Sunday 28 September 2014

Reviews in Time & Space: The Caretaker

Doctor Who s08e06 - The Caretaker

Much like how Russell T Davies time as Doctor Who show runner brought us a Doctor-light episode each season, each of Steven Moffat's seasons have brought us a "Doctor does alien things in a human environment". So far we've had The Lodger, Closing Time and The Power of Three, which each of them an excellent job of developing how different the Doctor is to humans and/or fleshing out the companions or co-stars. Writer of the first two of those stories Gareth Roberts is back for a third outing this week in The Caretaker, which sees the Doctor posing as Coal Hill's new caretaker in an attempt to prevent a disaster caused by misplaced alien super weapon the Skovox Blitzer. However fitting in isn't the Doctor's only problem (well, it wouldn't be if he was actually that interested in trying to fit in) - he also has a rather confused and irate Clara to deal with. And of course, that first meeting with her new boyfriend Mr Pink...

Clara's two lives crash into each other
It's explanation time for Clara Oswald

Much like Robot of Sherwood a few weeks ago, this is another story where the alien threat is simply a means of creating a suitable setting rather than having any real focus in the episode. But while that previous episode was more focussed on the Doctor and Clara's reactions around the people they'd met on their latest trip, this one is squarely focused on the season's three "main" characters - the Doctor, Clara and Danny. Up until now Danny Pink has been little more than a glorified cameo and a source of speculation (is he going to be the reason for Clara's rumoured departure? Etc.), but this is the first episode where we get to spend some proper time getting to know him. And right now he isn't really doing a lot to get out of the "Mickey 2.0" rut that everyone placed him in as soon as the character was revealed. Between the Doctor's obvious dislike of him and how the Doctor is constantly getting a key fact wrong about him, the parallels couldn't be any less obvious.

The Doctor and Danny meet
The two meet at last

This is possibly one of the first episodes to properly tackle the idea that the Doctor's companions now essentially lead double lives rather than travel forever around with him in the TARDIS - something that was first introduced in the last season (or maybe season six?) with Amy and Rory. I'm hoping it doesn't become a running trend with companions for fear that it'll wear a bit thin after a while, but for now it does allow for a different kind of story. The Caretaker continues to give Clara that characterisation she so desperately needed last season when she was a walking plot device, as her two lives begin to take its toll on her. She goes to ridiculous lengths to lie and separate the Doctor and Danny as much as possible, prompting some great dialogue and the kind of character moments these episodes are fondly remembered for.

The Doctor tries to reason with the Blitzer
Ghostbusters 3: Coming Soon to a cinema near you

The first meeting between the Doctor and Danny goes just as badly as everyone probably expected it to, thanks to the Twelfth Doctor's rather vocal dislike of soldiers. While I have no problems with this being a source of conflict between the two characters, just how bitter the Doctor is towards soldiers is beginning to wear incredibly thin. As it stands it has no context or reasoning behind it, and really comes off as the Doctor just being unlikeable. Has he forgotten the years he spent working with UNIT? Or his longstanding friendship with Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart? A little bit of explaining can go a long, long way. And even though the end tries to paint the Doctor as more of a caring father-figure type, this is the first episode of the new series where I've come out of it feeling like he was just outright mean. As uncomfortable as it occasionally makes me feel, it's certainly making for very interesting viewing.

Despite a lack of any real attention, the Skovox Blitzer is a very nicely designed alien which deserves praise for being an entirely physical prop rather than a BBC-quality CGI abomination. It's status as "one of the most dangerous things in the universe" is a bit questionable when it struggled to achieve anything at all in this episode, but I guess it played its part well enough.

The Skovox Blitzer
A better kind of forgettable alien

The Caretaker hasn't really made any progress in Danny Pink winning me over, and just how much this series is willing to deconstruct the Doctor's personality is beginning to get a little alarming. However this episode provided exactly what I expected it to, which was some brilliant lines and character drama between a small core cast of characters. It's not the best of the Doctor/social setting stories, nor is it the best Doctor Who story set in a school, but it'll do.

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