Doctor Who: The Caretaker (8×06)

Synopsis: The Doctor tries to blend in with the general population as he goes under cover at Coal Hill as the school’s new caretaker in order to address an extraterrestrial threat. Danny Pink is introduced to the Doctor as Clara reveals the truth about why she’s always in a rush, and they all must work through their misunderstandings in order to save the planet.

Rating: ★★★½

The Doctor invaded Coal Hill Secondary School this week as he embarked on a comedic mission to eradicate a threatening soldier on a rampage. Whether said threat was the homicidal robot from space or Danny Pink isn’t perfectly clear, but nevertheless, hilarity ensues when the Doctor is introduced to Clara’s new boyfriend. Along the lines of “The Lodger” and “Closing Time”, also written by Gareth Roberts, “The Caretaker” is a wacky sitcom sort of adventure that makes a departure from the series’s darker episodes of late, but is a welcome comic relief. Capaldi is equal parts crazed time-traveling alien and grumpy old man, and the combination results in a hilarious Earth-based comedy that has the potential to become a memorable fan-favorite.

Clara Oswald has been ignoring her boyfriend recently, and being the intelligent maths teacher he is, Danny Pink can tell that something’s not quite right. The situation, of course, only worsens when the Doctor shows up to Coal Hill “under deep cover” as the school’s new caretaker, John Smith. He’s here to take care of a problem that he assures Clara is minor (if she stays out of his way), involving the Skovox Blitzer, a robotic killing machine.

Coal Hill's new caretaker, John Smith.
Coal Hill’s new caretaker, John Smith.

Of course Clara does get involved, but not before Danny stumbles upon the Doctor in the midst of creating a time vortex, which Danny unwittingly manages to muck up, exacerbating the problem. Sure, he’s just accidentally set a killer robot on the loose in a school, but there are more important things to worry about, such as whether or not his girlfriend is an alien.

I was a bit disappointed with Clara’s stretched attempts at trying to get Danny to believe—after everything he had just witnessed—that they were rehearsing for a surprise school play (she really must have thought him a moron). Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose, even if said measures are completely unrealistic. But it’s not as if Danny falls for it anyway, and he is soon introduced to the world of the TARDIS and its impatient Time Lord pilot.

The Skovox Blitzer. Why am I having Mass Effect flashbacks?
The Skovox Blitzer. Why am I having Mass Effect flashbacks?

Just because Twelve is a grouch most of the time doesn’t mean he can’t be hilarious. This episode was filled with side-splitting moments and sprinkled with bits of fan service (I know you cracked a smile at the River Song mention). The Doctor’s assumption that Clara was dating Adrian because he bore a resemblance to Matt Smith’s Doctor—and his reaction when he found out she wasn’t—were downright ridiculous. But failing to make a reference to Coal Hill School’s significance in Doctor Who history? For shame.

But as much as this episode had me rolling on the floor, I can’t help but wonder why the Doctor forced the point of disliking the fact that Danny was a soldier. The Doctor having qualms with organized military is no secret to long-time fans, but he exhausted the point in this episode, and I have a feeling we haven’t seen the end of this issue. One can’t help but wonder if the he isn’t battling his own inner demons in regards to his military past (as touched on at the end of this month’s “Listen”).

Doctor Who
Capaldi continues to be the epitome of Scottish spaceman sass.

While the villain might not be of much importance in the bigger picture, the character development and relationship shifts in “The Caretaker” provide a strong foundation as this time-traveling trio moves forward into the season’s second half. And although it may not have been as lighthearted as “Lodger” or “Closing Time”, “The Caretaker” gave viewers deeper insight into the characters of Danny Pink and the Twelfth Doctor in a way that most comic relief episodes don’t.

Next week’s episode, “Kill the Moon”, features our new trio in a lunar adventure as well as a younger companion, Courtney Woods, the troublemaking student who was introduced this week. I have mixed feelings about a child tagging along, but we’ll see how the “Disturbing Influence” holds up under the pressure of interstellar travel. The episode premieres on October 4 on BBC America and BBC One. Check out the trailer below!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leGP3JXSSxQ]

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