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Recap / Doctor Who S33 E10 "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS"

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Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The story you've all been waiting for...
Written by Steve Thompson
Directed by Mat King
Air date: 27 April 2013

"What do you keep in here? Why have you got zombie creatures? Good guys do not have zombie creatures. Rule one, basic story telling!"
Clara Oswald

The one that reminds us what "Bigger on the Inside" really entails.

The Doctor decides to shut down the TARDIS' shields and put her in basic mode for a bit, so that Clara can drive and she and Clara might get to like each other a bit better. The TARDIS is almost immediately caught by an intergalactic salvage crew. An odd gadget leaves a burn mark on Clara's hand in the process, and amidst the chaos Clara is lost in the depths of the TARDIS. The salvagers — two brothers, Gregor and Bram Van Baalen, and an android named Tricky — intend to sell the TARDIS for scrap, but the Doctor threatens to destroy it by putting it in lockdown and activating the self destruct if the salvage crew doesn't help him find Clara. Meanwhile, something lurks in the dark halls of the TARDIS: staggering, zombie-like creatures that chase Clara through the hallways.

After a lot of running through corridors, Clara ends up in the library, where she briefly spots a book about the history of the Time War and sees a few very interesting things in it.note  Bram gets himself killed by trying to get too close to the console core. Gregor Van Baalen tries to steal bits of TARDIS regardless (and despite Tricky's protests), and end up hurting her so much that her defence systems run Tricky's arm through with a metal beam. It's revealed that, against all appearances, Tricky isn't a fabricated android; he's the youngest Van Baalen brother, whose siblings played a trick on him after an accident that gave him amnesia and required parts of his body to be replaced with cybernetic implants. The Doctor knew all along, but had more pressing matters on his mind. Not that the TARDIS self-destruct mechanism actually exists — that was just a fib — but the fact that the zombie creatures are future versions of himself, Clara and the remaining two brothers. Burned to smouldering husks and mad with pain, they try to grab the gang. The brothers succeed in getting rid of their future selves with the tried and trusted method of throwing them into the Eye of Harmony. Unfortunately for them, this results in their own transformation.

The Doctor takes Clara to the very core of the TARDIS, where — on the verge of tears — he finally comes clean to her about the mystery of her existence and her multiple deaths. She's extremely freaked out by it, and after a while, she counters with her own reveal. In that Time War book, she saw a thing or two about his name. However, Clara's burn mark reveals to the Doctor that he has one option left — resetting the entire timeline using the gadget that burned Clara in the first place. He pushes himself through a time crack in absolute agony, shares a brief conversation with his past self, and manages to reset everything. Clara never even knows it happened. In the aftermath, the Doctor asks Clara how safe she feels around him — just to make sure — and the brothers are back to life and not quite as mean this time around. A previously damaged photograph near Tricky's cot, which only depicted his brothers and father, has now been restored and includes Tricky standing to the side.


  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Gregor and Tricky end up turning into one of the zombie monsters, conjoined together.
  • Arc Words: "Big friendly button".
  • Artificial Human: Subverted. Tricky's not an android, just a human with prosthetic replacements for his eyes and voice box.
  • Bad Future: The creatures in the episode are severely burnt echoes of the salvage crew, the Doctor and Clara had they not escaped from the Eye of Harmony room.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: "Good guys do not have zombie creatures! Rule one: Basic story telling!"
  • Big Bad: Gregor Van Baalen, whose greed for the TARDIS causes the events of the episode.
  • Big Brother Bully: Gregor is revealed as this when Tricky is discovered to be the youngest Van Baalen brother. "Tricking younger brother into thinking himself a robot" definitely scores high on the bully-meter.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Gregor has a moment of this in the Eye of Harmony chamber when Tricky is about to fall to his death and he instinctively grabs him. Unfortunately for them both, it gets them killed because Gregor forgot the Doctor's warning for him not to touch Tricky, otherwise time will reassert itself and they will become the conjoined zombie creature.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Although this trope is prevalent enough to normally not be worth mentioning, this episode showcases just ''how' big the inside of the TARDIS is. One of the rooms contains a collapsing star, as well as enough space so that people entering the room can survive the heat for a brief period. The Doctor even claims that the space inside the TARDIS is infinite.
