Review: ‘The Caretaker’

Things we noticed in Doctor Who this week.

1. When Moffat wants to do the Aloof Doctor, he has her making unkind remarks about Clara’s appearance. We’ve had age (‘Into the Dalek’), lack of makeup (‘Listen’) excessive makeup (‘Time Heist’), and now she’s had a wash. YES, WE GET IT: THE DOCTOR CAN BE RUDE. And him being rude to Jenna Coleman is funny because – ha! – she’s always suitably gorgeous, even when sweaty and exhausted, and even after a five-mile run you can still see the foundation. So it’s funny, see?

Plus, Clara doesn’t have to worry about being a victim. She gets to slap the Doctor – something that didn’t happen this week, but which always makes me uncomfortable, because it’s viewed as amusing, or at least What Was Deserved. River gets to slap the Doctor because he’s going to piss her off two hundred years in the future. Francine Jones and Jackie Tyler get to slap the Doctor because they think he’s a dangerous sexual predator. But that’s OK, because most of the time He Deserves It, and he’s not even human, so that’s fine. And if you think I’m overreacting, consider how you’d feel if the scene were played in reverse, when the Doctor slapped Clara for making fun of his wrinkles.

 

2. Danny is a former soldier who is now a mathematics teacher. The Doctor gets this wrong on multiple occasions, and both Clara and Danny take it upon themselves to remind him. There’s a whole Electra thing going on this week, which actually doesn’t bother me that much because it’s an excuse to showcase this.

Casebook_01

(Yes, I have written more. Yes, I will post them when they’re done. Yes, she keeps her clothes on.)

The ‘soldier’ debate is tedious beyond belief and is obviously building to something, presumably when Danny’s PTSD takes hold and he flips out later in the series. We’re all about dramatic irony, then, which reaches a head when Mr Pink outs himself as Clara’s boyfriend, but the Doctor has not been this nasty to a member of the military since series four, or perhaps ‘Into the Dalek’.

By the way, according to his Twitter feed, this (which I didn’t do) has apparently not occurred to Gareth Roberts.

Brig

I do wonder if I’m the only one to pick up on what feels almost a veiled racism on behalf of the Doctor’s assumption that Danny teaches P.E., but before all the abuse starts, I’ll accept that perhaps I’m reading too much into things. (Your fault, Steven. You encourage us.)

Author’s note: I have left this remark in for the sake of scholarly integrity, but in the cold light of day, I do now think I’m totally off base about it. It’s one of those things Guardian columnists do. Please don’t hit me.

 

3. Heaven. All ambiguities aside, it’s now revealed that this is more or less the afterlife. It’s something that Gareth (our mutual friend, not Roberts this time) says we haven’t actually dealt with in Who before now. The reception area for heaven looks like an art gallery corridor. Still, it beats the hell out of RTD’s nihilist assumption that “Oh my God, there’s nothing”.

Coincidentally, “Oh my God, there’s nothing” is what neurologists generally say when they examine the brains of those people who ACTUALLY THINK that Missy is going to be Clara, because, you know, ‘Miss C’. (If I turn out to be wrong about this, I will eat my Fedora. Not because it’s unlikely to happen, but because I will need roughage.)

On that note – stupid fanboy quote of the week:

Screencast

 

4. The Doctor has amazing eyebrows. This is presumably mentioned in case we’d forgotten it from last week, or the thirty second conversation we had about them in ‘Deep Breath’. Nothing is left to chance these days, and these recurring references cannot be a coincidence: the eyebrows will, at some point, develop full sentience and dance off the Doctor’s face entirely, or perhaps grow into two more Peter Capaldi heads with split personalities.

Caretaker_02

On the other hand, as Gareth also points out, we may actually be about to visit Delphon.

We also can’t blame the unnecessary recurring gag on Roberts, because this episode is co-written; the third such example this series, as it happens. Perhaps it’s a union thing. I hope so; the alternative is that the chief writer’s being even more of a control freak than usual.

 

5. When you need to write a Doctor Who story that’s half Grange Hill, half Hollyoaks, but need to include at least some sort of McGuffin to keep the kids happy, a rubbish robot with no motivation, backstory or general point whatsoever will do nicely. (Grizzly death scene optional. Use of Jimmy Vee mandatory.)

Caretaker_09

Incidentally, the number of people who can name the monster-of-the-week without Googling it is precisely the same number of people who voted ‘The Twin Dilemma’ as their favourite story in Doctor Who Magazine’s August poll. (I do confess to feeling a bit sorry for ‘Time-Flight’, which I actually rather enjoy. But not ‘Fear Her’. I’d rather have my fingernails peeled off.)

Poll

 

6. Dull chase scenes? No problem! Enliven them with jaunty camera angles. Particularly useful if you want your audience to think they’re being pursued by a bandy-legged creature that actually walks completely straight.

