What an odd, enjoyable, little “Doctor Who” episode “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” is: An hour full of reveals and near-reveals ultimately erased by a trick of space and time. Or are they?
Clara’s rocky relationship with the TARDIS has been a recurring element of these past five episodes and “Journey” begins with the Doctor attempting to force a little quality time between the two “women” in his life. (In the first of several suggestions that the Doctor views the TARDIS as a maternal figure, Clara complains he’s like a guy who can’t ask a girl out unless his mother approves.)
The Doctor gets more than he wished for when the crew of an interstellar salvage ship spots the TARDIS on their radar and pulls her aboard, separating Clara and the Doctor in the process. The Doctor is pulled outside the ship and convinces the crew — brothers Gregor (Ashley Walters) and Bram van Baalen (Mark Oliver) and their cyborg servant Tricky (Jahvel Hall) — to assist him in finding Clara, who is lost somewhere deep inside the ship.
A trippy, suspenseful and frequently creepy adventure full of secret rooms, mind tricks and time zombies ensues, but it feels like the most important scenes are the ones involving hidden truths about Doctor and Clara.
Especially that moment Clara finds herself inside the famed TARDIS library and discovers a “History of the Time War” volume prominently on display. After the hostility the TARDIS has shown Clara so far, it’s interesting that the ship “allows” her inside the library and perhaps even leads her to the book. Clara reads enough to learn some crucial information about the Doctor, including his real name. (“You call yourself Doctor. Why do you do that? You have a name, I’ve seen it,” she tells him later.)
Now that we know the upcoming season finale is called “The Name of the Doctor” and Steven Moffat has promised the “greatest secret” about the Doctor will be revealed, we’re guessing… his name may not be that secret. It’s a little too obvious of a twist after Clara’s discovery, so surely this arc is leading to something more unexpected. Then again, it must mean something that River Song (the other woman who knows the Doctor’s real name) returns in the finale — and that Clara apparently lost her memory of the day by the end of the episode — so who knows.
But back to “Journey”: The Doctor demonstrates a little hypocrisy (or is it just arrogance?) telling Clara, “Secrets protect us! Secrets make us safe!” only to turn around and show his frustration at not being able to solve the mystery of exactly who (or what) Clara is.
After he finds out that one of the time zombies is a future version of Clara, the Doctor really loses it. There’s a nightmarish vibe to this episode and so it’s appropriate that the Doctor sees one of his worst fears realized: taking on Clara as his companion has once again led to her death. In that brief moment when it looks like all might be lost inside the TARDIS engine room, he flips out and demands she spill the beans already: “What are you?! A trick? A trap?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she insists — and whether that’s true, false or true to the best of her knowledge, the Doctor remains every bit as in the dark about the mystery of Clara as we are.
With just two episodes to go before the finale, at least we know we’re getting closer to finding out.
– All things considered, we didn’t see that much of the “infinite” space inside the TARDIS. But we did see the swimming pool! So there’s that.
– “I’ve piloted this ship for over 900 years — trust me this one time please! As well as all the other times.”
– Is there a possibility Clara didn’t completely forget everything she saw and experienced in this episode? The Doctor instructed Gregor to remember the feeling of helping Tricky, and it seemed like Gregor was a bit of a changed man in the epilogue on the salvage ship. Was that just timey-wimey magic, or will Clara’s space-and-time ruptured memories — especially of the Doctor’s name and the Doctor’s outburst about seeing her die twice before — resurface in some fashion?
– Another reference to the Doctor’s “granddaughter” Susan this week, as her voice was heard when Bram was rummaging through the control room. We’re assuming it’s no coincidence that these repeated callbacks to the First Doctor are suddenly cropping up during the 50th anniversary year.
– While this TARDIS-centric episode was a fun diversion with a few good twists, it couldn’t match the great “The Doctor’s Wife.” The good news is we only have one more episode to go before the return of “Wife” writer Neil Gaiman.