Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS"

"If only we could travel space without setting our own ship on fire.
The impossible dream."
It's a mild relief to have a title reference Jules Verne rather than a trashy film for this episode, although it's still pointless intertextuality. That being said, how much despair can we postpone upon realising that this episode is penned by none other than Stephen Thompson, Moffat's go-to guy for pointless filler, in both Sherlock and Doctor Who: moreso than Gatiss, I mean. Apparently part of the premise of "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was Moffat being "haunted" by the poor location work used for the bowels of the TARDIS in "The Invasion of Time." That was because they couldn't get the sets they wanted due to a worker's strike at the BBC. What's New Who's excuse? "The Invasion of Time" is a weak serial, but acting like this dreary corridor stomper is in any way compensatory is to draw a very long bow indeed.
"Tell Murray to drop the tuba and get a microphone!
I had beans for lunch!"
We begin with a huge spaceship vaguely reminiscent of Spaceball One being pushed along by huge thrusters on its front, which presumably burn away the sides of the ship that it's blasting alongside every few seconds. It's crewed by three blokes, one with weird eyes and a barcode, which apparently means he's an android. Alongside the android there's a grouchy guy with a crew cut and a big guy who talks like he has brain damage. The latter two are, apparently, 'equal partners' in some kind of scrap hauling venture where they nab space debris. Things are getting pretty exciting. Meanwhile on the TARDIS the Doctor and Clara are having a tizzy before the Doctor decides to let her have a go piloting the vehicle. We get a very dubious moment where the Doctor smirks upon denying that he's putting the TARDIS on easy mode for Clara because she's female as the Doctor's craft gets identified by the scrappers, who gear up while generic rock music blasts in the background. Somehow they have a device which can shut off the power to the TARDIS and we get some shaky camera, sparks and the Doctor and Clara yelling incomprehensible dialogue at each other while Murray Gold drowns everything in liquid brass.
"Now which one of you fellas wants to shine my shoes, eh?"
The TARDIS gets pulled into the salvage vessel with a big CGI crane down a big CGI corridor, after which it is inexplicably half-submerged into cables. The big one who can't talk properly goes to abuse it with a sledgehammer and what looks like a Dead Space laser cutter thingie but the android objects. "She's suffering," he moans. "I can feel it." Angst so early in the episode, and being deployed via empathetic machinery? I can feel a cringe coming on. The Doctor pops in while these fellas are debating what to do and encourages them to help him rescue Clara, promising the 'salvage of a lifetime' if they aid him in solving the problems caused by their illegal salvaging equipment. Somehow they buy this, just inexplicably believing his 'salvage of a lifetime' routine despite the evidence of their own eyes - a blue box lying in front of them. I would have much preferred had he told them it was a TARDIS and that they recognised the name and decided to go with him for that reason.
"This polystyrene metal is so much more
convincing than in the old show!"
Meanwhile Clara's lying around inside the TARDIS with a burned hand due to some thing she touched before the incident. She decides to get the episode's main conceit going by walking around some corridors. She opens a door to reveal a big explosion rushing forward, which she flees from for about a second before resorting to a light jog - apparently the deadly explosion decided to just give up and go away. Why are the TARDIS corridors so dark? They look boring, scarcely better than the dodgy location footage from "The Invasion of Time" even if they do have strange scratches along the walls. Back in the salvage ship everyone's gearing up. None of these three guys can act to save their lives, it's appalling. Their anunciation is completely toneless and flat, especially the big one. The android even has a bizarre slogan: "No fear, no hate, no pain." Does he need to say that every time he does something android-like? It just makes him sound like a knob. They enter the TARDIS, finding themselves walking on flat ground rather than an angle so they don't have to tilt the camera. I actually didn't mind that idea, really. It's about the best we get in terms of dimensional hijinks in the episode.
Welcome to my nightmare.
