In 1978, a young head writer watched the final story of Season Fifteen - "Invasion of Time." It wasn’t Tom Baker’s mad acting that made him cringe; no – it was the budget. You see, one of the episodes was set entirely inside the Tardis – which apart from "Inside the Spaceship" (back in 1963!) - hadn’t been seen a lot. Okay, the occasional corridor and the odd mention of a swimming pool in dialogue, but no real “Tardis Time”; ironic that the ship’s infinite appeal makes it as much a fanboy’s wet dream as say the USS Enterprise. Yet what did he see? Brick walls! Lots and lots of brick walls - because the episode was filmed in a disused hospital due to lack of cash. So that head writer vowed one day to undo that horrid nightmare – and some 25 years later he got his chance.
So did he and writer Steven Thompson succeed in giving us old Who fans what we wanted to see for so long in an episode whose title is a real deluge of fanboy wetness? Well, yes and no!
For the most part, "Journey To The Center Of The Tardis" was superb; set designer Michael Pickwoad did his utmost to deliver, and yes, he and The Mill did their part – with a sublime Avatar-like Architectural Configuration room (that for you newbies maintains the interior complexity of the Tardis rooms and corridors and multiple console desktops) to the swimming pool (tee hee!) to a store room with the Doctor’s crib and Victorian Clara’s umbrella. Best room of course was the Power Room – seeing the Eye of Harmony in all its glory (and yes for the newbies that is a collapsing star becoming a black hole; check out the "Deadly Assassin" where it all began). A disappointment was that the actual Centre was being torn part so we didn't get to see it intact - oh-well always another time - something Doctor Who has buckets to spare.
The imposing Harry Potter-like Library was great with that oh-so important plot point waiting on a pedestal for Clara to come along. I mean, it's a bit odd leaving the "History of the Time War" in plain sight. It’s like leaving a copy of River Song’s diary on the mantle piece – you know any inquisitive companion is just going to find it hard to ignore having a peek. Spoilers be dammed!
Then we get other treats thrown in. Temporal audio recordings of Ian and Barbara's ("An Unearthly Child") first words when they see the Console Room for the first time to 9th Doctor’s yacking about temporal physics to a confused Rose Tyler. The Cloister Bell rings again (love that bell) - and monsters! Now, it had been theorized that the monsters were actually Time Lord prisoners from the Time War left to rot for all eternity; the revelation that they were in fact future echoes of Clara due to time spillage was inspired and disturbing.
The weak part of the story was the Van Ballan brothers who were pretty run of the mill to me. More open to debate was the use of that dreaded dues ex machina. Okay, nice to see the crack in the universe come back from series 5; except now it’s a rift but with two minutes to spare before the Tardis blows up (again) - just push a big button and Clara conveniently forgets having seen the Doctor’s true name in the book, setting in motion when she will in the finale. It can be argued that considering the whole timey twisting plot the re-set here is an acceptable use of the idea – but let’s leave that one for the real fanboys to argue about.
Overall, I forgive Steven Thompson for his pirate flub, and yes I think Moffat deserves praise for allowing this story to happen especially in the 50th year, but I’m sure others will say it could have been a lot better. Could have been a lot more roundels for a starters.
Except one last mystery: What was written on the note that fluttered down on the console right at the end?
Next week – Dame Diana Rigg makes people into sweets and the return of the Vastra, Strax and Jenny. Keep a dentist on stand by.
Check out the "Invasion of Time" by visiting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Invasion_of_Time
Check out "Inside the Tardis" by visiting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Edge_of_Destruction
And the "Deadly Assassin: by visiting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadly_Assassin