The Doctor invaded Clara’s life at Coal Hill School this week and there was plenty to love. But was the alien threat worthy enough to make this episode a classic?
Doctor Who may be ‘dark’ now but that’s not to say it can’t have some fun too. We’ve had slapstick sword fights in Robot Of Sherwood and a slick crime caper in Time Heist. But with The Caretaker we finally get to see that great comic timing Peter Capaldi demonstrated in The Thick Of It – minus the swearing – making another fun, engaging episode in series eight’s very strong run.
There is going to be a lot of comparison’s to Gareth Robert’s earlier stories The Lodger and Closing Time; he’s found a particular theme in his storytelling, putting an alien Doctor into a mundane, human setting and letting hilarity ensue. This time round it’s the Twelfth Doctor’s turn. But there’s a key difference this time – he’s entering Clara’s world and as such the stakes are much higher than they ever were for James Corden’s Craig. Because up to this point she’s managed to keep her new boyfriend Danny Pink and her teaching duties at Coal Hill School very separate from her off world adventures in the TARDIS.
This frantic balancing of two lives is played out brilliantly in the pre-titles sequence as Clara flits from dates with Danny to alien worlds and back again and the stakes are raised when the Doctor turns up as the new school caretaker. Her new relationship is in jeopardy, as are the children under her care, as she finds herself under threat from the very man she travels with.
When Matt Smith announced he was leaving Doctor Who, I was a little gutted that we wouldn’t get to see more of the Eleventh’s relationship with Clara. It felt like it was all just beginning, particularly once the Impossible Girl mystery was solved. But now I see that it was all just set up for her relationship with the Twelfth and as Steven Moffat recently admitted, she’s become the new Sarah Jane Smith. A good companion with the Third Doctor who came alive with the Fourth, so too has Clara come alive with the Twelfth. Each week their relationship gets better and better and it was great to explore that dynamic crashing into her ‘real life’ this week.
It was a great episode to explore her character while still making the Doctor the hero of the piece; we say hero though as the episode continued to explore the more unlikable traits of his character while still making him fun and engaging. His instant dislike of Danny (and vice versa) is sure to have more ramifications as Clara as she continues that relationship. I liked how Danny identified with the Doctor as an officer and how he feared what Clara might be pushed into. In just five episodes he’s instantly had a much greater impact than Rory and Mickey did in their entire first series’s – though admittedly Rory became awesome as his character progressed.
It was also interesting to see that the one other person he connected with in Coal Hill School was bratty Courtney; a girl who is straight talking, brash and doesn’t play by the rules. Sound familiar? Still that connection led to the reward of a trip on the TARDIS, not that it ended well for Courtney or the Doctor, who was probably forced to clean up after her.
The Promised Land arc teased early on in series eight but absent from the last two episodes entirely made an intriguing return as the throwaway victim of the Skovoz Blitzer turned up in the Promised Land. Through the surprise introduction of Chris Addison’s character we discovered it was a place that goes by many names. Heaven, The Nethersphere…the latter might be familiar to those keeping up with recent casting announcements for series eight, but for those wanting to remain spoiler free, we’ll leave it there. Needless to say the brief glimpse of Missy and the revelation that she is very busy leaves us with many questions before the finale.
The Caretaker was a fun episode that made use of Capaldi’s dry comic timing and very alien performance. I loved his ‘do you recognise me?’ comment to Clara – as if dressing up in an overalls and a broom would instantly disguise him. It was a wonderful mix of the Doctor – and Capaldi – having a whale of a time, even if it intruded on his companion’s life. I also love how he instantly latched on to the floppy-head, bow tie-wearing English teacher as Clara’s potential boyfriend. It’s another example of the Doctor knowing full well that his previous incarnation’s relationship with Clara was quite inappropriate.
However, as good as The Caretaker was, I feel like we’re still waiting for a classic in series eight. Deep Breath and Listen had plenty of scary moments and Into The Dalek put a new spin on a tired enemy but it’s all consistently good, not amazing.
That’s not to say I’ve been disappointed either. Peter Capaldi started amazing and has continued to grow into the role. Clara has gone from strength to strength, becoming a more mature, fleshed-out character with a great connection to the main man and Danny Pink has made the strongest debut of a male companion since Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005. But I’m just waiting for an episode to wow me from beginning to end.
I’m also waiting for a really good monster. The Teller last week was a very strong contribution to the show’s mythology but this week we had the Skovoz Blitzer; it may have been a cross between the Terminator and a tank, but it lacked the impact the episode was going for. In fact, take it out entirely, re-write a couple of scenes and the episode would have worked without it. Yes it’s destruction may have blown a whole in the planet but it didn’t feel worth the Doctor’s time. We needed a really great monster to nail this episode and without that I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Still, the kids will probably love it.
But overall, The Caretaker was another great episode, with plenty of development in all three of it’s principal characters; The Doctor, Clara and Danny. And yes, I’m including Danny because he has proven to be a big part of Clara – and series eight’s – life. Now we have a Doctor we understand, a fully developed-companion and a solid support act, it is the time to take Doctor Who series eight to the next level.
Next week’s Kill The Moon looks to have plenty of promise and the following week we have Mummy On The Orient Express – an episode that has had a lot of hype and is apparently the reason for the 8.30 time slot moving forward. Perhaps the next amazing episode is just around the corner…
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