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Impressions of The Caretaker

Occasionally, an episode of Doctor Who comes along that leaves me… confused.  Not confused about the plot, mind you, confused about just what I thought of it.  It took me a long time to figure out how I actually felt about “The Caretaker.”  Were there aspects of it I liked? Of course.  But, there were some aspects of it that I pretty strongly disliked as well.  Finally, after giving it a lot of thought, I realized that, for me, the bad far outweighed the good.  However, unlike other episodes that I’ve disliked, there’s still something to this episode that makes me keep thinking about it.  So this episode remains a bit of an enigma to me, even after I’ve been able to pin down my feelings about it.

This image sums up the story.  Danny and the Doctor arguing while Clara is caught passively in the middle.

This image sums up the story. Danny and the Doctor arguing while Clara is caught passively in the middle.

The plot of the episode is ultimately unimportant.  There is a killing machine, Skovox Blitzer, that the Doctor needs to stop, so he goes undercover as the caretaker at Coal Hill School.  All this is simply an excuse to put the Doctor, Clara, and Danny under the same roof, resulting in a conflict that catches Clara between Danny and the Doctor.

I felt that this story had a great deal in common with “The Lodger,” my favorite Gareth Roberts story.  Once again the Doctor has to function in a “regular” situation, one where he has to come into contact with people just going about their everyday lives.  However, unlike “The Lodger,” the low stakes were a distraction in this story.  In “The Lodger” the focus is on the Doctor and his relationship with Craig, but there is a feeling of menace in the background.  There are a lot of unanswered questions, and the vagueness when it comes to the explaining who the aliens were is a flaw in that episode, but it is even more the case here.  Where exactly did the robot come from?  It was attracted to the artron emissions, but how did it get there? And, for that matter, how did the Doctor know it was there? The robot really felt like an afterthought; instead of adding anything of interest to the episode, it was simply a plot device.

On the positive side, it was entertaining to see the Doctor interact with Clara, Danny, and the others at the school.  Whenever the Doctor tries to pass himself off as a normal person, the results are generally entertaining, and this episode was no exception.  This was the best part of the episode.  It was also fun to see Clara growing increasingly frazzled as the lines she has drawn between her world with the Doctor and her everyday life were getting blurred.  The scene between her and the Doctor when he was at her classroom window was one of my favorites.

Also, much like “The Lodger,” there is a lot of humor in this episode.  The fact that the Doctor assumed that Clara would be dating the English teacher who resembled Matt Smith was amusing, as were many of the earlier interactions between the Doctor and Clara. I also have to admit that I had to laugh at the idea of the eleventh Doctor living among the otters.  The humor was a large part of what made this episode enjoyable, and but it wasn’t quite enough to counter the aspects that bothered me.

The "caretaker" pops his head into Clara's classroom in a humorous exchange

The “caretaker” pops his head into Clara’s classroom in a humorous exchange

First, one part that  made me curious was Courtney.  While I enjoyed the bit with her parents at the parent night, I’m not sure where the Courtney storyline is going.  I could see this Doctor becoming interested in a “disruptive influence,” but I never saw anything that would suggest that the Doctor and Courtney had really formed any kind of bond.  I know he was upset, so he probably did something rash,but why exactly did the Doctor decide to take her in the TARDIS?  Since she seems to be in the next episode, it’ll be interesting to see how the relationship between the Doctor and Courtney evolves.

One thing I definitely didn’t enjoy was the shift in the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara.  Up until this point, I felt that their relationship was one of close friendship.  There relationship was very balanced, power-wise, with a lot of give and take between the two.  In regards to Danny, the Doctor was competing with him for Clara’s attention, but that was the extent of it.  In contrast, this episode shifted the dynamic to more of a father-daughter dynamic.  In this episode, the Doctor is very much in charge (evidenced by his choice to not reveal his plan to Clara), and Danny seems to need to seek his approval; the Doctor suddenly became an over-protective dad.

My biggest problems of the episode, however, stemmed from Danny. There were times in the episode that I liked his character and then their were times that I didn’t.  At first, it was incredibly difficult for me to figure out why, but I think I’ve finally been able to put my finger on what my problems are.  First, in regards to Danny’s relationship with Clara, I still don’t really enjoy them as a couple.  This episode makes it clear that Moffat has done what he did with Amy and Rory, having time pass faster for the characters in the show than is passing in real life.  Apparently, Clara and Danny have now been dating for over a year, but I still don’t feel invested in their relationship.  I keep hoping that will change, but, so far, it still feels forced to me.

Besides my lack of investment in the relationship, I also had some problems with the dynamic between Danny, the Doctor, and Clara.  Clara has been a very self-sufficient, independent character this season.  However, this character took away a lot of her agency.  The Doctor and Danny fight, while Clara remains largely silent.  I’ll be the first to admit that, in this episode, all of the characters do things that are wrong.  The Doctor is even ruder than usual and Clara uses the invisibility watch to sneak Danny onto the TARDIS (which I felt was a horrible breech of trust with the Doctor).  However, even though I probably shouldn’t, I can excuse some of thier behavior because there are many positive things that I know about thier characters.  I can write these of as mistakes that they might have to make up for, but still, mistakes from which they can recover.