Once inside, the Doctor decides to discourage his three new chums from just junking the place by setting the TARDIS to self destruct in thirty minutes if they don't find Clara. Some people I believe didn't like this but I actually quite enjoyed it. It made the Doctor seem suitably dark in a way that having him stare into middle distance with a grim look on his face while Murray Gold abuses the string section just doesn't. Incidentally, I quite like the Smith's costume in this episode where he's eschewed the big purple overcoat. Having the waistcoat as his outer attire actually looks quite snappy, I think, and gives him a bit of an old fashioned adventurer vibe which rubs me up the right way. We go for a trip not very far down memory lane as Clara finds herself in a room full of junk from series gone by, such as the Doctor's alleged cradle from 2011 and Amy's model TARDIS from 2010, along with the rather unrecognisable original Seventh Doctor umbrella, the one without the question mark handle. But oh no! Arbitrary monsters are here! Clara legs it pronto and our attention is returned to the Doctor and the three stooges. The leader, whose name I will look up when I could be bothered, has a scanner that's capable of reading what's in the TARDIS. If the TARDIS is so advanced, how can this thing scan it? Realising its value, he suggests they split up, to which the Doctor gullibly agrees. I'm not sure why the Doctor didn't suggest this himself. What was the point of bringing these three absolute plums along if all they were going to do was wander around in a group?
A six storey library? What other unimaginable
wonders doth the TARDIS hold?
Back in some other anonymous corridors, Clara walks past an observatory and swimming pool seen through windows while her laughter is inexplicably dubbed over the top. This TARDIS interior is completely unambitious. How does this make up for "The Invasion of Time"? It's all just corridors! Eventually she finds herself in a library which she is very impressed by, but upon revelation is many layered and sizeable but not really especially huge. I think it should have stretched off as far as the eye could see. In the console room, the big guy is cracking open the console, and we hear some random voice clips of people like Susan for some reason. The leader chap's scanner detects a door behind which is "everything you could possibly want." This has got to be the stupidest and most unrealistic-sounding thing I have ever heard a scanner say in a science fiction programme. Behind the door is a big droopy tree looking thing with glowing baubles hanging off it which apparently constructs the interior. After the leader yanks one of these bulbs away the door disappears, much to the Doctor's consternation. The android reproaches his colleague, offering the utterly bizarre line "The ship's in torment. You can't hurt it." Which is it? Is the ship or is it not in pain? To which the leader retorts nonsensically "What's the matter, TARDIS? Scared to fight me?" It's this kind of awful dialogue which holds scripts like this back, apart from the general lack of an interesting story. In the library Clara finds a book of Time War history for the sake of some New Who back-story wank, followed by some boring hiding from the returned monster, and the spilling of a bottle which is apparently part of a 'Gallifrey Encylopedia.' It's just random set dressing with absolutely no significance behind it. What's the point?
"The sooner you start cradling them the sooner you can stop."
The TARDIS corridors are changing, Smith's suddenly reserved performance in this episode a relief from the zaniness but serving to make him seem ineffectual and impotent. Clara hurries to the control room, where the big guy falls down a ladder and gets killed by the monster. This whole bit takes ages, incidentally, but can be completely summarised in so few sentences. Upon realising that his brother has snuffed it the leader, whose name I have now bothered to discover is Gregor, figures they just have to get on with the job, much to the consternation of Tricky the android. Is this guy a sociopath? If not that then it's just utter script mediocrity combined with either an incompetent actor or a failure on the part of the director to get a decent performance out of his guest cast. Now it's their turn to get attacked by monsters and run squawking off down the corridors, while we get the episode's next grudging concession to the dimensional potential of the TARDIS with Clara's efforts to leave the console room constantly returning her to the console room as the corridors loop around on themselves. I would have preferred this had it actually shown something beyond, possibly, the TARDIS turning one of the corridors into a ring.
"I nearly had to appear in a cliffhanger!"
