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Doctor Who: 710 “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” Review

doctor-who-journey-poster-landscape

Reviewed by Adam James Cuthbert

“Ever pointed that thing at yourself, Gregor? What would it see? What sort of person does this to another human being?” – Tricky

If The Curse of the Black Spot was a flop that sank deep, then Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS witnesses Steve Thompson soar to new heights of esteem. Thompson delivers a riveting, atmospheric narrative, an effect supplemented by Mat King’s dynamic and innovative direction (including disorientating Dutch angles, tracking shots, and rotating camera-angles, for a vivid immersive experience).

Journey is reminiscent of The Doctor’s Wife in the respect that Steve Thompson reminds his audience that the TARDIS is a complex world within itself: on the one hand, it’s the Doctor’s conveyance and abode, a sanctuary; on the other, it’s a nightmarish death-trap. Like The Doctor’s Wife, Journey develops the notion that time (and space; causality) can be manipulated within the TARDIS. The intention is to disconcert the audience by perverting a locale we customarily associate with sanctuary or security – accentuating the impact created by Gaiman’s narrative on a grandiose scale, as Thompson proceeds to delve into the gargantuan belly of the beast. Characters find themselves experiencing recent history on more than one occasion, tracing their own footsteps. The implication these events have already transpired, with the Doctor and Clara entrapped within a time-loop is particularly effective. Certainly, one of the narrative’s more striking elements, visually, is Clara’s startling encounter with the apparitions (their presence would insinuate a recurring motif of ‘ghosts’, or a pervasive sense of ‘haunting’, within this half of the series).

Indeed, the Eleventh Doctor’s characterisation evokes shades of the Seventh Doctor’s inscrutable, manipulative personality: that of a man with a long, tenebrous, and forbidden past. Not only does the Doctor adroitly persuade the Van Baalens to assist him through skulduggery, but Clara’s later confrontation (“You call yourself Doctor, why is that?”) recalls Ace’s own pique in Silver Nemesis (“Doctor, who are you?”), only to be similarly hushed. The fact the Doctor treats it like a game (“You’ve got to do the face”) reminds me of the Seventh’s penchant for game-playing, albeit on a decisively lighter tone. Matt Smith’s performance has remarkably improved this week, as Thompson subdues the character’s more childlike traits. I’m not keen, however, on the Doctor’s treatment of Clara as “the salvage of a lifetime”. It strikes me as un-Doctorish, reducing Clara to a prized possession, selfishly belittling her humanity. It’s also illogical that the Doctor wouldn’t have deduced by now that Clara has no knowledge of her other selves. Any development within their dynamic, following the Doctor’s (belated) realisation, is disappointingly retconned by the resolution.

The plot, while straightforward, if unremarkable (‘ticking-clock’ scenario; the future negating itself by interaction with the past), does have an excitable, tense build-up. The climax, as the characters are surrounded by Time Zombies on either side, is impressively staged, with an almost apocalyptic atmosphere to the events, the characters bathed in the hellish, hypnotic radiance of the Eye of Harmony. (The Eye, to my understanding, was the nucleus of a black hole, not a star in a permanent state of collapsing into a black hole.) The Time Zombies themselves worked in a superior facility to Hide’s grotesqueries, as Thompson doesn’t retrospectively undermine their capacity for chilling horror – the horror lingers afterwards. It’s an ingenious twist, one with an underlying resonance: to be exposed to your future, manifest, especially in such a disfigured, feral physiology.

As for the Van Baalens: Gregor is meant to be abhorred. He’s a truly despicable character: avaricious, patronising, unscrupulous, craven, and heartless. Arguably, he’s a surprisingly realistic character. Not everyone’s a selfless hero, and sibling envy can make anyone behave obnoxiously. The Van Baalens are simply ordinary men with needs (as evidenced through their poster of an alien female model posing in lingerie), whose extraordinary situation happens to highlight their respective character traits and/or flaws.

Journey is a resounding treat for the fans. I was especially impressed and fascinated in the library: a tantalising wealth of unknown knowledge. The imagination lingers: which scribe wrote The History of the Time War? Why is the Doctor’s real name mentioned? Was it a chapter detailing the exploits the Doctor himself was involved in?

Some of the imagery within the story is eye-catchingly spectacular: the Heart of the TARDIS, and the fragments of the engine suspended in the white void; the Architectural Configuration System, and its tree-like formation symbolically conveying the TARDIS’ biotechnological nature.

Verdict: 8/10

In conclusion, Journey manages to be good fun. It’s an undemanding affair that proves to be a skilful world-building exercise, with intriguing contributions to the mythos about the world within the TARDIS.

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  • http://patrickkavanaghsproull.weebly.com/ Diana Rigg is PK-S

    Woah, Adam, this review was.. fantastic, as per usual!

    Each week you deliver articles of such high standard, with valid and insightful opinions – you really have proved yourself as the man for this job.

    I also agree with everything in your review!

  • http://www.facebook.com/thomas.firth.9 Thomas Firth

    Finally, someone who hasn’t criticised Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS to the point where it becomes a body without flesh. I agree completely. It’s nice to see someone concentrate on the good points instead of pinpointing the flaws.

  • Peripherus

    It was a great episode, but the Van Baalen Bros story was utterly stupid and hollow.

  • Pdurston

    Great episode and a great review. Adam, I agree completely. Journey was a breath of fresh air and a unforgettable story. Stephen Thompson made an amazing achievement.

    I’m glad there’s someone else that liked the Van Baalen brothers. I thought they brought a sense of charm to the plot, despite being an unlikeable bunch. Mat King’s direction was simply gorgeous, and Michael Pickwoad deserves huge praise for the fantastic set designs of the inner mazes and glorious rooms of the TARDIS.

  • http://twitter.com/ZakkVanBurace Zakk Williams

    Amazing review, Adam. I love all of your reviews so far, here’s a fan!
    And I agree with everything, btw, I think it was a great episode and a huge improvement from ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’.

  • http://tardisfiction.weebly.com/ TardisBoy

    All I can say is this was a magnificent review! Well done yet again Adam! I agree on every point. Though my rating for this episode was 10/10 :)

  • Fezzes_and_Broomsticks

    8/10 just about right I’d say. Certainly a big improvement on his last addition to Doctor Who. Loved the direction and camera work from Mat King, some of the effects were great, the monsters were excellently realised and their reveal was a great twist as well. Only downsides were the wooden acting of the Van Baalen Brothers, the one who died first being particularly poor, and the cheat ending, come on, the Doctor might as well reset time every time he is stuck in a pickle then. Still, an enjoyable episode but still waiting on a true stunner of the series, The Angels of Manhattan being the only truely brilliant episode so far, would be nice to get another in.

  • http://doctorwho-execution.weebly.com/ GibbyBlogger

    A great review, Adam!

    I agree with you on everything but, the score :P

    Personally, I’d give it a 9.5/10 :)

    (I also thought, while they justified the presence, the Van Baalens were not very strong characters… although they had their moments)

  • http://cultfix.co.uk/da-vincis-demons-101-the-hanged-man-review-22336.htm EternalDoctor

    I cannot believe I hadn’t noticed this before now. I

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