This episode left me wondering if maybe Clara would be better off with Adrian...

This episode left me wondering if maybe Clara would be better off with Adrian…

Which, of course, brings me to Danny.  I felt that he was just far too alpha male for me to like at the end of this episode.  I think he had every right to be upset to learn that Clara had kept a major part of her life a secret from him (at least, once I realized that they had been together for over a year).  However, I did not like the attitude he had about her experiences with the Doctor.  I didn’t think that he should sit in judgement of her time with the Doctor.

He also had every right to be upset with the Doctor, after the way the Doctor treated him.  On the other hand, I thought that he went way too far in his argument with the Doctor on the TARDIS.  For a while I couldn’t figure out why the argument didn’t sit well with me.  Certainly the Doctor is often responsible for the deaths of others, as an officer might be, so Danny wasn’t completely off base.  I thought maybe I just resented the fact that Danny was now judging the Doctor without knowing him.  After all, the Doctor is not an officer sitting back on the sidelines sending other people in to fight for him; he is often  on the frontline, so to speak, putting himself at risk too.  After reflecting on it, however, I realized that the reason that I felt so uncomfortable about this argument was because it only happened because Danny had agreed to sneak on the Doctor’s TARDIS without his permission.  A lot of the blame for that falls on Clara, but I didn’t think Danny had the right to violate the Doctor’s personal space and then attack him.

This still was not the part that bothered me the most.  That came in Danny and Clara’s final scene.  That conversation bothered me in two ways.  The first was when he told her that he should have been scared when leading the robot to the Doctor.  I don’t like the way that Danny always assumes that he knows more than Clara does.  She has seen things that he could never even imagine and has probably been in more life or death situations that Danny.  It feels a bit condescending that he has taken on the role of protector and is now telling her what to do.  Which leads me to my second point, I didn’t like the way that he gave Clara the ultimatum at the end.  He spoke to her as if she was a child, and he was the parent who was going to protect her.  I’m sure that this stems from whatever trauma is in his past, but he doesn’t really understand the situation yet.  He is perfectly justified in being concerned for Clara, now that he knows that she is often in dangerous situations, but I don’t like the fact that he is giving her orders now. Clara needs a man who will be able to stand up to her, but not one who is going to control her.

No, I didn't talk about heaven this week.  But Capaldi's former castmate, Chris Addison popped up there this week.

No, I didn’t talk about heaven this week. But Capaldi’s former castmate, Chris Addison popped up there this week.

Overall, I started out enjoying this episode, but, by its conclusion, my feeling towards it had changed quite dramatically.   The plot is paper-thin, but that doesn’t always hinder my enjoyment of an episode.  I enjoy a good character study, but not when all of the characters behave in ways that makes me like them less.  Up until this point, I had been really enjoying this season; this episode caused me to worry about where this season is going.  It seems as if Clara is being set up for a fall, which would be a disappointment after she has been such an unusual, self-sufficient female character.  Since I don’t enjoy being this negative about a character and an episode, and I didn’t mean to suggest that the this episode has ruined the entire season for me, I’m going to end with a happy thought.  As long as Coal Hill School is a part of the storyline, there’s always the remote chance that one of my favorite characters could make a small appearance.  Maybe I’d like Danny more if I knew that he had the support of a certain science teacher who is now the Chairman of the Governors…


3 responses to “Impressions of The Caretaker

  1. A lot of the background plot (the Blitzer stuff) requires an encyclopedic knowledge of “Doctor Who” lore from 30+ years ago. You have to know that “artron energy” is the TARDIS’ energy signature (we were told this on TV in 1982), and that the bulding the Blitzer inhabits (to which the Doctor mutters “Home, sweet home” when he enters) is part of 76 Totter’s Lane (at least, it’s strongly implied to be the same junkyard from 1963). So the Blitzer is there because it’s been following the TARDIS to that very spot. I imagine that these unspoken connections sailed right over the head of about 90% of the viewing audience.

    Granted, the Blitzer works as a a generic alien B-plot menace, even without the artron energy business.

    I had similar thoughts to you about the Danny/Clara/Doctor dynamic. Roberts was trying to play it for laughs and Moffat, I suspect, wrote the final scenes to make it more emotionally “weighty”. I suspect a lot of your concerns (for good or ill) were addressed in “Kill the Moon”, so now i eagerly await your take on that one!

    • I have to admit that I didn’t immediately connect the location of the Blitzer with 76 Totter’s Lane until I read your post, even though I should have. For some reason I don’t think that I immediately recognized it as a junkyard. I knew the artron energy linked it to the Doctor, but that makes it even more explicit that it is there because of him (and explains the “home, sweet home” comment).

  2. Pingback: Doctor Who reviews: Kill the Moon | In My Not So Humble Opinion

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