One the Doctor and his two remaining plums arrive back in the console room Ms. Oswald is nowhere to be seen, but it turns out that's because they're in an 'echo' of the console room being generated by the TARDIS to protect them. Why is it dicking around changing the corridors then? Clara gets menaced for yet another repetitive time by the monster which she ducks back and forth from around the console like something from a cartoon before she gets rescued by the Doctor using his magic wand, all the while screaming her head off like a lady of the Classic Series, undoubtedly a nod included for the sake of us Classic fans. In true sci-fi comedy tradition the Doctor reveals that the TARDIS self-destruct was a fake. That worked really well in Red Dwarf, didn't it? Shame Red Dwarf isn't Doctor Who, although I'd rather watch Series X than this. As amusing as the Doctor's remarks about the "old wiggly button trick" and the serious voice and face are regarding tricking the plums into helping him, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding Clara's concerns that "Good guys don't have zombie creatures. Rule one, basic storytelling!" Spare us the self aware postmodern crap. It's as bad as her joke about buying the haunted mansion last episode. This girl needs herself some character-building dialogue!
"We have to go to the most dangerous place in the universe:
Jon Pertwee's eyeline."

It turns out however with all the embarrassing predictability of drunken incontinence that the TARDIS is, in fact, blowing up due to the engine damage suffered at the hands of the Plum Beam from the beginning of the episode. Really? And would that destroy the whole universe again like last time? It'd be more novel to see the TARDIS get knobbed about with if this wasn't the fourth time at least that it's happened in the course of Moff's meagre three series. We get the arbitrary dropping of the episode's title as the Doctor, Clara and their two dead weights determine that they really do need to go to the centre and it's back to the boring corridors again for more stumbling around. Clara observes the Doctor behind her, but it's just an illusion as the TARDIS is 'leaking the past.' The term "Future Echoes" comes to mind for some reason. How is it that New Who is playing with narrative devices done over twenty years ago by Red Dwarf? We get more running around the set from the monster before the Doctor reveals that due to the heat build up from the failing engines the cooling rods are going to start bending. Or at least, that somewhat approximates the bogus explanation for why huge bars of metal start arbitrarily bursting from the walls, one of them penetrating the shoulder of Tricky the android. He stands there insisting Gregor remove his arm and that he feels no pain while he's screaming with the rod sticking out of his army, looking a right wally.
At this point the Doctor drops the bombshell that Tricky isn't an android at all, he's just a cyborg. Gregor reveals with all the compassion of a sexually transmitted disease that he and the other one, Bram, tricked him into thinking he was an android as a joke. This absurd plot development, presumably added to derive some pointless angst from the guest cast, is an astonishingly mindless piece of script writing. How could he not figure out he was still human? It does go some way to explaining Tricky's bizarre behaviour, and intentionally or not it does indeed suggest that Gregor's character is just meant to be a complete dick. I hope that's meant to explain his earlier lack of empathy about his wooden brother's demise. This pointless bit of padding dealt with, the Doctor pops into the room they're outside, the engine room or something similar. Gregor establishes that Tricky lost his memory in an accident and that the other two convinced him he was an android to usurp his position as captain. That nonsense is the most realistic explanation about anything we're going to get in this episode. For some reason the Doctor decides that the other three can now follow him in - maybe they get chased in by the monster, I've already forgotten - and they stand around on a gantry between some pits. Off to one side is the Eye of Harmony, last seen eating the Master in the 1996 TV Movie. It's a weird concession to the TV Movie's interpretation which I guess is just another attempt at fan service. So where's Paul McGann?
"And if you listen closely, you can hear some remarks
about dressing for the occasion."
Both doors are now being thoroughly abused by monsters, and the Doctor's revealed that they can't stay in the engine room for long because they'll burn up. Gregor's scanner suggests that the monster behind the door is in fact Clara, and she demands from the Doctor an explanation. He gives her a lot of guff about how "secrets protect us," coming across as really a bit of a conservative tool promoting things like government surveillance in a weird way before revealing that they can't become the monsters if they "break the timeline." Oh good. Much like how a novel sets the future in stone, now touching people does too. The Doctor pulls Gregor and Tricky apart to stop them becoming the two fused monsters at the other door, but one ends up having to rescue the other, they touch and then instantly transform into the monster that was just attacking them. The Doctor complains that they have to stop before "the future reasserts itself." Is the future in the past now? And why did they burn up? If it was the engines, how is Clara still fine? If it wasn't the engines, why does touching cause them to instantly turn into the monster? Asking for explanations is like pissing in the wind: the relief won't compensate for the disappointment, and people will just claim it was a bad idea from the start.
