Unseen Who: Journey To The Center of The Tardis

I wrote a bunch of recaps/reviews/something-in-between of this past season of Doctor Who for Wired that ended up not running, so I decided to run them here, instead. Here’s the one for S7 E10, “Journey To The Center of The Tardis”:

After what could, at best, be described charitably as an uneven season so far, this weekend’s Doctor Who plunged deep into the heart of fan service, its own mythology and the Doctor’s favored mode of transportation as we went on a “Journey to the Centre of the Tardis.”

For better or worse, the Tardis has become increasingly personified over the past few years; in the show’s earliest incarnations, it was “simply” a time machine that had some quirky additions to the norm (It could change its shape – Well, once upon a time, even if that was before the show started – and it could and did travel through space as well as time, hence the acronym that translates into Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), but now it’s a “she,” an anthropomorphized vehicle that even temporarily became a woman in last season’s “The Doctor’s Wife.” The title referred, of course, to the Tardis herself.

“Journey to the Centre of the Tardis” took a very deliberate step back from that direction; yes, we had more of the “The Tardis doesn’t like Clara” subplot that has been threaded through the various episodes since that character’s introduction, but that was as much “personality” as the Tardis had this week; otherwise, what we saw was a machine at work, trying to protect and repair itself even as the various characters investigated its “infinite” interior.

Actually, the seemingly infinite architecture of the Tardis was addressed in this episode, as we discovered that it housed a “machine that made machines” that rebuilds and reshapes the ship to reflect its inhabitants and their emotional state; it’s a (plot) device that explains away the various looks that the set has had over the years, and also offers a possible explanation for those who can’t quite get over the whole “It’s bigger on the inside” thing: What if the interior of the Tardis just seems infinite, because the ship is constantly rebuilding itself around the people inside, like some kind of physical version of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Holodeck (or this real world prototype)?

Within the constantly-rebuilt Tardis, however, there are some seeming constants: A sun perpetually about to implode which acts as the ship’s power source, the oft-mentioned (and now, finally, glimpsed) swimming pool, the console room… and a library where Clara just-so-happened to discover the Doctor’s real name – a plot thread that’s been left to dangle since the end of the sixth season, and looks set to be finally addressed soon. Another dangling plot thread seemingly tied up: Clara is apparently unaware of her constant rebirths and reappearances through time, or at least, the Doctor believes so.

Both of these revelations were theoretically wiped out by the (literal) reboot button at the episode’s end – It was subtle, but I liked the reveal that we were actually watching the third version of the events unfold; third time lucky, after all – but as the post-reboot peek onboard the salvage vessel showed, certain things were remembered despite time repairing itself. Who’s to say that Clara’s “I don’t want to forget everything” didn’t have more import than it first seemed?

“Journey” returned the show to a mix of pulp, meta-story, self-referential mythology and “timey-wimey” playfulness that we’ve been sadly lacking for some time, and pushed the season upwards as a result. If this is a sign of what we have to look forward to in the three remaining episodes this season, things are looking up.

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