Continuing our reviews of Doctor Who series 8, we have The Caretaker!
So here we have a look at how Clara has tried to maintain a double life. On the one hand, she is a school teacher in the course of courting a fellow teacher and trying to keep her class in line. On the other, she is a time traveller who leaps across the cosmos with a weird old man in a box. Classic tale.
So, everything is thrown up in the air when the Doctor lands at Clara’s school and takes up the job as the new caretaker (a position he accidentally applied for in the 1988 story Remembrance of the Daleks). he is there to hunt down a dangerous robot war machine and save the planet (as he does). So this puts Clara’s plans of keeping her two lives separate in danger.
The reason for her keeping these two lives separate? Well, Danny is not likely to believe that she is a time traveller who also travels in space and fights aliens. It’s a bit of an ask. The Doctor meanwhile… doesn’t like soldiers?
It’s been pointed out by plenty of critics that the Doctor’s sudden hatred of soldiers seems to come a bit out of nowhere. Granted, he’s always had a disdain for the military, but that was always for the military system and the general philosophy of ‘blow things up, ask questions never’. The Third Doctor was close friends with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the team at UNIT. He often criticized the Brig for his obsession with weapons and violence, but clearly respected him as a human being. We saw similar things in “The Sontaran Stratagem” where the Doctor is annoyed at UNIT’s over their reliance on guns, but he also values the individual soldiers as humans.
Now in this new persona, the Doctor is overtly hostile to soldiers, to the very idea of soldiers, to every soldier ever and without remorse or thought. I have my own fansplanation for this (basically that his time on Trenzalor fighting an endless war made the Doctor somewhat sour towards soldiers), but that shouldn’t be needed. It’s all too glaring an inconsistency.
That being said, there are some important pieces of dialogue in this episode and we get some depths to the characters that have been building for a while. Danny’s reaction to the Doctor and Clara’s relationship brings out some interesting criticisms and issues – that the Doctor is making Clara almost numb to danger and her own well-being. There’s a slight parallel to be seen between this and Russell T Davies’ season four finale, Journey’s End, where Davros points out that the Doctor takes ordinary people and turns them into weapons.
There is comedy and fun to be had in this episode, especially with the Doctor running about basically just trying to do a little job while everything and everyone else gets in his way. The Doctor in mundane surroundings is usually good for a laugh when done right and I do think this episode managed to do it right a couple of times.
I’m still not sure about the way this Doctor interacts with children, being far too abrasive and dismissive.Which might make the Doctor less like the person children would warm to as a hero if they fear he’d call them names or be generally unpleasant. I could be wrong, though. But the increasingly frequent insults that are calmly aimed at Clara and her appearance have won the show a lot of criticism. Clara may brush them off, but many worry that children watching may not. As one reviewer put it; “In a world where women face so much criticism and demeaning commentary about their appearance, we don’t need another show normalizing a relationship in which it is considered normal and even “funny” that a male character continuously insults and demeans the appearance of his female companion. Doctor Who can — and should — be better than that.”
Next week we will look at Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express.