Doctor Who - Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

A thrilling trip to the heart of the series.

Steve Thompson is getting better at writing for Doctor Who after his shaky debut with the rather underwhelming `Curse of the Black S spot`. For his second go he delivers something that acts as a sister story to last year’s `The Doctor’s Wife` in which the TARDIS was briefly incarnated as a person. That episode, one of the last seasons best, has echoed through the show since and now we get to see inside the ship in a different way. Arguably you might say this episode should have come first but it is nonetheless a scintillating trip into the heart of the ship and symbolically the series itself.

"It looks bigger on telly..."

How to show the TARDIS innards is often a budgetary consideration more than anything. There have been times in the past when it has barely looked robust enough to trundle down a street let along fly through time and space but more recently it has been mightily sturdy. The TARDIS incarnations from 1996’s TV movie onwards have been convincingly powerful. However no story has managed quite as well as this one to suggest the sort of strange energy needed to whiz the Doctor around the Universe. The look is both high tech and artistic with some interesting juxtapositions as we enter various rooms.

Not being a continuity nut, I wasn’t too bothered at the script’s surprisingly detailed descriptions of what drives the thing (didn’t mention Artron energy though…oh I am a continuity nut it seems!) because it is still generic enough. More than anything the episode restores a sense of mystique to the TARDIS. All the engineering descriptions in the world cannot quite explain everything we see or match the wonder of seeing what lies at its centre. Meanwhile, Thompson’s method for getting us to that place is much more inventive than some alien slipping in unnoticed as it did in `Masque of Mandragora`.

However the most surprising aspect of all is how deftly the episode balances what we might call fan pleasing things with the excitement a more casual viewer would want. So there are echoes of the past- literally when the console is stripped out- and yet a real sense of menace to the zombie creatures that translates even if it’s the first episode you’ve ever seen. Director Mat King gives proceedings a further boost with the best depiction of monster threat we’ve had all season. Sometimes the modern series underplays the kind of thing that was one of the show’s stock in trade- the lurking or threatening monster. Perhaps they feel confident that the effects or prosthetics are so good they don’t need to indulge in such furtive tricks. Yet it adds a huge amount to `Journey` that we don’t see these creatures properly till near the end and they are quite terrifying as they pursue Clara just out of focus. 

"Doesn't everyone have a room like this at home?"

Visually the episode is packed with memorable moments whether the way the downed TARDIS’s cables spew out like spilt intestines to the awe we sense at the ship’s very heart. I especially love the void area where the exploding pieces have frozen; this is the sort of thing we should be seeing in this series! The temporal issues the script suggests also allow us to leap about the ship in what is an editing triumph.

Matt Smith has never been better in the role than he is here. His interpretation of Thompsons’s dialogue is always unexpected highlighting both the Doctor’s comparative familiarity with the ship and his concern for Clara. There have been some episodes this season where his capering about has become a little tiresome but this is a more measured performance, perhaps due to the seriousness of the issues. The more frivolous the Doctor is beyond a certain point, the less danger comes across to the viewer. Smith is perfect throughout `Journey` and you notice how often he almost seems to be talking to us as much as to the surrounding characters.

Jenna Louise Coleman shines too, given some of the most old school companion things to do for much of the episode yet also coping with Clara’s unusual story. While it is interesting I can’t say the `who is Clara?` mystery is really gaining much traction though at least it gets a kick start here. The three salvage guys struggle a little with the sheer pace of the episode with Ashley Walters especially  seeming like he’s trying to be too cool to really get into some of the narrative that comes up for him. Far better is Jahvel Hall who goes with the flow and delivers some great moments
No doubt some fans will dislike the literal re-set button at the end but it suits the trans dimensional themes of the episode and never feels like the cheat it would be in other situations. Let’s not use it again though! There is the question of why the Doctor wrote a history of the Time War (if indeed he did and if not, who did?) though it’s rather refreshing to see the Russell T Davies continuity find its way back (I really am a continuity nut aren’t I?!)

Fast, feisty, fearsome and fun `Journey to the centre of the TARDIS` is easily the best episode of this season to date suggesting matters are hotting up as we near the anniversary.

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