By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | May 1, 2013 |
By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | May 1, 2013 |
When The Doctor lets Clara take control of the TARDIS in an attempt to make her more comfortable with the living machine that does not seem to like her, trouble ensues. As he turned the shield oscillators off to make the task easier for her, a salvage team of two brothers and an android (the Van Baalen Brothers) is allowed to snatch them out of space using a Magno-grab, a device outlawed in most galaxies. That bending of the rules is no surprise, as this particular salvage team does not exactly have the ethics to match the crew of Firefly’s Serenity. The android immediately senses that the TARDIS is alive and has qualms about harming it, but nevertheless these guys immediately go to work on making as much of a profit from this venture as they can.
The crash into the salvage ship leaves the TARDIS in mechanical failure and Clara trapped in the depths of its halls. The Doctor is ejected and asks for help in finding Clara from Gregor, Bram, and Tricky (the aforementioned android of the three). They are not immediately willing to cooperate, so The Doctor seemingly activates a self-destruct sequence for the TARDIS and traps them inside to convince them to help, promising them “the salvage of a lifetime.”
In trying to find her way to safety, Clara comes across several notable TARDIS landmarks, including the famous swimming pool. She also finds a cavernous library that holds a book detailing the history of the Time War. Therein, Clara reads The Doctor’s name, but she does not speak it aloud for us. In the less appealing portion of her TARDIS tour, she is chased by some sort of creepy time zombie. She later informs The Doctor, “Good guys do not have zombie creatures!”
It’s difficult for me to perform a recounting of this episode, because frankly I did not think much of the plot made sense. Why does The Doctor trust this salvage team to help him, even as they continue to attempt to dismantle the TARDIS for spare parts? As The Doctor, Gregor, and Tricky explore the bowels of the TARDIS, Bram stays up in the console room to continue to pillage. Why would The Doctor allow that? It’s almost as if he is just bumbling about in an attempt to provide some sort of redemption for them and considers any danger to the TARDIS or to Clara incidental. The upside of that scene is a nice treat for fans of many years of Doctor Who, as the leaking of time in the TARDIS’ interior enables us to hear many voices from the past, including the First Doctor’s companions Susan and Ian, the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors, and the more recent voices of Eleven, Nine, Amy, and Martha.
The revelation that Tricky is not an android when he is impaled also falls a bit flat, as I am skeptical how that ruse could be convincingly perpetrated. I suppose the androids of the Van Baalen home must be extremely lifelike, or perhaps this is intended to be a comment on the extreme gullibility of little brothers, a phenomenon of which I myself have been a victim. Regardless, the three brothers are not developed well enough for there to be much emotional satisfaction in the story with regard to their fates; they are too driven by the action and the needs of the plot.
After The Doctor reunites with Clara, we learn that the self-destruct sequence was a ruse, but we also immediately learn that the damage to the TARDIS is severe enough to destroy it, as it begins to physically buckle around them. The time zombies were Gregor, Tricky, and Clara from the future, all badly burned by the engine of the TARDIS, a room known as the Eye Of Harmony that includes a star suspended on the brink of becoming a black hole. This room and most of the TARDIS settings look great; the fault in this episode is not the production design.
The Doctor and Clara take refuge on the edge of a precipice, where The Doctor pointedly confronts Clara about her identity, telling her about his other two encounters with “her.” She strongly asserts ignorance of what he is saying, and The Doctor realizes that she is telling the truth. Why The Doctor still suspects her of conscious deceit, when she has shown absolutely no signs of it and after he performed an extensive background check on her very normal family life growing up on Earth is odd. It’s a sloppy scene logically, although it is interesting seeing The Doctor come a little unhinged in his thought process and behavior, and it was nice to see Clara and The Doctor hug it out. Still, the mystery remains, and she could very well be a “trick” or a “trap” even if she is an unknowing pawn.
After the TARDIS essentially disintegrates into a morass of space-time, and The Doctor and Clara are left strolling through the floating detritus, The Doctor manages to fix the whole disaster by throwing a mechanical device back through the rip in space-time that caused the problem in the first place. This “big friendly button” was requested by Clara when the TARDIS first careened out of control, so he has tied a nice bow on the time loop and undone the whole adventure with a reboot. I myself enjoyed the reboot concept in the way that it was used in the events of “The Big Bang,” and I thought its cousin (of sorts) was acceptable for the events one season later during “The Wedding Of River Song,” but as I have mentioned before I fear it’s turning into a narrative crutch. Space-time manipulation is never going to be purely logical in the world of Doctor Who. I acknowledge it’s a fantastical show, and if there were ever a time to go crazy with time-travel paradoxes, a TARDIS-centric episode would be the right setting, but crossing that line too many times can rob the adventures of suspense.
