Oh, so that’s who.
Ever find yourself traveling through time and space with someone you totally dig but had literally zero idea about who or what they are? Who doesn’t. And for the current iteration of our fair Doctor — someone who never really knows why, just who — we’re still trying to find out exactly that. So, Doctor, who is Clara Oswald? We’re well into Series 7 of Doctor Who now, no doubt building up to what is sure to be an epic finale and even more epic 50th anniversary special, and Saturday night’s episode “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS” found Clara and Eleven in full-out, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey mode. Starting today I (Alicia Lutes) will be your Hollywood.com companion for all things Who. I like bowties (they’re cool), blue boxes (always seem so much bigger on the inside, don’t they?), and hashing out Who theories. But enough about me: let’s talk about Eleven, Clara and the fantastical adventure Steve Thompson wrote us, shall we?
We found Clara and the Doctor bickering on (as they seem to always do so well) about what else: the TARDIS. Seems that our favorite blue box’s issue with Clara is now a plot point — as evidenced by her curious behavior throughout the back end of this season. Something about Clara is off enough that we know ol’ Sexy doesn’t seem to totally appreciate (reminds me of the time when the TARDIS tried to shake Jack Harkness off) her. Regardless, the Doctor seems determined to make his two favorite ladies get along, come hell or high water.
…Or even a magno-grab! The episode begins in one of those too-obvious-to-have-been-an-accident sort of ways that has most Whovians playing inspector from minute one. Let’s make Clara and the TARDIS get together, let’s turn off all its defenses, let’s park ourselves right next to a scrap metal ship, and — oh look! — looks like someone went and got themselves sucked right into the trash truck. Clara is lost within the depths of the TARDIS, and the Doctor needs to get her out and also save the TARDIS from her exploding heart.
The Van Baalen brothers and their android companion Tricky (interesting name, eh?) are constantly on the look out for garbage that could glean them a fat stack or two. How very “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship!” Not a bad thing, of course, but the brothers Van Baalen felt a bit too much like plot tools for bigger parallels and discussion going on within the show rather than fully-idealized characters.
But the episode wasn’t all style without substance. Perhaps even creeper than last week’s “Hide” was the revelation that Clara, the Doctor, and the brothers Van Baalen were being chased by monsters that weren’t just creepy time zombies (“Good guys do not have zombie creatures, rule one basic storytelling!”) living on the TARDIS, but actually future, dead versions of themselves attempting to reassert future events. Highly unnerving, if a bit easy to predict. Regardless, the idea was a great visual representation for not only their relationship, but also the confrontations that happened later.
Namely two: 1.) between Gregor and Tricky, who we come to find out is actually just a human and 2.) between the Doctor and Clara when they’re in the heart of the TARDIS.
Tricky, upon closer inspection, is quite an interesting character device. Gregor and Bram “created” him for a few reasons: mostly, because they were bored, but also because he was the smart one (the boys’ father originally wanted to leave the business to him), and it was a way for them to have “a bit of fun” with the accident that took away Tricky’s memories, voice, and eyesight. Which is interesting because throughout the entire episode you’re constantly reminded of how much more human he is than the humans, given his ability to empathize and feel for others. He’s constantly the one parlaying how the TARDIS feels. “You’re always on the side of the machines!” his brother yells, but he’s just the most emotional one — so he is able to connect far beyond the reaches of skin and bone.
One of the ultimate highlights of this episode for longtime Who fans was the did-not-disappoint sojourn into the TARDIS’ inndards. The swimming pool, the TARDIS library (!!! We’ll get back to that particular place and time in a bit), the swimming pool, the Eye of Harmony, and even the heart of the TARDIS herself: all there, all wonderfully realized. Other rooms we saw raised more questions, though: what was that massive telescope room (is that the one from “Tooth and Claw” with the werewolf that Ten and Rose dealt with)? And what was that weird workroom where we saw the Doctor’s baby bassinet and Amy Pond’s old toy TARDIS, eh? A memory room, perhaps? a laboratory? Storage? There were boxes, magnifying glasses and a whole manner of things we couldn’t manage to see in time. Even another damn umbrella (is Clara actually Mary Poppins or a mom or Gallifreyan-era wife?)!
I do love the TARDIS getting such a pivotal role this season, though. A sentient being, really. To prevent the looting Bram and Gregor are hellbent on doing, the TARDIS keeps shifting and manipulating its own architecture — changing rooms and creating new corridors (is that the excuse for all the lame hallway shots?) to trap the Van Baalens and any parts they attempted to loot. The TADRIS is infinite you guys. Just like those kids from Pittsburgh in that book about wallflowers.
