I’ve noticed an interesting trend this season, or at least this second half of one – Doctor Who seems to be almost universally going to single set-piece episodes, with one location, generally isolated, and virtually in real-time. I don’t know if this is an intentional move by Steven Moffat to give the show a tighter focus, but it’s significant for the dramatic impact it’s had either way. We may see a little shift in that with the next two episodes featuring the Sontarans (always my personal favorites) and the Cybermen, but “Journey” very much keeps the trend alive.
This time the castaways are on-board a salvage vessel manned by two brothers and an android named Tricky. Eldest Bram (Mark Oliver) is the muscles of the group but clearly resents being ordered around by imperious younger brother Gregor (Ashley Walters). As for Tricky (Jahvel Hall) there are things about him that can’t be explained away by the “flesh coat” he’s supposedly wearing. The three of them reel in the TARDIS using a sort of magnetic tractor beam – one which plays havoc with the TARDIS’ innards after The Doctor has set it in Easy Mode so that Clara can pretend to drive – part of his continued effort to get the two of them on better terms.
None of this is especially memorable in itself, really, including the family drama among the Van Baalen brothers. But every episode that goes deep into the TARDIS is basically a love letter to the geeks in the audience, and this one is true to its title in where it goes. We see some familiar sites – the swimming pool, for example – and Clara gets a look at a truly magnificent library, and the book that she was never supposed to see (which makes you wonder why The Doctor would have it as prominently displayed as it was).
I despise the device writer Steven Thompson used to resolve the episode – quite literally, a reset button – though at least the way he went about delivering it to The Doctor had a touch of wit. If there was a theme to the ep besides the geek pandering, it was probably that life isn’t necessarily better if there are no secrets. But The Doctor, despite his words, yearns to learn the secret of Clara, who remains as inexplicable to him as ever. I find myself growing a bit tired of their banter, actually – their relationship hasn’t deepened and grown on me like I hoped it might – but I certainly hope there’s something interesting behind all this mystery at the heart of her character. But now that she knows The Doctor’s true name – reset button or not – it’s pretty clear her true identity is going to have a major role in the season finale which refers to that very piece of information.