Inside the Spaceship
Steve Thompson returned to Doctor Who after 2011’s rather limp pirate offering The Curse of the Black Spot. But since, in the interim, he’s offered up the marvellous Sherlock series 2 finale The Reichenbach Fall, and since this episode is titled Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, there’s a definite quickening of the fanboy pulse.
Although the TARDIS is virtually the only thing that remains from the show’s first episode, it’s surprising how little we’ve seen of it over the years. Last night’s episode offered knowing nods to a couple of seminal eighties stories that featured generous chunks of corridors, Cloister Rooms and Zero Rooms as well as a fleeting glimpse of the oft mentioned swimming pool; but Thompson had pretty much a free hand when it came to imagining the interior of the Doctor’s Space Time machine. In an interview last month he acknowledged that the story would be judged by the success of the design work so let’s take a moment to pay tribute to Michael Pickwoad, the show’s production designer. This wasn’t, actually, his finest work on the series (the drab corridors were rather too obviously, or too recently, seen in a Russian submarine) but there were some nice touches with the library, generous raiding of the props store and some great visual effects from the (sadly about to be defunct) Mill.
The story itself was slightly oddly structured with one (revealed to be fake) race against the clock followed by another – as with last week’s Hide you couldn’t help wishing for a little less plot and a little more breathing space. With much of the episode being a “Clara in peril” storyline, there was some needless repetition of her becoming separated from the Doctor, while the titular journey took quite a while to begin.
We first saw the TARDIS in a junkyard so there was something appropriate about the guest cast for this story being a bunch of intergalactic rag and bone men. Ashley Walters was given an opportunity to hint at something softer behind a macho façade and Jahvel Hall made nice work of a robot who was more human than his masters. But the frenetic pace of the story meant that their deaths were underplayed and left no impact on the Doctor, Clara or the viewer. New director Mat King did well – the Time Zombies were every effectively shot and their menace suitably kept my daughter on the edge of her seat.
Guaranteed a place in fanlore simply by virtue of its setting, Journey was an efficient enough episode. I doubt it will linger too long in the memory, although the promised revelation about the Clara mystery may lead to it being rewatched in a new light.