Monday, September 29, 2014

Doctor Who: The Caretaker

This was a fun little episode, nothing hugely important (sans Danny finding out about the Doctor and Clara’s double life) and I suspect one that was specifically designed to be the “money-saver episode.” Which means little to no time travel, limited special effects, and Coal Hill School as the predominant setting.

Which is fine by me. Sometimes Bottle Episodes end up being the very best a show has to offer, relying as they do on the imagination and creativity of writers to work with limited tools against the usual high expectations.
1. As I’ve mentioned previously, I like the balance of real life and crazy adventure portrayed in this season, and this episode only ramped that up. The opening montage with Clara flitting from life or death situations with the Doctor to her pleasant boyfriend and ho-hum life perfectly captured this bizarre juxtaposition.

That said, I do wonder what sort of psychological/physical effect this would really have on a person. I imagine it would play havoc with your circadian rhythms (no I won’t tell you – look it up).

2. “The mistake of a lot of clever men – thinking everyone else is stupid.” Great line, and almost certainly nicked from Douglas Adams.

3.  Starting with the Doctor introducing himself to the staff as John Smith, there was a lot of fun continuity strewn throughout this episode, not just in the setting (even I know that way back in the 1960s, Coal Hill School was an important locale) but in several other ticks and gestures – name-dropping River, for example.

Mostly however, it was reminiscent in tone to the Russell Davies era, in which a certain amount of emphasis was always put on the citizens of Earth and their average, everyday lives. Kids skipping school. Parents lining up for parent/teacher night. Young people going on dates. This sort of thing is seldom seen in a Moffat-era episode, where the Doctor’s adventures are either so far-flung that they’re irrelevant to Earth, or kept in a narrative bubble so they don’t impinge on normal life.

4. Clara may never be a fully-realized character, and certainly never one of the most beloved Companions of the show, but there is one thing that has been established and consistent right from the start: her rapport with children. That her first question on hearing about the danger was: “Are the kids safe?” was a lovely moment for her.

5. The most interesting thing about this week’s monster was its name: Skovox Blitzer. (Seriously, say it out loud; it’s fun). But that’s fine. It served its purpose, had a nifty design (props to the props department for those spidery robot legs) and plugged into the general theme of soldier antipathy that’s been running through this season.

6. I’ll admit, I found it both funny and pitch-perfect that the egotism of the Doctor would OF COURSE lead to him assuming that the bowtie-wearing teacher would be the one she’s romantically interested in.

7. Peter Capaldi is just knocking it out of the park. There are so many interesting nuances that he adds to the character; so many layers and details and unexpected readings.

My favourite would have to be when he’s in the background of Clara’s shot in the Tardis and tells her to go “canoodle with your boyfriend”. He’s watching her carefully, and the moment she turns to face him he quickly straightens up. Okay, it doesn’t sound that impressive written down, but let me hone my newfound GIF-making abilities:

Yes, I partly bring this up as an excuse to demonstrate that I can make a GIF now. But I also think that it’s a great bit of character acting.

8. Clara tries to pass off the alien attack as an elaborate play – clearly someone’s been watching Monsters INC.

9. What I find interesting about the title of this episode (beyond the fact that The Caretaker is also a trope) is that in any other season – and with any other Doctor – it would have a double meaning. That is, it wouldn’t be the name of a job, but a reference to the Doctor’s personality. He takes care of people.

Here, however? The Caretaker is just a job for the Doctor, a role he has to play while he’s busy saving the universe, and not one that he particularly enjoys. It references his undercover job and his attitude toward it. Another Doctor might have described his capture of a dangerous alien as “a bit boring, I’ll need a book and a sandwich”, but none of them would have sounded quite so disgusted with it all.

10. But this episode really belonged to Danny. All unlikely flips aside (honest question: is it really possible to leap that high without some sort of vault?), his character manages to stand up to the Doctor and get some fairly pertinent remarks in. I suppose I’ll also have to hand-wave the remarkable nonchalance with which Danny accepts the reality of alien life and space travel in order to focus on his girlfriend’s needs, but this is the second time in as many weeks that someone has had the chance to cross-examine (however briefly) the Doctor.

With Psi it was in suggesting that the moniker of “the Doctor” comes from his professional detachment, and here Danny characterizes him as an officer – something that’s not too far off the mark when he defeats the Skovox Blitzer by impersonating its superior general and giving it orders to self-destruct.

Fingers crossed that they’ll get to interact more in future episodes.

11. Another glimpse of Missy and the afterlife, though I’m still not sure what to make of it all. I suppose the plus side is that even if this plot-arc fizzles, at least it’s not taking up too much space.

Still, it would appear that something has upset our quasi-Mary Poppins this time around. Something that happened in the episode itself?

12. I’m not sure what’s more annoying – when a woman asks a man: “what are you thinking?” or when men talk over a woman’s head about “deserving her” without giving her any input in the discussion. Whether a man “deserves” Clara or not is entirely up to her.


  1. While it was no doubt a "romp" episode, there were a few things that made me feel a bit uncomfortable, and I think it was both the Doctor's and Danny's attitude to Clara - that they know what's best for her.
    The whole situation where one person gets upset that they've been lied to or had a secret kept from them feel hard done by, the whole "you don't trust me" thing, and the other is made to feel guilty for keeping that secret,even though they have justified reasons for doing so (the whole Merlin thing again). When would telling everybody that you time travel on a Wednesday 'be a good idea?. It took quite a while for the other companions to tell their loved ones.
    I'm pretty sure Clara would be dragged off to see a psychologist if she started telling people what she did.

    1. Yeah, like I said, it was a bit odd that Danny's reaction was "you lied to me" instead of "OMG time travel is REAL." I'm trying to recall whether any other recent companion had to deal with telling their significant other about the Doctor, and nothing really comes to mind. Mickey and Rory were pretty much in on the secret right from the start.