Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS was the tenth episode of the seventh series of Doctor Who produced by BBC Wales. It was the first time a TARDIS room other than a console room had been seen on television since The Christmas Invasion re-introduced the TARDIS wardrobe. It afforded by far the most expansive view of the TARDIS interior since the 1996 television movie.
As a child, head writer Steven Moffat was disappointed with the way the inside of a TARDIS was depicted in part 6 of The Invasion of Time. As a result, Moffat “challenged” writer Steve Thompson, who also found Time“wanting” as a kid, to explore the TARDIS interior “more effectively” than Time.
As important to the series’ narrative arc, it also contained the first instance of the Eleventh Doctor confronting Clara Oswald about her multiple lives and deaths.
The android Tricky is polishing a part inside the Van Baalen Bros. salvage ship when the system alerts him and Bram that there is salvage to be verified. Bram believes that it’s just space junk, but his brother Gregor wants to go for it, anyway. They suit up.
Meanwhile, the Eleventh Doctor insists Clara should bond with the TARDIS. She flatly refuses to talk to a piece of machinery. He gets her to agree to try flying it, and to make it easier, he puts it into Basic Mode. She flips some levers and suddenly, the ship shudders, losing then regaining power, and the music that the Van Baalen ship had been playing starts to play. The scanner screen cracks and shudders, and the Doctor starts to work the controls more frantically. He can’t get the shields up, and the salvage ship’s magno-grab nearly has them. The Doctor forces a lever up, and something in the TARDIS console explodes, throwing them both back. Clara asks him to tell her that there’s a button he can press to fix it. He says, “Oh, yes, big, friendly button.” Clara asks if he’s lying to make her feel better, and he is. A hand-sized metal object rolls towards Clara, who picks it up. It burns her right hand, and she drops it.
The machinery of the salvage ship pulls the TARDIS into a bay, and, believing it to be a derelict escape pod, the brothers attempt to cut into it, but are unsuccessful. Tricky’s bionic eyes pick up signs of a living being — a pair of shoes sticking out from under the wreckage. They withdraw, and Gregor is whispering a cover story to the other two when the Doctor pops in, saying it’s not polite to whisper. Bram contends that they found his ship adrift. The Doctor immediately corrects him. An illegal magno-grab broke his ship. He shows them that he found the remote to the magno-grab in Gregor’s pocket.
The Doctor realises that Clara is still inside, so he bolts for the TARDIS. Tricky stops him, telling him that the fuel is leaking. The Doctor spots respirators, then talks the salvage crew into going with him, promising the salvage of a lifetime within the ship.
Inside the TARDIS, the Cloister Bell sounds. Clara awakens in a corridor, having been knocked unconscious. She checks the hand that was burned. Coming to a door with a red light, she debates opening it. She regrets deciding to do so, as flames gush out. She runs down the corridor to escape. Moving around the TARDIS, Clara hears a growling noise. She takes refuge in a room containing a cot and a small model of a police box.
In the console room, the Doctor is amused by the reaction of the others to the size of the TARDIS. He uses fans to vent the gas and smoke from the room. As they all take off their respirators, he tells the others that he needs them to help find Clara. They initially refuse, but he tells them he has activated the TARDIS self-destruct. Locking the doors so they can’t leave, he informs them that the “salvage of a lifetime” he referred to was not the ship, but Clara.
To avoid the source of the growling noise, Clara has moved to another room, a very large library. She goes to a large book entitled The History of the Time War. Flipping through a few pages, she pauses and reads something, muttering to herself “So that’s who…” She then hears the growling noise again, and hides behind a bookshelf. She knocks over some glass containers labelled Encyclopedia Gallifreya, and the source of the growling – a dark, “zombie-like” creature – runs past her.
Her hand continues to ache from the burn, but she sees the burn marks slowly resolving into letters. She ends up in the console room, finding another ossified creature, mimicking her movements and approaching her.
The Doctor, Gregor and Tricky reach the console room, and the Doctor senses Clara in an echo of the console room. With the help of Gregor’s scanner to identify Clara, the Doctor creates a temporary link and grabs Clara before the creature touches her. Gregor demands the Doctor end the countdown; the Doctor, though revealing the self-destruct was a ruse to get their cooperation, finds the TARDIS engines have become unstable, thanks to a deadly time rift caused by the magno-grab. They must go to the engine room by way of the Eye of Harmony to prevent it from exploding. En route, Tricky is injured and in pain and, to his surprise, Gregor is forced to reveal Tricky is truly human and also his brother. After an accident that cost the life of their father, Tricky had lost his memories and had special implants to replace damaged organs, so Gregor had acted as if Tricky was an android so as to claim the captaincy of the salvage vessel. The Doctor comments on Gregor’s treatment of Tricky and suggests he can do better.
While travelling through the Eye of Harmony, the four are trapped by ossified creatures. When Gregor scans them and finds one similar to Clara’s biology, the Doctor confesses that these creatures are themselves from the future due to the time rift, and tries to prevent that future from happening. However, Gregor and Tricky are unable to avoid contacting themselves and become the conjoined ossified creature, seen earlier, before the Doctor and Clara’s eyes. The two flee towards the engine room, but come across a chasm with no way across. The Doctor, thinking that they are going to die, asks Clara to explain who she is and how she could have died twice before. Clara doesn’t understand, and the Doctor is relieved when he realizes she has no knowledge of their previous encounters and is simply a young woman. The Doctor and Clara then leap across the chasm believing that it is just an illusion and reach the engine room.
In the engine room, they find the engine has already exploded but the TARDIS has placed the room in time stasis as a safety measure. The Doctor is aware the TARDIS is trying to tell him something, but cannot figure out what — until he notices Clara’s hand. The burn marks have now fully formed into the words “big friendly button”. The Doctor realizes that they need to go back to the point of the disaster and activate the magno-grab remote — the device Clara picked up. They race to the console room, where the Doctor takes the discarded beacon and prepares to travel through a time rift. Clara asks what she will remember in the new timeline. She says she knows the Doctor’s name from reading the Time War book. The Doctor tells her that she will remember nothing.
The Doctor then crosses the rift and warns his younger self. Understanding the implications of his elder self, the younger Doctor grabs the beacon from Clara when she picks it up – the letters “big friendly button” inscribed on its side – and hits the button.
Time resets to before the events of the episode. The Van Baalens ignore the TARDIS and continue. Still, something has mysteriously changed because of the Doctor. In this new timeline, Gregor has become more appreciative of Tricky. In the TARDIS, the Doctor is concerned and asks Clara if she feels safe with him, and she readily agrees. She urges the Doctor to “hit the button” so they can go to their next port of call.