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1x3. Inside the Spaceship
Writer: David Whitaker
Directors: Richard Martin & Frank Cox
Script Editor: David Whitaker
Producers: Verity Lambert & Mervyn Pinfield

Synopsis: Bizarre malfunctions on the TARDIS contribute to suspicion and distrust among the Doctor and his companions, with the Doctor accusing Ian and Barbara of sabotaging the ship while the others speculate about the possibility of an alien invader. Eventually they realize that the TARDIS itself is responsible for the various strange incidents, as the ship is trying to warn them of imminent disaster: the Fast Return switch is stuck, and the TARDIS is about to find itself in the middle of a violent genesis of a new solar system.

Review: "Inside the Spaceship" is a story with a first-rate concept but only average execution. As the only serial that takes place entirely inside the TARDIS and features no guest cast, it works both as a suspenseful "bottle show" and as a character piece. Unfortunately, there's a fair amount of unnecessary random weirdness that's only partly explained and doesn't add anything to the plot or the characterizations.

When I say that the serial has a first-rate concept, I'm not talking about the fact that the entire plot is set in motion by a switch getting stuck: this is actually rather silly, and the scene in which the Doctor explains the intricacies of a malfunctioning spring to Susan borders on the MST3K-able. What I like is the idea of exploring the lingering inherent conflict in the TARDIS crew's current situation. Ian and Barbara didn't want to come along on the Doctor's travels, and he didn't really want them there either, but felt he couldn't let them leave once they'd discovered the TARDIS. He has at times seemed rather indifferent towards their situation, and Barbara gives him a well-deserved dressing-down when he first accuses her and Ian of sabotaging the TARDIS.

"Inside the Spaceship" shows the Doctor at his harshest toward Ian and Barbara. When Barbara finally loses her temper with him, he mostly shrugs off her legitimate observations about the numerous recent occasions in which they've gotten him out of trouble, and when Ian suggests he apologize, he simply replies that he doesn't have time to worry about manners under the circumstances. Later, affecting a false gesture of reconciliation, he offers them drinks which turn out to have been drugged so that he can work at the TARDIS console alone while they're asleep, and then, after misinterpreting Ian's attempt to keep him away from the electrified console as an attack, he prepares to throw Ian and Barbara off the ship, showing little concern over whether or not the outside environment is habitable.

It is suitably ironic, then, that the Doctor soon finds himself at his most dependent upon his unwilling traveling companions. Even after he realizes he was wrong to suspect them of sabotage, he still can't determine the source of the malfunctions. Instead, it is Barbara who supplies the answer by showing an intuitive insight into the meaning of the anomalies that had eluded the Doctor, which is really quite extraordinary, considering that one would, in fact, expect the Doctor to have superior knowledge when it comes to the workings of the TARDIS. While I don't much care for the possible sexist undertones in this logic/intuition contrast, I like that the Doctor is finally forced to confront the fallibility of his own judgment here, and the apologetic tone of his conversation with Barbara suggests that he's gained a new level of respect and appreciation for her and Ian. It will be interesting to see, in future episodes, whether this marks a definitive turning point in the Doctor's attitude towards others (as Paul Clarke at Outpost Gallifrey seems to think).

The Doctor also has an interesting moment when he realizes the exact nature of the danger they're facing (the TARDIS is caught in the middle of a new solar system's creation) and contemplates the physical processes at work, a look of genuine wonder on his face as he is momentarily distracted from the situation. On one hand, I like the idea of the Doctor as someone full of curiosity about the universe and capable of genuine awe at all its variations and changes, and I think this may be the strongest indication yet of that aspect of his personality. On the other hand, I couldn't help but wonder if this was really just an "educational moment of the week" that had been shoe-horned into the script to fit the series' original raison d'etre. Still, whatever the intentions of the scene, it works as another nice little insight into the Doctor's character (despite the bad editing, which makes it seem weirdly disconnected from what immediately precedes and follows it).

The fact that some of the character work in "Inside the Spaceship" is so strong, however, makes the weaker parts all the more frustrating and annoying. The motivation behind Susan's strangely cold demeanor and waving of sharp scissors at Ian and Barbara, for example, is hopelessly muddled. Is she behaving like this because, like Ian and Barbara at the beginning, she's temporarily lost her memory? Does she believe that they're possessed by aliens, as she hints at one point? Is she so disoriented that she perceives them as a threat and/or is simply losing it herself? Unfortunately, the script by David Whitaker does not supply any obvious answers to these questions, and this potentially undercuts some of the development of the other characters. Ian and Barbara seem more or less themselves after the bout of temporary memory loss due to electric shock, and the Doctor's behavior, as best I can tell, is meant to be taken at face value, but Susan's experience suggests that any of them might have been suffering mental disturbances at any given moment. Given that these mental disturbances really aren't essential to the plot, Whitaker probably ought to have dispensed with them altogether.

Similarly, the episode revolves around the characters' attempts to understand the TARDIS' strange behavior, but at times the script itself displays dubious logic on that question. I don't think it really makes sense for the ship to signal that they're running out of time by "taking time away" with the melting clocks and then "giving it back" by setting off an alarm at regular intervals, and it seems a little contrived and oblique when Barbara suggests this interpretation. I also fail to see the purpose in the repeated opening and closing of the doors in conjunction with the display of previously visited planets on the scanner. Since the reverse-order pictures of a solar system's formation conveyed the essential information, why wouldn't the ship just stick to that? Does it really need to mess with the doors to get the crew's attention? Of course, part of the point is that Barbara's intuition, rather than the Doctor's logic, is what unravels the mystery, but there's a difference between intuitive thinking and just pulling things out of the blue, and some of this seems more like the latter.

Still, despite some obvious flaws, there is enough good work here to recommend "Inside the Spaceship." Doctor Who may not have started off firing all cylinders, but these first few serials constitute a respectable start, enough so that I'd have kept watching had I never seen the show before. My advice regarding this one is not to think too hard about whether or not it all makes sense, and instead just enjoy the characterizations and the tense atmosphere.

Other notes:

- I believe we have our first entry in the Doctor Who multiverse physics canon: the Doctor refers to a planet they had previously visited as being in "the fourth universe." I actually don't think the later episodes gave us the impression that the TARDIS regularly hopped between different universes; this was probably just a throwaway line that would later be forgotten as the writers' concept of time/space travel became more refined.

- Perhaps the most egregious example of pulling something out of the blue is the Doctor's sudden announcement that they have ten minutes left to live. Where the heck did that come from?

- I must admit I get a kick out of the TARDIS food dispenser, especially the fact that it has a button for "water" -- in English. Even better is the fact that the Fast Return Switch label is not only in English but has clearly been handwritten in ink. (Cue conspiracy theories about how Gallifrey was founded by humans in the future, and how this explains the Doctor's half-human nature as posited by the Fox TV movie, etc. etc.)

Rating: *** (out of four)

"As we learn about others, so we learn about ourselves."
    -The Doctor

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