A Journey Into A Fan’s Imagination: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS in Perspective
Guest contributor Connor Johnson takes another look at Steve Thompson’s Series 7 episode.
We met writer Steve Thompson for the second series in a row with Series 7, only to discover that he was to tackle a taboo subject amongst Doctor Who writers. A risk that if it did not pay off, not only had the potential to ruin his Who career, but also to spark hate into the hearts of Whovians everywhere. To see more TARDIS then ever before! To explore the most iconic part of the show! Doctors and companions come and go, but the TARDIS remains always. The TARDIS is the backbone of Doctor Who. Thompson’s task was to journey into the imaginations of fans, and bring back a solid script with excitement, adventure and TARDIS-y goodness! We met this idea with anticipation and joy… but we were always cautious. This episode needed to have a solid storyline, not just be a fanfest of rooms. Was Steve Thompson the man to take on this challenge? Did his risks pay off? Did he deliver the episode of our dreams that carried such high expectations? Most definitely! Thompson produced a script that embodied emotion, mystery, relationships, character growth, adventure and amazing visuals that will sit in the memory of fans for eons to come. This is Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS in Perspective.
“Don’t get into a spaceship with a mad man, didn’t anyone ever teach you that?”
The emotional toll on a 1200 year old man really showed I think in this episode, with the Doctor’s emotions flying all over the place. Strong in the most vulnerable of times, the Doctor is met with the idea of losing both Clara and the TARDIS in this episode and struggles to hold his emotional grounding. We see a side of the Doctor we haven’t seen in a while, a triumph by Matt.
We see the Doctor give up, lose hope and shut down – not to depression, but into a state of mind where he is desperate for answers and desperate for survival. It’s also a joy to watch Matt effortlessly transition into a Doctor that releases such pure happiness when hope returns, when there is a chance to save Clara, when it’s confirmed she isn’t a trap, and when he can be there for his TARDIS and he can care for her.
“About yay high, feisty…. the salvage of a lifetime. You meant the ship. I meant Clara.”
I think a lot of people may sympathize with me when I say that after Asylum of the Daleks, and again more strongly after The Snowmen, I fell in love with Jenna-Louise Coleman. But after The Bells of Saint John, with the third Clara we met, I wasn’t overly impressed like I was with the first two incarnations. It wasn’t until Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS that she became without a doubt, my favourite companion.
In this episode Clara excelled in character development. She was witty and funny, honest, brave, finally familiar in her new life with the TARDIS and she was at times terrified. But that didn’t stop her from being a strong companion. For most of the first half of the episoe, Clara traveled and discovered with awe, the beauty and massiveness of the TARDIS, surprised at every turn and probably secretly impressed with the magnificent machine. As the episode went on, and the plot thickened, Clara searched for the answers to the Ossified Monsters and by the conclusion, I believe, truly felt home and safe with the Doctor, and safely nestled in our hearts.
“You’re like one of those guys who doesn’t go out with a girl if his mother doesn’t approve.”
I’ve always found the relationship between the TARDIS and the Doctor very hard to label until this episode. Throughout the 50 years that we have had the smallest of peeks into the life of this amazingly mad man and his blue box. The relationship between these two travelers has varied over the years. At times there are hints of a romantic, or maternal, or even spiritual relationship between the two, but there is always this unchanging and mutual respect. Thompson captures this relationship between the Doctor and his box in a way that only a very select few writers, including Neil Gaiman, have achieved to do.
The truth is that these two travelers take care of each other always. They are carers, alone in time and space, with only each other. In this episode, Thompson beautifully writes this truth and sums it up in one line: “There’s no way I can save her now. She’s just always been there for me, and taken care of me, and now it’s my turn and I don’t know what to do.”
Thompson also achieves a balance with how to portray the TARDIS in the episode. There are the woman-like qualities of elegance, strength and beauty, with the overwhelming reminder that she is a machine, a living machine with a soul and a mind. These two sides of the TARDIS I believe no one has captured more than Mr. Thompson.
“What kind of a person does that to another human being?”
If there’s one thing that let this magnificent episode down for me, it would have to be the casting of the guest characters, the three Van Baalen brothers. I say casting very appropriately because as characters and as a pitch, the idea of them really wasn’t that bad. A trio of brothers, left orphaned and alone in the universe, making a living off harvesting space junk. Each brother has quite a unique personality and story. We have the youngest, who has been toyed and used by his brothers into making himself believe he is in fact an android. An act that was born out of jealousy and cunning.
We then have the other two brothers who continue to murder the person their younger brother used to be, with only glimpses of emotional conflict and regret to spark a shred of mercy towards the puppet that once was obviously the better third of the trio. In the hype and excitement of making these stories a reality, we are left with three ill received characters with the emotional range of a Cyberman. And so, this unique and solemn story of the Van Baalen’s is lost.
