Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 6, “The Caretaker,” by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffatt is my favorite episode of the season so far despite the fact that the plot is a standard “alien of the week” story and the production doesn’t rate as highly as “Robot of Sherwood” and “Time Heist.” The action is set at Coal Hill Secondary School, where Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) work, so there’s nothing exceptional about the lighting or the costumes. The episode villain is a remote-controlled trolley with a robot body, so not much in the way of special effects, either. That isn’t necessarily bad, though. One of the things I love most about this show is that the producers don’t mind going cheap-and-cheesy with the special effects now and then. What makes “The Caretaker” special is that we finally have an episode devoted entirely to developing relationships between Clara, Danny, and The Doctor (Peter Capalidi). As an added bonus, Danny gets to save the planet.
The plot is the most straightforward one we’ve seen so far. There’s an alien war machine called a Skovox Blitzer hidden somewhere in East London. It’s armed with enough explosive to destroy the Earth, and it’s in danger of waking up. The Doctor goes undercover as the caretaker at Coal Hill to find and neutralize the Blitzer. His plan is to locate the machine, lure it into the school after hours, and send it a billion years into the future through a temporary time vortex. The Doctor refuses to share his plan with Clara. Danny, suspecting something’s not right with the new caretaker, interferes with the Doctor’s plan and hi-jinks ensue. By the end of the episode, the world is safe again and the Doctor has finally learned that Danny is Clara’s boyfriend, but not before making a total ass of himself. “The Caretaker” also gives a lot of screen time to Coal Hill student Courtney Woods (Ellis George), and she even gets a trip in the TARDIS at the end.
Will asked a very good question this weekend in his review of “Time Heist” for Sourcerer:
How serious was the Doctor when he said “I’m not your boyfriend?”
That’s a natural question to ask after watching episode 5, and I wonder now if it’s a question we were intended to ask, because “The Caretaker” answers it for us. He was completely serious when he said that, but he may be thinking of himself as her father now. That’s deliciously ironic, given the number of times Clara’s had to be his nanny this season. The Doctor is annoyingly paternal all through this latest episode. He jumps to the wrong conclusion about who her boyfriend is, and totally misses the fact that Orson Pink not only shares a last name with Danny, but looks just like him, only with cooler hair.
The Doctor’s prejudice against soldiers also plays a role here. He insists on calling Danny the PE teacher despite the fact that Clara and Danny repeatedly tell him Danny is the Maths teacher. At at one point near the end of the episode, Danny, who was apparently a sergeant, pegs the Doctor as an officer. And Danny has a good point. Now, think back to that conversation Clara overheard when she was hiding under the Doctor’s bed in “Listen.” The one in which the adults were arguing about the young Doctor, whose name we didn’t get, not wanting to join the military. I think there’s a bit of self-hatred in the Doctor’s bias against soldiers. All this also seems to suggest that Time Lords, whatever else they are, are a Gallifreyan military organization. I’m not up on the lore enough to know whether or not this is an established fact, but it’s the conclusion I’m drawing from this season.
The one problem I have with this episode is the final conversation at the end, in which Danny says the Doctor’s mad because he’s afraid Danny won’t be good enough for Clara. That whole exchange is one long cliche, and it’s overkill. The point’s been made already, and I wish this conversation had been more interesting. I hope the “Doctor-as-father” is just another phase of the Doctor’s developing relationship with Clara. I can handle it for an episode or two, but I don’t want these characters to settle into that way of interacting for the rest of the season.
Missy also makes an appearance at the end, and for the first time we see that she has a minion to help her check people into the afterlife. A policeman who is killed by the Skovox Blitzer early in the episode ends up in Missy’s domain and doesn’t even understand he’s dead. Missy’s world as depicted in this episode is creepy. It’s not the lush paradise from “Deep Breath” nor the sitting room from “Into the Dalek.” It’s a white, sterile waiting room that suggests a medical facility or dystopian prison. Since we saw the charred and dismembered remains of the policeman when he was killed, I’m thinking that whatever is going on, it’s not explained by Missy materializing a time machine around these characters and yanking them away from death at the last minute. My new pet theory is that she’s either cloning the humans or building cybernetic replicas of them, then telling them they’ve died and gone to heaven.
For another take on “The Caretaker,” pop over to Things Matter and check out Hannah’s review. If you’re in the mood to really binge on some Doctor Who blogging, take a look at Hannah’s Time Heist review, which includes links to several other blogs that are following the season.
See you next week 😉