Whoa! Way to up the game Stephen Thompson! Thompson, the writer for Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, was also responsible for The Black Spot, which, while serviceable and provided a few of my favorite characters, was not one of the best episodes.
Whovians and Whonatics knew we were in for a thrilling episode. Trapped. In the TARDIS. The distress gong rings. Fires burn like Clara’s hand, the colors are all wibbley-wobbley. Red flashing light. Means something bad. Get out of here fast or possibly whatever you do, don’t open this door? But we get so much more! The History of the Time War in the library! The swimming pool! The Eye of Harmony! Get ready for the ride!
At the start of the episode, we see a ship. Three men in various forms of lounging/working. The TARDIS appears on the screen as a salvage and they manage to magno-grab it. The shieldless TARDIS is picked up and dumped in a pile. The Doctor rests with the TARDIS in that pile. Did we journey to the center of the TARDIS yet? No.
The Doctor convinces the salvage men, who are comprised of two brothers and an android, to follow him into the TARDIS to find Clara. So is this our journey to the center of the TARDIS? ABsolutely not. In fact, we get the trademark “bigger on the inside” remark. Gregor Van Baalen takes his device and ascertains there are many things of value on the ship. He sends his brother to the console room to strip it down. Bram Van Baalen, the oldest brother and obviously the wrecker, reveals the rift, even though we don’t see it yet. When he opens the TARDIS console, you can hear voices from the past. I heard nine say, “The assembled hordes of Ghengis Khan couldn’t get through that door. Believe me, they’ve tried.” The voices bleed through from time. The TARDIS is leaking the past. When Gregor realizes that the circuit room has “everything he could possibly want” he takes a piece, which sends the TARDIS into protective mode, and makes her willing to lead them all, including The Doctor, through a labyrinth of hallways until her parts are given back to her.
Meanwhile, Clara is awakened under rubble, alone. She walks, looking for the Doctor. She stumbles upon a room that holds many items from Doctor Who episodes past and hears something that begins to chase her. It chases her down the hallway past many rooms, including the swimming pool area, until she hides in the Library. I looks very much like the Silence in the Library library.
They all finally make it to the console room, but it is an echo and they are in different echoes. While The Doctor, Gregor and Tricky run from two conjoined “monsters”, Clara confronts and tries to reach out to the one that ends up in her console room echo. As it runs for her, The Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to pull Clara through to their room. My only questions – why have we not made the journey to the center of the TARDIS? I should have been more patient because as soon as I say this to myself, the doctor realizes the engine is actually damaged, so he opens a hatch and we see them, including Clara, through the hatch. Is this her circle for this episode, part of my search as this season builds to the finale we all watched in episode one of season seven? No. When everyone moves and Clara ends up by herself, she runs down a hall that has an orange dot with blue rings around it. This is her circle.
We journey to the center of the TARDIS (finally!), chased by ashen, red eyed beings. We see the Eye of Harmony, a continually exploding star turning into a black hole that powers the TARDIS. As they journey to the center of the TARDIS, we learn more and more, not only about the TARDIS, but also about The Doctor. The Doctor still sees the future, even if he doesn’t know everything. How did he know the ashen individual was Clara, how did he know the ashen conjoined figures were the Van Baalen brothers? Because, in truth, the story reveals that the android was actually the youngest Van Baalen brother, his eyes bionic, his voice box artificial, but his body human, the results an aftermath of a mining accident. We learn that all The Doctor wants is to keep Clara safe. The Doctor hopes to interrupt the timeline so that the events of the possible future will not take place. Yet the Van Baalen brothers touch each other and reassert time. The Doctor and Clara run onto a rock cliff from a door and The Doctor wants to know who Clara is. He tells her about her past lives. He is afraid she’s a trick or a trap, but he realizes that she is just Clara. Clara’s burned hand helps him realize how he saves them, which reverses all of Clara’s memories. But, if we take Gregor standing up for Tricky at the end of the episode as evidence, maybe the impressions of what they’ve gone through stays with them even now.
So, a few thoughts: Up ‘til now, we have assumed that River Song is the only person that knew the name of The Doctor. Yet in not a single episode have we seen him reveal it to her, mainly because we know that when he whispers in her ear at their wedding, we know he is letting her know he is still alive. So I believe this is connecting River Song and Clara in an as yet unnamed way. Also, I’m kinda wondering about the whole Superman slash Clark Kent absence of River Song when Clara is around. Who wrote The History of the Time War? Is it one of those “I know all of space and time” things, written before the event that is basically a prophecy of things to come? The Doctor has always been moving towards destroying Gallifrey in his lifetime? Is that why he ran? Is that why he doesn’t want his name revealed? And if his name is really John Smith, I will eat my hat.
In the end, The Doctor wonders if Clara feels safe. To her, it is a stupid question. The Doctor asks the Van Baalen brothers if they’d ever been taught not to get into a spaceship with a mad man. We know it’s not safe. But every Whovian and Whonatic I know would gladly step a foot into the most dangerous of ships with the most dangerous of madmen because we know it is an adventure we would never pass up. Journey to the Center of the TARDIS continues the winning streak of the previous episode and if the dash to the end of this season continues in this vein, we will have our most memorable season of Doctor Who yet.