STORY 250: THE CARETAKER
When Series Eight was set to broadcast, we were promised a 'dark' Doctor, where the show was not going to be a 'fairy tale' and the Doctor would be a far more menacing and dangerous figure than his two immediate predecessors. Judging by The Caretaker, I think that idea is pretty much out the window, for this episode played as if Matt Smith's bumbling idiot Doctor is still around, right down to a look-alike that really makes no sense.
Of course, even before Day of The Doctor (where a NuWho fan explained to me that the show isn't suppose to make sense because, as he put it, 'It's British'), things like logic were never the revived Doctor Who's strong point. The new version of Doctor Who appears to almost delight in contradicting itself, let alone fifty-plus years of Canon. The Caretaker had the potential of bringing things full circle by in essence returning the Doctor to where it all began, but instead we got so much that we've already seen.
Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is finding it harder and harder to balance her home life with life as a time traveler with The Doctor (Peter Capaldi). This problem is unique to Clara, as she is the first Companion to basically serve on a part-time basis. No other Companion, at least that I can think of off the bat, has ever been returned home at the end of almost every story, and certainly not in the original run of the show. From Ian Chesterton & Barbara Wright right down to Ace in the Classic Era, the Companion travelled with the Doctor will little to no mention of their home lives. Even though the revived Who has made the Companion's domestic life more important than it was before (and in my opinion, than it ought to be), from Rose Tyler to Amy Pond the Companion usually lived in the TARDIS for most of the time. Clara, however, doesn't, and therein lies the dilemma. Clara cannot keep up the pace between bouncing from some planet where she and the Doctor are facing certain death to a simple date with fellow teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), where she and the Doctor have indeed escaped certain death (but we are never going to learn how because, well, wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey).
In any case, Clara can't keep it up for long, but rather than leave the Doctor or leave Danny, the Doctor comes to her! He is going to do what he's never in any of his regenerations attempted. He'll try to pass himself off as human. It's all part of his 'deep cover' work at Coal Hill School, where his granddaughter attended. Is he looking for mementos from that past? No. Is he looking up old Companions like Barbara Wright or Ian Chesterton, who is apparently still working in some capacity at the school? Of course not: referencing pre-Rose Who is almost verboten on this show.
He is here, trying to pass himself off as a school caretaker (taking the place of Ativ), going by the name of John Smith. As he continues to look for the Skovok Blitzer, one of the most dangerous killing machines in the world, he also happens to finally meet Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). The Doctor/Caretaker automatically assumes Danny is a P.E. teacher. Why? Because he's a soldier, of course. The Caretaker makes it very clear that he can't put 'soldier' and 'maths teacher' together. We also know that the Doctor hates soldiers. This of course makes it hard for Clara, who has not only been seeing Danny when she's not with the Doctor but has been keeping Danny's military status secret because the Doctor hates soldiers.
As the Doctor obviously sees that a 'soldier' does not have the intelligence to be a maths teacher, he makes the obvious conclusion: Clara's boyfriend is Adrian (Edward Harrison), a fellow English teacher who is young, wears bow ties and has a distinguished chin. Obviously, THIS FELLOW must be her boyfriend. He is still on the chase of the Skovok Blitzer and has a new weapon: an invisibility watch which will make him invisible to the Blitzer. Clara is highly concerned that the kids are in danger, and thanks to Danny's interference the Blitzer is not destroyed. The Doctor also finds that it's DANNY (whom he keeps calling "P.E.") that Clara's involved with. He's a SOLDIER, the Doctor fumes.
Danny is finding all this very difficult to believe. The Doctor finds that the Blitzer arrives earlier than planned, and right on Parent Night too! The Doctor, with help from Danny (who does a leaping summersault that would make Gabby Douglas and Paul Hamm jealous), defeat the Blitzer. We then get a quick glimpse of Heaven, where Seb (Chris Addison), an interviewer for Missy (Michelle Gomez), informs a cop that had been vaporized by the Blitzer that he is perhaps not in the best place in this Promised Land.