An overplayed TARDIS commercial on Gallifrey.
So the Doctor and Clara hot foot it out of the engine room and find them on an illusory cliff somewhere. He decides that this is an appropriate moment to blow up at Clara, desperate to find out who she is, but she doesn't have a bloody clue, which is exactly what Emma told him last week. Finally realising this after forcing an embarrassing confrontation, the Doctor realises that the cliff is a "snarl." "The TARDIS is snarling at us." Apparently the TARDIS is now a cross woodland animal trying to deter them, but its aggression can be defeated by jumping into the empty air. The Doctor and Clara now find themselves among random bric a brac suspended in a white void like the frozen demolition of some industrial-themed installation art. The unimpressive assemblage of oddball and rather crude metal pieces which we cannot even conceive of as assembling some kind of meaningful heart, 'centre of the TARDIS' or, more generally, goal of the story, shows us how arbitrary and disconnected this narrative has become, where it's possible for Clara and the Smith to move from a gantry next to a dying star to a foggy cliff face to a hallucinogenic junkyard with no genuine impression of movement in story. Like so much New Who it's all just meaningless spectacle and set pieces strung together, where order is barely relevant.
"We can definitely get a whole room in the Doctor Who Experience out of this."
The burn on Clara's hand is revealed to be a message, and having gone all the way to the centre of the TARDIS Clara and the Smith are now somehow immediately back in the console room, the Doctor having had a revelation. What was the point of all that, then? What was the object of this story? The Doctor scrawls a message on the bauble that Clara burnt her hand on in the first place, and there's a 'crack in time' conveniently enough right there in the console room that's just big enough for him to step through. Clara makes a big hoo ha about seeing the Doctor's name in that book from earlier but honestly, who cares. Having passed screaming through the Time Crack the Doctor chucks the bauble to his past self, declaring that "This will reset time!" What? How? The Doctor pushes the literal reset button and we're done. Back on the salvage ship in true Moffat-Who condition the three brothers are reunited with, somehow, vague memories of their life-changing experience such that Gregor treats Tricky with more kindness and we get to see an awkwardly-photoshopped-looking picture of them with their old dad. Back in the TARDIS the Doctor and Clara seem to remember the incident somewhat but conveniently Clara's forgotten the Doctor's name and their confrontation about her identity. While making a bit of general chit chat the Doctor rather surprisingly spanks Clara on the arse with a dust cloth. The end.
"Once I make contact, the infinite time loop of
a gif on Tumblr awaits us."
What the hell was the point of all that? I've absolutely no idea. Reset buttons are, by their nature, bad storytelling: if you can't afford to kill a character, don't kill them. Don't cop-out and try to squeeze through your 'emotional drama' and get character development out of it at the same time. The monsters in this story feel completely needless and their identity is unbelievably predictable for anyone with the slightest awareness of science fiction convention. The three guest actors are wooden and unconvincing with a shallow sub plot that makes no sense and terrible characterisation. The TARDIS is just boring corridors, some CGI backdrops and junk. They spend half the episode wandering around doing nothing. The best part of the episode is Smith as the Doctor, because he puts in a very watchable performance here, but he can't carry the whole episode on his own. I was bored out of my mind rewatching this for the review and, as with much New Who, I'm astonished the script was considered to pass muster. This episode, like "Cold War" particularly, is a pointless piece of filler with nothing approaching an interesting plot or compelling characterisation for anyone other than the Doctor and the unique setting is utterly wasted in predictable, tired corridor stomping that is no better than it was in 1978. At least if you journey with Tom to the centre of the TARDIS you might get a few drinks out of it, and then a few more.

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