Dear Steven Moffat: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Dear Steven,

If writing to you is right then why does it feel so wrong and why does every word I commit to this pixelated facsimile of parchment with my virtual quill have to be wrenched out of me like some twisted scrap of metal anchored deep in my flesh? Anyway, that aside I’ve waited for a long time to get a better look at the TARDIS’s interiors, we all have, it’s the third great tease of the programme following The Doctor’s identity and the exact number of roundels on the wall of the console room, so tonight’s tour was highly anticipated.

Of course the concept for this episode threw up a few problems. A ship of infinite size is a leap for the imagination into a bottomless void and no budget can touch the sides. In the classic series those limitations were sent up for comic effect; I’m thinking of the scene in The Invasion of Time in which Tom Baker gets lost inside the thing and ends up walking through copy after copy (or in this episode’s parlance, echo after echo) of the Swimming Pool room. I used to say that with the modern show’s embrace of computer generated effects there was no reason why we shouldn’t see more of the ship, after all it’s the boast of CGI apologists that if you can think of it you can see it, but as Stephen Thompson’s episode demonstrated, it’s the thinking that’s the tough part.

Even with those leaps in computer science it seems the bulk of the TARDIS is corridors. Fine corridors to be sure and different to those seen in The Doctor’s Wife, suggesting that the ship really does redesign everything when prompted, even the aesthetically redundant parts of itself, but bland passageways none the less. We caught a glimpse of other areas; the pool featured, so too the observatory (though what’s observed, more of the TARDIS?), a junk room, containing Pond memorabilia, and the library – an impressive collection to be sure and one that demonstrated how important it is for The Doctor to be long lived; he wouldn’t stand of chance of reading all his books otherwise. I wondered if Katie Price’s Santa Baby was in there and concluded it had to be.

Oh, and there was a first look at the Eye of Harmony – or least the TARDIS’s copy of it. I’m sad to say I found this a bit underwhelming. I somehow expected to be dazzled by an artificial black hole (or similar) but I wasn’t really, it just didn’t seem big enough. I’m sure I’m not the first to say that to you.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this; I don’t know what I’d have shown in Thompson’s place. I might have had a sluice room, a massage parlour, a spike chamber, an ocean of breasts, a cubist room, an impossible room, a vast zero-g area modelled on the known universe and a puzzle room that you had to solve to exit but that’s the problem; there were just too many possibilities so perhaps the basics was a reasonable first step.

If the episode’s allure lay in the concept, with the inciting incident for embarking on the journey being of less interest, then it was good to see that Thompson was as indifferent to the means as the rest of us. It was clear as glass that he didn’t give a fuck about his family of salvage men; who could? They were dullards; blanks that straw men would have found yawn-inducing.

Not only did they barely qualify as characters, they were also useless, which made me scratch my head when the Doctor trapped them in the TARDIS and compelled the threesome to help him look for Clara, threatening them with a quick death if they didn’t muck in. What did he gain by this, exactly? There was no point asking the pack to split up in order to cover more ground, because these idiots didn’t know where they were and four lost people would simply quadruple the Doctor’s problems. Perhaps it would have been worth having them along if they were resourceful, quick of thought and fleet of foot but all the evidence suggested they were slow, feckless and clueless. As they’d caused the damage to the ship and were clearly mercenary in their motives, likely to damage the TARDIS further if given greater access, surely the prudent move was to hit a button and atomise them, leaving The Doc free to find his friend unburdened?

Of course, I was pleased that the self-destruct gambit was a ruse but was left wondering what good it had served. Sure, it had given these lumbering arses an incentive to go girl-ienteering but it had also made them anxious and more likely to make bad snap decisions. Thompson tried to convince us they had a function, to generate some conflict while the Doctor tried to remember the way, but he wasn’t fooling anyone. We didn’t give a sonic fuck about their family problems and we certainly didn’t care whether these grunts lived or died. Sadly, they lived.

Then there was the episode’s great tease, the chance discovery in the TARDIS library of a mighty tome – “The History of the Time War”. Therein, we learned, lay a chapter on the Doctor, referred to by, gulp, his real name. Just one question though, Steven. If the Time War destroyed Gallifrey and all of Time Lord civilisation, who wrote the book and where did the Doctor acquire a copy?

The war is time-locked which presumably means that other Time Lords, hurtling themselves into the future, may have enjoyed foreknowledge of it, though they were powerless to change it; still, this wouldn’t preclude the possibility of them being able to study it and write an account. But if such a volume existed and was freely available from the Gallifrey Press, why didn’t the Time Lords just read it and take the necessary steps to avert their destruction, like deciding not to time lock it so the Doctor could save them at a later date?

If someone else wrote the history, after it had occurred, perhaps the galactic equivalent of a Gonzo journalist, who’d seen the Dalek fleet light up as he shovelled a burger into his trap from a space-diner at safe distance, how could he talk about the Doctor’s role with any authority, particularly when the universe thinks our hero’s dead and so unavailable for comment? Did he just make shit up? Piece it together from third hand refugee accounts and the odd space-drunk? In that event maybe the Doctor bought a copy for fun, just to see how sensational a history had been written, but that volume looked pretty official – it had the Rasilionian stamp and everything.

This leaves the possibility that the Doctor wrote it; after all, he’s the only survivor who’s a) alive and b) not a Dalek – traditionally not a race noted for its literary prowess. But if our man’s the author then who’s the intended reader? Himself? Perhaps the Doctor wanted to get it all down for posterity but if that’s the case why contain personal information about yourself that you a) don’t want the universe to know and b) is apparently highly dangerous? This means you can never show the book to anyone and must safeguard the only copy within a ship that you alone have access to, but if you can’t share the contents why write it? Did this book exist just to foreshadow the series finale? If so it might have been better if Clara had found the Doc’s diary. That, at least, would have made sense.

So an odd and ultimately frustrating episode, Steven, that recycled many of the questions from last week. Once again Clara was referred to as deceased, “if she’s in there [the TARDIS], she’s dead”, the Cloister bell tolled for our companion and the TARDIS’s instincts about her seemed on the money as the ship was made vulnerable, with near disastrous consequences, when The Doc changed the ship’s settings to allow her a go on the controls – something the TARDIS clearly didn’t want to happen. What does it all mean, and why does being burned in the ship’s engine room turn you into an aggressive, red-eyed zombie? Wouldn’t it just make you dead? Anyway, I’m perusing The Name of the Rose now, in line with my theory; a library’s a pretty important part of that story too. I’m on to you, motherfucker.

Yours in time and cyberspace,


The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Published in: on April 27, 2013 at 22:17  Comments Off on Dear Steven Moffat: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS  
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