Doctor Who Recap: The Caretaker
By Edwin Davies
October 16, 2014
Even though that aspect of the plot was all about saving the world - the robot has tremendous firepower and a deadly self-destruct mechanism - it was still treated as an almost incidental background detail to the main story, which was about The Doctor entering Clara's personal life and meeting Danny. Co-written by Moffat and Gareth Roberts, who also wrote the similarly character-and-comedy heavy Matt Smith episodes “The Lodger” and “Closing Time,” was full of fun dialogue (including a strong continuation of the running gag of The Doctor thinking that Clara is old and/or frumpy: "How can you think I'm her dad when we both look exactly the same age!?") and it explored the problem of someone trying to live a normal life while also traveling through space and time in a way that wasn't especially original, but it was fun.
The main benefit of having the relationship between Danny and Clara pushed to the side in previous episodes is that the show was able to deal with all of those issues in one fell swoop. Even the expected revelation of Clara's double-life dispensed with any attempts to trick Danny further and had him witness something fantastical - The Doctor sending Skovox Blitzer through an inter dimensional portal - and almost instantly figuring out and accepting his new reality. He didn't grasp all the nuances immediately (he made the fairly reasonable assumption that Clara must also be an alien and that The Doctor must be her "Space Dad") but he got the gist of it. It seemed to be an acknowledgement on the part of Doctor Who that anyone watching the show at this point knows that these issues are going to come up, and so it was better to get them all out of the way in as quick and painless a manner as possible. In that, the episode was successful, since while it didn't do anything the show hasn't done before, at least it did it with a vigour and ruthless efficiency that felt refreshing.
The one sour note in the whole thing was the way that the episode handled The Doctor's antipathy towards Danny, and particularly his extreme dislike of his past life as a soldier. It's not that The Doctor shouldn't or couldn't hate soldiers considering how many times he's been used or double-crossed by military organisations, (and what are the Daleks and the Cybermen if not whole races built on mindless militaristic domination?), it's just that he's never really expressed such a blanket distrust of the military before.
In the past he worked closely with U.N.I.T., he's willingly helped soldiers in need when necessary, and he even came to the rescue of a group of soldiers a mere four episodes ago. This anti-soldier sentiment feels like a prejudice that is being forced on to The Doctor to create conflict with Danny, rather than something which is immanent to his character. It also obscures one of the episode's best jokes, which is that The Doctor initially assumes that Clara is going out with Adrian, the English teacher who looks and acts much like The Eleventh Doctor. It feels like the rejection from that might be a good enough source for conflict between the two men in Clara's life, rather than suddenly deciding that The Doctor hates soldiers. It could still amount to something further down the road, but for now it rings false in the worst possible way.
- The shot of the policeman's charred hand after being vaporised by Skovox was surprisingly grisly. That's a great example of how to use shadow to suggest something horrible without actually having to show it (see also: the scene of Michael Pitt going to town on his own face in season two of Hannibal).
- I hope that Adam Sandler will option Space Dad as one of the four films in his deal with Netflix.
- We got a little more movement on the Missy subplot this week as the end of the episode revealed a bureaucrat (played by Peter Capaldi's former The Thick of It co-star Chris Addison) welcoming the aforementioned dead policeman to the heaven-type place that Missy oversees. I'm still not sure how I feel about the slow-burn the show is doing with this story, but I do like the way they seem to have modeled their vision of the afterlife on that in Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death.