jason stives is on a journey …
Okay, this is unreal. Is it possible that Doctor Who has struck lightning three weeks in a row? Well, it depends on your overall feelings about the results because we all tend to do that. The one thing you never do with Doctor Who is give in to expectations as they will always prove you wrong. Series 7 hasn’t been short on big events and each week there seems to be something to jog curiosity and provoke thoughts and notions that can be dismissed to the joy and sometimes disappointment of fans. I’m not one for expectations but every so often my mind wanders a little further than it should and creates personal hype that ultimately can’t be matched. Even “Cold War,” which I secretly anticipated solely on its returning monstrous occupant, I made sure to level my expectations due in part to the track record of its writer and this week was a similar situation.
Writer Stephen Thompson so far hasn’t had the best track record in Doctor Who with his sole contribution being the pirate clunker, “Curse of the Black Spot.” Couple that with having a title as ambitious and foreboding as “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” and you can’t help but expect a lack of quality results. So it’s a good thing that I didn’t expect much because what I got was one hell of ride and for the first time in a long time a story that had instant rewatch in its rear view mirror. It’s quite possible this all lies in the fan boy charm of the subject but take away the obvious odes to the past you still have a story consistent in pace, presentation, and grandeur that Doctor Who has become known to master perfectly at times.
Above all else, this story looks great and I can’t help but wonder what the faces on the production designers were like when they were tasked to design the many layers of the TARDIS. The TARDIS has always been something in theory in regards to its internal possibilities but we have always wondered. Exploring the many levels and winding corridors of the old Type 40 is something that the classic series failed to do properly back in 1978’s “The Invasion of Time” when we were subjected to poorly realized sets and floors that resembled that of a factory (they were). But now we as fans have something to sink our teeth into but it’s still just a fleeting glimpse and detail is everything ranging from the lighting to the overall claustrophobic nature of the enclosed sets which really comes down to the console room and a few choice corridors. Still, what we see is amazing from the familiar (the Eye of Harmony) to the often spoke of (a swimming pool, a library, but not all in one). Director Matt King really utilizes these elements well but it helps that the story and the overall resolution of the plot move along at a brisk beat.
Setting is everything but it’s the players involved that really help make the tension real and between the Doctors journey through his own ship combined with Clara avoiding certain doom from both the TARDIS and a mysteriously, deformed creature makes everything so terrifying. I use terrifying in comparison to the spooky nature of last week’s episode, “Hide,” which went more for the ‘don’t look now,’ ghoulish tendencies where as this was all about frights of the psychological end. Clara is the fish out of water in a foreign environment that still finds her hostile for some reason but she handles it well. Every turn and every room she finds herself in she uses as her own defense while acting against a hostile entity.
Neil Gaiman offered us an appropriate physical personality to the TARDIS in “The Doctor’s Wife” back in Series 6 but as a machine that is seemingly alive one has to remember the blue box is incredibly impulsive and an organism that can defend itself from damage That last part is most importance because once invaded by the Van Baalen brothers the TARDIS goes from a wondrous machine of infinite potential into a dark labyrinth that twists and writhes to preserve its purist state by attacking the unwanted. In a way the TARDIS acts as fairy tale unto itself by being both imaginative and full of endless possibilities but also frightening, foreboding, and a bit deadly if rubbed the wrong way. We already knew of the HADS the TARDIS possesses but here we see her use her defense mechanisms to the full extent of galactic law and not even the Doctor, her pseudo proprietor can even stop her when she is wound up. Since day 1 back in 1963 the old Police Box was perceived as being alive and this definitely put that notion to practice that made it both fantastic to watch but also made you fearful of what might happen next if they press the wrong button or turn the wrong door knob.
However, the formidable threat of destruction doesn’t just come from within as it comes from without in the form of the Van Baalen brothers, a salvage team comprised of two brothers and an “android” that lift the TARDIS out of time in space in hopes of gaining a hefty sum from its discovery. The introduction of these three is more or less the weak link of this story but not one that threatens to throw the story off course. The thinly written brothers are not easy to like and even after all is resolved interest and overall sympathy to their situation isn’t really warranted.
On one end they end up playing the part of the horror film victims that are so stupid that they don’t listen to what anyone tells them to do so their fates are empty at best. On the other end the reveal that the android was in fact one of the brothers stripped of his identity for the sake of power on the family end was unique but rather dull. This is very reminiscent of how Thompson wrote the characters in his previous effort leaving no real interesting threads to these people who are basically just along for the ride or at least to move the plot along.
The mystery and danger that surrounds The Doctor and Clara’s relationship deepened greatly this week and in some aspects came to a head when the peril seemed to be at its greatest. Even though the cat is out of the bag as to the Doctor’s intensions and we now know Clara is unaware of what is going on just how deep does this mystery go? We got a lot of that this week and dare I forget to mention the shiny Time War bible that Clara gets a peak at? That bit is key and despite the Doctor resetting the events at episode’s end it’s going to linger through these last three episodes but is it all a red herring? Nothing has been resolved other than tensions between two unsure parties and even then I don’t know what will arise between now and the finale.
Many questions arose this week and the two biggest mysteries that need to be solved lie in our protagonists but that’s for another time. Next week things look a lot less epic and back to basics with the return of some old friends and a foe in Dame Diana Rigg so I’m not expecting too much but as you can see I have been wrong before. Regardless, you can never be too sure in Doctor Who and “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” proved just that in a dazzling display that was both imaginative and jolting at best never letting up once for a second.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Outstanding)
All Photos Credit: BBC America