“You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books are the best weapon in the world. This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!”
Doctor Who, S2E2, “Tooth and Claw”
The second part of Doctor Who’s seventh season has, apart from all its other interesting aspects (“The Impossible Girl”! The Doctor’s name!), a particularly neat episode entitled “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” Sure, the endless corridors seem like a throwback to the Doctor Who of my childhood (in which corridor-wandering sometimes seemed to be the dominant theme), and the trope of monsters-that-aren’t-quite-what-they-seem has probably been played out by now. What’s fascinating, though, is the episode’s in-depth look at the TARDIS itself, which at any given time is arguably the third most important “character” in the series.
In the course of the episode the Doctor explains for about the zillionth time that, yes, his space-and-time-traveling vehicle is far, far bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.
In that sense, then, the TARDIS is really a lot like a book, isn’t it?
In the same way that the TARDIS is disguised as a very ordinary-looking police call box, the most utterly transporting art form of all—literature—often doesn’t look like much, i.e., it can be dog-eared, a refugee from the remainder pile, or sport coffee stains or a cheesy illustration on the cover. Of course we all know that “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” but the TARDIS takes that idea to an extreme: the gateway to countless worlds of pure fancy intentionally looks pedestrian—one has to transcend the importance of “surface” to be rewarded with the riches that lie beneath. In short, one has to go beyond image alone in order, paradoxically, to reach true imagination. This is something that book-lovers already know, and why they instinctively feel a bit conspiratorial when they encounter each other; they’re aware that they recognize living, breathing treasures where other mortals might just see bundles of paper and glue. E-books, for their part, heighten this comparison since they make it possible for a single device to encompass a world of worlds. Or, in simpler terms, a library.
Of course the connection between Doctor Who and things literary is nothing new. Indeed, two of my favorite episodes, “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” from S4, explicitly deal with a “library planet” (pictured above and below).
What “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” accomplishes is to bring the notion of a library much closer to home. For one thing, we actually see the TARDIS’s library (below), which is pretty awesome. Moreover, the TARDIS itself is revealed as a vast repository, not just a gateway to other worlds but a world unto itself.
Obviously if we follow this conceit to its conclusion, and the TARDIS is more than a single book but rather a signifier of All Books and thus a library, then that would, potentially, make the Doctor the universe’s greatest librarian. Does this reading of the character and the series really hold up, though? It does insofar as we consider the Doctor to be a master of information, and how he critically examines all the data he’s supplied by others as to its source, validity, and implications. In fact, this is precisely how he saves the day in most cases, by being more nimble than everyone else in terms of finding and using the best available information. Certainly he’s a compassionate soul, a playful gamester, and a courageous hero when he needs to be. And, oh, yeah, as a Time Lord he’s clearly smarter than any of our species.
Or is he really? Is it possible that he simply knows more, has a thirst for new knowledge, and loves sharing that knowledge and his thirst with others—hence the function of the companion, who over time comes to act like an assistant librarian. And the patrons? I guess the most logical candidates for that role would be the various creatures and people that they help along the way. Emotionally, though, I think the patrons who are empowered and edified the most are viewers. Lucky us.
…luckier still if one happens to win today’s two new releases. The second release is 2012’s Christmas Special, “The Snowmen.” It sees the Doctor in classic Victorian mode, complete with the monstrous title characters and a villain who later—wait, sorry, I almost spoiled things there. In any case, thanks to the generosity of BBC America, there are Blu-ray copies of both “The Snowmen” and Part Two of S7 for three readers/fans to own. Just follow the rules below to enter.
1. Double-check that you live in the U.S. or Canada.
2. Leave a thoughtful comment here (through 11:59 pm ET May 31). And by “thoughtful,” sorry, I don’t mean just saying, “I’m a big Doctor Who fan.” If you know the show, or libraries, I’m sure there’s more you can say.
3. If you don’t see your comment after several hours, just contact me via email or Twitter (see below).
4. I’ll email the winners, who’ll then be asked to provide (via me) their mailing addresses to BBC America. If I don’t hear back from you within 48 hours of notification, I’ll simply draw another name.