  • Big Red Button: Well, medium-sized. Either way, it's red, Clara can't resist pushing it, and bad things happen when she does.
  • Bizarrchitecture:
    • In the M.C. Escher-esque promo image.
    • The TARDIS turns its architecture into a labyrinth to prevent the salvagers from escaping with its circuits. Clara tries to leave the echo control room and ends up back inside.
    • In general, the TARDIS has windows into space (when the outside is both smaller and windowless), has a mountain range, and wildly varying construction material (including stone walls in one section). Justified by the fact that the TARDIS can literally manufacture anything.
  • Body Horror: The "monsters" are severely burned future versions of Clara, the Doctor (whose hand has melted to his face), and two of the brothers (who have been fused together at the sides).
  • Bottle Episode: Played with. Most of the episode takes place aboard the TARDIS, but the ship is infinite.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Two:
    • The Cult's "Fire Woman". (As an added bonus for Sonic fans, it's actually Crush 40's cover version!)
    • Clara's hand burn.
  • Closed Circle: The Doctor, Clara, and the three brothers are the only characters (plus the TARDIS herself). The TARDIS actively chooses to lock them all inside when Gregor gets sticky fingers.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Distaff Counterpart: In keeping with the ongoing character arc of Clara slowly becoming more like the Doctor, there is a scene where she simply can't resist pushing a big red button.
  • Dyson Sphere: The TARDIS is this, by virtue of containing the Eye of Harmony, an actual full-fledged star, inside one of its "rooms" as a power source.
  • Eldritch Location: If you thought the depths of the TARDIS would be less scary than they were when an evil entity ran the joint, you'd be sorely mistaken.
  • Electronic Eyes: Tricky's eyes are cybernetic replacements.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Two, involving hands.
    • The Doctor realizes that he's about to hold his face in his hand, รก la one of the burnt future echoes, giving him the idea to try and alter the given course of the timeline.
    • Just when the Doctor admits he has no idea how to save the TARDIS, he notices the burn mark on Clara's hand... and realizes what he can do to fix everything.
  • Everybody Lives: But only after everyone dies first. The Big Friendly Button basically prevents all the deaths from occurring.
  • Everything Sensor: The "intelligent sensor", to the point that it quite literally interprets a device which can make everything as "everything you ever wanted".
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The characters do, in fact, have to journey to the centre of the TARDIS.
  • Exact Time to Failure: The TARDIS will self-destruct in an hour — wait, make that thirty minutes. Do we want to try for fifteen?
  • Exact Words: The Doctor promises the Van Baalen brothers the "salvage of a lifetime". They assume he means the ship, but he never specifies what it is or even if he'd give it to them. (He actually means Clara, and no, he's not handing her over.)
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Clara picks up a cylinder which burns her hands and she drops it. The Doctor later identifies an identical cylinder in the possession of the Salvage Pirates. But if it's there, why was it on the TARDIS earlier?
    • Clara (temporarily) learns the Doctor's name, playing into this series's plot arc.
    • The song the Doctor and Clara are listening to at the beginning is "Fire Woman" by The Cult. Seeing what happens to Clara later on...
    • The Doctor wonders why an android would need a respirator.
  • Future Me Scares Me: The scary zombie creatures are future versions of everyone onboard the TARDIS.
  • Genius Ditz: Bram seems to be one, as he doesn't appear very bright, but is apparently very good at breaking things up, which makes him useful as a member of the ship's salvage crew. Gregor all but describes him as a Genius Ditz in this line before they enter the TARDIS: "Don't try and form sentences, all right? Stick to what you do best." However, when Bram tries to salvage parts of the TARDIS, Tricky warns him to get out of there fast, and Bram ignores him and one of the zombie creatures kills him.
  • Genius Loci: The TARDIS, especially after Gregor tries to steal a part of her. She finds the perfect way to mess with them.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: Within the TARDIS, including the Encyclopedia Gallifreya in liquid form, and the Doctor's name. Clara thinks the TARDIS is showing off.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: A poster of one can be seen on the wall as the camera pans over the brothers in the opening.
