Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Starring: Ashley Walters, Mark Oliver, Jahvel Hall

Written by: Stephen Thompson

Directed by: Mat King

As the Doctor attempts to soothe the tension between Clara and the TARDIS, a nearby salvage ship takes an interest in the ancient vessel. A freak set of circumstances lead to the TARDIS being left on the brink of destruction, and Clara trapped somewhere or somewhen within the twisting, mysterious corridors. The Doctor has just half an hour to save her and repair the TARDIS…

This really was full of promise. An episode entirely set within the walls of the TARDIS? There could be literally anything in there!

Ok, yes. When you think about it rationally, you have to accept that the TARDIS we saw on screen could never live up to the potential. There just isn’t enough money in the world to bring it to life properly, and no two viewers are going to agree on what should be there and what it should look like. In some respects then, you could argue that this was an episode that should never have been made. It was never going to be universally loved, at the very least.

However, while that is certainly true, it is also true that there is precious little imagination in this episode.
The plot, for a start, is pretty thin. An incredibly contrived co-incidence to kick things off, a subplot about the guest stars that wouldn’t fit on the back of a postage stamp, and a conclusion that skirts dangerously close to deus ex machina territory, and is certainly an outrageously blatant retcon, which renders the episode almost entirely pointless – although in fairness, there are a lot of points which will presumably be brought up again later in the series, most likely in the finale.

More importantly, arguably, is the fairly unsurprising nature of the TARDIS’ interior. The library, for instance. Ok, there are a few nice touches – the liquid encyclopaedia is interesting, especially when it leaks and starts to talk, and it is certainly a grand room, but it isn’t any grander than the library in any standard issue National Trust property. Sure, it’s on a space/time ship, but we’ve seen stranger things in the show. That’s before you even start to consider the sheer number of corridors that we see. Again, this goes back to my earlier point. Of course there are more corridors than anything else in the TARDIS, you’ve got to get from one room to the other after all. It just seems a bit of a waste to feature them so prominently in an episode with such potential.

And then there’s the guest stars. In fairness, they aren’t given a lot to work with – as a friend of mine has memorably put it, “There are two character traits between three people!” Nevertheless, I can’t remember the last time the show had such bland performances. Restrained performances can be a rare blessing, given the OTT nature of the show, but bland – or just plain bad – is even rarer, and far less welcome.

Equally though, there’s not an awful lot for the regulars to work with. Clara in particular is reduced to a generic companion in peril, and while the Doctor fares better than the rest, there’s barely a single memorable moment for him in the entire episode.

It isn’t all bad. There are, as I said, a few intriguing hints about the rest of the series – Clara learns the Doctor’s name, although it’s wiped from her memory by the end of the episode, and the Doctor learns that while Clara may be a mystery, she’s an unwitting part of it at least. Most interesting is the time rift that enables the retcon, as it’s a dead ringer for the crack that populated series five. Only time will tell whether that was just a coincidence, a shout out, or a deliberate hint. I favour deliberate hint, if only in the hope that some of those lingering questions might actually get answered this way. And the moment when the Doctor and Clara walk through the engine room is genuinely stunning, if a touch Tracy Emin for my tastes.

Overall though, this is far and away the most disappointing episode of the run, and probably of the last couple of years.

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