Doctor: Running away with a spaceman in a box. Anything could happen to you.
Clara: That’s what I’m counting on.
I’m a little confused by this episode, written by Steve Thompson. It’s not at all clear how the magnograb thingy, with BIG FRIENDLY BUTTON carved on it, enabled the Doctor to rewind time back to before the Tardis is hauled aboard the salvage ship. But I suppose that doesn’t matter, given that Doctor Who regularly achieves the impossible, with as little explanation.
This week Clara gets to know the Tardis. The Doctor’s concerned that they aren’t hitting it off properly, so he wants them to talk to each other: “It’s important to me you get along. I can leave you two alone together.” That’s exactly what happens, but in exactly the wrong way, as the Van Baalen Bros. snatch up the Tardis when it’s in basic mode and the shield oscillators are turned off.
Clara is trapped inside, with the engine exploded and held in stasis, as the Doctor cons the salvagers into helping him find her. The carrot is salvage, the stick is the threat of auto-destruct in 30 minutes. So we have two journeys of discovery going on – Clara’s and the Van Baalen brothers.
They both discover the immensity of the Tardis, but Clara discovers the personal stuff. The swimming pool and library, the Doctor’s cradle, last seen at Demon’s Run, Amy’s model Tardis, a magnifying glass, and an umbrella, which I think belonged to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. Can’t place the magnifying glass, though. Clara also discovers the handsomely bound, History of the Time War, which contains the Doctor’s real name: “So that’s who.” The most important secret in the universe because once it’s revealed then Silence will fall. No wonder he’s alarmed, and no wonder time must be rewound so Clara will unknow it.
For the Van Baalen brothers, their greed-driven family dynamics are laid bare, and we discover the android is really human, their dead father’s choice for captain. His brother finds a spark of decency in the Tardis that survives the rewinding of time.
And the Doctor steadfastly pursues the mystery of Clara, even in the midst of disaster. It’s become obsessional. When the fiery zombies turn out to be future memories and echoes of Clara, the Doctor is guilt-stricken, and spills the beans about her past lives and deaths. He really wants to know who she is: “What are you, eh, a trick, a trap?” Clara doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he finally seems to accept it: “You’re just Clara, aren’t you?” But is she? Moffat isn’t going to leave it at that.
The Tardis is the main character in the episode. We find out about her innards, moods, strengths and weaknesses, and the Doctor’s guilt at being unable to protect her from the salvagers. Loved the way he stroked and reassured the console when Clara called the Tardis an appliance. But you can understand Clara’s comment about their relationship: “You’re like one of those guys who can’t go out with a girl unless his mother approves.” It looks like Clara’s winning that approval, with the Tardis sheltering her inside the console room.
This worked as a gripping action/adventure episode, but it also developed the relationship between the Doctor, the Tardis, and Clara. If there’s a mystery about Clara then it must surely involve all three. The leak in time, with the visual of the jagged break in a wall, harks back to Amy’s split in time.
Plenty to think about, with each episode so far a satisfying one-off.