I am so very behind.
This was a fun one. Moffat compared it to “The Lodger,” and I can certainly see that: Trademark Gareth Roberts humor, the Doctor passing for human in a mundane setting, mistaken identity hijinks. However, while “The Caretaker” might not quite hit the same level of hilarity as some of Roberts’ previous (though it is still pretty funny) it excels them in emotional pathos. If I was being uncharitable I’d suspect that Moffat’s rewrite had something to do with that, but I can’t say that for sure. Let’s just say that, between the two of them, Roberts and Moffat pulled off a lovely little romp through Clara’s life.
The episode further explores this season’s thematic examination of the Doctor’s heroism and character, continuing to question our expectations of what kind of man he is and what we expect of him. The title is conspicuous in this respect. As said a few weeks ago in “Into the Dalek,” Clara (the poster child of the good companion) is the “carer.” “She cares so I don’t have to,” the Doctor said. The Doctor’s job then, it would seem, is not strictly to care but to care for things. He isn’t the carer, he’s the caretaker. It is his job to save the lives of these puny, helpless little humans whether they know it or not, or whether he respects them or not. And the Twelfth Doctor is notably short on respect. Dressed as a janitor, spending his days fixing routine problems and installing technology to ensnare the alien threat of the week, he looks like his description of himself back in “The Waters of Mars”: “Maintenance man of the universe.” This incarnation of the Doctor seems to take that role, or job even, more seriously than his predecessors. The Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh placed a higher priority on human interaction, getting involved with and even attached to the people they sought to protect. Not so the Twelfth Doctor. He’s got a job to do and God help you if you get in the way. Apart from occasionally going out of his way to tease Clara, the episode is strangely absent a lot of the hijinks that would have distracted someone such as the Eleventh Doctor. The sign he hangs is telling: “Go away humans.” As promised in almost every interview leading up to Capaldi’s debut, this is a Doctor who cares more about your safety than whether or not you like him.
This is quite a militaristic attitude, which is ironic given this Doctor’s vocal dislike of soldiers. So of course we get the inevitable confrontation between the Doctor and Danny. What was more surprising is the lack of comedy in these sequences. In fact, they get real uncomfortable real fast. The Doctor’s willfully obtuse insistence on the fact that Danny is a jar-headed PE teacher. (Clara: “He’s a maths teacher.” Doctor: “Shame. I like maths.” Ouch.) Danny is justifiably grossed out by pretty much everything the Doctor says. The argument in the TARDIS is especially cringe-worthy. I’m not sure if we’ve seen the Doctor look that disgusted at someone who wasn’t one of the bad guys before, and the feeling is mutual. Samuel Anderson does a great job with Danny’s mocking salutes, trapping the Doctor into showing a truly ugly side. “Yes, I’m a soldier,” he tells Clara. “He’s an officer.” When the Doctor screams for him to leave, he finishes off with “that’s who he is.” Is it really? Is this pompous, elitist prick the real man hiding all the “cockamamie hair and tawdry quirks” we’ve grown accustomed to? The Twelfth Doctor’s similarities to the First Doctor support that theory, as do the presence of the hallmarks of the beginning of the series: Coal Hill School, teacher companions, and a teenage student companion. We’ve gone back to the roots of the show and the Doctor. Do we like what we see?
It’s not all bad, fortunately. Danny does an awesome aerial somersault and pretty much saves the day, earning the Doctor’s grudging respect. Danny seems to acknowledge that there are positive aspects to the Doctor’s intensity. “I’ve known men [read: officers] like him,” he tells Clara. “They push you and make you stronger, till you’re doing things you never thought you could. I saw you tonight. You did exactly what he told you. You weren’t even scared. And you should’ve been.” And we’re back to that old tension between home life and life with the Doctor. Is Clara’s ability to do these amazing things, fearlessly, and “see wonders,” worth the risk of being pushed too far? And what does she stand to lose if that happens? Clara had better give that some serious thought, because Danny is right: This Doctor won’t stop to consider her feelings before pushing her to be the best of her ability.
Besides his ability to inspire his companions, the Twelfth Doctor is still fun enough that you can understand why Clara sticks with him. His interactions with our new “unearthly child” Courtney are pure gold. She’s a loud-mouthed, unimpressed,incorrigible kid, and I kind of love her already. “I’m a disruptive influence,” she introduces herself. “Good to meet you,” the Doctor replies. Peas in a pod, then. I’m sure they’ll get on famously. Much as he acts his usual annoyed self, you can tell he takes a shine to her instantly, even if it’s partially in his exasperation with Clara. He invites her for a peak into the TARDIS, and even takes her for a spin at the end. I love that she gets sick, causing the Doctor to act the proper janitor by cleaning up the “spillage.”
And of course we can’t fail to mention one of the most hilarious sequences of the entire series (and something that feels like trademark Gareth Roberts): The Doctor’s mistaking of the flop-haired, bow tied, large-chinned teacher for Clara’s boyfriend. The starry eyed, touched glaze of nostalgia that washes over Capaldi’s face when he sees the Matt Smith lookalike, and is painful and pure genius. “Don’t mind me,” he tells those crazy love birds. “Oh, Clara.” Of course, of course he would make this mistake, and it’s absolutely hysterical. And of course, Clara couldn’t be less attracted to this guy. I’m reminded of the premier when the Doctor clarified that thinking the Doctor Clara’s boyfriend wasn’t her mistake. Hanky panky aside, it seems the Doctor still has some unresolved feelings to work through. If it keeps being this awkwardly funny, I’m all for it.
Finally, let’s cap it off with the return to the ongoing mystery of Heaven and the mysterious Missy. We get a new bureaucratic denizen of paradise this time, and I quite like him. “How did I survive?” the cop asks. “I’m afraid you really rather didn’t,” the new guy says with perfect Pythonesque politeness. Missy looks rather less chipper this week. Apparently today is particularly busy, and she looks a bit put out. Why this day was especially busy, I’m not sure yet. The body count was lower than normal, if anything. Of course, we’re not actually sure what this place is at all yet. The cosmic significance of this afterlife, or Nethersphere, seems to be where this is all leading. “How did I get here?” is the question. “Well, big question,” is the only reply. I’ll say.