Tuesday, 30 April 2013

My favourite part of the latest Doctor Who episode was the confirmation that Clara's from Lancashire, and isn’t, as it may have seemed before, a Londoner with a really badly acted London accent. She’s the Northern companion we’ve all been waiting for. That's how she's survived dying twice; she's a tough Lancashire lass. She can prove the Doctor wrong regarding that quip in The Beast Below.

Aside from that, Steve Thompson's episode had its ups and downs. It was called Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and didn’t do a bad job of bringing to the screen the Jules Verne sense of adventure which that title conjures up. Captured by a space salvage crew, the TARDIS took a bit of a space hit, and Clara became trapped deep in the space ship, causing the Doctor to set off the space self-destruct unless the space salvage crew space found Clara.

The infinite breadth of the TARDIS is a strange place. The majority of the audience (including my mum, as she texted me in confusion at 7:15) doesn’t realize there’s more than just the console room, but certain fans are always demanding to see more. “I want to see the swimming pool”, “why have we never seen the bowling alley”, “the BBC are morally obliged to show us the Doctor’s toilet so I can get the brand of loo roll he uses right in my fan-fic” – those kinds of fans. Occasionally, an episode comes along which tries to explore the Doctor’s ship more than usual, and these fans are usually left dissatisfied - one Tom Baker story infamously shot it in a Victorian hospital after the BBC realised they couldn't afford sets, rendering the TARDIS a little, well, bricky.

The last attempt was 2011’s The Doctor’s Wife, which, while a brilliantly spooky and touching script, fell short in actual TARDIS rooms – we saw some corridors and an old console room, but the Zero Room (look it up) was cut for time and budget reasons. Journey pulled out a few more stops, showing us the library, the Eye of Harmony, and, indeed, the swimming pool. Oh, and again, there was a hell of a lot of corridors. Despite my dislike of the current console room, it was a very well designed and lit episode; the TARDIS really felt like a dangerous labyrinth actively working against those trapped inside it.

The additional element of jeopardy was the Time Zombies stalking the infinite corridors. I’m undecided on how crap these actually were. They were sufficiently unnerving as mysterious burnt husks, and the reveal that one was from Lancashire (and also was Clara) actually surprised me and upped the stakes. But the timey-wimey explanations for how they got to be who/where/when they were… I’m not entirely convinced any of that made the remotest of sense. But it wasn’t as problematic as last week's nonsense.

Nor was this as problematic as my one major complaint about the episode – the guest cast. I never really sympathized with the Van Baalens, and that’s as much down to the writing than it is to the acting. For the episode to really grab me, the salvage crew would need to be likable, and, really, how am I meant to like a character who convinces his brother he’s an android for the lols? That’s horrible. And also stupid. And I saw it coming. In the acting department, the guy playing the older brother has to win a Doctor Who Razzie for his one mildly confused and offended expression which he made at everything, from entering a spaceship that’s bigger on the inside to being killed by a Time Zombie, via everyday conversation.

On the positive side, I did like the characterisation of the Doctor in this episode. Once again, we saw the manipulative side to Matt Smith’s Doctor; the side which lies to make people follow his plan (I saw the self-destruct trick coming but loved it), the side which scares Clara more “than anything else on this TARDIS”. The tension between the two as he finally challenged her to reveal who she is, only to find as little answer as he got from Hide’s psychic, was a great development in an arc that’s really keeping my interest. However, I did expect the TARDIS’ dislike of Clara, as established in The Rings of Akhetatekeatnakanetekhaten and Hide, to come up in this episode and it seems a bit of a missed opportunity that it didn’t - that could have really upped the tension surrounding the TARDIS' hissy fit.

But overall, is Journey a good Doctor Who episode? Sadly, there are several flaws in it, particularly the guest characters, that stop it reaching the full potential of its title. It is nice to see a good range of new TARDIS rooms, and visually it’s a treat, but The Doctor’s Wife is a better all-round TARDIS-centric story. It is, however, certainly a vast improvement on Steve Thompson’s previous effort, the dire Curse of the Black Spot. And the Doctor's waistcoat looked really swank. 


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