Companions come and go. So, for that matter, do Doctors. Really, the one constant in half a century of Doctor Who history is the Doctor’s curious time-hopping blue box. The Steven Moffat Who era has explored the nature of the TARDIS before – most famously in the Neil Gaiman-scripted “The Doctor’s Wife,” which personified the TARDIS as a half-crazy lady and argued that the ship might be the Doctor’s only real love. But the latest episode marked one of the longest extended explorations of the ship in Who history. It was a bottle episode, but the bottle contained infinity and beyond.
The episode began in space, onboard a salvage vessel belonging to the Van Baalen Brothers. The two titular brothers had a Michael/Fredo relationship: The younger was clearly in charge, while the eldest was relegated (unhappily) to being the muscle, and occasionally spouting impotent statements like “We’re equal partners.” The third member of the power trio was an android with a robo-speech impediment – an android prone to saying things like “No fear, no hate, no pain: Android.” They saw a familiar piece of salvage and implemented the Magno-grab.
CUT TO: The piece of salvage, which could only be the TARDIS. The Doctor was still trying to get Clara and the TARDIS to play nice. To that end, he put the ship into a lower register, taking down the shields. Clara pressed the control panel – and everything immediately went haywire. A curious glowing grenade-looking thing landed on the deck. Clara grabbed it, and her hands burned.
The Van Baalen Brothers brought the TARDIS onboard. They tried to cut into it with a laser cutter; they tried to hammer the door open. The android complained: “She’s alive,” he said, while also noting that the TARDIS was apparently leaking fuel. At that point, the Doctor appeared. He explained to the Van Baalens that his friend was still onboard, and that if they helped them find her, they’d get some big salvage – “The salvage of a lifetime.”
Once they got onboard, and got the requisite bigger-on-the-inside conversations out of the way, the Doctor gave them a quick rundown of their situation. “This ship is infinite,” he said. They were going to help him find Clara. And they were going to do it in one hour: “I just activated the TARDIS self-destruct system.” The men tried to flee, and the Doctor knocked it down to 30 minutes. “You’ll perform better under pressure!” he assured them.
Somewhere deep in the TARDIS, Clara awoke and started looking around. She found strange claw marks. She found an observatory. She found the swimming pool – the long-promised swimming pool! She even found a 5-story library, complete with a tome called “The History of the Time War.” She went to a random page, and said words that threatened to explode the heads of everyone watching: “So that’s who.” The end of the last season of Doctor Who teased the prospect of the Doctor’s real name – although, at the time, it was unclear if that was a peak forward at an actual plot point, or more of an all-encompassing tease, as if the world would literally end before anyone found out his real name. Yet here was Clara, the Impossible Woman, and she figured out his name. (In the modern era of Who, only one other person has known the Doctor’s name – and he married her, eventually.)
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