TV This week, after a few years of limping along with a 3 mobile dongle we finally had BT unlimited broadband installed in the flat. Even with a 15gb data allowance per month and a relatively fast speed, the 3 account was always a bit inhibiting, especially towards the end of each month when online sessions would be punctuated with glances at the dialer software to check how much had been up or downloaded. It had still been an epoch change from the dial-up which I’d been using right up until the end of the last decade but I still watched longingly as the iPlayer's television on your television become the norm and Lovefilm Instant emergeed, only able to use each sparingly. In desperation.
Now, well now it’s all just sort of there. It’s there at this computer. It’s in the wifi through my aging netbook and rashly bought Kindle. It’s in a freebee Google tv box and the blu-ray player which have otherwise sat unused. Because we are in a flat many floors up with all of its interim wiring and some way from the exchange it’s not terribly fast (though I thought it would be faster and technical phone calls will be made) but again, it’s is just there like a bottomless, infinite reservoir of data, no podcast too large, no video too long. It is and I’m sure you’ve already guessed where I’m going with this, like moving from a shed into the TARDIS, everything, finally, a whole universe in point of fact available to me. Finally.
Which does make one wonder, why, when faced with a similarly infinite space, Clara Oswald hasn’t decided to go exploring before, why such things and the swimming pool or the library or what looked like the Cloister Room were such a surprise to her in Steve Thompson’s Journey To The Centre The TARDIS. The didactic answer is that as a function of the premise of the series, for all her mysteries, she is still the viewpoint character and so we have to experience such things through her eyes. The unfortunate side effect of that is she becomes amazingly uninquisitive. Admittedly with all of time and space on the other side of the doors, she was probably distracted but even when you’re on an exotic holiday, you still want to reconnoitre the hotel.
For all the billing, this isn’t the series' first deep exploration of the TARDIS’s interior. Apart from The Invasion of Time’s old hospital (which I’ve always thought was a perfectly fine metaphor for the ship’s internal architecture given what the title character is called) (chooses to call himself) (whatever), there’s Fifth's post-regenerative scarf unravelling in Castrovalva and the visit to the aforementioned Cloister Room in Logopolis. The TARGET novelisation of The Edge of Destruction opened out the weirdness into the corridors and engine rooms of the ship and in the Eighth Doctor novels, there’s even a meadow in there somewhere filled with a colony of butterflies. The Eighth Doctor’s console room is still, incidentally, my favourite.
The mighty Michael Pickwoad’s conception, aided by Bryan Hitch, grabs its inspiration from everything which has gone before, the messy architectural free for all of Invasion albeit joined together by similar doors, the surrealistic element of rooms which both exist inside and outside of time and reality and an area which appears to totally exist outside (though it may be an illusion). One could be churlish and suggest there aren’t enough roundels, but roundels haven’t been particular in fashion since the 90s, apart from a brief return after the TARDIS regenerated itself during the Earth arc in the BBC Books (ask your granddad). But a visit to the gorgeous Avatar-like room that actually creates the inside of the TARDIS was more than enough compensation.
Has the TARDIS always been an infinite space? In volume one of the series, there always seemed to be moments when the best way to save the ship was to jettison a few rooms during much jeopardy, but with an infinite number that doesn’t seem to be much of a loss. Similarly in The Doctor’s Wife, there’s much talk of how important it is to lose the Russell T Davies era console room in a huge metaphorical act of letting go of history (especially after the thing stood around in Cardiff for a few years until the production team could afford to make the episode). But it feels like it should be infinite if only because for it not to be would make a nonsense of its acronym. It’s a relative dimension, after all.
The Danny Boyle inspired trip into the Eye of Harmony, or Olafur Eliasson's Weather Project for the highbrow, was a pleasant surprise and the explanation seemed to find a happy medium between what Robert Holmes established in The Deadly Assassin and the spin-off media scrambled about with as a way of justifying its appearance inside the TARDIS in the TV movie. Here, the Doctor says that it’s an “exploding star in the act of becoming a black hole” and that thanks to “timelord engineering, you rip the star from it's orbit suspend it in a purpose built state of decay”. In the spin-offs it’s suggested that TARDISes have an echo of the original, but what’s to say that in destroying Gallifrey he didn’t preserve the original?
All of which said, the bestest thing about this TARDIS is that it’s haunted by the echoes and whispers of its previous occupants, the early observations of Ian and Barbara mingling with the Ninth Doctor, tiny fragments echoing through the corridors. Zagreus was another huge TARDIS exploration story, albeit with a more metaphysical approach utilising an old Pertwee staring fan project to similar effect, but unlike here, what he was saying, barely inaudible was supposed to be an important part of the plot. This was about atmosphere, and even for those of us who’ve bought all of the available dvds, all of Doctor Who at our fingertips, there’s still something pretty chilling about them emerging in the new series.
If all of this squeeing about the set suggests I’m reticent about giving an actual opinion about the episode, you’d be right because, well, hum. Oh no, that’s not fair. It’s fine. It’s more than fine. It’s just… oh fuck it’s the reset button. It’s the sodding reset button. Some professional reviews have suggested that this was some kind of Swiftian satire on the nature of fandom and how we are forever complaining about the simplistic, Fanthorpian ways in which Doctor Who often completes its stories even after ten episodes of corridors and capture and funnily enough I’m not one of those. I don’t mind the sonic screwdriver, god in the machine methodology which emerges when one often least expects it (cf, The Wheel in Space).
