Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 6 Review: The Caretaker

The CaretakerSometimes The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) doesn’t go into the far reaches of space and time, sometimes he stays in the relative present with his companion (Jenna Coleman as Clara) and together they deal with a much more personal threat to his comrades.

The Caretaker is one of those episodes. With Clara constantly having to juggle life with the Doctor and her other life working at Coal Hill school and dating fellow teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), this week’s episode gives her a break. She’s given some time to just think about and stay in the present, while the Doctor does some work on his own.

But, of course, trouble isn’t far away, and the Doctor has to take on the titular role as the caretaker of Coal Hill in order to try and stop an impending assault from a Skovox Blitzer – a robot bent on destruction with enough firepower to destroy the planet. So, all fun and games then!

The Caretaker is less about the monster of the week than about the dynamics between The Doctor, Clara, and Danny Pink. It’s the first episode where the three have really been introduced to each other and thrown into an adventure, and most of the weight is in how the Doctor reacts to Clara going out with “a soldier”.

The dynamics are interesting, but a bit repetitive. The Doctor constantly confuses Danny’s profession as a maths teacher with being a P.E. teacher, which eventually resolves, but it’s a point used a little too often. A scene where Danny embraces his history and then throws it back on The Doctor is the highlight of this week’s episode, where we see The Doctor pushed to a limit of anger where he snaps and Danny catches it, turning it to Clara to point out the true nature of The Doctor.

Overall though, this week’s episode is rather weak. It’s a shame coming from Gareth Roberts, who had written some of the best Doctor Who episodes in recent series. There’s certainly his brand of humour around, and Paul Murphy does a good job directing a solid-looking episode, but most of The Caretaker seems like a poorly capitalised opportunity. Compared to the Tenth Doctor episode, School Reunion – which, albeit, is not a fan favourite in the slightest – The Caretaker deals with a similar concept of The Doctor in a school environment, but without so much effective structure or development.

The Caretaker isn’t a total let-down because of the conflict between Danny Pink and The Doctor, but the elements around the episode are lacklustre. A side-plot with a student discovering the TARDIS could easily be cut from the episode, the actual antagonist of the episode is an afterthought. Even the way Clara introduces The Doctor to Danny feels like a wasted opportunity. Not to mention how Clara is sidelined, and in not the best of ways.

The episode leans a lot on Clara’s lovelife and The Doctor has the idea in his head for a while that she’s actually dating a different teacher that kinda looks like Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor… which is a detail that pretty much illustrates the flaws still around in recent Doctor Who DNA. Things that should be resolved by now are needlessly dug up to make a moment in the episode.

There is a lot of disappointment in The Caretaker. It’s not horrible by any means, but it will be forgettable. There’s nothing spectacular or clever about this week’s episode, except how maybe it’s a milestone in the Clara/Danny Pink timeline.

Of course, the episode also gives us more hints towards the series-wide arc, but we’re still not given much more than the standard mystery set up for us.

For now, we shall just have to look to next week and hope that things pick back up in this pretty good series overall, so far. Hey, the next episode is called “Kill the Moon”. Don’t get hyped for it, but it’s definitely piqued interest.

What could possibly go wrong?

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