If I thought the Matt Smith impersonator was the best part of “The Caretaker,” just like I thought the real Matt Smith was the best part of the season 8 premiere “Deep Breath,” does that mean, six episodes into the reign of the new Doctor, that I still haven’t gotten over the loss of Eleven?
To reverse Twelve’s catchphrase: No question.
And, of course, after I watched this episode but before I began typing up my thoughts, I was in the car listening to the radio and a song called “Geronimo” started playing. As I alternated between singing along and smacking my head repeatedly against the steering wheel, I realized how ironic this choice of a catchphrase was for the Doctor, given its military origins and his very, very firm opposition to the military. Geronimo is historically recognized as a prominent Apache leader who fought against Mexican and Texan soldiers for decades in order to secure something something land rights blah blah borders etc. territory and whatnot.
Perhaps it would have been a more apt motto for Twelve, who is so staunchly against to the very idea of soldiers that his obsessive disinclination is bordering on kink. And as irritating as it was to see the Doctor consistently categorize Danny as a capital-S, quotation-mark-heavy soldier, maybe that was the point, because it all came to a head when Danny finally confronted the Doctor regarding his hypocritical bigotry.
In this regard, “The Caretaker” offered a much-needed payoff, and I’m hoping that future episodes will build on, rather than harp on, the soldier-Time Lord conflict. Yet I would like to see the Doctor defend his position a bit more instead of sounding like a broken record. When Danny (quite rationally) suggests they evacuate the school in order to protect innocent children from the trigger-happy Skovox Blitzer, the Doctor should have delivered some sort of grand, rousing reminder as to why it’s so important that the military doesn’t get involved, ever, no matter what. And the answer better not be because some punk Gallifreyan army recruit nicked all of his Smurfs when the Doctor was a wee little Time Lord Academy student.
All in all, the scene where Danny informs Clara that the Doctor refuses to take orders because he’s the one who gives them is uncomfortably chilling. I cringed every time Danny barked out a “Sir!” to cap off each retort.
A related theme that was also heavily featured in this episode was the question of caring. As the newly hired Coal Hill caretaker, the Doctor takes care of dear old planet Earth while working undercover taking care of the school. It turns out, however, that cleaning up the “spillages” of others turns out to be a cover for the Doctor scrambling to clean up his own mess. As io9 reviewer Charlie Jane Andrews points out, the Doctor mentioned that the Skovox Blitzer was attracted to all of the “Artron energy” in London, and since the Doctor is the only source of Artron energy that we know of, the whole fiasco really was his fault after all. So much for Twelve taking more responsibility than Eleven, eh? This goes back to the whole soldier conflict as well: I don’t know whether the person lighting the fire should be considered more or less responsible than the one fanning the flames (to loosely adopt the metaphor this series seems partial to)…even just bringing it up makes me uncomfortable. But, again, I suppose that’s the point.
My only issue is that it all feels too obvious, the characters too self-aware. When Clara tried to pass off the whole Skovox encounter as an elaborately staged, surprise play, it was amusing to me because that’s what this whole season has felt like. Back in episode 2, “Into the Dalek,” Clara introduces herself as the Doctor’s “carer.” The Doctor approves of this moniker, adding: “she cares so I don’t have to.” In “The Caretaker” (real subtle, guys), Clara tells off the Doctor by noting that he needs her around, otherwise he’ll have to develop a conscience of his own.
While this is a generally an apt statement w/r/t: Doctor + Companion, I didn’t like it here for two reasons. 1) I absolutely detest Clara, from her stupid little bangs to her stupid little short skirts to her stupid little giggles to her stupid little superiority complex, so to accept the idea that the Doctor—the Doctor!—is better off with someone so (in my humble opinion) totally loathsome is anathema to me. 2) Come on, Moffat, give us viewers a little more credit here. You don’t need to literally spell everything out. You know the age-old storytelling maxim: show, don’t tell. It’s like thursdayj keeps saying, Clara is too much like a stand-in for Moffat himself. I’m suddenly seeing Mary Sues everywhere, hitting us over the head with Big Picture Stuff like it’s nobody’s business. For me, it’s always been the more subtle—and therefore more emotionally arresting—smaller scenes that make the biggest impact. We’re better than that, Moffat, and so are you.
