“The Caretaker” Review

Tonally wonky, this one. It starts out as if it’s an episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures, but Doctor Who has evolved with the recent regeneration, and Capaldi reminds me of a bemused Shakespearean actor whose been talked into doing an episode of The Muppet Show. I liked The Lodger. I think Matt Smith did great running around playing at being human (The Power of Three was another favourite). But this doesn’t fit with where Capaldi has been taking the character; it feels like he’s been transplanted into a different show.

So we know who takes care of the caretaker’s companion when the caretaker’s busy taking care (of a threat to the Universe). But apparently the caretaker doesn’t. There seem to be some missing payoffs: we don’t get a flicker of the Doctor connecting Danny and Orson (despite the resemblance and the same name). Is this down to the Doctor’s new ‘humans all look the same to me’ attitude? If he’s concealing the fact he really knows, it’s no longer clear why, yet it’s not credible his ignorance is genuine. Mind you, Danny hasn’t connected Clara with the girl he got under the bed with when he was Rupert, despite realising she’s a “space girl”.

Danny’s discovery feels like it has been so long telegraphed, and we’ve seen this sort of thing so often before. Gawping and gurning at a slice of vortex opening up in the school hall seems a bit tired. A bit Mickey Smith.

What we do discover is where our afterlife theories don’t hold water. Our policeman hasn’t sacrificed himself for the Doctor. And he’s definitely not been rematerialised: we saw him quite definitely get fried (except for a bit of hand).

Despite finding Coal Hill and its comedy collection of eccentric staff and unbelievably well behaved children a bit grating, I did like Courtney Woods.

“Run along…You’re running out of time.”

“For what?”

“Everything. Human beings have incredibly short life-spans.”

I’m glad she got to take a trip in the TARDIS, and happy for those who enjoy that sort of thing that they will be able to spend the days and months ahead arguing over her official status as a companion, as if a set of the Doctor’s companions could be defined.

This may not be much more enjoyable than last week’s, but it’s more interesting for one reason: the scene where Danny tells the Doctor he’s officer class. It’s an extraordinary moment, and it says such a lot about both characters. I’m still astonished, thinking about it, that no-one has called the Doctor out on this in 2000 years. Especially all that time when he was Jon Pertwee, Sylvester McCoy or Colin Baker.

The Doctor has always been more interesting than simply being a brainy hero who can resolve any situation. Well, no, at times, that’s all he’s been, but from Hartnell raising a rock to bash a cave-man to Hurt poised to initiate The Moment, there have been writers who want to show something more. There’s been a focus on the consequences of his actions since the show came back – the Doctor as a war criminal, for example – but here we get to see The Doctor from another perspective, someone who sees the same Doctor we see, the same traits we see as heroic, but recognises something less admirable, filtered through personal experience of men of his ilk.

Having said that, I don’t like Danny. I mean, I think Samuel Anderson is good and I found Orson likeable, but though Danny has may strengths I find his brittleness and the extreme seriousness with which he takes himself hard to warm to. (I guess that we don’t have to like him though. We just need to know he’s good enough for Clara…)


About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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