The general trend of this, the first season of the Twelfth Doctor, has been one of improving confidence and writing getting gradually better. I started, and remain, a firm fan of Peter Capaldi in the leading role, but his settling down has been a little bumpy due to some initial writing-based clumsiness.
Since the sea-change episode “Listen”, that has turned around. The whole thing has a completely different feel to previous Doctors, but it is a welcome change. Still there is the mischevous twinkle in the Doctor’s eye, but it’s an older eye to start with. With “The Caretaker”, though, it seems we’re heading back to Earth (and back to school) for a character-based personal episode.
Between the Doctor and her new boyfriend and fellow teacher Danny Pink, Clara is rushed off her feet, so embraces the opportunity when the Doctor tells her he is going ‘undercover’ for a while. Except that the Doctor is going undercover at her school, looking for an alien robot with the firepower to destroy the world. So she has to try and keep the school safe, and the Doctor and Danny apart.
I’m struggling to decide how I feel about “The Caretaker”. On the one hand, it is funny. Capaldi’s Doctor is funny in ways that Matt Smith couldn’t match, and with his one-liners to Clara he actually seems alien as well as hilarious. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that the Doctor isn’t human.
On the other hand: the pacing was a complete mess. Particularly the conclusion, which was crammed in with pretty big character shifts squeezed in at the end. Really, if Doctor Who needs to over-run its time slot, I’m sure Auntie Beeb wouldn’t say no.
This was an episode heavy on character-development, focusing on the human impact of being a companion to the Doctor. Time travel lets Clara fit her adventures in with the rest of her life, but it doesn’t give her chance to rest. And if you think about it, the Doctor burns through almost all of his companions. In that light, Danny’s closing words to Clara, that the Doctor could push her over the edge, has a lot more meaning.
One thing I did appreciate, was the journey of the Doctor from love interest for Clara to father figure. His overprotective attitude towards Clara is a gear shift, but one which worked very well in the context of the episode as a whole. And actually, this was Clara’s strongest episode since her introduction. She feels like a living, breathing character for once.
In the end, it was alright. It’s not going to top my lists of best episodes, but equally it wasn’t bad. The character moments overshadowed the action, which was a nice touch, but it needed a little more time to play things out. I still don’t really understand how Danny’s character fits into the grander story, but he has become already more than just a civilian bystander. And Clara’s character this series, is actually a character, unlike last time around. Which is a definite improvement.
- So, the dead copper is the only dead character this series who doesn’t warrant a welcome from the head honcho? He has to put up with Chris Addison instead. Which I’m not saying is bad, but why?
- Trips in the TARDIS are apparently not the cure for disruptive schoolchildren.
- Should Danny be able to jump like that? The laws of physics should probably be objecting to that one.
- How do all these dangerous aliens end up on Earth, anyway?