Undoing what took place removes Clara’s memory of the experience, so she no longer knows The Doctor’s name. It is unclear if she will remember The Doctor’s accusatory confrontation of her, although I assume The Doctor retains his knowledge of Clara’s conscious innocence with respect to her apparent doppelgangers. (I mean “doppelganger” in the general sense, as opposed to the technical sense introduced in last season’s two part adventure “The Rebel Flesh” / “The Almost People.”) The Van Baalen Brothers are brought back to life and never have the chance to encounter the TARDIS, but in this alternate reality Gregor has somehow retained some of the compassion he learned on the TARDIS.
As I have indicated, overall this episode was a disappointment for me. I liked the set design for the many rooms we see in the TARDIS, particularly that of the room of limitless machine-making with its hanging orbs. I enjoyed the references to the past adventures of The Doctor, but I think that tackling something as big as the title “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” promises could have been better served with an episode that included no outsiders, particularly when addressing this unusual situation in which The Doctor does not entirely trust Clara. (See my classic Who mini-recap below for an episode that did exactly this. Granted, in that case four actors instead of just two were involved.) There are limitless possibilities in the interior of the TARDIS, and there’s no need to augment them with an underdeveloped plot about mining it for parts.
Still, I am very curious about where we are headed. I am wary of this imminent reveal of The Doctor’s name. I want The Doctor to simply be “The Doctor,” and a specific label just does not seem right in the abstract sense. I hope Moffat either found the perfect name or that it remains an unrevealed tease, although the latter seems doubtful after all this build-up.
A clue leaked this week about the nature of Clara. According to Jenna-Louise Coleman, “All I can say is that Clara hasn’t just met the Doctor three times before.” Is she River Song? Susan? Rose? Romana? The Rani? The Doctor’s mother? His original wife? The Internet is awash with theories. I still don’t understand how we reconcile “her” dying twice, if all these selves are truly the same in some way. If she’s a Time Lady, there wasn’t a regeneration involved. She looked the same each time. I expect there will be some crazy logic to justify what has taken place, and as such, I’ll offer you my own crackpot, terribly unlikely theory.
Jenna-Louise Coleman will be the next Doctor starting next season, and I have managed to convince myself that this is entirely possible. Here are my reasons:
1) As she is already in the cast as a companion, it would be a clever way to disguise the regeneration. It would seem impossible to keep the revelation of a change in Doctor concealed in the Internet age, but perhaps the aim is to pull off a true surprise.
2) Jenna-Louise Coleman is signed for next season. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the same announcement for Matt Smith has yet to be made, and not long ago a term of three seasons was mentioned as a natural length of service for the role of The Doctor by either Smith or Moffat. I would be willing to believe Smith’s statement that he would like to play the role as long as possible, but perhaps that is a smokescreen.
3) She’s fantastic at the speedy tech talk, but in her role as “Clara” that has only been exploited in two episodes thus far.
4) The reveal of The Doctor’s name was referenced as heralding “the fall of the eleventh.” We’re supposedly going to deal with The Doctor’s name in just a few episodes. Maybe it’s time to move from Eleven to Twelve.
5) Suppose The Doctor meets great danger at the Fields of Trenzalore, as that prophecy states. His identity is revealed. What might be an effective way to escape trouble? He coudl switch genders and assume the appearance of his companion. (There is precedent in Doctor Who lore for a Time Lord or Time Lady to choose an appearance in a voluntary regeneration.)
I don’t know what the multiple Claras mean. Perhaps they are some sort of trail of bread crumbs left by The Doctor with the help of River Song to ensure his own survival. Granted, it’s troubling that two of the Claras seem to have died in the course of this plan. They would be a message to himself of how he can survive what is to take place in his future. If The Doctor did regenerate into her appearance, we would lose Clara the companion, but at this point she is not extremely developed or specific.
If I were betting, I would probably guess that Clara (or whatever her actual identity is) is a blood relation of The Doctor, what with the references to his history and the promise of his name, which easily could be tied to his family. Still, the idea of Jenna-Louise Coleman as Twelve appeals to me more. Thanks for entertaining my flight of fancy.
Classic Doctor Who Bonus:
This week I checked out the third serial in the entirety of the series, William Hartnell’s “The Edge Of Destruction.” This episode had much in common with this week’s new episode, as The Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara are trapped in the TARDIS after a malfunction. The TARDIS exerts influence over their behavior in an attempt to lead them to the problem at hand, turning them suspicious toward each other and dangerous. Particularly striking is The Doctor’s accusation of an attempt by Barbara and Ian to steal the TARDIS from him, which happens after he drugs them. Susan threateningly brandishes a pair of scissors in the episode too.
This was the first episode to establish the TARDIS as a living presence, although an explanation for exactly how and why it influenced its passengers is left untold. That makes it a notable signpost in the program’s history, and I recommend this one for a good example of the very old days of classic Who, even if it shows the signs of age in style.
C. Robert Dimitri would spend more time than any companion in the TARDIS’s pool if given the opportunity.