Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS – review

“This is why we can’t have nice things.”

Phil Sandifer has pointed out that once every ten years or so, Doctor Who decides it’s going to do an “inside-the-TARDIS” story. The Edge of Destruction in the 60s, The Invasion of Time in the 70s, Castrovalva in the 80s, and either Cat’s Cradle or the TV Movie (delete according to hatred) in the 90s. So far, the new series has more or less steered clear of the Ship’s corridors, holding to Richard Cooper’s slightly fatuous maxim that people are interested in Narnia, not the wardrobe.

I personally disagree. The TARDIS has always been as much a magical space in and of itself as any of the locales it takes us to, and the brief glimpses we’ve been given of its interior (in The Christmas Invasion and The Doctor’s Wife) had me very excited at the prospect of an entire story set inside the spaceship (even if it was going to be from the pen of Stephen Thompson, writer of The Curse of the Black Spot and that racist episode of Sherlock).

In essence, I really, really wanted to like Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. And parts of it were indeed excellent – the time-bled iterations of the Doctor and Clara were a neat idea, and the exploded engine looked abstract enough to give the impression that we’d walked right off the edge of the story.

But like last year’s execrable Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, the grinding gears of the plot were just a little too obvious, and Stephen Thompson didn’t do a good enough job of papering over the cracks. The salvage crew were an excellent conceit to get to the heart of the story, but weren’t developed enough to function as anything more than plot devices. While the idea of convincing someone that they’re an android is probably quite interesting, we weren’t told anything about how the accident happened or why it even matters; the upshot is that it never feels as though the Van Baalen Brothers have any existence or motivation beyond what the episode requires of them.

In saying that, Ashley Walters and Jahvel Hall both did their best with some fairly thin characters. Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman were on top form this week as well; Smith was especially good during the Doctor’s confession about the self-destruct system… which makes it a real pity that the only other cast-member was just awful. Mark Oliver (Bram) was genuinely embarrassing to watch in every scene of his mercifully brief existence, and you get the sense that the TARDIS deliberately killed him off halfway through to keep her big story watchable.

There’s a strong central premise to this episode, and hints of an interesting story bleeding through around the edges. But there are just too many non-sequiturs and gratuitous plotlines floating about for Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS to be regarded as anything other than a failed experiment. Perhaps the TARDIS works better as an unknowable, alchemical box; or maybe 2024’s Patrick Magee-penned episode Time And Relative Dimension In Space will finally give us the definitive story of the Doctor’s oldest companion.

FINAL RATING: 2/5

ODDS & ENDS:

  • Bring back Ailsa Berk! How are we supposed to take the unnecessary time-zombies seriously if they can’t even shamble properly?
  • Some people have criticised the ending for being a bit of a Davies ex machina. It’s not – everything’s seeded earlier in the episode – it just wasn’t done very clearly. This vague and rushed storytelling is becoming a real problem this season.
  • I. Do. Not. Care. What. The. Doctor’s. Name. Is.
  • Where the hell was the purple coat? No wonder I disliked this episode so much.
  • I mentioned Phil Sandifer at the beginning of the post. He is, in my hallowed opinion, one of the greatest and most elucidating Doctor Who critics of the last five years, and his blog TARDIS Eruditorum is finally going to tackle Rose, this Wednesday. Do tune in. It’s going to be absolutely spectacular.

When not reviewing Doctor Who, Patrick Magee is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Miedziana Góra, within Kielce County. More of his ramblings can be found here, and you can buy his novel As Baile: A Story here.

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