We should have seen this one coming. A conflict of characters. A meeting of minds. A clash of heads the likes of which Saturday night entertainment hasn’t seen since that one time Ant finally snapped and wailed on Dec with a microphone stand for 15 minutes before anyone dared to interrupt. In the blue corner, fighting for the respect, love and attentions of Clara Oswald, we have a 2,000-year-old time-travelling hero from Gallifrey, saviour of the earth and innumerable planets on countless occasions, witty, frowny, Scottish: it’s The Doctor! Aaaaand in the red corner, a guy introduced this series to severely push The Doctor’s grumpy buttons, he’s an ex-soldier, he’s kind of shudderingly oblivious to the whole time-travelling-slash-adventuring-girlfriend thing, but boy ain’t he just purrdy?: it’s maths teacher Danny Pink. Place your bets like the stereotypical Japanese businessmen you are, and let’s get on to discuss episode 6: The Caretaker.
So, yeah, if that introductory spiel isn’t enough of an indication, everything in this episode takes a backseat to the whole “Oh my gawsh, what WILL The Doctor think of that studdly Danny Pink?” thing which has been sitting in the back of our minds like some colossal ginger cat stretched out on a kitchen unit. This includes the actual, super-deadly alien boogin, a Skovox Blitzer (read: an oversized robo-crab covered in guns), who is relegated to a temporal distortion for a good chunk of the episode before scuttling back being all ‘pew pew pew’, as is the wont for Doctor Who boogins. But all this talk of boogins and pew is distracting me, again. Let’s just chronologically tackle this sucker and get the heck on with it.
So we open with what is probably my favourite possible of all montages ‘Doctor Who’ could have assembled, with a quick succession of adventures with The Doctor and Clara wrapping up just in time for her dates with Mr Pink. These include cute little touches such as incidental tans, seaweed in her hair, space helmets, and it all being done in such a pace as to really lend it the tiring frantic rush that dear ol’ (but young) Clara must be going through. So when The Doctor says he doesn’t need her for their next trip, suspicions get raised but soon forgotten and time is freed to give unapologetically to Danny Pink. Suspicions leap right back in the room again when The Doctor introduces himself at Clara’s school as a new caretaker, a disguise, that whilst may only be a brown coat, convinces the faculty entirely. Well, all save for one Blackpudlian English teacher.
The idea of The Doctor trying to pass off as human whilst getting up to a combination of no and all good is lifted from that one (shudder) James Cordon episode, The Lodger from a while-while-while ago, and I did suspect this one might try to go down a similar line, but a-ha, ’tis not the case. The Doctor’s janitorial facade is vastly overshadowed by the complicated relationsip hoo-har I mentioned a little while ago, a hoo-har that gets a bit more hoo-ier and har-ier when The Doctor spies a familiar-looking, bow-tie-donning, messy-haired teacher flapping about Clara’s school. She hints about her boyfriend and The Doctor lets in to his own narcissism, whilst failing to comprehend the idea that an ex-soldier can be a maths teacher and generally being a bit of an arse towards Danny, the boyfriend actual.
All this interplay is draped over the background shenanigans of The Doctor setting up a trap for the Skovox Blitzer that he hopes will send it a bajillionty-something years into the future. Why is he using Clara’s school as the maze for his trap? Reasons. Why did he have to invent an invisibility watch? Reasons. Why did he not do a very good job of hiding the finely-calibrated temporal-mine-device-thingies? Actually…
Ultimately The Doctor’s night-time plan goes all wonky-donkey as Danny wants to know why Clara’s been all kinds of jumpy around the arrival of John Smith, caretaker extraordinaire, and in doing so disrupts The Doctor’s devices which bungle the robotic laser crab only 72 hours into the future. For facing down a laser crab, a temporal vortex and learning the truth about The Doctor, I have to say Danny took it… okay? Ish? A bit? Or, like, a trifle whiny?
It’s from this point on that the episode gets a bit, well, meh. And not a sort of hollow ‘meh’ that rings of nothing majorly important, if anything the squabbles between Danny and The Doctor (with Clara trying her absolute worst to manage this collapsing Jenga tower of lies she’s built around these two) tries to do way too much and just comes off as uncharacteristically dull. Despite having met him less than everyone else, Danny almost immediately susses out The Doctor’s ‘deal’ and takes a severely antagonistic tone with him. Likewise The Doctor, whose grumpiness was his secret charm bomb, just comes off sounding like a disapproving redneck dad, hollering and clamouring that that ex-soldier boy ain’t no darn bit good fer mah Clara (who insists to her Pa that she lurves that man) before spitting tobacco into a tin urn and setting up the ‘gator traps. Or something. I don’t know how rednecks work. Sorry for any offence. The point is that events tailspin into a bit of a shout in the TARDIS and none of our central three characters do much but come across as childish and/or selfish.
Actual plot-wise, the Skovox Blitzer accidentally materializes ahead of schedule in the middle of parent’s night, forcing Clara and The Doctor’s hand to go and do something about it. Their last minute plan looks like it’s going to cause the robo-crab/world to explode, if not for Danny Pink doing an overly-showy distract-and-jump over the automaton, giving The Doctor the precious few seconds he needs to un-muddle his plan and deactivate the evil alien critter. Clara whoops Danny’s praises whilst The Doctor just silently accepts the man’s usefulness, even if both of them don’t think they’re good enough for Clara.
While we’re talking about Miss Oswald, what the hell, lady!? Despite the show’s portrayal of Clara up to this point as being competent in the handling of her life and affairs/sudden space adventures, it just feels as she is completely powerless with this kind of situation. I mean, was this the point? Here’s a woman who can handle being spread across time and space, face down all manners of aliens and terror with a no-nonsense teacherly attitude but can’t be honest with two blokes? No. Just no ‘Doctor Who’, you don’t get to play the ‘pfft, women, eh?’ card. Not ever. Stop it.
So, a bit of a train wreck right? Eh, not really. While it was being playful with its set-up, The Caretaker had some great little moments between The Doctor and Clara, as well as The Doctor being a janitor (a disguise that should honestly happen more often). The problem was when it shifted gears into serious-cat mode, and everyone got a severe case of the grumps. Our cast weren’t having fun, and as such neither were we. I know we don’t always have to have happy-happy-joy-joy levels of fun on Doctor Who, but when character activity takes such a drastic left-turn it makes us all a bit out of sorts. Also that annoying child with the big hair turned up again. Can we not have her come back please? Pretty please?