Doctor Who – “The Caretaker”

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When terrifying events threaten Coal Hill School, the Doctor decides to go undercover. The Skovox Blitzer is ready to destroy all humanity…

…and worse, any second now, Danny Pink and the Doctor are going to meet.

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in The Caretaker.

Cast
Peter Capaldi (The Doctor)
Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald)
Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink)
Ellis George (Courtney Woods)
Nigel Betts (Mr. Armitage)
Chris Addison (Seb)
Michelle Gomez (Missy)
Jimmy Vee (Skovox Blitzer)

Written by: Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat
Directed by: Paul Murphy

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3mO79TCRCM

Gifs by: J-Ru

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One of the major difference between the classic series of Doctor Who and the revival has been how the lives of the Doctor’s companions have been portrayed.

In the old days, a companion would join the Doctor, travel with him in the TARDIS, and eventually leave the Doctor. During that time, the companion’s whole world was the Doctor, the TARDIS, and whatever adventures they had alongside of the Time Lord. Once they left the TARDIS, their story (at least on television) was completed and the Doctor would move along, to the next adventure…and the next companion. Starting when the Ninth Doctor took Rose back to her mother’s flat in Aliens of London, the new series has seen the Doctor weave in and out of his companions’ “home” lives. As the companion travels with the Doctor, their family and friends seem to be drawn into the insanity that such travels bring, from Rose’s boyfriend Mickey becoming a soldier in a parallel world, to Donna’s grandfather Wilf knocking three times to signify the end of the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration. The Eleventh Doctor took this to a much larger degree, as he would leave Amy and Rory behind for months on end before coming back to pick them up for another whirlwind excursion. From the very beginning when he took three weeks to get coffee for himself and Clara, the Twelfth Doctor has perfect the art of “dropping in,” landing the TARDIS with precision at both Clara’s apartment and at her school to take her away while allowing her to continue her professional career. As well as giving her the opportunity to develop a bit of a love life.

The Caretaker is a slice-of-life episode, as the Doctor firmly plants himself in Clara’s life as he attempts to flush out a hostile creature with the power to destroy all life, gathering the attention of one Danny Pink in the process. In most circumstances, The Caretaker would have been an interesting, light hearted concept with a hint of drama and danger. But the relationship between the Doctor and Danny throws the entire thing off kilter, overshadowing the rest of the episode by its jarring nature.

Clara has been run ragged, juggling her time with the Doctor and her time with her boyfriend, Danny Pink, the two lives within bare seconds and meters of colliding with one another. When the Doctor tells Clara he’s going deep, deep undercover and she must remain at school, Clara sees it as a chance to spend some uninterrupted time with Danny. That is, until the Doctor shows up at school as the temporary caretaker (janitor, for us Yanks). There’s an alien hiding near Coal Hill School, one with the capability to destroy the entire planet. The Doctor plans to flush him out and take him to the end of time, but the process will take a few days. Clara tries to avoid the Doctor’s intrusive presence, but Danny can’t help but notice the connection between Clara and the new caretaker…

Gareth Roberts is no stranger to Doctor Who, having written The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp. Nor is he a stranger to these types of episodes, as he penned The Lodger and Closing Time. In both episodes, the Doctor casually drops in to the normal, boring life of a young Englishman and does his best to remain unobtrusive while protecting them from an alien menace. Both episodes came off with a bit of sitcom style, as the Doctor’s efforts to remain unobtrusive lead to a mix of farcical comedy, misunderstanding and miscommunication, and grave peril. The Caretaker, co-written by both Roberts and Steven Moffat, definitely attempts to apply those concepts to the story, but for the most part they fall flat. The grave peril is a military assault robot known as a Skovox Blitzer, which looks like a mix between a metal spider and Garrus from the Mass Effect video game series, as well as possessing the aim of an Imperial Stormtrooper. It doesn’t look or act like the type of weapon that could destroy an entire planet, which is what the Doctor is trying to stop throughout the episode. It talks a very tough game, a soldier simply following its orders/programming, but it just doesn’t carry any weight on screen. If it was a case of “could destroy the whole neighborhood/all of London” and did more than off a policeman and blow a hole in a stack of chars, then the Blitzer would be more believable as a major threat. Even if the Blitzer is the plot device used solely to push the Doctor/Clara/Danny conflict forward, it just comes off as silly and unbelievable as a villain to take seriously.

The humor is supposed to come from misunderstandings as the Doctor tries to pass for human and Clara attempts to endure his presence at Coal Hill. But instead of focusing on confusion and just the general “strangeness” of the Doctor as caretaker, the attempts at humor instead come from the Doctor being a jerk. Through this regeneration, the Doctor has been acebic with biting comments and insights about the insanity of the situations he’s found himself in. In The Caretaker, it seems like this aspect of his personality has been turned out to 11.

