Doctor Who shows his vulnerable side in ‘The Caretaker’
I WAS really excited for this series. The introduction of a new Doctor is always a breath of fresh air and the bonus of Peter Capaldi, a life-long fan of Doctor Who, playing The Doctor, was a brilliant choice. I wanted this series to be different and my hopes have been answered. I don’t think I was prepared for how different it was going to be. The switch from Tennant to Smith was quite easy to get used to as Smith was similar to Tennant, just a little less world weary. But Capaldi’s Doctor is a completely different Doctor to Smith’s and it can still be a little jarring at times. Whereas before, when faced with a problem, Smith would’ve jumped around the set and said some silly phrase before blowing up the big bad monster, Capaldi simply blows up the big bad monster without any faff at all and goes on with his day. This is what he tried to do this episode except he was hindered by those pesky humans, particularly by the new character Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), and he has to spend more time than he was comfortable with pretending to be the caretaker of the school where Clara Oswald works.
It is with this placing of The Doctor in a human location we are able to see how alien he really is. Tennant could pass for human easily, Smith – less so but still somewhat able to despite his erratic behaviour. Capaldi finds it very difficult to properly blend in with humans, even showing a disdain for them in this episode but he still cares for them. It’s this duality that marks out Capaldi’s Doctor, he puts up a cold, gruff exterior but inside he is quite vulnerable and this is exposed in this episode from an unexpected quarter, Danny Pink. I was so worried that Pink was going to be another Mickey or Rory, just “the boyfriend of the main girl companion” and not a fully fledged character in his own right, thank goodness this hasn’t come to pass. Pink used to be a soldier and doesn’t like to talk much about his past. Sound like someone familiar? The parallels to The Doctor are played off of but they finally come to a head in this episode. Pink and The Doctor finally meet and it’s not good. Firstly Pink is the first character in New Who to not be surprised by the interior of the TARDIS he just goes straight into admonishing The Doctor for being careless with Clara’s life. At the mention of Time Lord, Pink mocks The Doctor for being to Clara what Pink’s Officers were to him. Anyone who has watched Who recently will know this is a sore subject for The Doctor who still feels regret over his actions during the Time War and this shows in The Doctor’s attitude to Pink initially in that he cannot even comprehend an ex-solder being anything other than a PE teacher (Pink is a maths teacher).
It’s these brilliant moments of characterisation that have really warmed me to this series of Who. The pace of all the episodes is slowed down so that the individual stories of each character can shine through and we can get to know them better. Even bratty school kid Courtney Woods is given just enough screen time in this episode that we can warm to her. In the Smith era this character would have been thrown away and used to further the action but in this series she is used as a way to show how The Doctor is more alien than he’s ever been in New Who. This slowed down pace really does well when building on characters we need to pay attention to and even characters that we have known for a few series already. I think I’ve learned more about Clara as a person in these six episodes than I ever did in her entire run during Smith’s era. I actually feel for Clara and Danny’s relationship as it grows throughout this series and in this episode it is shown well in that Danny feels protective of Clara enough that he doesn’t simply take all of the time travelling alien malarkey and accept it. Pink actually gets incensed that Clara had lied to him about it. It shows a much more mature attitude to the characters in the series that we are allowed to get to know them despite them having to battle the monster of the week at the same time.
This is where this episode fell a bit short. It almost felt a bit of an obligation to have a monster this week just to fill the criteria of Doctor Who. It’s one we’ve never seen before and one we’ll probably never see again and the episode wouldn’t have been any less for it not being there, the characters being so strong in the series the monsters can sometimes fall by the wayside. But, to be fair, I did like this monster, it was fresh and it really made me feel emotionally invested in The Doctor this week, as we genuinely saw fear in his eyes when facing off the monster for the first time. Whilst not as terrifying as a Dalek (at least a classic Dalek) or any other of the really scary monsters that have been in Doctor Who, it really made my heart pound to see The Doctor truly scared of a monster this week.
The overarching storyline of the mysterious Missy (Michelle Gomez) who resides in “Paradise” as she calls it or the “Nethersphere” as it’s called returns this week. This is something that, again, shows how this series is a lot more grown up than its predecessors. The overarching story is balanced so well against the slower pacing and the more in depth characterisation that it just feels like a more complete story. It was missing last week but this week it returns in a big way, showing that the mysterious woman may be part of a larger organisation than just herself and may be something even more sinister than we may have previously thought. It’s not done in a way that removes from the story of the week and is much more fleshed out than it was in the Smith era. Rather than just being a catchphrase (Silence will fall) that is slowly expanded upon (Silence will fall when the question is asked) but never really pays off at the end of the series it actually seems as if the writers have taken a bit more time.
Overall I really enjoyed this episode and it is a great example of how this series is taking a tighter attitude to the characterisation and not just using episodes as a stepping stone to get to a disappointing conclusion as was the case in certain previous series’.