The life of a time travelling adventurer is not an easy one, especially when you are trying to lead a ‘normal life.’ Clara Oswald has been living a split lifestyle, spending part of her time with the mysterious Time Lord called the Doctor and the other half as a school teacher exploring a budding romance with a fellow teacher, Danny Pink. While the Doctor had insisted that he is not her boyfriend, but he seems to be personally affronted as he realizes she is having dates and pursuing a romance. At one point the Doctor even suspects a wild-haired, bowtie-clad young teacher as her boyfriend and is almost relieved as the suitor looks so much like his previous incarnation.
When the Doctor announces that he is going undercover, Clara is hopeful that she will finally get some peace and quiet from the wild ride across time and space. Imagine her surprise when she learns that the setting of the Doctor’s undercover operation is Coal Hill School as the caretaker. Once more, her life is overly complicated; all of the students are aware of her relationship with Mr. Pink and the Doctor is hunting a killer alien construct called the Skovox Blitzer.
Since its return in 2005, many writers with a background in situation comedy worked on Doctor Who including both show runners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. The modern Who has been part domestic drama/part far-flung sci-fantasy with mixed results. There are episodes such as The Lodger (also written by Roberts) that are almost entirely sitcom-like and at first glance it would appear The Caretaker would be cut from a similar cloth. But while The Lodger involved two ancillary characters stuck in a will they/won’t they cycle, The Caretaker uses the opportunity to further develop the characters of the Doctor and Clara and how they relate with unexpected results.
While Clara had been introduced during the Matt Smith era, she didn’t really blossom until this year when the Doctor became bristly and more alienating. She has been understanding and accepting of his peculiarities based on their past together, but when he meets the time travelling hero, Danny Pink sees him for what he is, an upper-class officer-type who sees others as lesser beings.
Meanwhile the Doctor continues to gain a more human layer through his interactions with the spunky student Courtney. He gives her grief, but her persistence earns a modicum of respect (even if he insists that she isn’t special). The 12th incarnation of the Doctor has had a rough road development-wise which shows just how comfortable the production team had gotten writing him as a quirky magical wizard. But he seems to be getting closer to a more clearly defined incarnation.
Clara’s two lives finally collide and Danny becomes involved in the hunt for the Skovox Blitzer leading to further conflict with the Doctor. In the end Pink is instrumental in the defeat of the monster, but he is wary of the Doctor’s influence over Clara. As Clara has such a strong and determined personality, the fact that the Doctor can so easily put her in danger is worrying to Pink, who obviously cares for and respects her.
The aptly named Caretaker surprised me as it brought up some interesting questions and set up situations that would blossom sooner than I anticipated in the following story,’Kill the Moon.’ The life of a companion has always been one of an exterior conscience for the Doctor as far back as Barbara who challenged the Doctor against letting the Aztecs kill innocents, but the lifespan of a companion is dicey. Surprisingly very few have died (only Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Adric and Kamelion come to mind) but with the constant threat of violence around them, death is a very real possibility. It is clear that this version of the Doctor has a very different way of viewing the universe than his predecessors. The Doctor is an enemy to monsters, an opponent to tyrants, and a foe to madmen, but he is also a threat to anyone who gets close to him, making him an unlikely caretaker to say the least.
What a surprising installment.
The 2014 ratings so far (via DrWhoTV):
Deep Breath 6.8m (overnight) 9.17m (final) AI 82
Into the Dalek 5.2m (overnight) 7.29m (final) AI 84
Robot of Sherwood 5.2m (overnight) 7.28m (final) AI 82
Listen 4.8m (overnight) 7.01m (final) AI 82
Time Heist 4.93m (overnight) 6.99m (final) AI 84
The Caretaker 4.89m (overnight) TBCm (final) AI 83
Next time: Kill The Moon