  • Guile Hero: The Doctor tricks the Salvage Pirates into helping him by exploiting their greed, and then with a fake self-destruct.
  • Hate Sink: Gregor. After a while, it gets amusing how every single thing he says and does is designed to make you hate him more and more.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Very hidden in Gregor's case. In the Doctor's words, "he has just one tiny scrap of decency left in him", but otherwise he's an utter dick.
  • Holding Hands: Quite a lot of this with Clara and the Doctor; becomes a Chekhov's Gun when he looks at her palm and sees the burnt message.
  • I Know Your True Name: Clara discovers the Doctor's real name in a book, and later informs him of this fact (becoming only the second on-screen companion confirmed to know this information). However, she loses this memory when the timeline is reset.
  • It Amused Me: Tricky was human all along, but his older brothers made him think he was a real android. Why? "in-flight entertainment".
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Clara encounters a past echo of the Doctor invokedlooking very lonely in a corridor and is warned by the current Doctor, "Don't touch it!" And considering it's the Doctor saying that about an echo of himself...
  • It's All About Me: Gregor. He knew that Tricky was to be made captain of the ship by their late father, but when Tricky was almost killed in a salvage accident, Gregor tricked him into thinking he was an android to usurp the captain's position for himself to try and relieve the boredom of running the ship, dishes out a fair share of Kick the Dog to Bram and Tricky (mainly the latter), doesn't care at all about finding Clara and only about serving his greed by salvaging what he can from the TARDIS, keeping a firm grip on the Idiot Ball throughout. He also ignores the Doctor and Tricky completely when he comes across the architectural reconfiguration system because of its immense wealth and how much he wants it. Later on, he barely bats an eye at Bram's death, continuing to worry only about his greed and what he can salvage, and then orders the Doctor to get him out of the TARDIS before Clara is found when it looks like the TARDIS will blow up. Thank God for his Hidden Heart of Gold, otherwise he probably would have crossed the invokedMoral Event Horizon long ago.
  • Jerkass: Both the elder Van Baalen brothers are shady, immoral, and greedy. Their first scene has them using technology made illegal because it makes ships explode.
  • The Joy of X: This episode is named with the pattern "Journey to the Centre of [X]".
  • Just Between You and Me: Invoked twice, between Clara and the Doctor, which shows how far they are from truly trusting each other. First, Clara demands to know what the zombies are when they're trapped in the Eye of Harmony room with no means of escape. Second, when he and Clara are stuck in the engine room without any apparent way forward, the Doctor snaps and demands of Clara to know who she really is.
  • Just One Second Out of Sync: The "echoes" of the control room. Each one is in the same place but ever so slightly out of sync with the others. Clara is trapped in one with a zombie while the Doctor is trapped with the brothers in another, able to see Clara's shadow moving but not Clara herself. He eventually manages to pull Clara through after pinpointing her location.
  • Karma Houdini: Due to the reset, the Van Baalen brothers never get any comeuppance for making Tricky believe he was an android. Keep in mind, this was their little brother, who required numerous cybernetic implants and was left totally amnesiac after a major industrial accident. Despite this, they still decided to take advantage of him, out of jealousy that he was chosen to be the next Captain and because they were bored. Granted, it's not as bad as most Houdinis (some of whom escape karma despite committing murder), and Gregor shows signs of getting better in the end, but even so. It's possible he'll eventually tell Tricky the truth.
  • Leap of Faith: When their path to the engine room is blocked by a seemingly impassable cliff, the Doctor reasons that the TARDIS is simply trying to scare them away and won't actually let them come to harm. They jump and wind up in the engine room no worse for wear.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: Suggested by Gregor, as he wants to start stripping the TARDIS while the Doctor and Tricky are busy looking for Clara.
  • Literary Allusion Title: To Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.
