Doctor Who Recap: “The Caretaker”

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The title of this episode signals its underlying meaning. At plot level, this is a story about the Doctor posing as the caretaker at Coal Hill School, where Danny and Clara are teachers. But it’s also about two men who, in their own ways, compete for the chance to “take care” of Clara. Not that she can’t take care of herself! But Danny and the Doctor both want to have her back—even if their priorities are somewhat at odds.

At the episode’s outset, Clara is frantically juggling two lives: her travel-the-universe, evade-freaky-monsters life with the Doctor, and her snuggle-up-to-a-movie, go-for-jogs-before-work life with Danny. It’s a tricky balancing act, but she’s kind of pulling it off. Then the Doctor tells her he needs a break: he’s got business to attend to—solo. Except it’s not so solo, because his business just happens to be at Clara’s school, where a Skovox Blitzer—a deadly space monster, but that’s really not too important—is threatening the world. Cue Danny’s inevitable—and inevitably bizarre—intro to the Doctor.

“The Caretaker” is about as human as Doctor Who gets. We’re on earth, the drama is small-scale (people’s hearts are colliding, not asteroids)—and the alien menace is easily flicked aside. The Skovox Blitzer will likely disappoint hard-sci-fi Whovians—this robot was truly an afterthought—but what the episode lacks in interstellar combat it makes up for in wit and sweet, sweet love.

Let’s start with Clara and the Doctor. This episode carved out a careful place for their dynamic that wiggles its way somewhere between father-daughter and brother-sister. They squabble like sis and bro, but when the Doctor misunderstands the identity of Clara’s boyfriend—he thinks it’s an Eleven-esque bowtie-wearer named Adrian—his pleased reaction is very “embarrassing dad.” And his reaction to Danny is even more dad: he disapproves, not necessarily because Danny is a soldier—although that’s his on-paper line—but because he’s not convinced Danny is good enough for his girl.

As for Danny, if he’s not yet proven himself to the Doctor, he seems to be winning over Doctor Who fans. Especially since, after learning the true identity of “John Smith” the custodian—and, you know, the fact that aliens exist, regularly visit our planet, and can travel through time—he isn’t necessarily angry or critical. He just wants to understand why Clara travels with the Doctor, and why she lied to him. At the end of the episode, he asks Clara to make him a promise: that she’ll tell him if the Doctor ever pushes her too far. The idea that any companion would have boundaries, let alone have them respected by the Doctor, seems kind of laughable—but it’s nice that Danny tries to acknowledge Clara’s.

And what’s with the Doctor’s hate-on for soldiers? I’m somewhat new to Doctor Who, but from what I’ve read this is not some longstanding grudge. I’m curious to see if his soldier-anger somehow ties into the mystery of Missy—who made a comeback this week after a few episodes on hiatus. And here’s another thought: I’ve seen a lot of speculation about Missy’s identity, but what about the Promised Land, where she supposedly lives? Everyone who pops up there presumably is dead. Could she be occupying another, after-life dimension? Or are her new Promised Land occupants not really deceased? These are questions that need answering as much as who the heck Missy actually is.