The Doctor tries to let Clara have a go at driving the TARDIS (to foster better relations between the two) so he lets down the shields, only to have a roaming salvage crew capture the TARDIS and manage to seriously break it. Clara manages to get lost inside and The Doctor and the three squabbling salvage crew members set off to find her
An episode spent running around the TARDIS interior was always going to be prone to being just a load of running around corridors. Back in the Classic era, there were occasional episodes where most of the action took place inside the TARDIS, but these were just 25 minutes of a larger story. “Edge Of Destruction” is the only purely TARDIS-set story but its two episodes are really a character piece with very little running around. “Logopolis” and “Castrovalva” have a fair bit of TARDIS set action and do quite well, but it’s just a place where interesting things happen and there’s a lot more story going on. The nadir of the TARDIS interior has to be “The Invasion Of Time”, with both the setting and the story itself reminding me of a vast public toilet.
So when this story quite proudly declares its purpose in the title, you’d be forgiven for expecting a lot more. No mucking about here – we’re exploring the TARDIS, that is the point.
What we get is a monstrous contrivance to get us to a place where The Doctor and Clara have to run around inside the infinite interior of our favourite time-space machine. The Doctor sets the TARDIS to “basic” mode so Clara can have a go at flying her. And this, we are led to believe, allows a bunch of numpty salvagers to grab the most powerful machine in time and space and make it crash onto their ship. Oh please…
The salvage crew come from the same future industrial design as nearly every other future human spacefarers we’ve met since the show returned in 2005. They are, despite their clichés, reasonably well presented and performed – Ashley Walters as Gregor, the more ruthless and aggressive brother, Mark Oliver as the slower-witted one and Jahvel Hall as Tricky work well together. Tricky’s story, a neat reversal of the android who thinks he’s human, is probably the highlight of the episode. It is one seriously deranged “joke” to play and shows Gregor up as someone who really is devoid of morals. He reminds me of Solomon back in “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” – no universe-conquering megalomaniac, just a bastard making his way in the galaxy.
By this point, Matt Smith is always good and The Doctor gets to be very clever in the way he gets the brothers to help find Clara. His super-powerful ship may have a seriously unbelievable wobble but the good Doctor is not getting outwitted by this bunch. Jenna Coleman gets a few good scenes – she carries off the mystery of The Doctor’s name wonderfully, at least for the short time that she’s allowed to know it. When The Doctor demands to know who Clara is and how come she’s died and so on, it’s a great scene for both of them.
The burnt up monstrous things chasing them around the corridors are nothing special, they’re just something to chase the characters. The explanation of what they are – that they’re future echoes of what could happen to everyone and…oh, I don’t know, something like that – is all very timey-wimey but I suppose we should expect such things in the centre of a TARDIS leaking time-energy all over the place. But to have The Doctor sorting it all out by literally reaching through a crack in time to literally hand over a reset button brings the episode grinding to a halt, with nothing really having happened at all. It really is just a load of running around corridors. It’s almost important – we almost get a serious jump in the Impossible Girl’s storyline but no, the reset button is hit and the resolution of the story is only slightly better than it all turning out to be a dream.
If you’re going to call a story “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS” then I’d like that story to be giving us something awesome about the TARDIS. “The Doctor’s Wife” is arguably the best TARDIS story of them all and actually uses the labyrinth interior to terrifying effect, but this episode just spirals to nowhere. The TARDIS should be made up of an infinite array of wonders, all adding up to an even more astounding whole. This story betrays that notion. There are some neat little bits but the whole is seriously lacking. Hmm, you can have a 6/10.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes