It’s a comedy of errors and confusion as a mysterious Doctor with a Scottish accent once again tries to save Coal Hill School from an alien incursion.
So, if anybody needs me just, you know, give me a shout. I’ll be in the storeroom just getting the lie of the land. Yes, nobody’s taking any notice at all. Absolutely good news because it means I must be coming across just as an absolutely boring human being like you. Deep cover, deep cover.
The Caretaker is a science fiction romantic comedy. At its heart lies a bizarre love triangle between Clara (Jenna Coleman), Danny (Samuel Anderson) and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi). Clara loves Danny romantically and the Doctor platonically; Danny loves Clara romantically and dislikes the Doctor for his superior attitude; the Doctor needs Clara to reign in his recklessness and can’t understand why she’s chosen Danny over Eleventh Doctor lookalike Adrian (Edward Harrison).
Clara’s efforts to balance her dual identities of plain old English teacher and voyager through space and time have an air of almost Shakespearean farce and superhero concealment to them. Her desperate attempt to forge a loving relationship to balance out the madness experienced with a wandering mad man in a box. The Caretaker is where the wheels come off as Danny and the Doctor meet. And immediately hate each other…
A Skovox Blitzer. One of the deadliest killing machines ever created. Probably homed in here because of Artron emissions. You’ve had enough of them in this area over the years. There’s enough explosive in its armoury to take out the whole planet.
Since 1963 Shoreditch’s Coal Hill School has experienced its fair share of surreptitious alien visitations. An Unearthly Child revealed the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford) studying at the school. Then, mere days after Susan’s sudden departure (along with two teachers), the school was evacuated in Remembrance of the Daleks as it became a battleground for a conflict between Imperial Daleks, Renegade Daleks and the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). Now there’s an extraterrestrial war machine called the Skovox Blitzer roaming around – attracted to the school due to all the artron energy gathered there from time traveller visitations…
In comparison to pretty much every other robot or cyborg glimpsed in Doctor Who, the Skovox Blitzer is a massive disappointment. A trundling gun-totting amalgamation of the robotic cleaners from Paradise Towers and the demented Jeeves service robot from the What’s New Scooby-Doo? episode High-Tech House of Horrors.
But the Skovox Blitzer doesn’t exist to challenge the Daleks, the Cybermen or the Weeping Angels for the crown of top Doctor Who monster. It’s a MacGuffin to bring the Twelfth Doctor, Clara Oswald and Danny Pink together in one location to allow the sparks of interpersonal conflict to ignite.
So – there’s an alien who used to look like Adrian. Then he turned into a Scottish caretaker and every now and then when I’m not looking you elope with him.
Whatever the quality of the material they’re given Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman continue to generate a fantastic dynamic as the not-so-user-friendly Twelfth Doctor and the now-a-proper-character Clara Oswald. Armed with his caretaker’s coat and broom Capaldi’s a wonderful scowling presence stalking the hallways of Coal Hill School, desperately attempting to save ignorant human apes from matters beyond their understanding. Balanced against the Doctor’s exasperation of the “otters” (as he terms the humans inhabiting the school) is the near manic desire of Clara to keep the Time Lord’s antics until control, keep him well away from Danny, and safeguard the children.
The Doctor attempting to pass himself off as an ordinary human, and failing massively, were cornerstone of two Eleventh Doctor adventures, The Lodger and Closing Time. Both of those fish-out-of-water escapades were written by Gareth Roberts, who returns to Doctor Who after an absence of several years with The Caretaker. Whilst the two Matt Smith outings were amusing enough in their own way Roberts’ talents are far better utilised when handed a “celebrity historical”. His The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp are amongst the very best adventures of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. Perhaps significant is Steven Moffat taking a co-writer credit for the third time in Series 8. How much of the final script for The Caretaker is Roberts’ vision compared to Moffat’s?
I know men like him. I’ve served under them. They push you and make you stronger till you’re doing things you never thought you could. I saw you tonight, you did exactly what he told you. You weren’t even scared … and you should have been.
At several points the Doctor’s attitude towards Danny bordered dangerously close to racism. The intention was clearly meant to reflect the Time Lord’s disbelief that someone with a military background could be intellectual enough to teach anything other than Physical Education. But Danny’s implication that the Doctor was an aristocrat used to ordering “cannon fodder” into battle, and a black man’s abilities berated by white man, generated uncomfortable resonances of racial prejudice.
Moffat needs to tread carefully. Having successfully dumped the unfortunate misogyny prevalent in recent series the last thing that Doctor Who needs laid at its door are accusations of fostering racist and imperialistic attitudes. Scare the crap out of children by all means but don’t put unpleasant UKIP-style notions about race into their head
Though the Doctor seems to have conveniently forgotten that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) took up teaching A-level mathematics after he retired from UNIT…
Is another child really required aboard the TARDIS? Look how well it didn’t work out in Nightmare in Silver. Courtney Woods (Ellis George) being invited for a spin through space and time was based upon an incredibly flimsy pretext and clearly a set-up for her presence being required in the next episode Kill the Moon. But why does the Doctor so easily allow random people aboard the TARDIS these days? The First Doctor (William Hartnell) desperately prevented outsiders from entering his timeship for fear of them blurting out their discoveries of Time Lord technology. In the 1960s virtually no one entered the TARDIS unless they ended up as a companion.
And in the final seconds the mysterious Missy (Michelle Gomez) pops up once again, seemingly “God” in a gleaming white abode of the afterlife called the Nethersphere that’s reminiscent of the heavenly realm seen in A Matter of Life and Death.
The Caretaker is an amusing enough romp to pass 45 minutes with, and finally the Doctor and Danny know about each other, but it’s not going to be a contender for best story of Series 8. The darker Doctor of Deep Breath, Into the Dalek and Listen has been diluted by the frothy romps of Robot of Sherwood, Time Heist and The Caretaker. “His dangerous side is a bad place to be” was a tagline to describe Timothy Dalton’s 007 and is equally applicable to the Twelfth Doctor. So let’s see some more of his dangerous side again in the near future.