My biggest complaint with the current series of Doctor Who has been that it has yet to establish a tone for the series that best explains just what the journey we are taking as an audience is. While I contend there hasn’t been a bad episode thus far (with “Listen” up to this point being the true stand out each week up until “Time Heist”) there hasn’t been an episode that’s defined the show’s intent this season. Thankfully with “The Caretaker,” which is handled this week by two Who veterans, we have a line drawn through the middle balancing tone and character development while not letting up on the exciting ride it is even if the main mystery is not much to behold.
Compared to Steven Moffat’s previous two co-writes this season, this week it’s alongside a Who veteran in Gareth Roberts. Since he first wrote for the series back in “The Shakespeare Code,” Roberts has had a knack for observing The Doctor’s interaction with humans who aren’t his companions. At the same time he’s also done wonderfully with how these humans perceive him. We saw this done with much love and intent in “The Lodger.” This episode mirrors much of the execution as the “The Lodger” with the alien plot involving the rather dull Skovox Blitzer being secondary to some real character development and wonderful comedic scenes. I don’t think there is much to discuss with that plot point because it’s simply just that; background noise to the center piece of this episode which is the Doctor finally meeting Danny Pink and this week start to get a better insight to what the Doctor’s beef with soldiers might be.
As it has been throughout this series, the performances are the key to how these stories are executed and “The Caretaker” is probably the best example thus far. I noted in my review of “Robot of Sherwood” that Capaldi’s comedic side is more than welcomed but it has to be executed properly and between this and “Time Heist” we see what this Doctor’s sense of humor is supposed to be. You need not look any further than the initial scene in which Clara confronts The Doctor about his “disguise.” The way Capaldi and Coleman play off each other brings the comedic balance to “The Caretaker” but they aren’t responsible for the success of the dramatic half. That belongs solely to Samuel Anderson who after much doubt seems to have been given something to have the audience warm to. Despite a rocky start we get a lot from Danny between a sensitivity that puts validity over his relationship with Clara and his ability to stand on a level playing field with the Doctor which comes out of a mutual leeriness towards people who dish out authority.
It doesn’t take much for Danny to accept the notion of an alien time traveler and what is great is how the Doctor is clearly the one who misjudges someone and Danny reads right through the 2,000 year old Timelord. Not since the days of Ian Chesterson back in the early sixties has there been a male companion with so much reassurance and understanding as we see with Danny. The stand-off in the TARDIS between Danny and The Doctor shifts the tone in the episode but for the better. More than anything we see that while Danny accepts Clara’s travels with the Doctor and that Clara clearly defines what she wants Danny doesn’t completely trust the Doctor because he has seen men like him before.
This feeds greatly into the brief flirtation with a love triangle but this comes greatly from misinterpreting the relationships at hand. What we see now is how The Doctor plays a more paternal role in Clara’s life even going far as denouncing a fellow teacher who much resembles the 11th Doctor as “not her type.” Clara’s willingness to separate the real world with her travels with The Doctor warps Danny’s perception of their relationship and from his perspective it almost hurts his time with her. Clara doesn’t see it that way and what I think bothers me most about Danny and Clara’s promise/deal is to me it interprets itself as a downgrade to all the advancement we have seen in Clara. Implying even an inclination of manipulation bothers me because it almost makes Clara’s development feel stagnant. It makes Danny’s issues with the Doctor valid because he sees him as an authority figure that can manipulate and take charge which explains Clara’s new sense of authority but it still has the potential to stunt the possibility of defining her character arc.
The arc is the key here because it’s the thing that made the early years of the revival work so well and while Clara is still developing there doesn’t seem to be anything that defines where she will go if and when she leaves the show. Speaking of story arcs we see the return of Missy and the Promised Land after an extended break but we are greeted with the addition of Chris Addison playing an accomplice to Missy. I don’t know where this particular plot point is going but for now I relish the idea of seeing Malcolm Tucker and Ollie Reeder back on screen together. “The Caretaker” is once again another entertaining installment this season and one that is much more defined than the first four episodes of Series 8. Alongside “Time Heist” it has established a balance to the tone but leaving enough space for something dark and wicked to be waiting in the wings. Of the two this one has given the most to its situation offering forward momentum in the arc of the three key players while still being a fun and exciting adventure.
Jason Stives is the resident Anglophile and Pop-Break representative for BBC America conducting weekly reviews of Doctor Who and Orphan Black. He is currently a contributing writer for PropertyofZack.com and a freelance creative consultant for fundraising and marketing campaigns in New Jersey’s various art communities. He is a graduate of Rutgers University’s class of 2010 with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies. When he isn’t attending concerts or writing the great American novel he moonlights as lounge crooner J.M Heavyhart turning the works of Dokken and Dio into Sinatra-esque standards (or at least he would like to be). Follow his constant retweets and occasionally witty banter on Twitter at @jaystives.