Speaking of books: let’s go back to the library. (No, not THAT Library, although I am always a fan of talking about that Library, too). We saw a teeny, tiny, insignificant little work being casually leafed through by Clara: The History of the Time War. Oh, really? So, Clara knows the Doctor’s real name. Not that it matters since the episode ends with some real deus ex machina bulls**t at the outset. Sure, it’s implied that she’ll probably remember in the future (after running around some more with her clever boy, no doubt) thanks to the brothers remembering to be nicer to Tricky (per the Doctor’s suggestion), but still. The whole “telling a story that is later erased by time being rewritten” thing isn’t new, but it sure is frustrating sometimes.
And time does get rewritten in the end, when the Doctor throws the magno-grab activator back to himself through a tear in the fabric of time to the moment before the TARDIS exploded. The Big Friendly Button (or wait, is that Clara? Dun dun DUN!) has finally arrived, so that means the engine never exploded and nothing bad happened. As far as we saw, this loop of events happened twice: the first time he just threw the magno-grab control through the crack, but Clara caught it rather than the Doctor, so he had to go through the crack himself the second time to make sure there was no secret as to what it was for.
“Secrets protect us. Secrets keep us safe,” is a motto the Doctor has always believed. But there’s one secret he really doesn’t seem to like: Clara. In the engine room we finally see the heart of the TARDIS and also the big confrontation between the Doctor and Clara. “So just tell me … Just tell me who you are. … I look at you every single day and I don’t understand a thing about you. Why do I keep running into you?” He tells her about the other Claras. “What are you, eh? A trick? A trap?” Clara didn’t understand. “I think I’m scared of you right now more than anything on that TARDIS.”
And then suddenly, it seems as though the Doctor understands something we really, really don’t yet. The duo hug and are seemingly taken aback as evidenced by the fact that they simultaneously looked up at each other. But then something in The Doctor’s eyes changed — as if a lightbulb went off and that sudden realization looked way deeper than that of “you’re just Clara.” No time for explanations though, because the TARDIS is “snarling” at them, attempting to scare the Doctor away in order to protect them.
Geronimo! With a leap, Clara and the Doctor enter the heart of the TARDIS and discover that the engine has exploded, but she’s temporarily frozen the burst. He doesn’t know what to do, but with a simple hand-grab, Clara has the answer: the burn mark has finally stopped changing and her fragile human skin (like parchment!) has exposed the plan to the Doctor.
And how does he solve it? “I need to find … music!” Every episode has had music going on at its crux: the singing in Ahkaten, “Hungry Like the Wolf” on the submarine — there’s so much that is accomplished by song (a River Song, perhaps?! Sorry, too easy. Feel free to groan). The Doctor uses the song in order to lock his sonic screwdriver onto their previous location in space and time in order to send the Big Friendly Button back through the rift. But Clara doesn’t want to forget: not everything (certainly not his name). Tough titties for Clara, though, as the Doctor seems hellbent on imposing some time/space amnesia parlour tricks.
“Time mends us, it can mend everything.”
Current showrunner Steven Moffat has always told us about the Doctor through the stories of others. It’s part of his Who tenure signature; and my theory is that it’s all about the redemption of the Doctor. Because when it comes to his role in Time Lord history, I think the Doctor’s way more important than we know. What if the “sliver of ice” inside of him (as mentioned by Emma Grayling in last week’s “Hide,”) has something to do with it? Explains the need for a human companion, certainly. But personally, I imagine that something larger is at play here. Perhaps that sliver is a part of Omega (I mean, he Does seem to come back every 10 years, yeah?), since Time Lords were made via loom after the Pythia’s Curse (Google is your friend, non-nerds). And Omega was from the House Lungbarrow — same as the Doctor! This would also make them cousins, I believe. Either way, in the past the Doctor has confirmedthat he was made via the loom. And when that happens, you’re born as a full-grown adult that’s very child-like. I’d like to note that Matt Smith’s Doctor has always been called “child-like” and Clara is a nanny (and always has been throughout her many iterations).
Ice also relates back to the Great Intelligence, though, so who knows.
But I don’t think the Doctor’s future is necessarily in the right order. I think the Doctor is being played young because even though he’s existed for somewhere between 900 – 1200 years (depending on the episode), his regenerations aren’t necessarily getting older, but rather hopping around within his own history. Because “generate” means to cause or produce something, but to “regenerate” means to regrow, replace, or be re-born. To me, the story feels like it has something to do with the fact that the Doctor is (I bet) someone far more important to the history/world of the Time Lords and its origins than may have been previously detailed. And, I think it wasn’t necessarily good, which is why he is now known as the Doctor, aka someone who fixes things that are bad.
