Sunday, 28 April 2013

Doctor Who: Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS (Episode: Review)

Do you know what the saddest part about this episode is? It tries. Someone here, perhaps just the writer or perhaps everyone, was really trying to create something special here. There were so many easter eggs, so many efforts to be smart that you can practically see the episode we might have had, one of brilliance. Unfortunately what we get instead is something painfully lacklusteringly dull.

The story behind this one is one of impending disaster, even more than the average Doctor Who tale. While trying to encourage Clara to treat the TARDIS with more respect and get the two to get on well, they're captured by space Jawas. Dragged inside a flying junk-ship full of scrap by a tractor beam, the TARDIS' interior circuits and main systems go haywire with sudden damage. Fleeing inside the TARDIS from toxic fumes, Clara quickly becomes lost and the Doctor is forced to work alongside three down on their luck thugs to get her back. Unfortunately for him, things are not that simple. Time is backwards, space is warped and it's not long before they're facing a reality destroying threat.

This really is a Death of Antagonis story. The sort where you get long periods of decent narrative, intelligent aspects which make you let your guard down and begin to enjoy it before you're blindsided by something stupid. No not your regard common or garden variety stupid; weapons grade Darwin Award levels of stupid. Sprinkled on top with inconsistencies and logical issues which instantly drag you out of the moment.

Take for example just that premise. The TARDIS, a several thousand year old time vessel of lost technology powered by advanced science, is not only captured but outright crippled by a salvage ship. One which is described as a pile of junk before the episode is done. No mention is given of why it can do this despite the vast differences, no mention of just what is really causing problems nor even of how this is somehow more effective than any other kind of tech. 

It's even more confusing as to why the TARDIS is even floating in space at that exact time anyway. There's something briefly dropped about bringing the TARDIS down to something basic, but it never exactly explains what that means or why this would leave it so completely defenseless. Even a near universally mocked and lowly regarded story, Horns of the Nimon, which had the TARDIS similarly floating in space at least gave a reason. It might have been a bad one but it was better than we got here.

These sorts of things just keep happening. Occurring at such a rate you could probably set your watch to them. You'll get a good ten to fifteen minutes good drama, then BAM! Sudden stupidity!

The good drama largely stems from the mains here of the Doctor and Clara. Both Matt Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman have had great chemistry since the second half of this series, and the episode builds upon that. Focusing upon the subtle distrust between the characters and their friendship, then setting them up to fall. The Doctor's actions show how they have connected and their behavior towards one another really is a high-point. The same unfortunately cannot be said of the extras here. The trio of junk thieving thugs (all of who are black, giving a very uncomfortable feeling despite the later justification) are very bland. The episode clearly wants to make you feel for them and yet it's hard to do anything of the sort. We learn very little of them, and what we do know either makes them morally reprehensible or is another logical tumour lurking within the episode. Even the ending doesn't make the audience feel any more for their characters besides a sense of mild confusion.

Then again they could just be fodder, half the episode does come across as a slasher film at times.

As the group split up, running around the TARDIS either determined to loot everything in sight or liberate Clara, they begin running into zombies. Pompeii zombies specifically, covered in a mixture of ash and lava, running after everything in sight and bad as hell. Their presence is and admittedly mixed bag as while it leads to some genuinely good horror moments, you'll probably guess what they are long before it's revealed. It also doesn't help that while impressive in the dark their design is ludicrously bland once any light is shed upon them. They also feel extremely shoehorned into the plot and it really wouldn't be a surprise to learn that Steven Thompson had been forced to include them as a last minute rewrite.

The final nails in the proverbial coffin came in the form of a one two punch. Two peeves which have been rightly mocked of different science fiction series for various reasons.
The first is that, while Mat King tries his best to avoid making this obvious, the characters are running around the same corridors over and over again. Almost to a perpetual degree at points, meaning the episode actively uses the infamous cost-saving measure the classic series was rightfully lampooned for.
The second? There's a reset button. No, that's actually in there. Doctor Who tends to be good about this sort of thing but it's so blatant cop out you'd swear the writing staff for Star Trek Voyager had suddenly taken creative control.

Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS reeks of wasted opportunity, it really does. This could have so easily been something like The Girl Who Waited or The Doctor's Wife, we even had a first act for once! but instead what we get is an utter mess of a tale. One which offers a few funny lines, a number of good moments which are fine on their own and some great nods to continuity, but doesn't work as a whole. Skip it and find something better to watch.


Doctor Who and all related characters and media are owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

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