Doctor Who Is NEW!: The Caretaker
"Who am I?"
It is a question that follows us for all our lives, often times a still small voice in the back corners of our minds, sometimes it's a question that demands our attention. "Who am I?" is a question that we would prefer to remain on the backburner and will do almost anything to avoid. Why? Because we may not like what we see? Perhaps. But it's also a question that in answering it, forces us to make choices, choices we would rather not make.
For Clara Oswald, the answer to the question of "Who am I?" is particularly troublesome because she's leading two lives: a school teacher involved in a romance with a fellow teacher AND a partner in adventure with a more than slightly daft Time Lord. Clara has gone to great lengths to keep those lives separate. But what happens when those two lives intersect? Then the question of "Who am I?" becomes even more important because Clara may have to make a choice she would rather not make.
Hi there! Dave-El here and this is Day Two of this weekend's Double Doctor post. Yesterday, I looked back at love and romance involving the Doctor's companions leading up to Clara's relationship with Danny Pink. In a totally unexpected sequeway into today's post, I review last night's episode which puts that relationship front and center when the Doctor decides to spend time at Coal Hill School to fend off an alien threat. And obliviously and totally shake up Clara's world.
My review of The Caretaker begins after the spoiler warning.
Really, I need to come up with a less scary spoiler warning. Seriously.
by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat
The episode opens up with a mad dash through the life of Clara Oswald, moving from an adventure with the Doctor to a date with Danny Pink back to another excursion back with the Doctor back to Danny back to the Doctor back to Danny back to....
You get the idea.
Thinking she has some time sans Doctor, Clara promises Danny that her focus will be on him. So at a teacher's meeting before the day begins, a new employee is introduced as a fill in caretaker named John Smith. Yep, it's the Doctor, trying to pretend to be a normal guy. The loss of the bow tie has not made the Doctor any more adept at pretending to be human; in fact, he's worse at it than ever.
But the Doctor is not there to blend in, he's there to stop an alien threat, a robot weapon thing called a "Skovox Blitzer". (I know: coolest name ever, right?) So the Doctor goes puttering about the school being weird while hiding devices that will help him catch the robot weapon thing. An encounter with Danny Pink does not go well at all; assuming a former soldier would not be smart enough to be a math teacher, the Doctor keeps referring to Danny as a P.E. teacher instead. In fact, the Doctor still hasn't make the connection that Danny is the man Clara's been seeing. Instead he makes an erroneous assumption (based a lot on his ego) that Clara's beau is a guy named Adrian, a teacher with floppy hair and an affinity for bow ties.
The trap the Doctor sets for the Skyvox Blitzer doesn't quite work as planned. It's kind of Danny's fault but since Danny's being kept out of the loop by Clara who seems determined to keep her two worlds separate, it's hard to really blame him. The Doctor does anyway and his meet up with Danny in this circumstance is less than easy for Clara who's stuck in the middle. Danny is, to be sure, not happy with Clara and this turn of events. But neither is the Doctor.
The Doctor: "You haven't explained HIM to ME!"
In another encounter with the Doctor in the TARDIS, Danny Pink, a bit more steady on his feet, confronts the Time Lord with a mocking display of military protocol. The Doctor, who has a thing about soldiers (a very negative thing) is definitely off the hook mad at Danny and Clara.
The Skovox Blitzer returns (earlier than the Doctor expected, go figure) so Clara with the sonic screwdriver runs around as a distraction for the robot machine thing while the Doctor makes 24 hours worth of adjustments on his robot stopping thingamajig in two minutes. The Doctor and Clara are successful...er, almost successful. Skovox Blitzer ain't done yet and the Doctor and Clara are cornered until...
It's Danny Pink to the rescue with a mouth dropping display of astonishing physical dexterity and gives the Doctor one more moment to take out the robot weapon thing once and for all.
Danny calls the Doctor out on what's eating him: Danny still needs to prove to the Doctor that he's a good enough man for Clara. The Doctor reluctantly concedes helping save the world is a good start. Meanwhile, her secret life revealed to Danny Pink, Clara gets to keep being both the school teacher AND the adventurer.
If all of that sounded a bit soap opera-ish to you, well it is. Essentially the Doctor's mission to stop an alien menace is very much the B-story to the main story, Clara Oswald caught between the two sides of her life, teacher and adventurer, lover and fighter. But it's not only Clara trying to ascertain who she is but who the Doctor and Danny are to her.
Danny wants his relationship to Clara to work. But it's undermined by a lack of truth. Danny is mostly an affable and awkwardly endearing guy but in The Caretaker as well as Listen from two weeks ago, a lack of honesty is a particularly sore pint for Mr. Pink. It will be interesting see if that informs Danny's back story and whatever developments that are planned for him as the season progresses.
The Doctor, meanwhile, is in full on "Dad" mode here, approving of one guy as Clara's boyfriend due to a passing resemblance to the Doctor (in his previous form) and angrily disavows Danny due to his prejudice against soldiers. He refuses to see what Clara sees. But I think there is more at work here than the Doctor's adopting a paternal view of Clara. I think the Doctor genuinely feels threatened by Clara's other life because he still scared, scared of who he is, what he will become. He needs Clara to balance him, to keep him in check and he's frightened of what will happen if Clara's life tips in the balance towards teaching and Danny.
I really don't think this was a particularly strong episode owing mostly to the menace of the week being a bit meh (despite having a name like "Skovox Blitzer" which is what I would name my son if I had one.) Of course, it wasn't about the menace but the people. Now I like a good "let's focus on people" episode of an action adventure series. But the problem here is that for all the social upheaval, the end sees the status quo re-set. Clara still has a double life; the only difference is Danny knows about it.
There were some things I want to point out:
The opening montage was well edited and very effectively underscored the two sides of Clara Oswald's life.
The Doctor not even trying to not be an alien. Face it, he's rubbish as a human and no amount of living amongst otters is going to help.
River Song gets name checked.
The Doctor's interactions with student Courtney (AKA, "Disruptive Influence"). If the Doctor is going to need to replace Clara as a companion, Courtney did not pass the audition. ("Spillage" indeed.)
The Doctor's invisibility watch. Neat gimmick. Wonder why he never used it before? The same reason he'll never use it again: it was important to this episode's plot. (Still, an invisible Doctor means less stunts and running around for Peter Capaldi.)
Danny's kick-ass move against the Skovox Blitzer with a slow motion front flip over the deadly robot while avoiding getting shot. Doctor, get over this "soldier" thing, OK? Danny's got big time skills, yo!
And the episode ends with a look in at the "afterlife", the Nethersphere. A couple of twists:
The newest arrival is a police officer who was killed by the Skovox Blitzer but not in an act of self-sacrifice made because of the Doctor. Maybe this detail is why Missy does not speak to the new arrival, leaving that to her assistant. Yes, Missy has an assistant.
So that's that for The Caretaker. Perhaps a bit too much like a soap opera but it's hard to criticize something for being something it was designed to be. And that was the mission here, to put the Doctor and Clara and Danny in the spotlight and sort this out.
Well, I guess it's sorted. We'll have to see, won't we?
Next Saturday AND Sunday sees another Doctor Who Weekend coming 'round. My first post looks at Doctor Who Series 8 at the half-way point.
That's followed the next day by a review of the latest NEW episode, Kill The Moon.
Blog business: I will not be posting on Monday, September 29th and Tuesday, September 30th. I will be back to posting on Wednesday, October 1st.
Until then, be good to one another.
I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You