Doctor Who - Series 8, Episode 6: The Caretaker

Doctor Who

We look back at Series 8 ahead of series 9 premier with our Who guru, Steve Hendry. This time he has the last word on The Caretaker...

Well, Kill the Moon looks like it’ll be great, cool trailer there. See you all next week.

Only kidding, though this week’s review is the toughest I’ve had to write so far this series. I feel sorry for The Caretaker in that it’s following Listen and Time Heist, and will inevitably be judged against two platinum-standard Doctor Who stories when watched, as it is being, as part of a series. It could be one of those that’ll benefit from a stand-alone viewing in a few months’ time. I always thought I wouldn’t fancy following Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager, but that I wouldn’t mind being the one after that. So is The Caretaker the David Moyes of Season 34’s episodes, with Kill the Moon potentially the slick and stylish Louis van Gaal, ready to ride in on a tide of glamour? I’m rather afraid that it is, but just as history will show United reached the Champions League quarter final under Moyes, giving an illusion of relative success, the usual top-drawer performances from Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have perhaps scored this episode higher than it really deserves.

My elder son asked me on Saturday afternoon what I thought this week’s episode would be like, “funny” was my reply, and it’s as well that it was. Some of the one-liners, Capaldi’s especially (“Clara, you look lovely today, have you had a wash?”), are laugh out loud rib-ticklers. But here’s the rub, the main plot is, briefly, as follows- The Doctor has detected a murderous robot that’s about to get nasty. He constructs a series of devices that will lead it to him when it makes a move, so he can off it into a time window of some sort. That’s an RTD-style cutaway scene, spread very thinly over forty-five minutes. Except that isn’t the plot at all, the plot is about how The Doctor meets Danny Pink, who is massively dull. He is surely being written that way deliberately, though the only reason I can think there would be for him being so uninteresting is if he’s going to end up with Missy; maybe the audience won’t be as affected as they would if Clara was bumped off. If he turns out to simply be a Rory clone I will be incredibly disappointed; there surely has to be a bigger reason for him being introduced than simply having Clara’s boyfriend aboard the TARDIS. If it turns out there’s not, then disturbing the Capaldi/Coleman double act with the most uninspiring companion since Adam Mitchell could be Moffat’s own boyfriend error.

Gareth Roberts has written episodes in six out of the last seven years now, two of which were entirely carried by Matt Smith, with Planet of the Dead ranking as the worst episode of Doctor Who I have ever seen. On the other hand, The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp are firm favourites of mine, so it’s probably fair to say he’s extremely capable of top quality script writing but lacks consistency. He’s not alone in this though, Neil Gaiman followed The Doctor’s Wife with Nightmare in Silver for example. I feel Roberts has been dealt a duff hand by Steve Moffat here, tasked with sharing the Danny/Doctor introduction episode with Moff and asked to keep things relatively light. It’s difficult, with this current vogue for co-written episodes, to know who to give the credit/blame to for different parts of the story. Large swathes of the brilliant Into the Dalek clearly had Phil Ford written all over them, but this week is far harder to deconstruct.

Visually, the whole episode looked a bit on the cheap side, with the Skovox Blitzer in particular looking like it came from another Who story involving a caretaker- Paradise Towers. Either that, or The Sarah Jane Adventures. A plastic looking robot on castors is never going to convince me it can blow up the planet, but thankfully Peter Capaldi convinced me The Doctor really believed it could. All this sounds like I hated The Caretaker, yet I kind of enjoyed it. The kids laughed throughout, as did I, and Seb’s appearance at the end was a treat for fans of The Thick of It. It’s no Planet of the Dead, but certainly no Unicorn and the Wasp either.

Image - BBC.