5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE TARDIS
We’ve been longing for an episode set within the TARDIS for, like, ever. Coolest place in the universe, right? So it would be amazing to see an episode that fully exploited the TARDIS interior.
This is not that episode.
We knew Neil Gaiman was writing another episode this season, and given how deliriously happy we were with The Doctor’s Wife, we were kinda hoping it was him doing the TARDIS interior one. However, he clearly isn’t keen on being pigeonholed as that TARDIS guy, so instead we get Steve Thompson. Hmm, sounds familiar - now what did he….oh, God. Curse Of The Black Spot.
We distinctly recall not being overly enamoured with Steve Thompson’s somewhat less than rollicking pirate adventure. Let’s see, what did we say again? Poor characterisation, relentless obviousness, plot crammed with stupidity…now it’s all starting to make sense. Because Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS is more than a missed opportunity. It’s actually awesomely terrible.
It starts with shots of a junky old spaceship and, not for the only time in this episode, we were strongly reminded of early Red Dwarf. (The way to tell them apart? Red Dwarf was funny, cleverly plotted and with excellent characterisation.) We’re getting bored with all the movie refs, so we’re not going to list them, but honestly, with the 2001-alike music Murray Gold is just taking the piss. Then the Van Baalens set about half-inching the TARDIS.
We might take to the Van Baalen brothers a bit more if they were….something else. What? More like actual people, maybe? Instead, we get Mr Angry, Sad Little Robot and The Other One. We’re not sure if this is the writing, the acting or the combo from hell, but considering they’re the only people here other than Clara and the Doctor, it’s a bit of a body blow.
Of course, the question is what the Doctor is doing messing with this bunch anyway. The Doctor has no clue where Clara might be inside the TARDIS, but it’s his ship and, we assume, after a fair few years in charge of it he knows it pretty well. However, in order to find Clara, instead of just looking for her himself or asking the TARDIS to help, he deputises a bunch of guys he knows are less than scrupulous and gives them a golden ticket into the inner sanctum.
Since he clearly knows perfectly well that they couldn’t care less about Clara, he forces their hand with a silly self-destruct sequence. They, however, seem to care even less about this, wandering around the ship breaking bits off and stuffing them in their pockets. The Other One is even bundled off to fold up the console and bugger off with it. And the Doctor’s reaction? Not only does he not realise his bizarre error and chuck them out, his response to Gregor’s five-finger discount is to plead with him not to take stuff. What? It’s lacking in rationality as well as in dignity. The only point of using the Van Baalens would be if they split up to increase the chance of finding Clara, but it’s even not the Doctor who suggests this. We began to wonder if the Doctor had a dark agenda entirely unrelated to Clara that required snaffling the Van Baalens and trapping them in the TARDIS, but no. That would have been far too sensible and intriguing.
Meanwhile, Clara’s getting on with the bit we’re all actually interested in: having a nosey round the TARDIS. And what a criminally wasted opportunity it is. Apparently Steven Moffat was haunted by the short shrift the TARDIS interior got in Invasion Of Time and wanted to show something a bit more splendid. Hard to believe, isn’t it? From that to what we actually get?
Let’s face it, depicting the TARDIS interior was never going to be a picnic, because we’re all got ideas of it in our heads, and budget-busting ideas they are too. We acknowledge that he was never going to please everybody, but nevertheless, we can’t help feeling that they could have tried just a little more earnestly than this. A couple of crappy old props. The swimming pool. (It looks pretty much like a swimming pool.) The library (slightly more impressive, but still meh). And more than anything else? Corridors. Corridors, corridors, corridors. If we hadn’t read about what his intention was here, we would have wondered if Moffat was playing some kind of meta-ironic corridor-related joke on us.
Even things that look a bit more spectacular are ruined by their context. That globey tree thing, for example, seems so utterly random, and we have to put up with the vision of the Doctor begging Gregor not to vandalise it. (Not to mention the stupidity of Gregor assuming that yanking off one random piece of it would do him any good. And when Gregor ignores him, the Doctor just trots along with him, weakly trying to reason with him. Dude’s damaging the TARDIS, Doctor! Do something!)
As for the Eye Of Harmony, well, it looks pretty, but having just told us how dangerous it is being in its vicinity, the Doctor’s lengthy lecture on how it all works is just ridiculous. We were expecting him to get out some flow charts and a laser pointer.
And meanwhile, they’re being chased by mobile lumps of lava. Talk about over-egging the pudding. They take a situation that positively oozes drama of its own, the TARDIS’s dangerous and unpredictable insides, and get cold feet about how gripped the audience is going to be by that. Our answer: plenty gripped. Plenty. After all these years of wanting to see more inside the TARDIS, we want it to be about the TARDIS. However, not trusting in their own concept, they pile danger upon danger to try and keep the excitement level up. Let’s see, we have:
A missing companion!
