Aired 27 April 2013
‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ unequivocally delivers on its title, offering easily the most thorough tour of the Doctor’s craft in nearly fifty years of adventures. Several stories have offered a briefer glimpse of what lies beyond the console room, most notably ‘The invasion of Time’ and Paul McGann’s solo television outing, but here the action takes characters to the library, the swimming pool, the fuel core, an expansive tree-like engineering room and other outdoors-like areas, and, of course, endless corridors.
The episode itself opens with a three-man salvage crew targeting the TARDIS as space refuse. The eventual revelation that the android member of the crew is actually a member of the other two’s family is effective as well, though understandably it gets slotted to the background more than usual as the TARDIS and the continued exploration of Clara take centre stage.
After the gravitational tractor beam of the scavengers’ wreaks havoc with the TARDIS, the Doctor must team up with the crew to get into the TARDIS and save his caught friend. Unfortunately for him, the chaos continues within, the corridors turned into a labyrinth, a clock ticking down to self-destruction, and lava-like monsters prowling around the ship. Director Matt King has a tough job in making the many corridor chase sequences between the more astounding plot developments and more interesting rooms interesting, but he does his best to keep the momentum flowing with different camera angles and lighting options.
Clara has some very important scenes in this episode, especially as she winds up in the TARDIS library and comes upon the Doctor’s real name. Whether or not this should become public knowledge is a major point of contention, but it’s certainly gaining prominence after last series ended on the ‘Doctor Who?’ question and an upcoming episode is entitled ‘The Name of the Doctor.’ Regardless of any upcoming ramifications of this scene, the far more powerful moment is the realisation that the monsters in the TARDIS- ones who gradually increase in power as the story progresses- are actually manifestations of Clara herself following her death, setting the scene for a grand confrontation between Clara and the Doctor.
The issue with ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,’ a surprising one considering this is a mid-series episode, is that the resolution relies on the much belied reset button. It’s not a firm complete reset at least, as there are a couple of noticeable differences for the salvage crew, and this leaves open the possibility that the Clara may still hold some memory of these events and that the TARDIS may still be fatally and irreversibly damaged as the Doctor noted. Each of these provides tantalizing opportunities for future tales if either proves to be true.
Still, this is a story with a lot to like, and fans from any generation should easily be able to find an enjoyable aspect. Though the supporting performances occasionally border on hammy and the dreaded reset button makes a surprise appearance, this is a story that seemingly delivers on exactly what its title promises, a journey into previously-unseen depths of the TARDIS, while also offering some strong characterization and surprising revelations. It’s not often a TARDIS story comes along and, while this may ultimately not live up Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ that focuses much more heavily on characterization and nostalgia, this is yet another important and enjoyably strong tale in the Matt Smith era.