There’s this guy who writes comics named Grant Morrison. You may have heard of him. You’ve probably heard me mention him before. He’s a tall, thin and sleakly bald Scottsman who has been blowing minds for decades. The reason I bring him up at the start of my review for Journey to the Center of the Tardis is because he is the first writer to get me excited about the vastness of The Doctor’s Time/Space craft.
Before he became a comic book scribe magician (yes, like Alan Moore he is a practicing Magician. Like summoning beings from other realms magician. A genuine mindfreak.)icon, he had to get his start writing for short comic strips at the backs of other issues and magazines. This included some really awesome Doctor Who scripts.
These stories were a few pages and carried over to other issues. All of them were pretty good but one was jaw droppingly cool. It featured the 6th/7th Doctor’s companion Peri Brown lost in the Tardis with a shapeshifting alien following her.
Nothing majorly awesome in the story itself. Pretty standard actually. The awesome came in with the rooms and corridors The Doctor had to venture through in his search for Perri. One room was nothing more than infinite colors and lights, with nothing but tiny metal discs to walk on. What was its purpose? Who the hell cares? It rocked.
After reading it I said, “Well that’s one story the show will never do.”
Cut to 2013, Season 7 Episode 10 – Journey to the Center of the Tardis.
The closest I thought we’d ever get to seeing that story as an episode was Neil Gaiman’s brutally genius tale The Doctor’s Wife. Amy and Rory trapped in the maze of the Tardis, trying to escape an alien that has chosen to posess the Tardis, and torturing them as his entertainment. That was an episode that was not only beautifully told, but dazzlingly presented. With minimal sets we are taken deep into the veins of the Tardis with no way of knowing our way out.
The same can not be said for Journey.
Had I known that Steve Thompson, writer of the weakest Sherlock episode The Blind Banker, and the Doctor Who dud Curse of the Black Spot, wrote this episode going into it then maybe I woudn’t have been so surprised at how…meh it was.
I’m not someone who goes in for episode decostruction. I don’t watch Doctor Who, or anything for that matter, for specific elements. I can forgive a lot as long as overall I was excited or moved by it. Doesn’t matter how stupid it is, if it makes me laugh, well up, tremble, worry, or jump for joy, or, at the very least, make me care, I’m pretty happy. So although this episode had glaring issues beyond its emotional failings, I will stick to how the episode made me feel.
Which is, very little indeed.
The opening sequence was phenomenal. That beautiful shot of the salvage vessel cruising through space, then snagging that tiny and endless blue box out of the vacuum was simply stellar. That is the kind of thing I hunger for in Doctor Who. Right then and there I was ready to give myself over to the episode completely. Equally, seeing the Tardis machine-handled by all those mechanical arms through the cargo bay was wonderful. Clearly they were ready to take up places we’d only dreamed of. One of the show’s greatest mysteries, what does the Tardis hold?, was going to be revealed. Not only that, but it was going to go beyond anything we’d expected.
Except it didn’t.
Pretty quickly the episode descends into a depressingly ugly adventure of boring characters, out of focus images, wasted opportunities, and general blandness.
Every time I thought this episode was going to turn somewhere interesting it stays the course of conventional. When a theme is introduced that could bring serious depth to the Whoniverse, it’s skimmed over for tired plot twists.
A room in containint anything you could ever want? It’s just some wires with bulbs. A living and breathing Tardis, bent on protecting itself by making sure you stay lost, and the zombie things find you? That just means the same dark hallway over and over with the occasional glimpse of a monster. Nameless monsters The Doctor can’t bring himself to tell Clara about? Actually that waskind of cool. Until it wasn’t.
The Center of the Tardis? Yeah, that’s a big white room.
The major theme of this story seemed to be secrets. What secrets is the Doctor keeping from Clara? Why won’t he tell her what those monsters are? What did Clara read in that book The History of the Time War? Why does the android care more about a possibly dead crew member than his own brother? In fact, the story itself could be seen as a metaphor (not a very cleverly disguised one) for secrets. The further they tavel into the Tardis, the more their secrets start to reveal themselves.
That is an awesome idea. Having the physical journey they’re taking reflect the emotional and psychological ones. I was actually getting really excited in seeing how that would all play out. It was the only thing keeping me entertained. The inevitable let down came as soon as they revealed the truth behind the android.
My problem with it was I didn’t care. There was not a single quality about the scavenger characters that made me give a damn about them. There was not a shred of charisma or presence between them. I cared so little about them that I can’t be bothered to look up their names. They’re three stupid plot devices that end up being a couple of jerks as well. At first I was like, whatever they keep the plot going. When hearing their big secret I actively hated them.
The only other big mystery of the episode was the zombie things following them. Visually they did nothing for me. What interested me was figuring out what they were. And I have to admit I really liked it. I thought it was a strong symbol for what traveling with The Doctor could be. Who you were and who you could be are in constant flux, and the possibility of becoming something horrifying, physical or otherwise, is always there.
That is probably the strongest element to this episode. The Doctor isn’t really portrayed as a fun-loving goofy dude. He tries, but things are going so off the rails that it doesn’t work and Clara is fed up with it. For the first time since Christopher Ecclesten I got the sense that The Doctor truly is a madman with a box. Enter at your own peril.
His confrontation with Clara, demanding to know who she is, the desperate lines of his face, seeing the hysteria her impossible existence has roused in him gave me chills. This guy is crazy and dangerous. He may dress cool, and crack some hilarious jokes, but if he can’t solve a riddle, you better back the fuck up.
This moment however was sullied by Clara’s need to overstate the point. She says she is more afraid of The Doctor than anything else in the Tardis. And then he hugs her, and all is right.
In regards to Clara, I could still care less about the mystery surrounding her. As I’ve said before, I’m more interested in The Doctor figuring it out because it’s bothering him so much. At no point in the story did I feel any threat to her life. Which is interesting since the entire point of them running around so much is to save her from peril. This companion has yet to get me invested in who she is, where she comes from, and why I should care.
The one thing this story had going for it, as stated above, was the impact of secrets. What happens to a friendship when our secrets are put on display. I was very much looking forward to seeing how this would play out in future episodes. Unfortunately the plot deemed it Necessary to negate this storytelling thread and rewrite all of what happened. True this means The Doctor has yet another secret to keep from Clara, and that might pay off later, but I can’t help feeling a little bit jipped.
So I guess this episode did make me fee a great deal. Sadly, most of these emotions were not happy ones.
Oh well, as Churchill said, we must keep buggering on. There is another episode this Saturday, seeing the return of the kikc-ass trio Madame Vastra, her wife Jenny Flint, and everyone’s favorite Sontaran Strax. Please let this lead into a Spin-off!!!!