Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
(1 episode, s07e10, 2013)
If the TARDIS gets illegally salvaged but no one remembers, did it actually happen?
In the depths of space, a Van Baalen Bros. salvage ship cruises as brothers Bram and Gregor sleep and android Tricky works. The proximity alert sounds as the ship detects nearby salvage, and after a brief debate over the salvage’s value, they decide to suit up and check it out.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara argue over her bonding with the TARDIS. The Doctor decides to put the time capsule in basic mode to make it easier on her, but the TARDIS loses power and shields just as the salvage crew latches onto her. Sparks fly and Clara burns herself on a rolling metal object before the capsule is pulled into the salvage bay.
The salvage crew attempt to break into the TARDIS but fail. Tricky realizes that the ship is potentially alive and crewed, and as the crew attempts to cover their tracks, the Doctor pops up and greets them. He presents them with the metal object, an illegal Magno-grab remote, and then realizes that Clara is still inside the TARDIS.
Clara awakens to the sound of the Cloister Bell in the middle of a debris-strewn corridor. She comes to a door with a red light and decides to open it. She then runs from the fireball behind it. She hears a growling noise and continues on, looking for the console room but eventually taking refuge in a storage room with a baby’s cot, a small model of the TARDIS, and the Seventh Doctor‘s umbrella. She soon runs when the creature appears.
The Doctor leads the salvage crew into the TARDIS. While they marvel at the space within, the Doctor evacuates the toxic atmosphere from a fuel leak and gives them one hour to find Clara. Why one hour? Because he’s just set the self-destruct sequence.
When the salvagers protest, he adjusts the timer to thirty minutes. He is that dead set on finding Clara.
Clara runs past the observatory and the swimming pool as she tries to avoid the growling, eventually finding the expansive library. Meanwhile, Bram returns to the console room and starts stripping the place, but stops when he hears a cacophony of voices. Gregor scouts and finds the architectural reconfiguration system. The Doctor prevents him from tearing it apart, but when Gregor steals one of the circuits, the TARDIS begins to rebel.
Clara investigates a tome called The History of the Time War, marveling over the mention of someone before hiding from the growling creature once again. She knocks over a bottle/volume of the Encyclopedia Gallifreya, releasing a cloud of spoken words, before running into the corridor once again.
The Doctor, Gregor, and Tricky continue their search but the TARDIS keeps running them in circles. Meanwhile, Bram descends into the console as Clara enters the console room but determines that it is a fake. Bram burns himself on the time rotor and falls to the deck below before being attacked by the creature. The Doctor and the remaining salvagers evade the creature as Gregor splits off on his own.
Clara continues looking for the real console room and gets frustrated. The Doctor and Tricky enter one of the console room echoes – the TARDIS rewarded Tricky for trying to get her circuit back – and determine that they are in the same space as Clara but are just out of phase. Clara inadvertently allows the creature into the echo room as Gregor returns, and the Doctor uses Gregor’s scanner to isolate and rescue Clara.
The Doctor reveals that there is no self-destruct sequence, so they’re safe except for the monster and the TARDIS realigning the internal geometry. Well, that and the pending engine overload from previously undetected damage.
To fix it, they must descend into the center of the TARDIS. And there’s the title!
The team runs through the corridors and Clara is separated. She sees echoes throughout her travels and words appearing in the burns on her hand, but eventually reunites with the Doctor. He tells her that there is a time leak due to the engine damage, so recent past and future are flowing around them. They run from the creature and the rods from the overloading engine.
When Tricky is impaled by one of these engine rods, Gregor is forced to reveal that Tricky is really a human – his own brother – that they modified to look like an android as a cruel joke. After rescuing Tricky, the group arrives at the Eye of Harmony, an exploding star on the verge of becoming a black hole. The Doctor rushes in while the humans wait and the brothers hash things out. The brothers almost come to blows before the Doctor reminds Tricky that Gregor has at least one shred of decency left.
They all try to navigate the chamber containing the Eye of Harmony but end up trapped by the creatures. Gregor scans them and discovers that the creatures are burned, future versions of them. The Doctor confesses his remorse about Clara’s pending death and her previous deaths, confusing her as he lets the creatures invade the chamber in an attempt to break the temporal loop. The brothers succeed in knocking the creatures into the Eye of Harmony, but when Gregor saves Tricky from falling, time reasserts itself and the brothers become a new creature.
Clara and the Doctor rush into the engine room, which presents a vast canyon, and the Doctor confronts Clara over her nature. Clara has no idea what he’s talking about, a concept that relieves the Doctor. He then realizes the image of a canyon is a defense mechanism and convinces Clara to jump over the side with him. They land in a stark white chamber filled with the engine explosion in progress. When he glances at Clara’s hand – it says “BIG FRIENDLY BUTTON” – he realizes what he needs to do.
They return to the console room where the Doctor inscribes the message on the Magno-grab remote. The Doctor tells Clara that she won’t remember any of this adventure if he’s successful, including finding his name in the big book, and launches into the rift in the console room wall. He throws the remote to his past self, who laughs as he smacks the big friendly button.
Time resets to the moment before the salvagers caught the TARDIS, but this time they ignore it. Their family relations are also significantly better. Meanwhile, the Doctor is concerned about Clara’s feeling of safety. She tells him that everything is fine and urges him to push the button and take them to their next stop.
The birth of this story is what happens when fans take control of production. Steven Moffat was disappointed in how the TARDIS interiors looked when he saw The Invasion of Time as a child, so he challenge this episode’s writer, Steve Thompson, to make it better. Mission accomplished on so many levels, taking viewers on a whirlwind tour of the library, the observatory, the swimming pool, the Arch-Recon (architectural reconfiguration system), and the Eye of Harmony. We also get to see just how many treasures the Doctor holds in his time capsule, including knowledge in liquid form and the history of the Time War.
I’d really love a copy of that prop. It appears to be based around a late 19th-century leather-bound Bible with brass clasps. Copies of that book run into the hundreds of dollars as of this writing.
I really liked how the TARDIS wounds translated into time leaks, creating bubbles of tangible potential timelines that could only interact with each other in very special circumstances. The TARDIS’s memories that flooded her control room came from An Unearthly Child (twice), Colony in Space, The Doctor’s Wife, The Robots of Death, Rose, Smith and Jones, The Beast Below, and Time Crash.
This leakage also played into another core Doctor Who trope: Being kind reaches across time and space. The “joke” that the brothers played on Tricky was cruel and unnecessary, but the Doctor’s admonishment of Gregor that questioned the human’s decency stuck with the family through the time reset.
In the end, the Doctor finally puts the mystery of Clara being a bad agent of some sort to bed. Even if Clara doesn’t remember the discussion, it’s good to know that the Doctor can finally move on from the who to the why.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.