Three guys aboard a dumpster/skip of a spaceship wake up to hear their devices have pinpointed some sexy, sexy salvage. One of them’s an android who feels machine-pain because he is a machine (full of pain! wait, that doesn’t sound like a machine…), and the other two are jerky to him. I’m reservedly squeeful that we have three actors of color in these prominent episode roles!
Meanwhile, Clara and the Doctor bicker about the TARDIS. “It’s not a cheese grater,” he scoffs when she calls it an “appliance”; she’s exasperated he acts like a guy who can’t date someone unless his mother approves. The solution? Take down the shields so Clara can take the TARDIS for a spin! Whoops, taking down the shields makes them fly right into the salvagers’ magnetic field. Lesson: never let your girlfriend drive your mom.
Prancing like a cat on a hot tin shack! The Cult’s “Fire Woman” plays as the salvagers suit up and start to pull in the TARDIS.
Yes, I know I just changed Cult songs midstream. I DON’T CARE. Oh hey, Steve Thompson, come to take a break from Sherlock writing to join us at DW? Expect everything to get way intertextual, yo! And expect that bit of Clara burning her hand on some device at the outset to come back as an important key to our problem of the week!
“She’s suffering, I can feel it,” Tricky the Maybe-Android says of the TARDIS. The other Van Baalens stop trying to solder the TARDIS open when they realize someone’s inside. “It’s rude to whisper!” the Doctor tells them brightly as he sneaks up. Doctor, it’s rude to sidle. Aha, they used a Magnograb, a “little beastie” that disables ships and drags them in for salvage. Though Tricky insists Clara’s dead inside, the others negotiate with the Doctor for a promise of “the salvage of a lifetime” if they help him. Doctor, stop calling Clara salvage (it’s ruuuude).
Inside the TARDIS, Clara starts the long cycle of inching/running through the junk-ridden corridors.
A red light flashes unhelpfully (signaling who knows what): Clara opens the door to find fiiiiirreeeee (smoke she is a risin’!) and runs like hell before finding scratch marks on the walls. GREAT, THERE’S A MONSTER ABOARD!
The salvagers bicker about trawling something that’s “spewing poison”, but Gregor, the jerkiest of the Van Baalens, takes charge, telling Bram “don’t try to form sentences” before outfitting them all with respirators (funny thing, putting a respirator on an android, says the Doctor. HMMM!). The Doctor kicks in the door of the TARDIS, we swing to commercial break, and I wonder if we’re ever going to see the Maitlands again (remember them? Clara’s family she’s currently nannying for? Man, don’t waste backstory potential, DW!).
The Doctor basks in the “whoa!” and “awesome!” reactions of the salvagers to the TARDIS interior. Hey, he DID mean Clara when he mentioned the salvage of a lifetime (oh you!). They don’t want to help him? BLAMMO, they’re now on a sixty-minute timer counting down until TARDIS self-destruct! Don’t like that? Now it’s thirty minutes, booyah!
Clara wanders in to a storage room, finding the Seventh Doctor’s umbrella and various Dumbledorian gizmos. Say, what’s that creepy thing behind you, Clara? RUN LIKE HELL FROM THE MONSTER!
Gregor proposes they split up to find Clara, but really, it’s all the better to strip the TARDIS, my dear! “The TARDIS will get huffy if you mess,” the Doctor says. I think we’ve gotten past the huffy stage if the TARDIS is setting free monsters.
As Clara runs from the humanoid monster (and a randomly ~atmospheric~ POV that’s not the monster or anyone in particular), she skips by the TARDIS pool room, the observatory, and stumbles in to the library. “Now that’s just showing off,” she notes at the gorgeous arches. Showing off all kinda Classic and NuWho knowledge and interior locales, you betcha!
When Bram strips the console, we hear a swirl of different voices — ah, Susan explaining she named the TARDIS! Other Doctors, including NINE! Martha!! *draws hearts* Careful, Bram, you’re letting all the institutional memories spill! AHHhh, we’re hearing all these snippets of what and how the TARDIS means! *rolls around in all the gorgeous Thompsonian thick description* The referential layering is beautiful, man.
Gregor, still on the lookout for stuff to steal, uses his sensor to detect “Everything.” Okay, what now? “Behind that door, sensor detects everything you could possibly want.” That’s awfully convenient. “Living metal, bespoke engineering,” is what he’s found, and though the Doctor warns him not to touch (I can feel a TARDIS tantrum coming on!) Gregor steals a circuit.
Okay, whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. I was psyched at the mysterious brotherly relationship between the three salvagers, and thrilled they’re played by actors of color. But wait, they’re basically chop shop thieves okay with killing bystanders for cash money. Casting characters of color deliberately in that scenario? It’s a thread of icky running through this otherwise often cool episode.
