TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E6: The Caretaker

The Doctor goes undercover this week at a very familiar school. Since Steven Moffat has been show runner, Gareth Roberts has been the go-to man for episodes which see the Time Lord in a more domestic setting and that is what is on the cards this time as Clara’s two worlds come together.

 

 

 

When terrifying events threaten Coal Hill school the Doctor decides to go undercover. The Skovox Blitzer is ready to destroy all humanity – and worse, any second now, Danny Pink and the Doctor are going to meet.

For some reason, I’m finding it difficult to start writing this review. Gareth Roberts certainly seems to be the pair of safe hands to go to when you want to produce a more domestic, soap opera like episode of Doctor Who and the man certainly has safe hands. Penned in tandem with Steven Moffat, The Caretaker is certainly well written. Roberts is one of those writers (arguably the opposite of Stephen Thompson) who just gets it when it comes to finding a balance of story, character and humour while also balancing just enough Who-Science to stop the story from becoming nonsense. In that regard, he’s the anti-Mark Gatiss.

I think the problem I have is that I am a little bit bored with the domestic side of Doctor Who. I understand the audience has probably moved away from me in this regard, but to me there is something disconcerting and possibly ham-handed about taking our Time Lord and trying to make him fit into everyday life. While these episodes are useful to help cement the fact that the Doctor is not human, I honestly think that this is obvious anyway when the character is written and performed well. Which our new Doctor certainly has been.

A number of the episodes this season are co-written by Steven Moffat and I wonder if his involvement has generally been to keep the characters of the Doctor and Clara consistent to his vision. It can often take a few episodes for the writers to discover the Doctor’s voice when a new incarnation appears, yet this has not been the case this time. Capaldi’s Doctor has been consistent from day one and his relationship with Clara remains excellent this year. It seems to me that Moffat’s involvement in these co-written episodes has probably been to keep the Doctor and Clara consistent rather than being involved too much with the plot progression which has certainly played to the strengths and weaknesses of the other half of the co-writing teams.

I may have been a bit scathing of Danny Pink (played by Samuel Anderson) in previous reviews – suggesting that I can’t see why Clara should become so attached to him. This episode was his chance to prove himself. Not only to me, but also to the Doctor, who is destined to meet him – something that Clara has clearly been putting off, trying to keep her normal life distinct from her adventurous time travelling one. Here’s the thing. We haven’t seen nearly enough of Clara and Danny’s relationship (or even of Danny himself) to see why they are together. There must be far more to the man than we have seen but in my eyes, he’s still the stone-faced ex-soldier who has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth. Without any other development, we as an audience, are placed in a situation where we must almost side with Danny or The Doctor … you can guess where I landed.

Having said that, I think this may well have been the breakthrough episode for the character. There is a scene towards the end of the episode. A domestic scene with just Clara and Danny and at this point – not before – but at this point, Danny started to stand out for me. Earlier he had shown intelligence (there’s only one thing he needs to do for the Doctor) and bravery – providing a needed distraction, but in this final scene he really showed his strength of character. Danny doesn’t try to stop Clara having her dual life. He doesn’t really mention it other than to say he’s there if she needs him. I think this was brilliant. Having been a soldier himself, and having compared the Doctor to an army Officer, he realises that Clara is a willing soldier and must face the call to duty.

Of course, there is a reason that the Doctor must face normal life and in this case we have an alien killing machine that has somehow become stranded in the Shoreditch area. I liked the idea and it’s as good an in as any. Of course there certainly seem to be no end of “ultimate killing machines” wandering about the universe these days, from Raston Warrior Robots to cybernetic cowboys and the new adapting Cybermen. And now this little guy. I really like the design of the creature, both visual and audio. This is in no small part to the fact that his head looks pretty much like a Turian from the Mass Effect series and leads one’s mind down all manner of fan-fiction routes! As with the monster in Roberts’ other co-written story (Planet of the Dead), I really like the fact that there is no maliciousness here. The creatures on that planet were acting on instinct, and our stranded little fellow here is simply following his programming to its conclusion.

One final thought. When did the Doctor become so careless and reckless as to who he lets in the TARDIS? It seems our new incarnation draws the line at soldiers but is quite happy to let school girls he has only just met and who have not proved themselves on jaunts into space…

So overall, I’m mixed about this episode. It was certainly solid enough and contained enough drama and humour to keep the viewer interested. I am just bored of Doctor Who as a soap opera. As with Robot of Sherwood, I am going to try and leave my personal prejudices at the door with this one, which is why I’ll give it …

Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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