What a tease you are, Moffat. With a title like that, how could any self-respecting Whovian resist? Rule one of drawing as many eyeballs as possible for the weekly Doctor Who episode is to give it a slutty, attention-grabbing title over which fans and casual viewers alike are sure to salivate like Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. Moffat knows that only too well. So into the Tardis we go. It’s a delicious concept upon which this episode delivered consummately. More than in any prior adventure into the Tardis’s innards, this episode really conveyed a gratifying, wondrous sense of the infinite recesses held within that police box. The Tardis is a whole universe unto itself. It’s an unimaginably byzantine artefact, infused as it is with Time Lord science and technology. It was a much more satisfying and illustrative portrayal of the Tardis’s interior than previous sojourns through the ship: where The Invasion of Time took us through the grey corridors of a disused hospital, Journey gave us the cavernous Tardis library; where The Doctor’s Wife followed Amy and Rory through the same (albeit nicely constructed) corridor over and over again, Journey showed us the Eye of Harmony, the exploding star permanently suspended in its state of decay that forms the Tardis’s power source. Oh, and we finally got to see the swimming pool in the library. *Squee*
The story itself was an exhilarating ride. An Indiana Jones style rescue mission in the Tardis was always going to be riveting fun, and the episode didn’t disappoint by any means. The suspense, the adrenaline, the excitement positively spilt out of this episode as Clara scrambled her way frantically around the Tardis’s impossibly labyrinthine insides, and as the Doctor and his new buds hacked their way through the belligerent ship looking for her. All the while we were treated to dazzling, jaw-dropping scenes of the Tardis’s inner recesses to make the story that much more captivating. I thought the three van Baalen brothers were a nice addition, albeit that their characters were a touch undercooked. Their presence was not strictly necessary for the purposes of the plot, but they added a nice character element to the story, particularly the “android” brother and the revelation of his actually not being an android. That was an effective emotional detour amongst all the breathless running about.
Nevertheless, those terrifying zombie things soon turn up and it’s back to imminent peril. The revelation that the zombies were actually the Doctor, Clara and the van Baalens burnt up from the future was a gob-stopper. There’s a cruel but effective sadism in the way the episode showed the van Baalen brothers turn into zombies so soon after their relationship took such an encouraging turn. The episode seemed to rather rush the ending after this as the Doctor’s interrogation of Clara, the scene change into the engine room, and the somewhat confusing resolution were progressed through at a disconcerting pace. In any case, although the Doctor’s interrogation of Clara, a fairly important moment in the greater scheme of the series arc, was rushed through with a bit less dignity than it merited, it was nonetheless done with gravity and charm and delivered the appropriate emotional payoff, Matt and Jenna carrying their parts superbly (in the circumstances). The resolution, as I’ve said, was a bit confusing. The episode could have explained better what the “Big Friendly Button” was supposed to be. It seemed like a deus ex machina. But I’m not even bothered. It looked like it made sense and that’s satisfying enough for me. Some fans pick relentlessly at even the smallest of holes until they’ve worked themselves into a indignant fit. I look at holes and acknowledge them, but, if they don’t bother me, I say “meh” and leave them be. This one was, admittedly, a pretty big and self-conscious hole, but it honestly doesn’t bother me. The resolution could have been done better, but I’m not complaining. Meh.
Some final thoughts. That was a pretty cruel tease of Clara discovering the Doctor’s name. She almost said it! She was literally about to speak the word! Christ, you can’t do things like that, Moffat, or Thompson (whichever one of you diabolical minds is responsible). Matt Smith is on fine form again here. I particularly liked the playing up of the Eleventh Doctor’s unpredictable and manipulative side early in the piece when he coaxes the van Baalens into the Tardis upon the promise of “the salvage of a lifetime”, and then locks them in and (apparently) sets the Tardis on a count-down to self-destruct to conscript them into helping him find Clara. “Don’t get into a spaceship with a madman.” Is it perverse of me to say that this is why I love the Eleventh Doctor? You can never really know him. He’s an inscrutable enigma. You think you know him, but then he goes and does something like this and you start questioning him again. I love that. Finally, I feel compelled to admit that I was distracted for much of the episode by Clara looking just delicious in that dress. I’ll just leave that there.