A fuel leak!
A self-destruct sequence!
Some guys snapping bits off the TARDIS!
An overheating engine!
Fuel rods turning into javelins!
A human-crisping Eye Of Harmony!
Because if some peril is good, more must be better, right? Sigh. If only they realised that the more of this there is, the less any of it has an impact.
And the emotional beats, such as they are, are horribly mismanaged. The Other One gets knocked off a ladder and falls a fair distance to the floor. He’s OK, though, but not for long, as Lava Boy dry-ices him to death. At this point we looked at each other. What on earth were they expecting us to feel at this point? The character’s a nonentity who’s trying to injure the TARDIS. We didn’t care that he fell off the ladder (possibly the flattest action moment ever filmed), we didn’t care he survived the fall, we didn’t care that he was killed. And all of this is compounded by the witless dialogue that follows.
”You’ve got to help him! Gregor, do something! Do something!”
“It’s too late, he’s gone. Let’s just worry about the salvage.”
Now, we know Gregor isn’t exactly in the running for a humanitarian award. But being utterly unperturbed by his brother’s death is pushing it, isn’t it? Also, it’s just a dead circuit! Isn’t he writing him off awfully quickly?
And we discover that Tricky isn’t an android after all. His brothers were just having a laugh. Yeah. Well, it’s not just his brothers who are having a laugh, is it? Do they seriously expect us to believe that Tricky’s never noticed that he feels pain? Even in the scene where he has a fuel rod through his shoulder, he’s telling his brother to whip his arm off because it won’t hurt - while moaning with agony! Seriously, what are they on? And meanwhile, the Doctor’s busying himself explaining all of it while the guy’s still pinned to the wall! Unbelievable.
All of this android jape stuff is apparently supposed to be a touching, emotional moment, but it’s as if it’s been written by somebody who’s never met a human before. If they think we care about the redemption of somebody utterly indifferent to his brother’s death and who enslaved his other brother just to grab the captain’s chair, they think very wrong indeed.
On we go. There’s a whole lot of time-loopy stuff, and theoretically we should be working it all out to try and figure out whether that zombie with the hand stuck to his face is the Doctor or somebody else, but it was all so very boring by this point that we simply can’t be arsed.
Then there’s one of the only two things we actually like. Since we’re always suckers for all-white sets, we love the heart of the TARDIS with all the bits frozen in space. (The other thing is the Gallifrey encyclopaedia, if you’re counting.)
Sadly, that bright moment is quickly over. And what it’s replaced with is, if possible, even more rubbish than everything that’s come before. Despite this being the worst copout in history and, what’s more, despite the Doctor having explicitly ruled it out as an option in the past, the Doctor retcons his own timeline so none of it ever happened. Whatever comments we might have on this couldn’t be more obvious, so we won’t bother. Except to say that we wish the episode had a reset button of its own.
And what’s even more loathsome and contemptible than a reset button? An each way bet. The “shred of decency” comment looks like it might be hinting that despite all of this being rewritten, Clara might magically remember it, Amy-style. Ugh.
It’s the inside of the TARDIS. The inside of the TARDIS! And instead of making the most of that, they serve up a random mishmash of danger, with three badly drawn boys we couldn’t care less about and a reset-button ending. We’re really quite cross.
MORAL: If in doubt, wipe it out.
RESET TO 1970
“Basic? Because I’m a girl?” “No!” Really? Really?
MATH IS HARD
“…this ship is infinite.”
“Take you hours to find the girl.”
There you have it. Time to search an infinitely large space: hours. And while we’re on exciting scientific discoveries, the Doctor’s announcement that the TARDIS is infinite doesn’t exactly tally with the Fifth Doctor jettisoning a quarter of the TARDIS’S mass, does it? Infinity divided by a quarter…no, we’d have to take our socks off for that one.
Two control rooms that are like a light switch: isn’t this pretty much the same concept as was used in Curse Of The Black Spot?
I REALLY MUST INSIST
“Don’t touch him. Or time will reassert itself!” What?
SUPERMASSIVE BLACK HOLE
Of course, if you really were next to a star on the point of becoming a black hole (or indeed any kind of star, imminent black holiness notwithstanding), it would actually slurp you up, dismantle you into your component atoms and use those atoms as fuel, not turn you into a lava lamp. The technical definition of the latter procedure, as one of us pointed out, is "dumbass non-science".