Hello Whovians and DAPs-devotees, and welcome to yet another edition of the Doctor Who Review. If you think bringing a boyfriend or girlfriend home to your parents was awkward, then you haven’t seen Clara’s juggling act, also known as her day-to-day life. Between time-and-space and dinner dates, she’s run ragged balancing adventure with romance. Keeping her two lives separate becomes more difficult with the Doctor’s mysterious meddling and Danny’s constant questioning. Will she be able to keep up the charade, even with the fate of the world at stake? Warning, spoilers ahead!
Things are beginning to get cozy between Clara Oswald and Danny Pink; unfortunately, they’re also getting more discombobulated. Even with time travel on her side, Clara just can’t seem to get a handle on her double-life with the Doctor, especially when he infiltrates her school in “deep cover” as the new caretaker of the grounds of Coal Hill School. Tensions run high as the world lies in peril, almost as much as Clara and Danny’s relationship. What will come with the truth, and will it (metaphorically and literally) blow up in their faces?
‘The Caretaker’ takes extra care to show the deeper workings of the relationships between Clara, Danny, and the Doctor to its benefit. It’s no surprise that the episode’s strength comes from the characters’ interactions when reminded that it was co-written by Gareth Roberts, the man behind such stories as ‘The Shakespeare Code‘ and ‘The Lodger.’ Like its predecessors, ‘The Caretaker’ draws from the characters and uses the story to fuel their motivations and reactions with surprisingly realistic, endearing results. Moffat also brings his tell-tale wit to the show’s back-and-forth banter, but Roberts is the one who brings a new side of the new Doctor to the screen.
Capaldi has shown the dichotomy of caring and callousness in previous episodes, though never as strongly as in ‘The Caretaker.’ After meeting Clara “boyfriend’ (a surprisingly familiar-looking, bowtie-wearing English teacher), he gently chides Clara for keeping him hidden while also giving his approval. ‘The Caretaker’ fits this episode, not just winking at the Doctor’s disguise but also displays the Time Lord’s emotional side that hasn’t been seen since the regeneration. One of the founding tenets of Doctor Who is in the bonds between the Doctor and his companions, ranging from passing fondness to tear-jerking farewells that keep the fans coming back for more. Roberts’ tenure not only as a proven Doctor Who writer but a brilliant creator of deep friendly and familial ties in his work gives the Doctor more depth and dimension than all of the previous Season 8 episodes combined. Capaldi’s typical snark and cynicism isn’t absent from the show, and his callous nature reemerges in dealing with Danny Pink. Yet his protectiveness of Clara and desire for her happiness overshadows all negative feelings. It’s a refreshing change of pace that is performed perfectly.
While Clara has served as the emotional backbone in light of the latest Doctor’s repeating lack of empathy, in this episode she actually responds and reacts to the Doctor instead of covering for his emotional shortcomings. While technically a misunderstanding, the delight she feels at the Doctor’s approval of her “boyfriend” genuinely surprises and pleases her, knowing that her dearest friend has her best interest and happiness at heart. Even when it’s revealed to be a misunderstanding and the exact opposite person the Doctor wants Clara to end up with, she deals with both his and Danny’s doubt to the best of her ability. Jenna Louise Coleman also accurately displays the struggle in balancing two aspects of one’s life to their extremes, the adrenaline-fueled adventures and the quieter, reassuring life she has with Danny. She shows fairness and devotion to both in explaining herself, only momentarily trying to cover up her double-life before explaining the best traits of the Doctor and Danny to one another. While her promise to Danny at the end of the episode to be honest about the dangers of traveling rang a little hollow, her affection and respect for both stays strong throughout the episode.
Samuel Anderson is the third and final piece of this relationship triangle and brings something that the viewer hasn’t seen in quite some time: an outsider’s view of the Doctor and Clara’s relationship. He sees the perils that the Doctor puts Clara in (and that she puts herself in as well) after hearing how they travel the whole of time and space together. Most one-off or secondary characters would show minimal concern before giving way to amazement and wonder; the battle-hardened and intuitive Danny Pink recognizes the far less whimsical and far more worrisome reality: danger and possible manipulation. He views Capaldi’s character as a calculating man with a superiority complex, the same type of men he served under in the army. While this has briefly been brought up by other characters in other regenerations, it has rarely been as hammered in as it was in this episode, forcing the viewer to pause and consider the validity of his worries. Whether his fears are founded or not, his care for Clara is absolutely transparent, which eventually wins the Doctor over somewhat in the end.
The alien nemesis is hardly worth mentioning, not because it wasn’t fearsome or a force to be contended with, but rather because it wasn’t the driving force of the story. It served as a tool to bring the Doctor to Coal Hill School to meet Danny and show how they would react to one another, something that has been building since the season’s second episode. However, the young “disruptive influence” of Courtney Woods was a surprise. What I originally imagined to be a one-off snooty characterization of a high school gossip girl turned out to be an inquisitive if not harmless character. While I’m not sure where they will take her in the next episode (as shown in the previews for next week’s ‘Kill the Moon’), I’m eager to see how it turns out.
If you’re looking for a driving plot and heart-racing adventure, then you’ll have to find your adrenaline fix elsewhere. The beauty of this episode lies in the characters and their interactions, revealing the depth of their feelings for one another. We get to see a tender side of the Doctor that has previously been masked by sarcasm and irritation, as well as an outsider’s point-of-view on the exciting yet honestly dangerous relationship between the Doctor and his companions. Doctor Who has never ignored the bonds that tie the Doctor and the people he cares about, but they’re rarely given so much attention, and rarer still are they done so wonderfully. All of Season 8’s previous episodes have had a good story or moral; this is the first one to have a successful emotional pay-off and is hopefully not the last.