The humor is either coming from the Doctor being deliberately obtuse or the Doctor being a raging asshat. Now, to be fair, part of that could just come from Peter Capaldi’s forceful delivery, but as soon as the Doctor started wielding the broom to keep Clara away, she wasn’t his companion anymore. She was someone in his way. If the stakes were truly as high as the Doctor said they were, than I could buy his detachment and need to dismiss social skills in an effort to get the job done. Without it, the Doctor is just being mean, without any of the charm and grace that his previous incarnations have shown. There’s no greater justification for this opinion than the scene in the garden, where the Doctor keeps saying that, because Danny was a soldier, he couldn’t possibly be a math teacher. The Doctor, who has seen the width and bredth of time and space and never judges people at face value, makes a judgment in the face of Danny’s continued correctness. The Doctor isn’t that dense. He’s being a jerk to Danny because of his military past and it’s uncalled for. And I could chalk up the Doctor’s reaction if the Doctor knew Danny was dating Clara by this point in the episode as simply jealousy or “you’re not good enough for my friend,’ but he doesn’t find out until much later.

And when he does find out, the episode just goes right to the ground floor and keeps on going.

On one hand, the Doctor survived the Time War and has the memories of not only his true sacrifice back, but the memories of everything he did during the conflict memories he isn’t very proud of. So I would be willing to accept his dislike of soldiers on those grounds, or perhaps a major case of self-loathing from his time as the War Doctor. But he says to Danny that soldiers just follow orders and don’t think for themselves. When he said this, I held up three fingers.

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The Second Doctor was pleased as punch to see Sergeant Benton in The Three Doctors. And no less than the Sixth Doctor considered the Brigadier one of his best friends. I can buy the Doctor being anti-military and pro-soldier, not about the armed forces mindset but basing his individual decisions around the actions of the person, not the uniform. But the scene where he cut loose on Danny is out-of-nowhere with its viciousness and venom. Don’t get me wrong, Capaldi sold the hell out of it, but it was so incredibly jarring and threw the entire episode out of whack. Danny’s response to finding out that the Doctor was “aristocracy” and “an officer” was justified in return, escalating the scene’s tension, and Samuel Anderson just lets loose with such a barrage of anger that I wonder if something happened with an officer during Pink’s time in Iraq that will come up down the line. It’s just as a whole the scene was a sharp contrast to the rest of the episode, save for the Doctor’s unjustified anger and rage as Danny being a soldier.

For a teacher’s whose school and students are threatened, Clara Oswald is more concerned with going about her day and finding out what the Doctor is up to than making sure her students are safe, aside from giving lip service to the concept a few times as well as snapping off a few choice words.

“I used to have a teacher like you.”

“You still do, pay attention.”

Jenna Coleman was nothing more than a prop in this episode, who’s only point was to be torn between the Doctor’s life and her time with Danny. And even then, she seemed to lean more towards the Doctor than Danny, not listening to Danny’s suggestion to evacuate the school in any way, shape, or form, even to say “we don’t have time, listen to the Doctor.” She explains the Doctor to Danny, but doesn’t explain Danny to the Doctor (that we see). For an episode set in the middle of Clara’s very life and livelihood, I would have hoped for more from the writing for Miss Oswald.

I feel like I’ve been harsh on this episode, but with good reason. Capaldi, Coleman, and Anderson do very well with what the script tasks them to do, but the script doesn’t really seem to do the characters justice. Even the very bit at the end, after Danny saves the day by doing this…

…and the Doctor uses military speak to get the Blitzer to stand down, it just feels like nothing was worth it. Sure, the Doctor and Danny seem to reach a form of detente with one another, but it comes off as…not even forced. Just a tacked-on coda to the episode. Maybe I was just expecting another The Lodger, but this effort from Gareth Roberts doesn’t come close to that episode.

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The very end of the episode, though, is worth mentioning, as a policeman who was killed by the Blitzer finds himself in what looks like the afterlife…a bureaucracy staffed by none other than Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi’s castmate from The Thick of It. With a brief appearance from Missy, I guess it’s time to come up with my own theory about what this “Promised Land” is. I think Addison and Missy work in a special portion of this afterlife dedicated to dealing with anyone who’s died as a result of the Doctor’s actions or adventures, which is why Missy knows the Doctor as well as she claims to. He keeps her busy…

Next up – In the near future, the Doctor and Clara find themselves on a space shuttle making a suicide mission to the Moon. Crash-landing on the lunar surface they find the most terrible things…

Peter Capald is the Doctor in…Kill the Moon.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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2 Responses to Doctor Who – “The Caretaker”

  1. Cygnia says:

    Harry Sullivan wonders where his finger is… 😉

    And, can I headdesk at how much of an Idiot Ball that Danny was given (who was stationed in the MIDDLE EAST) when he started fiddling about with the unknown blinking tech Twelve was posting around? Really? No fear of IEDs?

    To say NOTHING of Danny coercing Clara with “But I can’t help YOU if you don’t tell meeeeeeeee~!!!!” Fuck Moffat. Fuck his misogyny and creepiness.

  2. I am in complete agreement with you on this. I felt a bit guilty for being so negative about this episode in my review, so I’m a bit relieved to find that I am not the only one who felt this episode was ruined by the toxic dynamic between the Doctor, Danny, and Clara. I don’t understand the Doctor’s sudden blinding hatred of soldiers when he never had such a prejudice before. And I definitely didn’t like the dynamic of Clara and Danny’s relationship. Hopefully, “Kill the Moon” will help me wipe this episode from my mind…or else I need to find a memory worm.

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