Doctor Who: The Caretaker: social

This week, the Doctor goes undercover at Clara’s school to predictably comedic results.

Doctor Who returned this week with The Caretaker, in which the Doctor goes undercover as a caretaker at Clara’s school to get rid of an alien threat. Why does he have to go undercover to do this? Besides the fact that it creates an opportunity to push Danny, Clara, and the Doctor together in one place it’s not really clear — but the Doctor’s attempts to blend in with human civilization are usually hilarious (it’s no surprise that the Doctor is terrible at acting normal), so the episode is enjoyable even if the the premise is a bit shakey.

Alongside the wacky hijinks you’d expect with an undercover episode — see also season 5’s The Lodger — this episode also has some important character beats for both Clara and Danny as Danny confronts the reality of Clara’s space-and-time-traveling double life. While it’s great to finally see Danny in action, the episode is somewhat soured by its treatment of Clara, who becomes an object for Danny and the Doctor to argue over. It’s especially lousy to see Clara treated like a thing rather than a person since she’s had such great character development this season, coming across as a fully-envisioned character for the first time.

The result is an episode that feels rather mediocre… despite the fact that there are a lot of good parts here. Still, fans are likely to enjoy it and you should tune in yourself to form your own opinions.

You can can new episodes of Doctor Who on Saturday nights on BBC America — though cord-cutters will have to pick up the current season on iTunes or Amazon Instant. If you want to catch up on earlier seasons, they can be found on both Netflix and Hulu.

To get you up to speed, in the last episode we saw:

  • Clara and the Doctor rob a bank in order to rescue a pair of alien telepaths who are the last of their kind.
  • We see Capaldi at his friendliest yet, talking and laughing with his assembled bank-robbing crew after their task is done. It’s really the first time we’ve seen this iteration of the Doctor being more than a total grouch… and it’s in stark contrast to the Doctor being extra grouchy throughout this week’s episode.
  • And, not in the last episode but relevant to this one: in a previous trip Clara met Danny as a child and one of Danny’s descendants. The Doctor was convinced that this had some tie to Clara, but she brushed it off an refused to talk about who she’s dating… which is going to blow up in her face during this episode.

Now, on to the latest episode: The Caretaker.

We start out with a montage of Clara jumping between her life with the Doctor and her life with Danny. She’s running herself ragged trying to keep up, but she enjoys both and continues to try to make things work… even though her trips with the Doctor sometimes makes things awkward with Danny as Clara rushes back and forth. Danny sees Clara’s many excuses for what they are… but he has no idea what she’s hiding.

Though Clara doesn’t see it, Danny wanting her to be honest with him mirrors a conversation she had with the Doctor just before, when he wouldn’t tell her what he was up to. While Clara doesn’t appreciate the Doctor being shifty with her, she’s keeping secrets from both the Doctor and Danny. Clara’s managed to make the balancing act work this far, but things start to fall apart when the Doctor shows up at the school, posing as the school’s temporary caretaker.

Clara’s certainly concerned that her tower of lies is falling apart, but she’s also worried about the students. If the Doctor’s here, that means there’s a threat which means the kids aren’t safe. But when she asks him, he brushes her off saying, “Nobody is safe, but soon the answer will be ‘yes, everybody is safe’ if you let me get on now.” He’s turned his grouchiness up to 11 this episode, being snippy and argumentative with Clara and, later, Danny.

The Doctor’s plan involves luring a nearby alien to the school after hours, where he’ll send it into the distant future with a trap he’s laying by planting devices around the school while he goes about his supposed caretaking duties. (There’s more technobabble than this, but that’s the gist of things.) Though Clara’s worried it might be dangerous, she seems reassured enough by this explanation to head off on a date with Danny… only to find that, for once, Danny’s the one breaking their date.

Why? Because he thinks the new caretaker is suspicious and wants to have a look at what he’s been up to. This means Danny’s in the school moving the Doctor’s carefully placed gadgets while the Doctor is luring a dangerous alien into his now non-functional trap. Instead of being immediately sent to the far distant future, the alien has time to turn and fire on Danny when he rushes in to see what the commotion is. The Doctor manages to send him away, but not as far away as he’d like: the alien will reappear in a few days.

Despite the fact that her two worlds have collided, Clara still tries to make excuses, saying that this is a play they’re practicing. Beyond trying to fool him with a blatant lie, Danny’s upset that she didn’t share any of this with him — what does she think of him, to keep all of these secrets? Even though Clara let slip that she loves him, the deception certainly doesn’t make things seem that way to Danny.

In an attempt, perhaps, to regain Danny’s trust, Clara takes him back to the TARDIS — this time, with Danny wearing a gadget that makes him invisible (which the Doctor used earlier to lure the alien to the school). Though it isn’t entirely clear what she’s trying to prove, she’s reluctant when the Doctor makes a show of suggesting they run off somewhere — causing Danny to turn off the invisibility because he recognizes the Doctor’s saying this because he realizes Danny’s there.

This segues into a strange scene in which Danny and the Doctor clash. The Doctor immediately recognizes Danny as a soldier and, as he’s made perfectly clear in previous episodes, he doesn’t like soldiers. Danny, on the other hand, immediately recognizes the Doctor as an officer and proceeds to act excessively soldier-like — saluting, marching, following the Doctor’s orders, leaving only when formally dismissed — in order to needle him. When Danny finally leaves, he turns to Clara, explaining “I’m a soldier, guilty as charged. But you see him. He’s an officer. He’s the one who carries on the fight. He’s the one who likes it.”

It’s a characterization that’s not wrong, but it’s an awful lot for Danny to have picked up after only a few minutes in the Doctor’s presence, even though Danny later explains it away by saying he’s served under men like the Doctor. It’s the sort of thing you might see Clara recognizing, now that she’s been traveling with him for a season and a half, but it’s hard to believe that someone could size the Doctor up like this at first glance. It’s just as strange that Danny and the Doctor are immediately at odds — even though the Doctor is going out of his way to be a jerk, like he is with most people these days, Danny’s been presented as nothing but pleasant in his interactions with absolutely everyone else. And yet putting the two of them together immediately seems to bring out the worst in both of them.

So what’s it all about? Clara, of course. The two of them both care about her and neither think the other is good enough for her… and the resulting shouting match is all about the two of them trying to prove which of them is better for her.

Clara doesn’t catch on until the end of the episode when Danny has helped them catch the alien of the week — distracting it at a key moment by showily flipping over its head. When the Doctor continues to malign him despite the fact that he helped them save the world, Danny admits to the situation: the Doctor’s acting this way because he thinks Danny isn’t good enough for Clara.

Though Clara certainly hasn’t handled the entire situation well, couldn’t everyone have just acted like adults and asked Clara what she wanted instead of having some kind of masculine pissing contest for her affections? It’s frustrating that the story’s fallen back on this boring, over-done trope after spending the rest of the season presenting Clara as a more complete character who controls her own destiny.

Bottom Line: In the end, this episode was fun, with plenty of laughs and a few good emotional moments. However, the story itself doesn’t seem to have much of a reason to exist other than the fact that the show needed an excuse to bring the characters together to create conflict. And though the episode had some emotional beats, for the most part they felt forced, too.

Recommendation: This episode has some true gem moments for Capaldi as well as Jenna Coleman (Clara) and Samuel Anderson (Danny)… but as a whole it doesn’t quite hold together. It’s important to watch if you’re keeping up with the season, though, as this episode is sure to change what happens with the characters moving forward. Enjoy it for its fun moments, but don’t look too deep.

[rating=2.5]

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