There are spaceships that get you from A to B, spaceships that are sci-fi icons (the Enterprise D, the Millennium Falcon, Red Dwarf, to name but three), and then there is the Tardis. The greatest spaceship in all creation. She’s not just bigger on the inside, she’s “infinite”. She has a heart, soul and personality – she is alive. She is, as Neil Gaiman showed us so exquisitely, to all intents and purposes the Doctor’s wife. So the very idea of her being salvaged as scrap is anathema. But that is exactly what this episode promises. Hold tight as the Doctor’s oldest and best companion is put in the gravest of danger…
[We get spoilery below the line…]
For a Time Lord the Doctor does suffer from bad timing to an unfortunate degree. This week, having put the Tardis in ‘basic mode’ so that Clara can get to know her, he inadvertently leaves the ship vulnerable to the illegal ‘magno-grab’ of some passing salvagers.
Luckily for the purposes of story-telling the Doctor is thrown free of the wreckage and is able to convince greedy Gregor Van Baalen to bring his crew (his brother Bram and their android Tricky) into the Tardis to help rescue Clara with the promise of “the salvage of a lifetime”.
We know long before the salvagers that they are never going to be allowed to turn the ship into scrap – begging the question is the Doctor outright lying or does he have another plan up his sleeve? Or, being the Doctor, is it both?
The good news is that with Clara lost deep inside the Tardis (like the Doctor she has miraculously appeared away from the console room for the purposes of smooth narration), we get to see some of the ship’s hidden treasures at last – the breath-takingly gorgeous library, the swimming pool, a junk room with the Doctor’s crib in it, a magnificent telescope. The bad news is she’s being stalked by a monster that looks like its made of lava…
Will the Doctor and the salvage crew reach her before the creature does? Well, of course – but not before Gregor makes life much harder for them all by ignoring the Doctor’s instructions not to ‘touch a thing: the Tardis will get huffy if you mess!”
The viewer’s pain as Bram levers apart the console is soothed by a little fanboy balm – echoes of the past drifting out of the ship’s heart. I could identify Susan and the Ninth Doctor, but not the voices in between I’m afraid. But I can’t say I was sorry to see him come to a bad end after disrespecting the Tardis.
Though compared to his brother, of course, his crimes seem mere misdemeanours. Gregor is greedy, thoughtless and arrogant – also stupid enough to think he can outwit both the Time Lord and the Tardis. Death in the heart of an exploding star would have been too good for a man who sees only the price of the Tardis, not her value and who would trick his injured brother Tricky into believing he was an android just to steal the captaincy of the family salvage ship.
All of which brings us to the horror unfolding in front of the Eye of Harmony. The Doctor’s desperate attempts to keep the knowledge of the true identity of the ‘zombie guys’ from Clara and the terrible moment of clarity when Gregor’s sensor recognises Lancashire sass deep in the burned DNA of the creature banging on the locked door. I have to confess that what should have been deeply chilling, left me a bit perturbed but otherwise unmoved. This may be because I was still more worried about the fate of the Tardis than Clara – we know she’ll escape her crispy fate somehow, but how will the Tardis recover from the damage we’ve seen wrought on her?
The sight of the engine room, shattered and frozen (for now) in time is heartbreaking, and if I have one complaint about this episode it is that we move on far too quickly from the Doctor’s grief to finding a solution. (Glad as I am that there is a solution and tickled as I am by a literal reset button rather than a purely metaphorical one.)
As we zoom off towards an adventure with Strax, Lady Vastra and Jenny (hurrah!), I’m left wondering that if Gregor has remembered his ‘one small spark of decency’ after the Doctor resets history to prevent the disastrous events we’ve just seen, what exactly might Clara remember? The Doctor’s name? That he’s met her twice before and both times she’s died? That he accused her of being a trick or a trap? With only three weeks of this series to go, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
See you for a date with Diana Rigg next week…
Posted by Jo the Hat