Back in the library, Clara finds a book of the Time War (what happened to the plural Wars?).
“So that’s who,” she murmurs (Ugh, we’re building to the Doctor’s name thing *hides*). Eek, the humanoid thingy prowls the stacks! Clara hides, knocking over the Encyclopedia Gallifreya, and now she’s gone and spilt liquid knowledge everywhere.
“Let the circuit go,” the Doctor begs Gregor. The TARDIS’s strop is “creating a labyrinth,” sending them all back to the same place repeatedly. “Bram, don’t touch anything, the ship is alive,” Tricky begs Bram, who is being a creeper down at the base of the TARDIS console and setting himself up for a killin’.
Clara rushes thankfully to the console, but what’s this, the door is gone! Bram gets cornered and killed by the monster, and Gregor is COLD while Tricky is devastated. “You’re always on the side of machines,” Gregor complains when Tricky demands he hand back the circuit. Too late to talk it now out; here come the monsters! “I’m sorry,” the Doctor says quietly to one before running.
Clara runs from the console. Clara reaches the console. Runs from it. Stumbles back onto it. Yes, it’s like Through the Looking Glass (try running straight at it, I yell) but it’s also a bit boring. I mean, any episode in which people are wandering around corridors which look the same as previous corridors because they are the same as previous corridors (first just re-used sets, then as a plot device) needs some gussying up in terms of suspense, or so say I.
Tricky and the Doctor run to the console room. Okay, so “it’s an echo” (all the console room shots, from Clara’s to Bram’s to this, are different echoes of the original). It’s the safest room on the ship after all. “It’s trying to protect us.” “Because I tried to give back the circuit?” Tricky asks hopefully, and awww, I love helpful Tricky!
“Go Team TARDIS,” the Doctor agrees, grabbing Tricky affectionately.
Okay, so the Doctor and Tricky hear Clara. They’re all in echo console rooms, and it’s like a flickering light switch “at superinfinite speeds…we’re only together for a brief second” but if they can “isolate her position” they can “nudge the alteration” and reach in and grab her. *throws up hands* I DON’T KNOW EITHER, OKAY?
They use the Van Baalen’s device to scan for “female human” “It doesn’t know Lancashire. It doesn’t know sass. It’s found Clara.” The Doctor at last yanks Clara into “his” console room to get promptly punched. “Why have you got zombie creatures?” she rails. It goes against his good guy status: “rule one basic storytelling!” Seems legit.
Fine, Gregor announces, a deal’s a deal: call off the TARDIS self-destruct. “I’ve got to tell you, I won’t be needing you in my quiz team,” the Doctor tells Gregor playfully because of course THERE IS NO SELF-DESTRUCT SEQUENCE. It’s “the old wiggly button trick” with a bit of “the face” and a “save her or we’ll all die” (this is like the third or fourth time the Doctor’s pretended he was activating a TARDIS self-destruct; it keeps right on working for him!).
Uh, but Doctor? The engine is ACTUALLY overloading. “Something you want to share with the rest of us?” Clara demands, trying to get answers about the zombies and the TARDIS. They’re in “proper trouble” now, and the only fix is to take a detour to the “centre of the TARDIS” (and we have title! *breathes out wild applause sound*).
Clara walks down another corridor (it’s green lit this time, that’s how you know it’s ~different~!), but the Doctor is still keeping secrets from her. Alone again, her hand sizzles once more, this time the burn forming into words as visions of herself and the Doctor pop up.
“There’s a rupture somewhere aboard the ship, a small tear” in the continuum, the doctor explains when he catches up and tells her not to touch the visions “the TARDIS is leaking the past.”
Well, what is real at this point? I tell you what — MONSTERS! The Doctor and Clara hold hands and run from the empty fuel rods, which have warped and are making stabby-stabby ramming into the corridors.
Erk, they find Tricky stabbed by a rod! When Gregor refuses to cut off Tricky’s arm (“it won’t hurt me”, maybe-baby-android!Tricky insists), the Doctor pressures him to tell Tricky what’s up. Oh, it’s just a joke, him being an android. WHAT? They lied about his identity “to provide inflight entertainment” the Doctor says scornfully. Jeezum crow, colder and COLDER.
They all run, because I guess Human!Tricky isn’t dying even though he was stabbed with a rebar? Okay, well, let’s contemplate running into the Fire Room, where “our cells will liquefy and our skin will start to burn.” Charming! “What sort of person does this?” Tricky demands. Oookay, turns out Tricky is the youngest and smartest Van Baalen brother, the one their dad made Captain of their salvage heap. But jealous Gregor, when Tricky lost his sight, voice, and memory in an accident, cured him up android-style so he could take over the ship. Wow. What a jerkwad.
