The Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who was largely characterized by merging the sci-fi tropes of the classic show with a more modern soap opera veneer that seemingly originated from a handful of Joss Whedon-penned shows i.e. Buffy. What this usually meant is that most episodes veered into the realm of the common soap opera more times than not, and anything other than the tension between the characters played “second fiddle” when it was all over. Gareth Roberts seems to be harkening back to these times with his new episode, The Caretaker, a fact that is no surprise since he worked with Davies for years on both Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures. So let’s take a trip back in time for a retro episode of “new-Who” if there ever could be such a thing!
The Caretaker is more of a character piece that follows The Doctor’s apparent intrusion into the personal life of his companion, Clara. At first the viewer is almost led to believe that he is doing this simply to spy on her love life, but thankfully it seems that he does actually have business there. It seems that there has been alien activity near the school, and it’s nothing small – our villain is a monster dubbed a Skovox Blitzer and The Doctor states that it’s powerful enough to destroy the entire planet. Using Coal Hill as as staging post, he has taken on the guise of a part-time caretaker (for us US fans, that’s basically a janitor / maintenance man), once again dusting of his alias “John Smith”.
The first half of this episode really reminded me of the season two episode School Reunion for a few reasons other than simply the setting. This was why I compared this to a Davies-era episode in the grand scheme of things. This changes pretty abruptly, however, as we start to see the real purpose for this episode – The Doctor being a jerk to Danny Pink. With his sudden hatred of soldiers, it was no wonder that The Doctor wasn’t going to get along with Danny, and this almost seems worse than the abrasive Ninth Doc/Mickey relationship.
Not only is The Doctor under the assumption that Danny is in some way unable to think for himself (he can only take orders you know) he seems to see him as a buffoon despite his actual intelligence. Take, for instance, the many times where Danny is referred to as “coach” despite every correction that he is in fact a math teacher. It’s like The Doctor has a multitude of awful prejudices against soldiers and he’s jealously applying them to Danny because he’s jealous of Danny keeping Clara away from himself 24/7. Then again, It’s funny that The Doctor was perfectly happy to have been under the impression that Clara’s new main squeeze was a bow-tied Shakespeare teacher, so it really is just the soldier thing putting him off.
These interactions between the two were hard to watch, mainly because it’s hard to see the main character of a show come across so abrasive and borderline unlikable. It’s especially off-putting because The Doctor has never been like this – considering he was pretty close to people like Yates, Benton, The Brigadier, and even The Brig’s daughter. Now it’s as if he’s been hanging out with flower children and conspiracy nuts for the past hundred years. Thankfully Danny isn’t “the new Mickey” and dished it right back at his attacker, accusing him of being a typical elitist military officer, something that seems to infuriate The Doctor.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the villain this week since it was basically just a plot device to allow for Danny and The Doctor to engage in verbal fisticuffs. The Skovox Blitzer itself looked cool in the trailers until one realizes that it’s a puppet on crab legs. after the awesomeness of The Teller last episode, I was hoping for more to be honest. This episode did thankfully have the return of everyone’s favorite evil Mary Poppins with Missy, now sporting a companion of sorts named Seb. They have taken the whole Heaven/Promised Land thing to the next level having a waiting room that could be seen as a modern interpretation of “The pearly Gates” of Biblical lore. I seriously cannot wait until we find out what her actual plan is pretty soon.
There was a surprise in that we got another new companion this week, and no it wasn’t Danny (grr!). It was that “class clown” disruptive girl we keep seeing peppered into each episode being a jerk to Clara. Courtney stumbles on The Doctor messing with his Tardis, and basically ends up conning her way into traveling with him. This of course causes her to puke and whine about the whole ordeal. Now, I’m not a fan at all of child actors in Doctor Who, and Courtney is no different. If she becomes a “main character” of some sort she better grow as a character and not just be there to make wise cracks because that will get OLD very quickly.
In conclusion, this was probably the weakest episode so far in a VERY good season. Gareth Roberts is pretty hit or miss for me – when he’s good, he’s really good like in his books or The Lodger, but when he’s bad he’s pretty atrocious like Planet of the Dead. This is somewhere in the middle of those examples, which is disappointing. I still love Capaldi as The Doctor, Clara is being better than ever, and Courtney was passable so it wasn’t all bad. I say this because I sometimes come across as hating an episode when I only found it average. Now if Danny ever gets to travel in The Tardis, I’ll be a very happy man!