  • Male Gaze: There seem to be quite a few shots of Clara running away from the camera in a dress which flips up as she runs, showing glimpses of her thighs. Interestingly, this is the only episode in which Clara is shown wearing such an outfit, other than one skit in the retrospective special The Ultimate Guide and the waitress outfit she wears in her very last episode two seasons later.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: When Tricky is about to fall into the Eye of Harmony, Gregor pulls him up. Unfortunately, the resulting contact results in the future reasserting itself and them fusing into a burnt zombie.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: Lampshaded when the Doctor gets a slug in the face after hugging Clara. Turns out that's not what she's mad about. In fact, even in a tense moment, Clara later admits to liking being hugged by the Doctor.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: The Doctor manages this in the beginning by going from buried under a pile of rubble to joining the brothers in their huddled conversations about him in the space of a few seconds.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Clara does a surprisingly calm one after pressing a Big Red Button which reveals a huge fire.
      Clara: Bad decision.
    • The Doctor has quite a calm one when he sees on the monitor that the engine is damaged, and unless it's fixed fast, the TARDIS is toast.
    • The Doctor has another one when he realizes that the sensor is about to say the fire creature is a future version of Clara. He gets a big look of horror on his face and frantically yells at Gregor to turn the sensor off.
    • Clara gets a much bigger one when she realises what "Lancashire" means from Gregor's sensor: the origin of the fire creature chasing her is her.
  • Once More, with Clarity: Only by the end of the episode do we learn why the cylinder ended up in the TARDIS when it was being assaulted by the Magno-Grab... with the added bonus of the Doctor travelling back to make sure it gets used.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: They're radiation-burned time anomalies.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Clara opens a door with a flashing red light above it only to be greeted by a fireball.
  • Pet the Dog: Lampshaded when Gregor refuses to cut Tricky's arm off; he has one speck of decency left.
  • Quizzical Tilt: More foreshadowing when Clara and one of the zombies do this with each other.
  • Plot Hole: If Tricky was human all along but convinced that he was entirely robotic, then why did he never question why he had to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom? Did his brothers convince him that he was some kind of part-organic cyborg?
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The "Zombie" creatures have red eyes.
  • Reset Button: The Doctor resolves the conflict with a literal reset button, except he decides to call it a "Big Friendly Button". However it is strongly implied here — and later confirmed in the season finale — that the Doctor has retained at least some memory of what went on. Clara for her part has a sense that something happened — and herself regains a few memories at the end of the season.
  • Salvage Pirates: The Van Baalen Bros. are salvage pirates IN SPACE! They want to take apart the TARDIS and sell her piecemeal.
  • Schmuck Bait: Clara is wandering the TARDIS alone and happens upon a door with a flashing red light above it, opened by pressing a Big Red Button. Clara considers the implications of a big red light and a big red button before doing the obvious.
    Clara: Red flashing light. Means something bad. "Get out of here fast?" Or possibly, "Whatever you do, don't open this door." [hems and haws before pressing the button]
  • Screaming Woman: Played straight when Clara is about to be killed by a zombie only to be saved by the Doctor.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: The TARDIS has one, which is used as a threat to keep the salvage crew in line. Except, remember Rule 1: The Doctor lies.
  • Ship Tease: Another one for Clara and the Doctor, as at one point he tells her "you're beautiful". Rather cheeky for a married man. There's also a lot of hugging, Held Gaze, Holding Hands and Affectionate Gesture to the Head. Then there's the whole "You are not getting the ship if I don't get her out first." And in the epilogue we see Clara, apparently fresh out of the shower or the pool, giving the Doctor a full-on come-hither look.
  • Shout-Out:
  • The Sociopath: Gregor exploited his little brother's memory loss from an industrial accident for fun. Then it's revealed that he still has a very small spark of human decency.
  • Spot the Thread: The Doctor, as usual, is quick to realize that proper androids don't have emotions nor need armour or respirators, but Tricky is in possession of all of them.
  • Stable Time Loop:
    • The cylinder at the start that burns Clara's hand gives the Doctor the idea to send it back in time to prevent the TARDIS's destruction in the first place.
    • The creation of the time zombies. The zombies chase the group into the Eye of Harmony room, and the radiation is what causes them to become the zombies.
    • The overall loop of the episode, however, is unstable: The events of the episode are actually the second time they've played out. The Doctor's actions at the end prevent it from being played out a third time.
