Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Ten Things About Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

1. The Van Baalen Brothers

If Tricky really thought he was an android, how did he explain a need for nutrition (and the resultant excretion)? But if the conceit about having been tricked into believing he’s robotic doesn’t really stand up from that angle, the clues are there: right from the beginning, his attitude to the plight of the Doctor and Clara – and of the TARDIS herself – is the most human of the three brothers’.

2. That’s some heavy polystyrene you’ve got there

Poor Jenna-Louise Coleman. It can’t be easy to have to wake up from a completely unconscious state, free yourself from under what is doubtless supposed to be extremely cumbersome masonry, leap to your feet and then brush yourself down in the space of about three seconds.

You can, apparently, just about manage it in the time allotted if you ensure that not a single step of that process looks genuine.

3. The gravity of the situation

The TARDIS has been on its side before – I’m thinking the crash landing on Castrovalva, or being placed in the hold in Time-Flight. On other occasions, as here, the internals and externals are very separate.

As ever, the rule is quite simple: the TARDIS is/is not (delete as applicable) directly affected by external forces in ways that exactly match the dramatic requirements of the time.

As the Doctor says, and which any writer of the series has the right to echo, “My ship. My rules.”

4. Memories and echoes

Some of the artefacts Clara finds early on in her exploration – Melody’s crib, little Amy’s model police box – are clearly some of the recent nick-nacks the Doctor has been ferreting away. Which is pretty standard, I guess: just as that cupboard we all have that is the dumping ground for artefacts we haven’t had the willpower to declutter has all the more recent elements at the front.

Nice to see that the swimming pool and the library have sorted themselves out, too, though I’m not quite sure what the observatory from Torchwood House was doing down the end of one corridor.

The most affecting nostalgic image, though, was an auditory one – with echoes from the TV series’ 50 year history, starting with a clip of Susan recounting how she made up the name from the initials, and rocketing through the decades since.

5. The Edge of Beyond the Inside of the Spaceship

The concept of the TARDIS having a self-awareness that manifests in times of dire peril was established in the very first season. In a two-episode story featuring just the Doctor and his three companions Susan, Ian and Barbara, the ship is attempting to warn the passengers that they are flying back to the beginning of time, and the TARDIS is in imminent danger of destruction.

Debate about that story tends to revolve around its name. For the first few years of Doctor Who, every episode had its own title, and there was no onscreen acknowledgement that batches of episodes formed discrete stories. Consequently, the episodes The Edge of Destruction and The Brink of Disaster have also been known collectively as Inside the Spaceship and Beyond the Sun.

Whatever you choose to call them, those perhaps more than any other have imprinted themselves on the series. The concept of the TARDIS as a character in its own right has pervaded throughout the series, culminating of course in Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife. All the more remarkable that the two episodes were written on the hoof. The series had initially been commissioned for just thirteen episodes. The seven-episode story which took the TARDIS crew to Skaro and introduced the Daleks took the number of episodes up to eleven; the production team needed a two-episode story to fulfil the contract, and for budgetary reasons only the principal cast could be used.

In its fifty-year history, Doctor Who‘s production is littered with stories of how budgetary constraints inspired some of the series’ most creative decisions. None is, I would suggest, as influential as those original two episodes from February 1964.

6. Following in the footsteps

Other Doctors and companions have taken us on explorations of the TARDIS, from the Cloister Room and the Zero Room (Logopolis/Castrovalva) to various bedrooms, post-regeneration wardrobe rooms and that bizarre crypt where the Eye of Harmony was stored in the 1996 TV movie. Perhaps the biggest, though, was also the most disappointing, as a chase through the TARDIS in The Invasion of Time looked remarkably like a race through some bedraggled disused hospital wards. Funny, that.

In many ways, it’s about the situations the characters encounter that matter – but I have to say that the new TARDIS interiors I find hugely disappointing. The main console room is now constructed to support 360° filming, as demonstrated by the Doctor and Clara’s race around the console – but it looks so similar from every angle that you do have to wonder what the point is.

And as for the corridors – they felt far too generic spaceship for me. The TARDIS is the most impressive time/spacecraft ever created in fiction, and it’s always a disappointment when the design within it fails to live up to that.

7. Zombies from the end of time

In contrast, I thought the time zombies’ design was quite effective, although less so the more well-lit and in-focus they became. But the camera’s refusal to focus on them, to make them almost exist on the edge of our sight, helped overlook any flaws and made their first appearances genuinely creepy.

8. It’s cold outside

Is it just me, or was the opening tracking shot of the Van Baalen Brothers’ salvage craft, with a mournful trumpet solo, not a little reminiscent of Red Dwarf?

9. Whatever you want

The mention of the architectural reconfiguration system may have been a back-reference that also gives Gregor something he can salvage, and for the TARDIS to prevent him taking.

But could it also be a clue to Clara? The ARS (stop sniggering at the back) will build “anything you require”, reconstructing particles “according to your needs”.

We’ve been told numerous times that the Doctor needs a companion (“someone to stop you,” as Donna points out in The Runaway Bride). Since Amy and Rory left, is it possible that the TARDIS has been creating proto-companions and placing them in the Doctor’s path?

10. Scribbled in the margin

Two of this series’ biggest promised mysteries are aired again here, although we’re no closer to working out whether we’ve been given any clues about either. Both hinge on identity – who is Clara? Who is the Doctor?

I happened to like the deliberately cheeky use of the “big friendly button” reset switch in this episode – it’s so blatant that it’s clearly giving a couple of fingers to people who bemoan its use in other sci-fi stories, even as it demonstrates exactly why such a device is a bad idea.

But after the reset, clearly some things were different. The photograph glimpsed at the start of the episode, in which Tricky had been cropped out, now shows all three brothers with their father.

The conversation the Doctor and Clara have about her identity is one that has been needed for a while. One would hope that somewhere, other or both of them remembers enough to have a proper talk after the button was pressed.

Or maybe that’ll wait until next week, when Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax return. Having met the Victorian version of Clara and watched her die, they’re bound to have questions of their own…

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Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.

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