Disclaimer: In 2013 I reviewed the second half of Series 7 for The Hairy Housewife and fully intended to do the same for Series 8 last year. Unfortunately, it proved impossible. Life and work and caring responsibilities called and at my lowest point, I was about five episodes behind everyone else. After speaking recently with Gemma, she thought it would be cool for me to do a re-tread of Series 8 to tide blog readers over until Series 9 airs. So that’s what’s happening. Every week I’ll re-watch and review an episode for this blog. Feel free to join me! Oh, and there will be spoilers.
The Caretaker reminded me an awful lot of Chris Chibnell’s The Power of Three. In many respects it achieves the same thing that that episode did with Amy and Rory’s relationship with Eleven explored in that episode just as Clara and Twelve’s is in The Caretaker. The difference is that Danny is an outsider whereas Rory is a companion at that point in Series 7. The Caretaker also features one of the common threads of Moffat era Who: interesting thematic ideas and character development with a lousy alien of the week. The alien is a vehicle for character exploration. Nothing more.
The Caretaker sees Twelve go undercover at Clara’s school to face down an alien force. Comedy ensues as The Doctor antagonises Danny and his relationship with Clara, trolls Clara trying to teach, is a bad influence on the children and generally makes a fool of himself. There are also some nice shout out moments to previous episodes with The Doctor referencing his relationship with River, a re-visit of the John Smith pseudonym, a police officer death similar to The Eleventh Hour, an Eleventh Doctor reference and the return of unimaginative and irritating children (Clara’s earlier charges in series 7 I’m looking at you).
Companions who Never Were
There’s a pattern here, Series 8. Young Courtney fills the role this week, though her response to the TARDIS (vomiting and running away) leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t help but feel that her staying far away from the TARDIS is a good thing.
Dan the Soldier Man
One of the strongest points of Series 8 has been its willingness to follow a theme through to the end and give character’s space to develop. The Doctor’s hatred of soldiers continues in The Caretaker. This time The Doctor equates sport (PE teachers) with soldiers as he puts Danny down again and again.
Doctor: Some military idiot will attack it… the world is full of PE teachers.
Clara protests: He’s a maths teacher. Not a soldier.
The Doctor: Interesting.
It is implied later in the episode that The Doctor is testing Danny as a person and Clara’s ability to choose a partner well. In one of the more interesting ideas of the episode, Danny tells The Doctor that he is the officer who lights the flame which draws soldiers into conflicts. Death In Heaven follows this through so more on this theme later.
The Danny and Clara Relationship
I didn’t actually like Danny as a character until Dark Water. Samuel Anderson feels a bit too forced to me and his character was no Rory. It didn’t help that he was inconsistently written. One second he was a second Rory, the next he was a controlling tosser. Like Amy, Clara cannot admit to her lover that she leads a double life (despite the lessons of Listen). Unlike Amy, she tries to have her cake and eat it too by living both lives at once. Understandably Danny is upset, but that doesn’t make it OK when he says the below:
Danny: Do you love him?
Clara: No, not in that way.
Danny: What other way is there?
Wow Danny? Have you never heard of a little thing called friendship. Douche. Admittedly The Doctor is no better when he says:
You’ve explained me to him [Danny]. You haven’t explained him to me.
Why on earth does Clara need to justify herself to either of them? She is a grown woman who can make her own decisions and choices. This is one of the few Moffat era Who episodes which I genuinely feel is sexist. On the plus side, Danny rushes in to protect Clara from evil aliens. Unfortunately, unlike Rory, he doesn’t do it because he genuinely loves Clara and wants to understand her choices. He does it to prove himself worthy to the person he perceives controls Clara ie The Doctor. I genuinely wanted to throw something at the screen when he said the following:
Danny: I was behind you every step of the way… I had to know you were safe. I had to be good enough for you… that’s why he’s angry. Just in case I’m not.
Everything about this plot thread annoyed me and I’m glad they abandoned it down the track.
Twelve continues his trend of failing to differentiate between human faces, getting confused by Clara’s appearance and expressions and assuming that Clara’s lover is an Eleventh Doctor look-a-like teacher down to the bow tie. His habit of putting down others continues to jar. However, this episode reveals more of the true Twelve, the one fully developed by the series finale, the one who is simply an old man with a box travelling and learning.
Though I don’t much enjoy the child actors they get on New Who, I did enjoy Twelve’s exchange with Courtney:
Courtney: I’m a disruptive influence!
The Doctor: Pleased to meet you.
Here, The Doctor’s cluelessness is endearing.
As is his banter with Clara (also Clara the teacher is much more interesting than Clara the walking plot device). I love it when he leans into the classroom and argues about literature, when he winks at her upon being announced as the new caretaker, when he says ‘sing Hosanna’ at Clara doing what she’s told for once and when he equates acting like an idiot with the care-taking job. I also like Clara’s quip to The Doctor and reminder to the audience that she is The Doctor’s teacher as much as her students teacher.
Like The Power of Three, this episode highlights what happens to companions when they grow addicted to running with The Doctor. The opening of The Caretaker sees Clara exhausting herself managing two lives at once. Something has to give and that thing is her relationship with Danny. She even gives up a night of ‘canoodling’ to run with The Doctor.
She has ‘learnt’ The Doctor’s role, this time telling Danny the TARDIS story herself (as he looks inside to Amy’s Theme). The show continue to show us how she has adopted the role as the series progresses. However,Danny warns her (and us) about the dangers of finding running with people like The Doctor normal.
Danny: They make you stronger, do things you never thought you could do. You weren’t scared. You should have been.
It will be interesting to see how Moffat et.al. develop this in Series 9.
A Glimpse of Heaven
We get another reminder of Missy this week and get our first glimpse of the officious Seb to some great work from Murray Gold as we hear the first proper run of Missy’s Theme. We also get a better look at The Neversphere/Promised Land. When Seb says ‘So… any questions?’ It’s a deliberate meta question to the fans who have so many.
The Caretaker: 6/10 inky stars