  • Stealth Pun: The song played on the TARDIS is the Cult's "Fire Woman". Clara gets chased by a future fiery version of herself.
  • Temporal Paradox: Exploited. To avoid creating their radiation-burned future zombie selves, the Doctor has everyone avoid doing the precise actions frozen into the visage of their future selves. Clara and the Doctor succeed, but the brothers slip up and cause their future to come to pass.
  • Time Bomb: In order to force the Van Baalens to help him rescue Clara, the Doctor activates the TARDIS' self-destruct sequence and sets it to 60 minutes. It's subverted when it turns out the TARDIS doesn't have a self-destruct; the Doctor was bluffing. Then Double Subverted when it turns out that the engine really is overloading.
  • Time Crash: Due to engine damage, the past and future is spilling out of the TARDIS, replaying moments of the Doctor and Clara that have already gone by and projecting radiation-borne zombies of their future selves that have yet to be created.
  • They Killed Kenny Again: A future version of Clara again got turned into an insane monster. The girl has the worst luck.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Tricky starts off thinking he's an android. It turns out he's a human with a few artificial body parts who lost his memory in an accident.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Tricky warns Bram to not touch any of the TARDIS components and to get out of there as fast as he can once the TARDIS creates a labyrinth due to Gregor stealing part of the reconfiguration system. Bram ignores him and it gets him killed by one of the zombie creatures.
    • Gregor rescues Tricky when he is on the verge of falling to his death. The Doctor warned him earlier that if he touched Tricky, time would reassert itself and the two would become the conjoined zombie creature. This is exactly what happens.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Gregor seems to have rediscovered his sense of decency post-reset.
  • Token Good Teammate: Tricky. He's the only one in the salvage group who feels the TARDIS's pain to boot. This becomes especially profound when he's revealed to be a human whose only cybernetic parts are the ones to restore his eyes and voice.
  • The Unreveal:
    • Clara glances at The History of the Time War and learns the Doctor's true name (though the audience doesn't). However, due to the Reset Button, she forgets it.
    • The Doctor finally confronts Clara directly over her impossible nature, but Clara herself is ignorant and the Reset Button erases her memory of it.
    • Post-reset, Tricky still doesn't know that he's not an android, though seeing as Gregor seems to have become kinder, it's possible he'll eventually reveal the truth to him.
  • Unrobotic Reveal: Tricky is just a normal human with cybernetic eyes and an artificial larynx; his brothers played a trick on him so he couldn't become captain of the ship.
  • Unusual User Interface: The library contains Gallifreyan encyclopedias which are liquefied knowledge.
  • What Are You: After spending several episodes wondering about the mystery of her alternate selves without confronting her, the Doctor finally demands this of Clara, saying she might as well tell him as they're going to die soon. She doesn't know what he's talking about, and seemingly convinces him that she's just Clara.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Clara gets really upset with the Doctor about the beings he keeps trapped in the TARDIS. Except he doesn't actually keep them; they're echoes of the future.
      Clara: You're going to tell me right now: we're going to die here and you're going to tell me what they are!
      The Doctor: I can't.
      Clara: Tell me! What's the use of secrets now?
      The Doctor: Secrets protect us! Secrets make us safe.
      Clara: We're not safe!
    • The Van Baalen brothers barely hold back similar reactions when they learn that the "TARDIS self-destruct countdown" was a fake.
  • White Void Room: The TARDIS engine room is white in all directions, the only feature being the engine that has already exploded and is trapped in that moment.
  • Write Back to the Future: The Doctor inscribes the words BIG FRIENDLY BUTTON on the Magno-Grab control device that he knows is going to end up in the TARDIS control room, where Clara will pick it up out of curiosity and burn the words onto her palm. This gives him the inspiration to deliver the message in person during the next loop.
  • You Are Too Late: When the Doctor and Clara finally make it to the engine room, they find that it isn't just damaged, it's already exploded. The TARDIS has frozen it in that moment to protect the crew, but the damage is irreparable. Of course, since they're in a time machine, there's always the option of making it so it was never broken to begin with.