Wow, was this one hell of an episode! With a name like “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” expectations were, expectantly, high. And I’ll say not only did it deliver, but my expectations were exceeded! This is Doctor Who at its very best. Engaging, exciting, frightening, and occasionally frustrating with the tantalizing clues it’ll wave in your face only to stuff them back in its pockets. The TARDIS is given center stage as not only the episode’s entire setting but as an equally valuable character. “Journey” is gripping and horrific where “The Doctor’s Wife” was sad and sweet. And honestly, I’m not at all surprise I found this to be one of the best episodes since “The Doctor’s Wife” because if Doctor Who has another, often forgotten star alongside The Doctor, it is the TARDIS.
She has appeared in every episode and serial of the series since it began in 1963, and for as little as we know about The Doctor, we know even less of her. In this year of Doctor Who‘s golden anniversary it seems only right we get know the TARDIS, and The Doctor, a little better. She is a mass of corridors, which I find only too fitting, what with Doctor Who‘s penchant for a good corridor. She is quite literally infinite, able to create and destroy on whim. She is filled to the brim with memories and you hear several of them bleeding out when the console is being dismantled. She is powered by a dying star, held within The Eye of Harmony in a constant state of decay; Time Lord engineering (“Smart bunch, Time Lords, no dress sense, dreadful hats, but smart.“) Inside her library – and hey did you catch the swimming pool? – is the complete Encyclopedia Gallifreya as well as a large, ominous looking book containing the entire history of the Time War. It was at this point I realized, “Journey” was going to raise a lot more questions than it could answer.
This is not to say there wasn’t anything revealed. I was quite caught off guard by The Doctor deciding to come clean with Clara about the whole, “Hey, I’ve met you before” -thing. And I was then pleased to see his fear of Clara absolved by his realization she has no knowledge of being anything other than Clara. Just Clara. This isn’t to say she won’t be used against him later on, that’s a role almost every Companion plays at one point or another, but at least he’s no longer treating her as if she’s hiding something sinister. And maybe the TARDIS will lighten up a little, too. Clara, as usual, handles the whole situation with aplomb. She’s frightened when it calls for it, but also brave in face of imminent death, and I love how in what could have been her final moments she demands explanation from The Doctor. Clearly, it will be her determination that eventually unravels all The Doctor’s secrets.
And how about those secrets! She saw it! Clara learned The Doctor’s name. Of course, she’s already forgotten since fixing the TARDIS’ leak restructured the time line, but we know it won’t be long before we, and she, learn it again. He really is all about secrets, isn’t he? And keeping them from his Companions does not always keep them safe, as we saw with the creepy, ashen-skin, burnt up Clara and Van Baleen brothers which served as the requisite monster. Why does The Doctor need to be so secretive? In particular about his name? See, this is what I meant by the episode supplying more questions than it could ever answer.
For their part, the Van Baleen brothers (Ashley Walters, Mark Oliver, and Jahvel Hall) were an all right secondary story line. I mean, it was pretty fucked up they convinced their youngest brother he was an android, a reveal I found a little obvious. This added family drama wasn’t really necessary, but I also didn’t find it all that detracting from the plot overall. The pace of this episode moved as smooth as could be, and you’ll probably be shocked to learn it was written by Stephen Thompson, the same guy who wrote the yawn-ful, “The Curse of the Black Spot.” The quality of his episodes seem to be decided by the flip of a coin, for as forgettable as “Black Spot” was, I believe “Journey” will be looked back on as triumph. (Same could be said of his work on Steven Moffat‘s other series, Sherlock, with “The Blind Banker” being a weak link, but “The Reichenbach Fall” a masterpiece.)
And I’m sorry – but not really all that sorry – I know I say this every week, but the chemistry between Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman only gets better. Again, like so often before, the fear a new Companion won’t stack up to those who came before is completely unwarranted. I really hope Clara is around for a good long while because her rapport with The Doctor is fantastic. She gives as good as she gets, and she challenges him in ways unlike previous Companions. “Journey” finds The Doctor at a bit of a loss of what to most of the time, but I did love him duping the brothers with the fake self destruct countdown. Even more so when he reveals his ruse later on, particular the bit of him explaining how he played them. Interesting commentary from Smith on how he approaches The Doctor, maybe?
Oh! And was this episode just full of little Easter Eggs for Whovians. There’s the audio clips we hear in the console room, the trinkets Clara comes upon, and more, all of which the BBC has very nicely collected for us here. All in all, “Journey” was by far the best episode this season – of 7A and 7B – and though I’m sure there will be debate over the ending where a “big, friendly button” is pressed, effectively saving the day, I found the twisty, time-wimey resolution just pitch perfect for this Doctor Who adventure. And here’s hoping this season’s finale doesn’t drop the ball I believe “Journey” has proficiently sent flying.
Next week, Mark Gatiss is back again this season with “The Crimson Horror”, guest starring Dame Diana Rigg – who you’ll likely recognize as Lady Olenna from Game of Thrones – plus Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax!
Doctor Who airs Saturday nights on BBC America at 8pm.