Saturday, April 27, 2013

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS - "I think I'm more scared of you than anything else on that Tardis right now."

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS | Wikipedia

Series 7, Story 10 (Overall Series Story #236) | Previous - Next | Index

The scent of fan service is strong on this one. So, as a fan not above being serviced a bit, I say, "Bring it." You guys, you know I'm game for a show that's going to show us more of the TARDIS than we've ever seen before (which reminds me I need to re-watch "The Invasion of Time") when I've got one of these ...

 ... on hand.

Of course, the fear is that not everyone has one of those, or even wants one, and those that don't might not be as stoked to delve into Heart of Nerdness. Nor should they have to be to enjoy an episode.

There's also the recent trend of personifying the TARDIS and treating it as a character with its own motives. Is the TARDIS a simply a machine, or a machine that happens to contain an intelligence, or an AI that happens to be a time machine/space ship? Neil Gaiman's "The Doctor's Wife" presented us a TARDIS that is certainly more than a machine, but was that really what the TARDIS is?  I'm a little skeptical about the wisdom of making the TARDIS more than a ship. Sure, it's an amazing ship, a fantastical ship even. But ... I like it to be feat of engineering, not an autonomous character. I'm fine with the Doctor treating like a person, but I'm less comfortable, with it actually being a person.
I'm also not sure how I feel about it possibly containing a ... um ... mountain range?

Wood-paneled alternate control room? Sure.

Candle-lit study console room? I'm down with that.

In order for this episode to succeed, it's got to do four things: first, it's got to be a real story, not just a bit of fan service; second, it's got satisfy fans titillated by the title and eager for the tour; third, it doesn't need to solve the mystery of Clara, but given the way this season is constructed, it's got to give us a meaningful clue, or at least do something besides rehash the same clues we've already seen -- somebody needs to learn something they didn't already know, whether it's the viewer or one of the characters, we need something; and, finally, it can't make the TARDIS something it's not ... and here I'm worried about the monsters that appear to be lurking within because we've never had any reason to believe the TARDIS is a prison ship, carrying monsters villains the Doctor didn't know what else to do but lock away, nor do I think it's reasonable to make them some aspect of the TARDIS itself, so whatever the explanation for them is, it'd better be good.

Pre-show prefatory remarks out of the way, let's watch the show and see whether it succeeds or fails ...

1 - Real story? Well, it's the dirtiest trick in the sci-fi writer's bag, the reset button. Stuff happens and then wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, no it didn't. Well it did a little, because one big brother found his last shred of decency. ST:TNG did this better, but this wasn't the worst of its kind. Partial credit.

2 - Did we see enough of the TARDIS to satisfy our nerd hunger? Yes. The library was a bit of showing off and good on the Doctor for it. And I loved how the audio of past Doctors was weaved in as echoes floated around. Heard Tom Baker's voice, and Eccleston's, and probably missed others I'll catch on re-watch.  The mountains were an illusion and the Eye of Harmony looked damned good, so yes, I'm quite pleased with how that turned out.

3 - Meaningful clues? Well, half way here. I think we already knew Clara doesn't know if she's a "trick or trap," but I think that was the closest we'll get to confirmation she's not behind her own mystery. Clara finds out the Doctor's name. Then, of course, wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey, no she didn't. Ugh. More on secrets in a moment. But I won't give demerits or points for this one.

4 - The TARDIS is not overly anthropomorphized, or timelordopomorphized, whatever, and the monsters aren't prisoners or some dark secret about how the TARDIS was made or anything like that, so good.

Based on my pre-watch criteria, I'll call this one a success, but mostly on the TARDIS reveal front because it was cool enough to outweigh the stupid reset button ending.

But let's come back to the idea that secrets are good, that secrets keep us safe and are necessary. As a pseudonymous writer, clearly I value some level of privacy. But here's the thing, I don't think it should be necessary for atheists and pro-union progressives to have to be very careful about who they let know who they are because some employers don't look kindly on the latter or the former and a fellow needs to be able to work and provide for his family with fear of reprisals or prejudice. What I do and and say here I've always felt has to be judged on its merits, the words and pictures on the screen and nothing else. Convincing, or at least persuasive, or not, based on solely on what's on the page, not on any kind of credentials or personal authority. The decision to use a pseudonym was made over thirteen years ago and I've never had reason to change my mind.

In the Doctor Who universe though, or really in just about any fictional universe, I'm inclined to think the the storyteller's duty is to help us imagine a world we can make that is as good as it can be. Even dystopian fiction serves this purpose. The theme of every story, at core, if not about striving for justice, for a moral perfection we may never attain but can improve ourselves by striving for, if not about that, I fear it can only be a wasted effort, an irredeemable narrative. That doesn't mean no villains can ever win, nor does it mean the heroes always have to be perfect. Ultimately, however, stories without humanist values are always something other than about awakening us to the possibility of being better and, to go a bit binary/Manichean here,  when they're not humanist, they're worthless.

Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, despite some pretty epic coolness, left me disappointed because it espoused the same values we hear the Doctor blurt out here: namely that humanity needs false idols, can't handle the truth, is better served by secrecy. Secrecy is bad public policy for a reason. Secrecy leads to a lack of accountability, and when you combine a lack of accountability with power, you're practically begging to be exploited. If we can't handle the truth, it's only because we're not accustomed to it. Progress comes from reasoned decisions about facts in evidence. Hiding the facts sells us short.

Now, it's not clear to me why the Doctor's name is a secret, and there's plenty of room left in the storytelling for it be thematically valid for it be desirable for that particular secret to be kept. It's just ... I've got hackles ... and when a character says "You can't handle the truth," well just like Lt. Kaffee's hackles were raised by Col. Jessup, so too are mine.

Oi, got off on a bit of a rant there. So, in terms of this episode, it's re-watchable and shows us lots of TARDIS. Despite the too-neat-for-its-own-good ending, a keeper.

Apropos of nothing, I'll just leave you with a peek behind the scenes of Cdog family life on the way out.

We don't do religion in this house, but you could
say my daughter is being inDoctorinated nonetheless. 

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