"The walls need sponging and there's a sinister puddle."
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor goes undercover in Clara's school to find and defeat an alien killing machine.
REVIEW: Writer Gareth Roberts was responsible for The Lodger et al. and one of the principal writers on the Sarah Jane Adventures. The Caretaker is a bit of a cross between those two. It's got the bantery comedy of The Lodger with the Doctor seeming increasingly out of place posing as a human (except replace 11's eccentricities with 12's), while give or take a crispy-fried copper (the Heaven arc must be catered to, with Missy now expanding and farming the work out to Capaldi's Thick of It colleague Chris Addison), the school setting, kid companion, and puppet-ish monster give the episode a distinct SJA feel. Sarah Jane Smith WAS reintroduced in School Reunion, after all - another episode where the Doctor goes undercover inside a school. In a sense, I'm a little disappointed because the opening sequence, which was used in the teaser trailer, seemed to promise something we didn't get. Clara juggling her life with the Doctor and her affair with Danny, eating twice in a row, arriving to dates disheveled, etc. could have led to her actively doing something about her hectic schedule, forcing a meeting between the two men in her life, or even hit a wall from the exhaustion. Instead, it's merely prelude to a comedy episode with a very thin monster, also only there to serve the relationship stuff (not that there's anything wrong with that), while Danny and the Doctor meet with no help from Clara. The spark and wit of the dialog makes it very fun to watch regardless, but there are excesses that are less forgivable, from disruptive Courtney becoming the first "companion" to upchuck on the TARDIS, to the invisibility watch which will never be seen again (the device is well used, but ultimately, a cheat), to Danny's completely ridiculous somersault (maybe the point is that he becomes a P.E. teacher at that point, just as the Doctor's solution to the Skovox Blitzer is to become its "officer"; each man turning into what the other thinks of him).
Strong thematic underpinnings also make this episode more than another silly romp. Identity continues to be a big thing. The Doctor changes his - barely! - first to that of a cantankerous school caretaker (never get angry in the middle of writing a KEEP OUT sign, it'll turn into GO AWAY HUMANS), then as the Blitzer's general. It's not possible for him to see Danny as who he is, calling him a P.E. teacher or a soldier even though he teaches maths and is NO LONGER a soldier (because Danny is black, he wouldn't be wrong to take this as a racist comment from an old man, but obviously, the Doctor is oblivious to this kind of thing). And he thinks Clara's boyfriend is another teacher altogether, Adrian, who looks and dresses like the 11th Doctor. Doc12 gives her a great look when she claims that's not her type, and while he has no romantic claim on Clara, it flatters him. But the most important "identity crisis" in the episode is Danny rightly identifying the Doctor as an "officer". Soldiers carry guns and go to their deaths, while officers shout orders and survive to fight another day. Anarchic troublemaker or not, the Doctor still identifies as a Time Lord, and thus a member of an aristocracy slumming it - in this episode, LITERALLY - with us puny mortals, compassionate but dismissive of our short lives and petty concerns. [We've discussed this idea several times on this here blog, mostly thanks to frequent commenter and the coolest Welshman I know, Madeley. This was his thesis and it was really great seeing it addressed on screen after 50 years of silence.] So what if the Doctor is an officer type? What he's really telling the Doctor is that he's a hypocrite. Danny also thinks, for a minute, that Clara is a space girl and the Doctor her space dad, an amusing reference to the Doc1/Susan relationship (which also featured Coal Hill), but something ELSE the Doctor becomes over the course of the episode, protective of Clara in a fatherly way. And Danny asks Clara who she is when she's with the Doctor, and who she thinks HE is. Who we are, really, is very much at the heart of this post-regenerative series of Who.
So let's talk relationships for a minute, since that's what this episode is interested in. The arc we've been following is less about Clara falling in love with Danny Pink - though she lets that out of the bag here - and more about the Doctor feeling her slipping away. The amusing opening sequence has him popping 'round with an invitation to something cool and exotic every time she's about to go on a date. He's trying to sabotage the relationship so he doesn't lose his... I'm going to use the word "tutor". On the one hand, Clara must keep comparing her exciting life to the normalcy of a human relationship; on the other, it forces her to lie to Danny, a man who hates lies and further, "doesn't do weird". To his credit, he doesn't ask her to quit - though he's definitely a "nester", which can be a problem when one's significant other loves to travel - but simply to tell him if the Doctor pushes her too far, as HE'S been pushed (whatever happened in his military career, it would seem to feature an order he hated following; killing wasn't for him). The Doctor is right to be afraid. Danny's hold over Clara is likely to be what makes him lose her.
THEORIES: Not so much a theory as a connection... The Brigadier was also a soldier who retired to become a maths teacher (in Mawdryn Undead). Is this foreshadowing for ANOTHER connection Danny will have to the Brig by season's end?
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - In discussing themes rather than specific moments, I've downplayed just how fun the episode is - I love Capaldi's angry comedy, love to see those Malcolm Tucker moments creepy through - but I have to admit the story itself is pretty slim and includes elements I could have done without.