So, I nearly boycotted watching this week’s Doctor Who episode, The Caretaker, on account of the fact that the trailer for it looked so terrible I thought it would literally melt my face off with it’s badness. Events however conspired to let me give this season another go and I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s the best episode of the season and genuinely funny and well written for the most part!
Follow me under the cut for more on the episode.
The episode starts with a well-paced montage of Clara and the Doctor off on dangerous adventures together intercut with Clara going on dates and hanging out with Danny Pink. It’s actually fairly charming which was the exact opposite of what I thought it would be.
The Doctor tells Clara that he doesn’t have time to take her on his latest expedition because he’s going into deep cover and essentially tells her to sod off and do something else for a change. Mostly, Clara is fine with this because it means she can devote more of her complete attention to Danny. I find it strange that in all of this, Clara has no desire to devote time to herself or to her friends or to other interests. Even Rory and Amy had things that they wanted to do by themselves or with other friends so to say Clara is a little bit of a 2 dimensional character at the moment is perhaps even too forgiving of the writing.
At any rate, Clara is happy that this means she’ll get to spend a little more time with her romantic squeeze without the interruptions of the grumpy Doctor and the end of the world. This is of course until her grumpy Doctor appears at the school where she and Danny teach, masterfully disguised as the Caretaker.
The Doctor explains that there is a creature in hibernation nearby and that the school is the best place to trap it and send it on to it’s home world and that she should go and spend time with whoever she’s been running off to go on dates with. Hilariously, he catches her chatting to another teacher who looks suspiciously like Matt Smith’s Doctor, complete with bow tie, and totally blesses the entire coupling. He’s also met Danny however, and he’s completely unimpressed, from the solider background through to the fact that he’s a maths teacher. The Doctor decides to continually call him a PE teacher because he likes maths and he can’t stand to think of someone he loathes being a maths teacher. It’s cranky old Doctor at his best.
Eventually though, mistrustful of this new caretaker, Danny snoops around and interrupts the Doctor right as he is about to capture the creature – a Skovox Blitzer warrior robot - ruining the plan and resulting the Doctor needing to devise a whole new strategy. Needless to say, he’s unimpressed, and even more so when he realises that THIS is the man that Clara has been spending her spare time with. There is a wonderful exchange where the Doctor says he thought it was the dashing one with the bow tie and Clara tries to lie to Danny about what she’s been doing, followed by her trying to explain who the Doctor is to Danny and showing him the TARDIS and him thinking she might be an alien.
Of course, during a rant at the Doctor about Danny’s place in her life, Clara blurts out that she loves him and my head explodes with the sheer stupidity of this statement.
After Danny goes for a bit of lie down, Clara decides it would be an excellent idea to give him the Doctor’s invisibility watch so he can see her in her element with the Doctor. Danny, you see, is all sad because he thinks that Clara must be a different person when she’s with this Doctor fellow. Of course, the Doctor totally knows Danny is there and this leads to a heated exchange in which Danny tries to prove that the reason that the Doctor hates soldiers is because he himself is an officer. Part of the aristocracy is what he also specifically says. This is interesting given recent conversations I have had with friends around class and Doctor Who. I think I haven’t formulated enough coherent thoughts on this, but it is interesting to note that predominantly the Doctor has always been upper class, perhaps part of the aristocracy as Danny has said. It’s a shame to come back to this, though Danny is to some extent right, given the work that Russell T Davis did in making both the Doctor (Eccleston) and his companion Rose in the series re-boot of a lower class.
School girl Courtney Woods, gets wise to the Doctor’s charades and has a really funny exchange with him about travelling in the TARDIS. We see him take her for a spin later on and this results in her barfing all over the space ship, but it made me excited again about having a teenager or child in the TARDIS and it certainly looks like Capaldi has an interesting connection with kids!
Clara and Danny attend their Parent-Teacher evening, only to get disrupted mid-way through as the Skovox Blitzer returns ahead of schedule. The Doctor tells Clara to distract the robot, using her as a decoy while he struggles to make his device work. Clara rushes off to do exactly this, and manages to distract the Skovox Blitzer long enough for the Doctor to try to command a shut down. In his rush though, the Doctor has failed to include an authenticity code and the robot initiates it’s self-destruct function. With seconds to detonation, Danny appears – having used the Doctor’s invisibility watch – to save both Clara and the Doctor with a ridiculous flip over the robot, giving the Doctor just enough time to input the authenticity code and override the self-destruct. Giddy, Clara indicates to the Doctor that Danny isn’t half bad while Danny sagely tells her that the Doctor only wants one thing – for Danny to be good enough for her. Eye-roll.
