Once upon a time the headmaster of Coal Hill School made the assumption that the Doctor was there to apply for the job of caretaker (Remembrance of the Daleks). The Doctor has actually worked as a caretaker before, in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, but things have changed a lot since then. Now he is more concerned with lurking around, keeping an eye on Clara and being obsessive and jealous. His place in the story is challenged by Danny, who accuses him of being an aristocratic officer, at the opposite end of the social spectrum to the caretaker he is pretending to be.
Instead of getting all huffy and puffy about the accusation, it would have been good to see the Doctor defend his position, because Danny’s accusation doesn’t hold water. It is triggered off by the term “Time Lord”, but the Doctor ran away from that society and has spent his lives being an anarchist, bringing down cruel regimes. Instead he descends to the same level as Danny, trading insults. Frustratingly the script calls upon the Doctor to fulfil the officer class role, in the way that it foreshadows the manner of his defeat of Skovox Blitzer, which validates Danny’s accusation, so it seems like a deliberate character assassination of the Doctor on the past of the writers, rather than what it should have been: an insult from a man who does not understand who the Doctor is or what he represents. As part of a series that is systematically undermining almost everything that the viewers like about the Doctor, this is troubling.
And the Doctor really is an idiot here. There is a germ of a good idea in the Doctor being protective in a fatherly way. This is how it first appears when he seems pleased to think Clara is falling for a man who resembles his previous incarnation. All that stuff with Adrian is actually really cute and fun. But things go off the rails quickly and fatherly concern turns into the jealousy of a love rival. So when Danny is being a fool and accusing Clara of “eloping” with the Doctor, this should have been the misunderstanding of a jealous boyfriend, who is trying to own his girlfriend and every part of her life. Look at the following dialogue:
Danny: Do you love him?
Danny: Really had enough of the lies…
Clara: Not in that way.
Danny: What other way is there?
That question highlights what an idiot he is being, that he cannot understand platonic love. The script desperately needs to not validate this, but then the Doctor goes and slots into the role Danny is trying to pigeonhole him into. We have almost seen this before with Rose and Mickey, but this is a very different set of circumstances. Clara and Danny have a genuine chance at a lasting relationship, and it is being jeopardized by Clara’s dysfunctional and at times mentally abusive friendship with the Doctor. This is the opposite to Rose and Nine. And the Doctor’s PE insults are cheap shots. I don’t know if this translates well for viewers abroad, but PE stands for Physical Education. We used to call it “games” at school. The PE teacher is the one who stands on the edge of a field blowing a whistle while a bunch of kids run around in shorts in sub-zero temperatures. Well, that’s my recollection of them, anyway. Being accused of being a PE teacher is a MASSIVE insult to a teacher of any academic subject. Every PE teacher I encountered during my childhood had the intelligence level of a cabbage.
The Doctor’s motivation is left slightly ambiguous: is the Doctor insulting Danny because he doesn’t like soldiers, or because he is jealous? Looking at his track record of working with UNIT, the latter would seem to make a lot more sense. After all, he has seen an ex-soldier become a maths teacher before (Mawdryn Undead). Neither option paints him in a particularly good light. If nothing else, hating soldiers makes him a hypocrite.
Meanwhile, Clara is turning into the Doctor, or more specifically the Twelfth Doctor. She calls the Doctor out on being all mysterious and “making the mistake common to very clever people to assume that everybody else is stupid” and it’s a valid point, but then Danny has to remind her of it in the next scene:
Don’t be mysterious, I’m not stupid.
