of the Van Baalen brothers, and the Doctor was unwilling to let Clara know that the zombies were a glimpse of themselves in the future due to fracture in time. They are destined to die. The Doctor also has his showdown with Clara, demanding that she tell him who she is, convinced for that moment that she was hiding something from him, and naturally she has no idea what he is talking about.
But time is rewritten in the end, so the engines never exploded and nothing bad happened. Fortunately for the Doctor, Clara won’t even remember the events so his secret is safe for now…. or is it… as one of the Van Baalen brothers remembers his lesson to have some common decency. Will Clara also remember?