‘The Caretaker’, written by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat, sees the Doctor going undercover at Coal Hill School to deal with an alien menace and intruding upon Clara’s life. This is a story in which the monster is incidental, rather it is an exploration of Clara’s relationship with the two important men in her life and what happens when they meet.
There are few laughs to be had but the comedy is weak, particularly as it relies on playing up the nastier elements of the new Doctor’s personality at the expense of Danny Pink and the detriment of the Doctor as a character. Regardless the episode moves at a good pace and it is nice to have an episode set at the school where it all began.
Spoilers From Here On In!
The story for this episode is slight so I won’t spend to much time focusing on it. In brief the Doctor is hunting a Skovox Blitzer, a deadly robot capable of destroying the planet, which has been attracted to East End London because of the arton emissions caused by the TARDIS’ frequent visits there.
He poses as the Caretaker so that he can turn Coal Hill school into a trap, not taking one moment to realise that Clara might object to his endangering the innocent people there. The monster is kept on the periphery for the most part, while the episode focuses on the farcical comedy resulting from the Doctor’s presence and the resulting drama when the Time Lord realises that Danny Pink is her boyfriend.
Gareth Roberts previous episodes, ‘The Lodger’ and ‘Closing Time’, have both explored what happens when the Doctor has to pretend to be something ordinary. ‘The Lodger’ was perhaps the most successful of those as understanding the relationship between people and what motivates them helped the Doctor overcome the threat with ‘Closing Time’ doing something similar, Craig’s love for his child preventing the Cybermen converting him.
Here ‘The Caretaker’ explore what that title means. The Doctor assumes the role, cleaning up the school, dealing with sinister puddles and fixing the electrics. He approaches the job as he does saving the world, dealing with problems but not caring about the people.
In contrast Danny Pink and Clara, as teachers, care about the children and the staff at the school. Both are concerned about them when they learn that there might be an alien threat, wanting to evacuate the school until the danger has passed.
Danny also cares about Clara in a way that the Doctor can’t. This harks back to ‘Into The Dalek’ where Clara defines herself as the Doctor’s carer. The 12th Doctor defeats evil because he considers it his job, not because he particularly likes the people he is saving.
The Doctor and Clara’s relationship continues to be redefined as father and daughter. This comparison is outright stated during the episode, although the Doctor thinks this is ridiculous as he believes that he and the Clara look to be the same age. This could therefore be seen as the story of a father learning to let go of his daughter.
At this point the Doctor is aware that Clara is dating someone and this could all be a ruse for him to find out who. His own prejudices blind him to the fact that it is Danny Pink and mistakenly believes it must be Adrian, the man that reminds him of his younger (11th incarnation) self.
When the Doctor believes Clara is romantically interested in Adrian his own ego is flattered and he approves. This leads to some misunderstanding as he gives Clara his blessing. More could have been made of this farcical situation but it is quickly dropped and the truth revealed.
‘Into The Dalek’ established the Doctor’s dislike of soldiers and it is clear he views Clara’s attraction to Danny as a betrayal. She has rejected the values he has tried to instil in her causing them to drift apart.
This can be seen in the scene in which the Doctor is aware that Clara has brought an invisible (thanks to the Doctor’s watch) Danny Pink into the TARDIS. He tests her by suggesting they go off for a quick trip in the TARDIS but she refuses, because she knows Danny is there.
Here the father finds that his daughter no longer wants to spend time with him like they used to because of another man in her life. He still remembers a time when she would drop everything for him and now spending time with him is no longer the most important thing.
The Doctor even begins auditioning for a new companion to fill that daughter role in the shape of disruptive influence Courtney Woods (seen in the background of previous Coal Hill school scenes) but soon finds she doesn’t have the stomach for it.
This then provides the core drama for the episode, rather than the imminent destruction of the planet. For his part Danny comes out the best, coming across as a reasonable and dependable. He doesn’t demand that Clara give up her relationship with the Doctor, only that she re-evaluate it and see the Doctor as he really is.
The Doctor is portrayed less well, bringing to mind the ugly way that the 9th and 10th Doctor treated Mickey. Seeing the 12th Doctor belittling Danny for being a former soldier and refusing to accept that he could be a maths teacher strikes against the very ethos of the show and the character. It is also unfortunate that the only time the Doctor has shown to be accepting of someone’s partner is when they are Caucasian.
The confrontation is a great scene for Peter Capaldi and Samuel Anderson. Here are two strong willed, intelligent men trying to prove their worth. Once the Doctor has identified himself as a Time Lord Danny quickly works out that this is about worth and that the Doctor believes himself to be better than a lowly soldier.
This effortlessly leads from the Doctor’s protests that this isn’t true to his giving Danny an order. The rage and authority displayed by Capaldi sells the scene and recalls the fact that William Hartnell, before taking the role of the Doctor, was best known for playing army sergeants.
The resolution, in which it is Danny who saves the day by making himself visible, wins the approval of the Doctor nicely completes this storyline. The Doctor has accepted that there is another man now who will take the responsibility of caring for Clara.
The episode’s penultimate scene shows Clara and Danny in domestic bliss, hinting at what life could be like for her if she were to stop travelling with the Doctor. Danny raises an important question about why she would continue to go flying off in the TARDIS when she has a life on Earth, especially if she hasn’t got a romantic love for the Doctor.
The final scene returns to the ongoing plot of those who die finding themselves in heaven (also known as the Promised Land and the Nethersphere). Here it is an unfortunate cop (a great little performance from Andy Gillies) shot earlier by the Skovox Blitzer.
His details are taken by Seb (played by Capaldi’s ‘Thick Of It’ co-star Chris Addison). The white bureaucratic realm staffed by more than just Missy (who is glimpsed but is apparently very busy) helps deepen the mystery of what is happening in these sequences. Could this really be the afterlife?
There are weak points to this story, aside from the Doctor’s prejudices. The Skovox Blitzer really comes across as an after thought and seems more suited to ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’ (with that being said that was a series I greatly enjoyed). It was a generic placeholder, with no development or background. It was simply a threat because the story needed one.
Danny’s last second rescue was also marred by the ridiculous somersault over the killer robot strained credibility and seemed completely out of place.
In conclusion this is an episode that will be remembered more for its character moments than its plot or comedy.