And the problem with Clara becoming more and more like the Doctor is that the Doctor is hard to like at this point. The companion needed to be a strong counterpoint to him. The edgier side of the Ninth Doctor was a little discomforting at times, but then we had Rose. So far this series we have seen the Doctor being mean and childish (and not in a good way) in virtually every episode. His characterisation has gone wildly astray. When the enemy he is facing is impressive or exciting enough, the series can get away with this, as will happen increasingly as the series progresses. With nothing to draw our focus other than an instantly forgettable robot and an instantly forgettable plot, the degree to which Doctor Who has lost its hero is brought into sharp focus. RP
The view from across the pond:
Stephen Moffat is the king when it comes to the Timey Wimey stories. The problem is that when he is not doing one that jumps-back-and-forth-in-time, I’m not sold that he’s really paying attention. Is it too common for him? Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s a testament that his brain works so well while jumping all over the map, but a regular story going from A to B to C seems to jar a bit. I mean, take The Caretaker for example. The Caretaker, as far as I am concerned, is Matt Smith in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. That is a fantastic, heartwarming story where the Doctor takes care of a home and a family. And maybe that’s the problem here; maybe The Caretaker should have been part of Matt Smith’s era. By contrast, look at what we have so far, in the first few episodes of Capaldi’s time:
- In Deep Breath he calls us pudding-brains. Humans are hard for him to come to terms with and he may have bullied a homeless man out of a coat. He also may have thrown a clockwork droid to its death.
- By Into the Dalek, Doctor 12 says of Clara, “she’s my carer; she cares so I don’t have to.” (After referring to Journey Blue as “gun girl”. You know, she’s a girl and she has a gun…)
- In Time Heist, having watched Saibra “die”, he tells Clara that Saibra is dead but “We are alive. Priorities, if you want to stay that!”
Just one story later, he’s called “the caretaker”? Sorry Mof, I don’t buy it. If it were called The Janitor or The Custodian, maybe it wouldn’t jar right from the word go. I said yesterday in my review of Time Heist, I think this was a strong season but they had yet to figure out how to write for this Doctor and this episode just drives that point right home. He’s outright rude to Danny Pink. Dismissive to the children. Basically, he’s a grumpier version of Snyder from One Day at a Time. Why? What possible good comes from alienating the audience from the main character! Let’s see… if we want to retire the show, maybe that’s a good idea. Nope… nothing else comes to mind.
I admit, it is nice seeing Coal Hill again, but the ties to the Doctor’s granddaughter, Ian and Barbara are all gone, so it comes off as little more than just some random school. The Doctor often tells Clara that “it’s a roller coaster” with her, but the truth is, the audience is experiencing the real ride with the Doctor himself. And what about that Skovox Blitzer? We went from an awesome name like Karabraxos to Skovox Blitzer? It looks like a Spider Dalek (hey, I played Quake 2, ok!) and a Cyberman. This had the potential to be one of the best races ever considering the appeal of both Cybermen and Daleks. They could have done so much with it! Yet it comes off as a kids toy gone rogue. Any “awesomeness” that could have been tied to the creature is overshadowed by Danny’s flip over it. (I want to like Danny too, but the writing is strangely alienating for him as well! Just when you think there will be some redemption between Danny and the Doctor… well, keep waiting, I’m not finishing that sentence because I’m copying Moffat’s technique of keeping the audience waiting!)
The problem for this episode may not be that it’s that bad. It may be a decent episode dropped between far better ones. It’s like when you buy a home and think it’s a good home until you see the castles on either side of you. Suddenly, your home looks like their shed and you feel somewhat inferior about it. The Caretaker may just be suffering from being surrounded by stronger episodes. Listen, Time Heist, Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline are all very strong. Even Kill the Moon has more going for it on many levels. In this one, we just get the Doctor prejudging a man for having a military background. I want my hero to be above prejudices. Why not make it where he’s against him because of his color? Too soon? Not really… if the hero can’t distinguish the difference between military and non-military, what makes us think he’s not judging based on other, more basic, traits? It comes off as crass and not even slightly like what a caretaker should be. Based on this episode, I certainly wouldn’t want him taking care of me! The Doctor should be color-blind, race-blind and … you name it! He’s supposed to be so far advanced from us, gender means nothing so why this issue with the military? News flash, old chum… even on Gallifrey, there’s a need for the military.
The humor helps the episode along … a bit… but not enough to keep this one out of the principal’s office. Moffat, I expected better of you! I’m giving this one an F grade. Talk to your teachers about it if you think it’s unfair… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Kill the Moon