Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis (2013)

I really had no idea what to expect with Journey to the Centre of the Tardis. On one hand you could surmise that the episode may have something similar to the classic Jules Verne story A Journey to the Center of the Earth, but the trailer looked more like a scary high-tension episode than an action adventure story. I was surprised to see that this particular episode was something of a horror episode, strange in the fact that it comes right after another horror-based episode in Hide. Journey to the Centre of the Tardis is notable for one reason – we get to see the insides of the little blue box that could. We have seen bits and bobs of the Tardis here and there since the very beginnings of the show, but never have we seen this much of the ship. Even the classic Invasion of Time pales in comparison in terms of Tardis touring. The question is: Was it any good?

I will start out by saying that this episode is one of those that really improves with repeat viewings. For the basis of this review, I watched it twice and liked it a bit more after the initial viewing. You can surmise that I had some problems with the episode if I said “it improves”, and I definitely did. I didn’t hate it, in fact I thought it was pretty good, but it could have been a lot better for reasons I will soon explain. I think my main complaint is that the nature of time travel concepts and cause and effect found within is very chaotic, and to be honest came across as messy. I will not say that it was as incomprehensible as a story like Ghost Light, in which fans have notoriously elevated to being “good” because “complexity” means “smart” but it has its problems.

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The story follows The Doctor and Clara as they come across a large salvage ship piloted by three expert salvagers called The Van Baalens (played by Ashley Walters and Mark Oliver) and their “android” named Tricky (played by Jahvell Hall). This salvage crew captures the Tardis with a powerful magnetic beam wreaking havoc on its internal systems as a result. Not only is she leaking fuel, but the Tardis looks so unsafe that the salvage crew decides to eject it back into space. The Doctor has apparently escaped the ship unscathed and is pretty mad at the salvage crew; it seems that Clara is still trapped somewhere inside.

The Van Baalens were a bit hard to pin down. I love the concept of these three guys traveling around and listening to The Cult whilst gobbling up bits of wrecked ships. Too bad that the characters were pretty unlikable; I know that they weren’t necessarily “good guys” but their decision making skills were horrid (don’t take that part of the ship, the Tardis will try to kill you – takes piece anyway). I also was not a fan of the fact that the two older brothers somehow brainwashed their younger brother (Tricky) into believing that he was an android servant for the simple thrill of bullying him. With character traits like this it’s really hard to feel bad when one of them dies, since he was a jerk anyway.

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The Doctor tricks them into going inside, and fakes a self-destruct system to force the Van Baalens into helping him save Clara, and generally comes across as a bit unhinged, even more so than usual! The rest of the episode is basically everyone running around in various corridors and rooms trying to elude the Tradis’s self-preservation systems and make it to her core. Time starts to unravel, and everyone starts seeing weird things like future and past echoes of themselves as well as terrifying radiation zombies with glowing red eyes. These creatures were pretty creepy for the same reason that “The Crooked Man” last week was – you never get a good look at one of them. Until it is explained as to the nature of these beings is, you usually see the shape of one, with eyes ablaze, surrounded by a haze of obscuring “waves”. They had me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what these things could have been. I honestly was wondering if he wasn’t housing scarred up refugees from Gallifrey or something, but the real answer was almost as creepy. It seems these were future versions of Clara and the Van Baalens disfigured and driven mad by the energy from the Eye of Harmony, a possible future that is adverted with a stupid plot device.

What really bugged me about this episode was that it involved a “reset button”, and we’re not talking about a figurative one for the purpose of storytelling – an honest to God big red reset button. This trope usually drives me crazy when it’s used this way, and not since the ending of Superman the Movie has it been used in such a silly manner. We saw it at the end of season three to undo The Master’s massacre of the human race, and I hated it then as well. The “reset button” concept is something Russel T. Davies used to employ a lot, I wish it would have stayed with him and not crept into these newer episodes.

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I did enjoy the fact that we got to see things like Clara reading a huge book about the Time War (where she may have seen The Doctor’s name!) and the Eye of Harmony. Little nods to the past such as these usually lead me to “nerding out” even though it reeks of fan service. The special effects for the various Tardis rooms (especially the Eye of Harmony and the Heart) were awesome, and really gives a sense of how massive the whole ship can be. Things like this really helped an episode that could have been pretty mediocre into something special despite its flaws.

Did I love Journey to the Centre of the Tardis? Well, no. The episode was well done from an atmosphere and effects standpoint, but failed a bit with the writing. I’ve loved each episode this half-season so far and having one that “isn’t quite there” is pretty typical (sort of like Curse of the Black Spot), at least this was pretty solid and not terrible. Had they stayed away from things like a giant red reset button, I may have even loved this episode as well. So on a scale of one to ten, with 10 being “woo hoo” and one being “aaargh!” I’d say this one was a “meh” (I should use that as an official rating system…lol). Next week we have Diana Rigg and the Paternoster Gang to look forward to, so can’t wait till Sataurday!

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Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS [HD]

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10 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis (2013)”

  1. Thanks for the shout out to Parallelevision. I agree definitely that the writing is where it fell down. The main problem I see is the concept of the reset button — it’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it has to take centre stage in how the episode is structured.

    A “day that never was” offers a chance to see how things could go, while also adding the tragedy of lost memories and moments. The concept didn’t reverberate back through the episode, say with an unexpected death or other plot turn, and felt more like it was tacked on.

    As with any episode, the question is what did we learn? The answer is very little. And it’s a shame. The timey-wimey different versions of them should have been introduced much earlier, which would have allowed for something to be HAPPENING when Clara was running around the place early on — we see the TARDIS, but also plot.

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    1. I definitely agree, at least it wasn’t as cringeworthy as the infamous Dallas retcon!

      I actually enjoyed the Pandorica Opens / Big Bang despite the plot involving what could essentially be summed up as a “reset button” of sorts. I think Thompson tried to basically write as if he was Moffat and let the episode get away from him.

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  2. Another great review! JTTCOTT for me continued the theme of ‘I enjoyed the episode but..’ that this half of the series has merited.

    I liked seeing the inside of the TARDIS (the passing shot of the swimming pool, for example) and the Library, with, of course, The History of the Time War (where I think Clara DEFINITELY read the Doctor’s name) were all nice nods for fans. I agree with your reading of the van Baalens, and don’t necessarily feel that the eldest would have felt any more protective of his youngest brother post-Reset Button.

    …and yes, the Reset Button. The get out clause again… I wasn’t NOT a fan of this, but the ‘crack in time’ opt out ruined it for me, if I am honest.

    Sadly, I am disappointed that I have not totally loved any of the Clara episodes so far, but am hoping that Neil Gaiman will save the day!

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    1. I know man, she has such potential,but the episodes have been lacking something to be true classics. I wonder if this season will be like season 3, episodes that I was lukewarm on when first viewing them, but seem to get better with age? I think they need 2 parters back next season and for the love of god, no more split season!

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