To give an episode of Doctor Who the title ‘Journey to the centre of the Tardis’ is to give it a mountain to climb. Most, if not all fans will have, locked away in their subconscious, their idea of what the centre of the iconic time machine is like. Crucially they will all be different which means that the episode needed to get everything spot on to be a hit. Sadly, in the climb to the top of this particular mountain, the episode appears to have not enough rope, rusty crampons and a too comfortable base camp.
The concept of a family owned salvage ship picking up a damaged Tardis is neat but somehow fails to capture the imagination. The performances of the crew are poor and the brothers don’t quite come to life on screen. This is a shame as, in other hands, the idea of two older brothers keeping their younger, cleverer brother from his birthright would have been an inspired sub-plot. Unfortunately it just gets lost in the mess, which haunts this episode.
Similarly the concept of the monsters in the Tardis being future, mutilated versions of the cast is a clever idea which gets lost in a narrative that occasionally tries to hard to be unnecessarily clever. Leaking time, in a time machine, bringing back echoes of a failed future should be unnerving but again gets lost in the confusing toing and froing.
Of course, and the centre of this particular episode, if not the Tardis itself is the peak of the mountain (to mix metaphors) itself. The inside of the Tardis! There are a lot of nods to the past, with the swimming pool and a wonderfully realised library. Also, the ‘tree’ circuit room is a brilliant addition to the Tardis inventory. However, the engine room is uninspiring and the Eye of Harmony surprising unimpressive. Adding to the messy feel of this episode is that the corridors, which join all these important locations, don’t appear to belong to the Tardis at all. They seem somewhat cramped and claustrophobic which seems odd in a ship with unlimited space, and don’t match the other set designs.
Again, however, it is the ending of the episode, which is the most disappointing element. There are only so many times in a series where resetting by time travel is an appropriate get out. In Journey to the centre of the Tardis this was more than one time too many. Many will point to the knowing ‘Big Friendly Button’ wink to the fans but an Easter Egg should not be an excuse for poor plot resolution. If time is reset and nothing is learnt and nothing is gained then the viewers should feel the loss of these elements at the resolutions. However, if time is reset but things have changed and something is gained, then a literal reset button can be an insult to the challenges the characters have faced.
Of course, for the viewer, all the seeds are sown and future development can be seen, even if the characters may deny it. This however begs more questions that it answers. If the Doctor’s biggest secret can be found easily in a book that is on public display in the library, how come no one has stumbled across it before? While it may not have been believable that Rose, while exploring the Tardis, would have had much interest in the library it is hard to imagine none of the other Nu Who companions taking a look around. How many of them, having heard about the Last Great Time War, simply ignored this book while they were looking for something to read?
Sometimes a mountain remains more impressive if unscaled and the dreams of the view from the peak are better than the reality.