“Now that’s just showing off…. I can feel a TARDIS tantrum coming on…”
We were promised more TARDIS than ever before in this episode, and I for one believe Thompson delivered on his promise in the most appropriate way he could. Ever since we learned the TARDIS was bigger on the inside, we have wondered just how big it actually is, what rooms echoed in the imaginations of your minds? In such a short amount of screen time Thompson, Steven Moffat and the geniuses at the Mill brought those echoes to life with the console room, the corridors, the ventilation system, the swimming pool, the Library, the Doctor’s museum, the navigation room, the Eye of Harmony, the architectural reconfiguration system, the engine room and its surrounding areas. Anyone who had asked for more need only indulge in the historical treats hidden through the episode, between the oh-so-familiar sounds of the cloister bell, the voices of past Doctors and companions echoing through the heart of the TARDIS, the Gallifreyan encyclopedias or the History of the Time War book that whispered secrets of the past into the limelight. This along with the Doctor’s museum filled with items from the Pond era, McCoy’s reign and more; all hidden memories of a brave, daft old man. Everything you could ever want, right through that door!
“The TARDIS is leaking time.”
The main threat to our beloved Doctor and companion came in the form of a genius idea and a chilling revelation. The TARDIS was injured, intruded and in danger. She was hurt and in pain, and she was, in a sense, ‘weeping’ or leaking time. An idea that to the day I still cannot fathom the pure genius of. Under this condition, visions of moments before (ooh that could be a name of an episode!) started to inhabit the TARDIS, but with the past leaking so too was a possible version of the future. And so we met what were first described as ‘Ossified Monsters.’ These monsters were in fact the Van Baalen brothers, the Doctor and Clara had they followed that one specific turn of events and died in the Eye of Harmony room.
“Big Friendly Button!”
Three words have haunted the plots of Doctor Who for the last 8 years. From the Bad Wolf, to the Doctor-Donna, the Teselecta, the Cyber-Dad and more besides – the curse of the deus ex machina. Today I pose the question, is it really a curse? One of my favourite Doctor Who TV contributors, Copper Jennings, wrote an article early this year on the ‘ridiculous’ uses of the plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. But I, for one, dare to challenge this notion. I don’t find it ridiculous. I love the D.E.M. endings in Doctor Who. For me they get the blood pumping and the excitement racing! There’s the constant hint of a big friendly button in the episode; from the early dialog between the Doctor and Clara, to the burn on Clara’s hand that slowly revealed itself. The conclusion of the fantastic episode hit with a bang and a crack! And due to the pace of it, and the audience familiarity with the cracks in time and space, this was the perfect ending and solution to the Doctor and Clara’s problems.
“Anything can happen to you.”
Aside from the more publically worshipped cast and crew, there are many people behind the scenes that sometimes are overlooked in all that they do. What a fantastic job director Mat King did. One of the first things that entranced me upon the first of many viewings of the episode was the directions of the camera angles and movement that really made the viewer feel like they to were journeying into this labyrinth of wonder that is the TARDIS. The colour tone also impressed, with times of lush darkness and also beautifully simple and bright landscapes. Through the episode we moved with the Doctor, we ran with Clara, we marveled at the beauty of the TARDIS, all thanks to the brilliant job first time Doctor Who director Mat King did.
“Secrets keep us safe.”
50 years ago this November, we met a man called the Doctor. Secrets and the Doctor, what seems like an all too familiar echo of the past. Such a predominant theme in these 50 years, the show itself is based on a secret – Doctor who? The countless secrets that have played a part in any Doctor Who story, whether discovered or kept hidden, come to one common result – knowledge is dangerous and secrets keep us safe. There were many secrets that were addressed in the episode, like the most questioned one, Doctor who? Hidden in the Doctor’s library, there is a book that recounts the events of the Last Great Time War, and in one tiny section it mentions the victorious Doctor, by name. “So that’s who”. Suddenly the illusion seemed to fade for me (which of course was rebuilt by the end of the episode), and through watching the episode I realized that secrets also keep the audience safe as well and keep the show with a sense of wonder. Such a strong theme of secrets was addressed so effortlessly in such a strong episode.
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS has nestled itself into the hearts of Whovians worldwide. Like the riddles hidden within the pages of the script, we too were hidden from the magnificence and the beauty of the TARDIS, a luminous world we had assumed we knew. Thompson opened our eyes too. His script of magic, of love, of hate and of wonder, showed us the TARDIS like we had never seen her before. He truly did journey into our minds, and brought back the best of what we could only imagine.