But I still hate sodding, fucking reset buttons. Call it a big friendly button, actually make a prop all you want but it means in effect we’ve spent the past forty-five minutes watching something which didn’t happen and has, with the exception of some intrigue for the viewer which we’ll discuss later, no relevance to the main story, conversations unhad, deaths undone. Every sci-fi series has one now and then and they’re always deeply, deeply disappointing, especially when, as was the case with Star Trek: Voyager they happened pretty much every season. They’re the sci-fi television equivalent of Bobby Ewing leaving the shower, the cliché we were all bawled at for using in creative writing at school, “Luckily, it was all a dream.”
About the only time it can be acceptable is when it’s a false reset, when some element of everything that’s gone before is retained. Harry Kim swapping starships. Angel remembering a day of happiness with Buffy. In Doctor Who terms, Martha Jones’s family in Last of the Time Lords (not that it’s ever been adequately explained what happened to the human race at the other end of time without a home to go to). Turn Left works because it’s an alternate reality episode, which is also important within the internal narrative architecture of that season and the return of Rose (not that we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that given the weekly reference’s I’ve somehow missed, Journey To The Centre The TARDIS isn’t also …).
Journey To The Centre The TARDIS tries to have it both ways. One Doctor sees his older self on the other side of the amortised crack graphic and so knows that he’s at the end of a version of his older self’s adventure and refers to it as such. But he doesn’t know what happened, other than that it was terribly bad. All of those big passionate speeches for naught, his truth seeking conversations with Clara forgotten, at least for him so that, although we remember because we’re watching a television programme, at some point we’re going to have to sit through them all again, however ironically they may be achieved with a sardonically Moffaty wink to the camera. Oh for and indeed goodness sake.
About the only good thing you can say about this is that at least it explains somewhat the ending of the TV movie, which until now didn’t make much sense although it’s true that also made the mistake of allowing its characters to remember the previous timeline even though in theory it didn’t happen to them. That’s the problem reset buttons within tv sci-fi when time travel is involved -- you can’t win – something is always messed up at the end and people like me will always find fault with you. That’s the other reason I'm against them. They patronise the audience. They suggest, hey, we know it doesn’t make sense but you’re not one of those people so it doesn’t matter.
As I intimated, there is a counter argument that we as audience members and active imaginative participants in the drama mean that it’s not a total reset switch, we remember the conversations, the implications of what Clara read in The History of the Time War though, frankly who wrote that book given that the whole thing’s supposed to be a timelocked secret? Unless it’s dropped through time from some point in the future when like Charles Moore’s Thatcher biography there was a moment when this terrible knowledge could be written down. Why would you have it on display? Not since Chronotis absentmindedly lent the Ancient and Worshipful Law of Gallifrey to Chris Parsons has there been this kind of bibliographic negligence.
More on Clara watch later. Given that apart from these scraps, this whole endeavour was (as far we know) dramatically pointless, what about the rest? in almost every respect this is a step up on Thompson's previous The Curse of the Black Spot. It’s good that the title wasn’t just a reference but the structure did to some extent pay homage to Verne’s book and its film versions as the travellers shifted from chamber to chamber attacked by the monsters that lie within. The reveal of their nature was shocking except it was slightly undermined, at least for me, by me misunderstanding the surprise and thinking that somehow they were all discarded Claras, that he’d found many more in the intervening time which we’d somehow previously not known about, which is a shame because the coup de grace of us not seeing half of the adventure is bold enough.
Similar fine are the crew of the scavenger ship even if the Red Dwarf like opening shots and overly dramatic music suggested something a bit more, well, fun, than the three brothers who’ve wandered in from a Nick Briggs authored, Alien referencing audio story (cf, most of his Dalek stories, Sword of Orion, Embrace the Darkness). The performances are varied, with Jahvel Hall the real standout as the android who isn’t. Some trivia: Mark Oliver previous appeared with Matt Smith on Moses Jones. Ashley Walters’s first screen credit (according to the IMDb) was on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. He also survived Outcasts, which as we know is almost Doctor Who. Noted: another episode with a tiny cast acting in a relatively confined space (set wise at least).
Gear change. The Eleventh Doctor’s becoming increasingly difficult to make out. He’s desperate not to seem great and terrible and powerful, but he’ll still do the gun thing, kill nasty people in cold blood and as here, effectively trap some blokes in his exotic hotel because they wrecked it which leads to their death entirely unaware that they won’t be in forty-five minutes, or the day before, or whatever. He’s also desperate to keep his secrets, as though the universe will split in two or a franchise will be wrecked if they become too obvious. Even "pointless" Clara can’t see what the problem is before she’s wiped from existence. Plus if it’s written in yon book, how is it a secret. The author of that book knows, whoever they are.
Oh Clara, what art thou? Unaware consciously of your other selves apparently but your attitude smells of Time Lord especially in those moments when your running your fingers across scars in the walls of the TARDIS and propensity to talk to yourself (not that companions haven’t done that in the past) (Martha Jones) but there’s also something about the sentence structure, the glib ways you’re thinking things through. Cameleon-arched Romana? Jenny? How many of you are there in the Whoniverse and how come you haven’t bumped into another one? Do you only emerge in the web of time when another of your kind dies? Will we find out by the end of this series?
Here’s an idea: as we discovered the other day, Jenna-Louise says that she was on the job for four months before they shot the TARDIS scene which suggests that there was at least that long between the initial production of Hide and this and I’d argue that there is a change in her performance between the OB material from last week and this as though she understands her character better after having shot some important scenes which explain plenty in between. It’s imperceptible, but yes, there is something. We won’t really know until the Pixley care package at the end of the year what the shooting schedule was like for the story and I’m probably making this up. There, at least, is a reason to watch all of this again, just to check, especially now that I have all of this data.