The “showing” part of this episode that really did work for me was the background theme of mirrors and shadows. We still don’t know exactly why the Doctor chose that face, but the persistent presence of reflective surfaces serves as a continuous reminder that it’s something we should be thinking about. It’s also an indication that maybe these characters aren’t as self-aware as I had initially thought—there’s a great scene where Clara and Danny are deconstructing what just went down at the school with the alien(s) encounter and whatnot, and the two of them are standing in front of a dark window, gazing at their reflections. At another point, after Clara storms out on the Doctor, he steps outside of his TARDIS and the background light casts a rather ominous shadow.
Though “Time Heist” suffered from Moffat Recycling Syndrome, “The Caretaker” sparkled by revisiting familiar territory. Instead of “Ugh, we already saw the Doctor pose as an ordinary human in Season 5’s ‘The Lodger,’” it was “Ah, I love we see the Doctor pose as an ordinary human!” And while ‘The Lodger’ will always remain one of my all-time favorite Who episodes due to the sheer amount of belly laughs it elicited, ‘The Caretaker’ prompted a fair share of chuckles from me as well, and though Peter Capaldi is still no Matt Smith when it comes to comedic genius (an opinion that may be unpopular), both episodes were co-penned by Gareth Roberts, who is clearly a pro at this precise niche genre.
So the Doctor gets busy with his undercover cleaning, and he grumbles quite convincingly about “kids these days” as he wipes off a bit of “Ozzie loves the Squaddie” graffiti on a school window. I may have been half-asleep while watching this episode, so it took me until about the seventeenth repetition of this phrase to realize that the kids were gossiping about Miss Oswald and Mr. Pink, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Ah, young love. The Doctor, however, was incredibly thick for the majority of the episode as well, leading to some hilarious and also heartbreaking instances of misunderstanding and, finally, the most gif-able WTF reaction shot in all of television history.
But before Clara sets the record straight about fellow teacher Adrian not being “her type,” the Doctor spends days thinking that Clara was romantically interested in the Shakespeare-spouting bow-tie enthusiast who looks like a spitting image of a certain “dashing young time traveler.” And while I’ve never even remotely shipped Clara/Eleven, mostly because I’ve been too busy shipping Clara/GTFO Of This Show, this little misunderstanding added a whole new ex post facto layer of sadness to Eleven’s storyline, since he clearly had (has?) some sort of feelings for her. Clara’s not the one who made a “boyfriend error,” Doctor…
As for the rest of this episode, I could essentially break it up into two categories: Hilarious Lines…
…And lines that were funny the first time, when they were used on Sherlock.
And, of course, the bit about the Doctor having “read the bio” at the back of Pride and Prejudice. How much do you wanna bet that he was actually cavorting with Jane Austen in 1796?
Oods and Ends
- Missy Watch – Evil Mary Poppins returns! Only briefly, however, as it appears that she’s too “busy” to check in the Nethersphere’s latest tenant—the poor policeman who wandered into Sherlock’s crack den looking for those meddlesome kids and, alas, never returned. So, what was up with the Nethersphere secretary’s yellow pin? And what did the policeman see when he looked out the window? (Theory: An army of Cybermen?)
- River Song Watch – Damn straight there’s now a “River Song Watch” section! And this week, it has two entries: 1) The Doctor actually mentions her by name, describing the time he “sulked” among otters for a month because “River and I, we had this huge fight—“ at which point Clara interrupts because she IS THE ABSOLUTE WORST, have I mentioned that before? Need. More. Info. 2) Clara insults the Doctor by alluding to his magician-y appearance, at which point he dismisses her by snapping open the TARDIS door. We all know who taught him that nifty trick back in season 4…
- Courtney “Disruptive Influence” Woods was a pleasure to encounter, though the now-dirty TARDIS might think differently.
- Speaking of the TARDIS, when Danny Pink first peeked into the TARDIS after the disastrous “surprise play” incident about halfway through the episode, the theme music playing in the background sounded awfully familiar, and after some intensive research, I’ve come to the conclusion that it sounds exactly like Amy Pond’s Theme. Huh.