I look at The Caretaker and think that the 'dark' Doctor promised me is not dark at all. In many ways, The Caretaker played like a script for a Matt Smith Doctor story, right down to Adrian, the obvious Matt Smith double. As a side note, what I don't get is that Clara, given how obsessed she was with the Smith version and wasn't too keen on the Capaldi version, never noticed that Adrian looked so much like the Eleventh Doctor.
I find that the introduction of Adrian is either a deliberate play on Smith fans (and feel for Harrison who was hired to be a substitute) or just so much nonsense. Why is he there? What purpose does he play? He's like the boyfriend to the female lead character in a Nicholas Sparks book: someone who is disposable once the male lead character pops in. Adrian's raison d'etre is nonexistent. He won't provide conflict. He doesn't exist as an independent person for he is nothing more than a figure for the Doctor to flatter himself with. That is itself idiotic, as if Sylvester McCoy would think Ace fancies someone who looked like Peter Davison.
The same thing goes for this 'I hate soldiers' bit. There is nothing in the Doctor's history that shows this antipathy towards soldiers. This little bit, introduced in Into the Dalek and hinted at in Listen, is here only to provide 'conflict' between Danny and the Doctor. Conflict should arise naturally, as it did whenever the Doctor and the Brigadier's worldview clashed. The Doctor may have hated militarism and the military habit of storming in without trying dialogue first, but he had a great respect for soldiers like the Brigadier, Sergeant Benton, or any member of UNIT.
There is, however, an aspect of The Caretaker that I found highly disturbing. It is the Doctor's attitude towards Danny. The Doctor makes it very clear that he thinks Danny is basically too stupid to be a math teacher for the simple reason that he was a soldier. Danny Pink is not an active soldier, that is worth remembering. He is an ex-soldier, now a civilian. However, the Doctor's arrogance and condescending manner towards Danny that is not 'dark'. It's just vicious.
Why date Danny, soldier, the Doctor insists. "Why not get a dog or a big plant? Why would you go out with a SOLDIER?" The Doctor just compared a man he doesn't know, whom he's barely met, to a dog or a plant. That just bothered me to no end, this contempt and snobbishness the Doctor has for Danny in particular and soldiers in general.
WHY can't an ex-soldier teach math? Why does the Doctor have such contempt for this person's intelligence merely because he chose to spend a few years in military service? His stubborn insistence that Danny was fit only for Physical Education because he held a gun is so at odds with how the Doctor in all his incarnations has been.
If that isn't all bad enough, it is The Caretaker's insistence on making the Doctor more muddled and incapable of behaving like a human. He's always been eccentric, but always capable of functioning with people. Why he suddenly thinks "Go Away Humans" would keep people out, or him genuinely thinking he and Clara looked the same age, or not comprehending human interaction is somehow 'real' is beyond me.
I feel for Capaldi in that he can do better but he can't make this work. Injecting manic pacing doesn't make for an interesting performance. I think Capaldi is doing his best with what he was given. Same goes for Anderson, who attempts to ground Danny as a highly intelligent man (he's the one who suspects the caretaker to be something other than what he is and follows the clues to their conclusion). If anything is off, it is Coleman. This I think has been commented on before, but this is the first time I noticed just how BIG her eyes are (or at least get). There are PAINFUL scenes between her and Capaldi when he first comes as the caretaker and when she is trying to convince Danny that the alien they all witnessed was just a big theatrical production.
Not only does this make HER look incredibly stupid, but Coleman's performance was such that even she could not convince herself to make like any of this was remotely plausible.
The 'threat' of the Blitzer was a non-starter, and the addition of Missy is just awful, a way of tying stories together that might just as well work better as separate stories.
Now, The Caretaker did have a few good moments. Danny thinking Clara was a space alien with the Doctor as her 'space dad' was funny. The Doctor humming a few bits of Pink Floyd's The Wall to Clara when she reprimands some students was funny.
On the whole The Caretaker looks like something that was created for the Eleventh Doctor and handed over to the Twelfth as a cost-cutting measure. I note no enthusiasm for these scripts and just think Doctor Who is dull and at points stupid.
I think of all the education that I missed, and am so grateful for it now...
|Did you miss me?|
Next Episode: Kill the Moon