Monday, April 29, 2013

“Doctor Who” Season 7: “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS”

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Confession: I'm not sure what the hell happened in this weekend's episode. The time and space woo-woo going on was to be expected for an episode that centered on the TARDIS, I guess, but I'm still not certain on how the whole problem worked itself out. I keep waiting for a smarter version of me from another timeline to pop through a glowing crack in my wall and explain it. Just make sure you don't knock down the autographed Go Fug Yourself picture, Smart Alterna-Eric. And take out the recyclables with you.

The basic gist of the episode was that The Doctor, in an effort to broker peace -- or at least an understanding - between Clara and the TARDIS itself, put the ship into "safe mode" so that she could try to interact with it on a lower, more basic level. He picked the worst possible moment to do this, as the TARDIS flew past a giant salvage ship run by some unscrupulous brothers who illegally snap up whatever of value they come across in space. One magno beam later the TARDIS was on board the salvage ship, The Doctor was bickering with its crew, and Clara was stuck inside, her life jeopardized by a fuel leak - and whatever lurked inside the TARDIS itself.

I actually enjoyed the first chunk of the episode, where The Doctor more or less forced the salvage crew into helping him search for Clara, and Clara explored the twisting, turning corridors of the TARDIS. We've seen so little of the ship since the reboot, but here we got some interesting throwbacks: the bassinet from the episode in which we discovered River's origins, the swimming pool that has been mentioned several times, a telescope that looked an awful lot like the one Queen Victoria was building in the werewolf episode, and - most interestingly - the library. There Clara found "The History of the Time War," which she paged through, and found something very interesting: the actual name of The Doctor.

I'm going to pause here to bring up something that has become an important discussion point for this episode across the internet. It has been established that the TARDIS translates any language, except Gallifreyan, the language of the Time Lords. (Why would it need to translate the language of the people who built it?) It is highly unlikely that a history book on the Time War was written in Earth English. And yet, Clara was able to read it. Which strongly suggests that Clara is able to read Gallifreyan.

Carrying on. Clara's exploration of the TARDIS became more pressing after she encountered some ghoulish creature. The Doctor also encountered problems in the form of the salvage crew, which was just blatantly trying to steal parts of the TARDIS. The TARDIS did not like that, and went into high defense mode. Then more creepy monster things popped up. Poles started shooting out of walls, there was a room with a sun trapped in it, a beach that wasn't a beach, an android that wasn't an android, and finally the engine room, where The Doctor discovered that the TARDIS's heart had already exploded.

I won't even attempt to explain what happened to reset everything to the beginning of the episode. I think I get it, but it still makes my head hurt. The truly interesting thing to come out of it all was that The Doctor finally grilled Clara about her multiple deaths throughout time, and demanded to know if she was "a trick or a trap." Clara seemed genuinely confused and terrified by the whole thing, so The Doctor - I think quite stupidly, given all the evidence to the contrary - decided that it's fine, because she's "just Clara." Not that either of them remember having that conversation, because the end of the episode brought us back to the beginning, minus the salvage ship misadventure.

There were a few other points this episode that I think are worth discussing.

1. When the TARDIS first gets sucked into the salvage ship, the crew noted that there was a body trapped underneath the debris. Did we ever determine whose body that was? Was it The Doctor? Because he just appeared out of nowhere seconds later, fine as can be. And it wasn't Clara, because she was still inside the TARDIS.

2. Again, I don't think it was a coincidence that they showed us some of the things they showed us in the TARDIS. The bassinet is another reference to The Doctor's children/grandchildren, which again brings up the Susan stuff.

3. In the library, Clara knocks over a vial of Encyclopedia Gallifreyan. But that is after she reads the book about the Time War. It spills on her and we heard whispers. But I guess all of that is moot since it was reset along with the rest of the episode.

4. The Doctor was unhappy when Clara tried to talk to him about his true name. Please tell me that's not the big question that The Silence has been fussing about for the past two seasons. I will be sorely disappointed if that's the case.

5. This whole thing started because The Doctor wanted Clara to get along with the TARDIS, a plotline that keeps getting brought up. A commenter on my previous blog argued that this is the TARDIS just being jealous, because it is also a woman. I have to respectfully disagree there. The Doctor almost always has a female companion, and we've never seen the TARDIS react like this before. And certainly it would have more cause to be jealous of Rose - for whom The Doctor had obvious feelings - and even Martha and (early on) Amy, both of whom threw themselves at The Doctor. So it can't just be petty female jealousy. Something more is going on there.

6. When looking for an out-of-phase Clara, The Doctor made the salvage crews' sensors tune in for a human female. That did eventually produce Clara. However, there seemed to be a hesitation on the sensor's part. Maybe I read too much into that, but it sure didn't seem like a conclusive reading to me.

7. I think the salvage crew and their interpersonal dynamics were largely pointless, just an excuse for the plot. But I don't think it's a coincidence that the crew was struggling with issues of identity (the "android" not being what he thought he was, even though he truly believed it - just like Clara) and the dysfunctional nature of families.

8. When the one crew member climbed underneath the main control platform he touched something that shocked him, and he also heard voices. I recognized some of them as audio clips from what I believe are previous episodes - I'm pretty sure I caught Donna screaming, "We're in space!" Did anyone else catch any other snippets? Was this just a tip-off that time was leaking into the TARDIS? Or another clue to something else? Again, we're three episodes to the season finale and we have yet to get a "Big Bad" established...

NEXT: More Victorian fun with everyone's favorite lesbian reptilian detective, plus Diana Rigg will have a busy weekend guesting on both this and "Game of Thrones."

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