Doctor Who – “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”: Salvage of a lifetime

Doctor Who: Series 7

“Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”

Aired: April 27, 2013

Writer: Stephen Thompson

Director: Mat King

“You’re like one of those guys who can’t go out with a girl unless his mother approves.”

– Clara

I’m not sure how well “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” works as a standalone episode – the Van Baalen feel underdeveloped, there isn’t really a villain and, by the end of the episode, everything that happens is undone. We all spent an hour watching a series of things that actually happen.

But, if you are a longtime fan of Doctor Who, then the episode was a fun one because it finally showed many of the previously mentioned, but unseen rooms like the library, the swimming pool and the Eye of Harmony (the artificial black hole that powers the TARDIS).

I also feel like this is an episode that was greatly aided by Neil Gaiman’s brilliant “The Doctor’s Wife.” Because Gaiman literally personified the TARDIS by sticking its essence into a woman’s body, our perception of what the TARDIS is has changed. So now, when the TARDIS and Clara are feuding or when it is rerouting rooms to trick the Van Baalens, we have that imagine of Idris in our heads, which makes the whole thing that much more enjoyable.

But while I enjoyed the nods to the past and thought the episode benefited from many of the episodes that came before it, I’m just not sure it is that compelling of an episode on its own. Writer Stephen Thompson never really gave us a reason to care about the Van Baalens. They all seemed like fairly one-dimensional and forgettable characters. The revelation that the “android” was really the third brother in the salvage crew was an interesting twist, but I don’t feel like Thompson gave us enough of an explanation of why it happened. Boredom and pranking don’t really seem like the proper justification for replacing your brother’s eyes with robot eyes, giving him a voice modulator and telling him he’s not human. If they did it to protect him from remembering the trauma he suffered or if they did it as a petty punishment against him because their father wanted him to take over the business, that didn’t come across clearly enough. So the revelation lacked any real emotional weight. Instead, it was just a strange plot twist.

The plot twist that worked better was the revelation that the charred zombies chasing everyone around the TARDIS were actually their own burnt corpses from the future. It made them so much creepier. And, it added an extra level of danger, since getting grabbed by them meant that that future actually happened.

Overall, I was a bit underwhelmed by “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” Though I think that because it cashed in on a lot of Doctor Who nostalgia, it worked as a harmless throwaway episode. And, I have a feeling it could end up being a very important episode for Clara’s backstory, which I will explain more below …

Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff

In the episode, The Doctor explains that the TARDIS’ crash caused the engine room to explode, which created a rupture in time. As a result, the past and the future began leaking out. That’s how the charred time zombies came to be. It’s also how The Doctor was able to save the day, by tossing the “Big Friendly Button” back to Clara to undo everything that had just happened.

Now, I have a feeling that this moment could be the key to explaining the mystery of Clara. In last week’s episode, the empathic psychic Emma Grayling tells The Doctor that Clara is just an ordinary girl. That is echoed again this week right before The Doctor and Clara jump off the cliff and land in the exploded engine room. There seems to be nothing out of the ordinary about her and yet The Doctor has crossed paths with two versions of her in different time periods already.

So could The Doctor be the cause of this unexplained phenomenon? We know that the past and the future were leaking out and that at least one (burnt) doppelganger of Clara was created in the rift. It doesn’t seem like that much of a leap then to think that there could be other copies of Clara that were created. And maybe those copies somehow ended up getting lost in space and in time. And they crash landed at different points in history – one in Victorian England and another at the Asylum of the Daleks in the distant future. Maybe these copies share some of Clara’s memories (the one from Asylum of the Daleks has her hacker skills she obtained in “The Bells of Saint John” and both of them uttered the line “Run you clever boy and remember” upon their deaths, which is one of the first things Clara says to The Doctor).

Perhaps the reason The Doctor can’t figure out what is happening with Clara is because it hadn’t happened yet. Maybe we just saw the birth of the other Clara’s this week. I’m not sure if that’s the explanation Steven Moffat will ultimately end up going with, but it does actually make quite a bit of sense.

And another thing …

  • Any thoughts on The Doctor’s real name? My money is on Steve.
  • I can’t be the only one who would love to get a glimpse at the History of the Time War, can I?
  • Clara seemed to have absolutely no lingering memory of anything that happened. However, The Doctor seemed aware of at least some, if not all of it, and Gregor suddenly was compelled to be nicer to his brother. I’d love to know more about the logic of how the events affected each person and what the fallout from it was for all of them.

Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at

Comments (1)
  1. Diana April 30, 2013

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