We are left with a final moment of ‘romance’ between Clara and Danny where he tells her in no uncertain terms that if the Doctor ever pushes her too far and she doesn’t tell him about it then he is BREAKING UP WITH HER BECAUSE OMG HE WON’T BE ABLE TO HELP HER. It’s not the way that I would have liked the episode to end and certainly not encouraging for the future of their relationship.
You see this episode was, for all intents and purposes, pretty fantastic. Clara and the Doctor had great moments of snarky banter and definitely established more of an annoying dad and daughter relationship, which although jarring given her relationship with Matt Smith’s Doctor, can be stomached as long as it remains interesting and internally consistent. Their witty barbs this time are actually coloured with a deep sense of care and loyalty. Clara tells Danny that she trusts the Doctor completely, and this is why she follows him and does what he asks her to do. He in return shows her the wonders of the universe and of time. Would have been nice if she also indicated that she trusted her own judgement and capability, and that the Doctor trusted her too, but I guess we can’t ask for too much characterisation!
And this is the one and only real gripe I have with the episode; it’s treatment of Clara. This seems like an on-going theme, and I know I talk about it a lot, but I feel like this episode truly illustrates so much of what is fantastic about Clara and what is terrible about her growth and development this season. Clara in this episode is shown as funny and clever; she contributes to the Doctor and his adventures and she gets something in return. It’s a reciprocal relationship. In a heartbeat though, all of this is undone with Steven Moffat’s strange interpretation of women, their personhood and their ability to make life decisions.
Clara spends this whole episode caught between two men, completely at their whim. She cares about very little else. When Danny finally gets to see who she is, he takes over the roll of trying to protect her, not only from the Doctor but also from herself. He indicates that she clearly doesn’t know who the Doctor is and is unnecessarily putting herself in danger, unable to protect herself and he is also unable to protect her. Danny insists on not taking her word for it that she knows what she wants and what she is doing, and Clara seems to defer to his ‘greater wisdom’. At the moment when Moffat could have really turned this around, the moment where Clara could have demonstrated how good she is under pressure, what a great partnership she has with the Doctor and how intelligent she is, she is instead saved by Danny doing a stupid flip and saving the Doctor too. He then seeks the Doctor’s approval, not Clara’s (though Moffat has made sure he already has it with the almighty stupid love declaration which makes no sense).
The final scene where Clara tries to coax what Danny is thinking about her double life from him, is not indicative at all of a healthy relationship. Danny again tries to dismiss her ability to make decisions and is sceptical of both her judgement (by proxy) and the Doctor’s capabilities. It’s clear that he is likely to be right as the Doctor seems headed for a trip into ‘you fail everyone, put people in danger and make bad decisions’ land. All the power and agency is taken away from Clara as a full-grown human being capable of making her own decisions about what she does in her life. Danny adds, that if anything happens and she doesn’t notify him, then he will break up with her. Not because they have a loving relationship and can negotiate various elements (you know, like people who love each other), not because he is demonstrating a real concern and desire to help, but because it’s the only tool he has to control some element of her and her decision-making. Maybe if he had of said, “Look Clara, I don’t really understand why you do this, and I haven’t really experienced what you have experienced, but I can see how amazing travelling time and space could be. I trust that you know what you are doing and I hope that you feel like you can tell me if you ever find yourself in trouble because I love you and I want to help” that might have been the beginning of something real and healthy. It’s certainly not the kind of relationship I’d want little boys and girls or young men and women aspiring to in its current state!
The episode ended again with Missy and the Promised Land or Heaven or any other place that people believe they go to when they die. Once again, the person arriving is someone that the Doctor has been unable to save and so it seems clear that this is going to be tied to the on-going ‘the Doctor might not actually be all that good’ guilt theme. Chris Addison is introduced as some kind of assistant to Missy and I have to say THAT is exciting. While I am not spellbound waiting for this plot arc to come to fruition I think I'm willing to give next week a free pass because this episode was so much fun!
I don’t even remember what next week is all about. I think I was too busy rejoicing that it looked like there wasn’t much Danny in it and it looked like there might be a team up with Courtney Woods again!