Thursday, 21 November 2013

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

This episode is growing on me, although it does seem to go out of its way to make that a slow process. Four elements to be discussed - three of them have made me scratch my head at some time or another since this was first broadcast; the last is something I'm only beginning to understand now, having watched it again.

That Title. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS? Oh, that's a bold claim to make, one that raises almost impossible expectations in the minds of most casual viewers, let alone hardcore fans. But, on the second or third viewing, I think I decided that what we ended up with was fine.

There's a delicate balancing act to be performed: we need to see the things we have decided will be there, like the swimming pool, the library and the, er, Cloisters, but different groups of fans will be fervently expecting the show to adjudicate on previous controversies: will there be a food machine? What about the Eye of Harmony, will the TV Movie be upheld or struck down? WILL THERE BE ROUNDELS?

On top of all that frothing and wailing, we want there to be surprises too, of course, and, to be fair, we get them. The liquid Encyclopædia Gallifreya is one such nice touch; another is the Tree of Architectural Reconfiguration. Then there's the great tome that Clara stumbles across, provocatively entitled The History of the Time War. It rather does beg the question, who wrote it? But perhaps the TARDIS spontaneously (and objectively, of course) writes up everything that happens as it whizzes past?

The Van Baalen Brothers. The idea of the Doctor having to employ the help of unscrupulous salvage merchants to rescue Clara is a good one, but these guys are too stupid to pose any real threat to the TARDIS and not nasty enough to worry us too much either. To be honest, it's a relief when the story ditches them so what are they doing here? And then there's that whole bizarre subplot where one of the brothers has been convinced b the other two that he is a robot. That's just ridiculous. Does he sleep? Do they feed him croquette potatoes and tell him they're batteries? It's a horrible and callous thing to have done (no wonder Clara doesn't know where to look when it is revealed), but also it is so very petty. At the end, they all seem to be back on their ship, and apparently their lives are somehow going to better now because of the events aboard the TARDIS that never happened. But really, who cares?

The Reset Button. Okay, first time through this makes no sense whatsoever and is pretty infuriating. On subsequent viewings it becomes clearer what actually happens and it turns out that the main structure of the time loop (eddy, whatever you want to call it) hangs together quite well, sort of. Here's the sequence: as we see it:

1. The salvage ship fires a magnetic beam at the TARDIS.
2. A remote control device for a magnetic beam appears inside the TARDIS.
3. Clara picks it up and burns her hand. Over the course of the episode it becomes increasingly clear that the device had writing on it that has been burnt onto Clara's hand. Eventually it can be read. It says: "Big friendly button."
4. The Doctor takes the remote control he stole from the Van Baalen brothers and writes these words on it using the sonic.
5. He finds a time fissure on the wall of the TARDIS and this time pokes his head through and catches the attention of his earlier self. He throws the device through the fissure.
6. The earlier Doctor now understands the arrival of the device and hits the button, therefore preventing the magnetic beam from grabbing the TARDIS, and causing a paradox. Which resolves itself, by and large.

It's more confusing when everything is shaking and booming and the Doctor is shouting, but there isn't just one iteration of the remote control device being handed around in an endless loop. I think. But it's not a great way to end a story, and there's no way the Van Balen brothers are somehow improved by events they can't remember.

Clara. Last week the Doctor, determined to discover her secret, was told that she was just an ordinary woman. He's even more determined this week. He confronts her on a cliff top and demands to know the truth. It's the same sort of behaviour he exhibited with the Flesh version of Amy: suspicious, not wanting to be taken in, slightly scary. He asks the same questions as before, and he gets the same answers as before. But this time he appears to believe them.

Of course, while he and we are focussed on the mystery of an ordinary girl, Clara is doing her own detective work. We don't care about the Doctor's mysteries. They're in front of us all the time, for fifty years, and we no better than to think that any of them are going to get revealed any time soon. But in Hide, Emma Grayling warned Clara that the Doctor had "a sliver of ice in his heart"; here Clara discovers his name, learns about the Time War. There is a mystery waiting to be solved this year, but it's not Clara's.


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