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7. Not a P.E. teacher? Pah.

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If Doctor Who were Torchwood, this would be the ‘Meat‘ episode: it’s The One Where The Boyfriend Finds Out. S.J. was telling me earlier that this was the first time she actually cared about Danny, and that makes sense, because Coleman and Anderson are as watchable as ever (as is Capaldi, come to that) and everyone does the very best they can with what they have. Still, what irritates the hell out of me is that seemingly the only way Moffat and Roberts can write this storyline is to have the Doctor play grumpy father. It’s as if Capaldi’s incarnation has automatically morphed into a disapproving patriarch figure purely because of the laughter lines.

This is the sort of simplistic analysis that mars ‘Time Crash’, in which Tennant’s Doctor maintains that his spell as the Fifth Doctor was the first time he got to dash about. Never mind the fact that in ‘Kinda’, Davison’s Doctor is an almost carbon copy of Baker’s Doctor, right down to mannerisms and general flippancy – or the fact that ‘The Caretaker’, at least for its first twenty minutes, could (with a few dialogue tweaks) have been a Matt Smith story. This is (once again) an exercise in writing the characters to fit the point you’re trying to make, rather than writing the dialogue to suit the characters. Hence, the Doctor disapproves of Danny because on some level, Moffat presumably suspects that we do, and the only way to actually deal with this is to turn him into the kind of character you see on Facebook wearing those ghastly ‘RULES OF DATING MY DAUGHTER’ t-shirts. It’s the Vastra / Clara ‘Deep Breath’ conversation all over again.

And I’m sorry, gentlemen: I don’t buy the concept of a stern, disapproving father figure who spends half the episode making disparaging remarks about Mickey Danny. It simply doesn’t feel very Doctor. Historically, he doesn’t care about that sort of thing. Of course the dynamic had to change after the regeneration. Flirting was off the books because Peter didn’t want it, and also because (and here’s the elephant again) an older man / younger woman will-they-won’t-they would have seen an awful lot of executives bum-shuffling in their seats. But you were already in murky waters with the Eleventh. This isn’t Highlander, where the worst you have to worry about is an idyllic rural montage scored to Queen and a colossally low sperm count. The Doctor isn’t even human. And you honestly thought the most effective way to get out of this corner was to bring in a boyfriend so the Doctor could switch from love interest to father? Couldn’t you have just not mentioned it at all, and had them pootle along in some sort of dysfunctional carer / patient relationship? We’d have been fine with that.

The thing is, you have to either include the monster that’s worth our time and investment, or (if you must) include a decently written domestic. In the end, you did neither. There was a lot of bluster and silliness, and some lovely early scenes with Peter, but all that went completely down the pan once the cat was out of the bag and the chickens came home to roost. You wrote gags, rather than dialogue – and ideas, rather than a story. It was all snappy metaphor and unnecessary shoehorning and needlessly repeated jokes, and (some of the Clara / Danny stuff aside) comparatively little substance. I could go on about this until the cows come home, but I think I’d be flogging a dead horse.

Anyway, here’s your report card for the end of term. You’ll note that you’re below the average, although the other week you dipped distinctly below the average, so I suppose we could call this an improvement. Just not a very good one. See me after class. Now back to work.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Review: ‘The Caretaker’

  1. Anon

    “consider how you’d feel if the scene were played in reverse, when the Doctor slapped Clara for making fun of his wrinkles.” That’s not how the scene would play in reverse. It would be the Doctor slapping Clara for being happy that people are dying. Don’t be pathetic.

    • reverend61

      I know it’s not how the scene would play in reverse, oh person-I’m-never-going-to-hear-from-again. It’s a generalisation, used to prove a point. Casual rudeness is fine, because it’s ‘obviously’ false, and trivial domestic violence is acceptable, because the Doctor can take care of himself.

  2. essjay

    It’s funny, cos usually I’m the one poking holes and yet for some reason I just really liked this episode while everyone else I know hated it.

    Maybe it’s because my boys all really loved it, too? Their laughter was infectious.

    I kind of hated Danny at the beginning of the season, cos I was hoping we’d get away from any romance AT ALL, but damned if I don’t actually kind of like him now. And I know that moving the Doctor from potential romantic interest to father isn’t necessarily an improvement, but if it’s going to be one, I’d rather the latter than the former.

    I just feel like I’ve been so overwhelmingly disappointed in this season so far that I will take any small victory.

    • reverend61

      I’m with you on small victories. But Capaldi has so much promise. I can’t believe that the best they could do, in the absence of the flirting, was to make him a domineering father figure. Baker didn’t do that. He was like an eccentric cousin.

      As you say, if you have to choose between the two, the father is better than the boyfriend. I just don’t understand why it has to be either!

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