The Doctor gets out of the fire room to separate the last surviving Van Baalen brothers, saying apparently Gregor has a “tiny scrap of decency” if he couldn’t cut Tricky. “Don’t ever forget this,” the Doctor tells Gregor, which Gregor seems to take seriously.
They all run into the fire room, but WHY? Okay, it’s actually “the Eye of Harmony,” an exploding star ripped out of its orbit and suspended in a permanent state of decay. Time Lord technology is freaking weird, y’all.
Let’s escape this way! Oh noes, zombies! Okay, that way. Oh no, other/same zombies! This back and forth goes on for a while until the salvagers device reads a zombie as “Lancashire. Sass.” Uh, it’s Clara. “I burn in here?” she asks, stunned. He brought her to keep her safe, but she died again, the Doctor explains, anguished enough that he lets slip those pesky Other Clara deaths.
“As long as we interrupt the timeline, this can’t happen!” the Doctor realizes upon seeing two zombies fused together (the would-be Tricky and Gregor should they get liquefied and burned into crispy monsters). Zombies keep coming, everyone runs back and forth on the bridge, and you know, this episode can be SO INVENTIVE AND RICH in its references and visions of other Doctor periods, but trying to achieve dramatic tension through constant reiteration of the same monster configurations gets tedious.
Finally Gregor and Tricky fall riiight into the timeline trap, turning into zombies as they fall into the Eye of Harmony in front of Clara and the Doctor. Moments later, we’re in the engine room — outside by the shore, like with the Ponds!
Clara and the Doctor have it out — what hasn’t he told her? Is she a trick or a trap? “You’re just Clara, aren’t you?” he realizes (confirming Emma Grayling’s assertion that Clara’s just a regular girl, which kinda makes sense but is also confusing for our ~mystery~).
Wait a mo — the Doctor realizes the TARDIS is acting like a dying animal, snarling and trying to ward them off. “We need to jump” to cross a portal from this echo-engine to the actual engine he decided, giving us another opportunity for him to ask Clara to trust him, and to do a “Geronimo!” leap.
Spooky! The Doctor and Clara end up in the sort of white space usually code for “hey, you erased the entire universe” with suspended floating metal all around them. Ah, it’s a temporary fix the TARDIS came up with; eventually the whole place will erupt, and there’s no way the doctor can save her. “She’s just always been there for me and taken care of me and now it’s my turn, and I don’t know what to do,” the Doctor worries. Gosh, the mother-son thing gets stronger and stronger!
Clara’s hand burns once more — much to the Doctor’s delight, who praises her “beautiful fragile human skin like parchment!” He knows now what they need to do — find the music. It’s back to “Fire Woman” and stepping into a time warp to “rewrite today”. Clara will forget everything, even the Doctor’s name she saw, even the knowledge that the Doctor has known Other Claras, because “time can mend anything.” Gah, it’s fascinating and kind of horrifying that transparency, revealing secrets and being totally honest with one another, is like a wound or rift that the Doctor has to heal to save them.
Back at the beginning, present!Doctor tells past!Doctor he’s got something to reset time that will save them all. Hey, it’s the Magnograb, which has “Big Friendly Button” etched into it (hence the words on Clara’s parchment-skin hand). One push, and they’re back to before everything went wrong.
“It was onscreen and then it was gone,” the Van Baalen brothers puzzle over their loss of potential salvage. Bram, again alive, bugs Tricky to do grunt work, but Gregor orders him to leave Tricky alone, because “maybe I’ve just got a little tiny scrap of decency.” Gosh, that’s good he remembered not to be a total jerkwad. But I think Tricky’s still fooled that he’s an android, so. Baby steps?
Back on the TARDIS, the console is once again spiffy and operational. Clara’s exhausted, though the Doctor’s explanation she’s had “two days crammed into the space of one” makes no sense because SHE REMEMBERS NOTHING. Does she feel safe? Quick, give a number out of ten, “ten being woohoo!, one being argh!” Is Clara safe? “Anything could happen to you,” he reminds her. “That’s’ what I’m counting on,” she says. Cheeky! But again, it’s an answer she’s giving without all the knowledge that could well influence her to change her mind.
Wooooeeeeeeeee ganoooo phthoooow! Overall I just loved this episode, the shiny delicious intertextuality taking us all the way through from the start of Doctor Who and back. Might I suggest some better ways to have prominent characters of color that don’t involve them being thieves, though? Bring back the Maitlands to be intriguing and awesome, maybe? And now that Clara not only doesn’t remember her mystery, but is revealed as a “regular girl” currently, where does that leave us with the enigma she’s supposed to be? Let’s find out more next week; tune in with me, won’t you? :D