It also makes me think of Little Red Riding Hood. (Stay with me, I swear this makes sense.) My roommate brought it up last week as a half-joke when I remarked about how Clara is ALWAYS wearing the color red, or something with red on it/in it. Red actually seems to be quite the repesentational color for all of the companions: Rose (no explanation there), Donna Noble and Amy Pond’s red hair, Martha Jones’ red leather jacket, and now all of Clara’s red stuff (her red purse; this episode’s red dress). Is the Doctor (or some other entity like the Great Intelligence, the Silence, or the upcoming big baddies the Whisper Men?) the Big Bad Wolf (Ahhh Bad Wolf!)? Because ultimately, Doctor Who is about the companion as the person the story is happening to (just like Red), but it also really is meant to be a tale about how an innocent victim can be taken and controlled by a criminal mentality (Red is literally eaten by the Bad Wolf) when the victim is removed from its safe space (home).
Isolation is key there. And we all know that the Doctor is a very, very lonely man. It’s his loneliness that Moffat focuses on the most (from his very first episode, “The Empty Child,” until now). And when you remove something or some one from that space where they’re more visible, the criminal entity has an easier time trying to gain control. And in the Brothers Grimm version of the story, Little Red Riding Hood is also all about how dangerous it is to not obey one’s mother. (“Are you my mummy?”) You guys! I think whatever entity ends up being the ultimate string-puller is trying to isolate and manipulate the Doctor in order to change history. I think it’s Omega (in the past), and the only reason he’s even able to try and control the Doctor/humanity is because the Doctor has a tiny sliver of Omega inside of him, from the loom (which would tie into the resue from last week’s “Hide”).
But going back to Little Red Riding Hood, if it weren’t for the lumberjack, Red would’ve been wolfmeat. So: who is that lumberjack? Is it River Song? The companions themselves? Someone else entirely? The Doctor himself? Run you clever boy, and remember!
If it were me writing this show, Clara would somehow be CAL (from The Library: haven’t figured out how yet but it must involve that damn red leaf), River Song would be the woman in the shop who gave her the number of the TARDIS, and it all goes back to The Library. The Library is how River Song was not only saved, but also — I think — able to help save the Doctor. There’s a reason she was there, and I don’t think leading that archeology trip was the full answer. If we all know the Doctor lies in order to protect, why can’t River?
Next week: The Crimson Horror. Ahh, there’s that red again!
Other Things We MUST Discuss:
– The key to the TARDIS — it says Smiths! Tell me River Song had that key made.
– That big scratch! What in the ever-loving hell was that?
– Lancashire Saxon – the Doctor says it into the intelligent sensor which then identifies Clara’s time zombie as her: what does that mean? (Also/sidenote: the official flower of Lancashire? The Red Rose of Lancashire. RED ROSE!!!)
– The Bells of Saint John are ringing again, my friend. Why is that?
– Why, if everyone else has a dead future time zombie, does The Doctor not? How is it that he always manages to live when so many others around him die?
– THE VOICES! Man, great atmospheric stuff in this episode tonight, huh? Not even just the music, but the voices. First in the library, and then again when Bram is at the console. We hear Amy Pond, we hear Clara, we hear lots of old familiar companions and Doctors. Why is that?
– And also: we heard all those old voices of Gallifrey (Loved the line “Dreadful hats but smart!”). The drippy (reminded me of the crystal ball room in Harry Potter) Encyclopedia Gallifrey. Does it drip onto Clara? Part of it escapes and turns into weird airy stuff. What was that about?
– It seems to me that the future continually trying to reassert itself is a theme we’ll see more of later on. Do you agree?
– In the original image of the Van Baalen brothers, Tricky was torn out of the photo, but at the end of the episode, he was not. This leads me to believe that when we see the Doctor and Clara at the end, the TARDIS explosion involved is different than the one they fixed — and also might’ve been the one that destroyed Tricky’s voice, eyes, and memory.
– Why is the Doctor so obsessed with how Clara FEELS? It’s always about her feelings rather than say, her thoughts. Feels worth noting.
– I’ve been saying for ages (to the two or three friends that don’t groan and run in terror any time Doctor Who is mentioned in my general vicinity), but I think Moffat’s been playing the long game on this story for far longer than anyone realizes. The episodes for the second half of season seven have been frustrating for many viewers. They’re standalones, but also all have tiny parts to play in a much larger story. They’re also so totally and completely out of order (Moffat really does love to do that, eh?), which I think makes many viewers go quite bonkers.
What did you think of tonight’s Doctor Who? Sound off in the comments.
Follow @AliciaLutes on Twitter