Aired 27 September 2014
The first five episodes of this series of Doctor Who have featured a wide array of settings and tones, all the while managing to start piecing together Danny Pink as Clara’s love interest as well the enigmatic Missy. ‘The Caretaker’ finally takes the time to slow things down to allow all of the characters to actually talk and to think about their situations, offering another strong episode in the process.
Before the credits start up, Clara is already put through a whirlwind montage as she tries to save the universe in the TARDIS, keep her job at Coal Hill School, and blossom her romance with Danny. It’s all too apparent that this is an impossible lifestyle for her to maintain and, reasonably, Danny starts asking for explanations for her erratic behaviour and cancellations while she wants time to figure things out and how honest to be. Wisely, then, ‘The Caretaker’ takes place at Coal Hill School in the present, with the Doctor trying- predictably and humorously unsuccessfully- to blend into the background as he tries to solve a mystery of his own.
It’s a testament to ‘The Caretaker’ for just how much is resolved so effortlessly, and that’s down to its leads as much as the script. Coleman offers perhaps her best performance as Clara yet and Samuel Anderson easily gives his strongest and most poignant performance as Danny as his role continues to get more substantial. The inner turmoil and raw emotion both display as more information is revealed is truly superb. While it’s relatively easy for the Doctor to learn about Danny, Danny learning about the Doctor (after some notable hesitation from Clara) is much more difficult. Aside from discovering the truth while being shot at by an alien robot, he then has to quickly decide if he wants to be with Clara who clearly has been keeping so much secret from him. As a definitive positive note, though, this fashion of revealing information removes the need for any questioning about aliens and time travels, allow a much more streamlined conversation.
‘The Caretaker’ is definitely not a monster story as the threat is relatively easily beaten, but the Skovox Blitzer certainly looks incredible as it goes about its destructive business. Instead, this is very much a character piece, and the position each of the leads is left in at the end of the story is quite telling and likely to have consequences down the road. Although the Doctor now knows about Danny, the recurring theme of his distrust of soldiers continues to rear its head. Likewise, although Clara and Danny are now much more openly honest, there are still some hints of secrets there, and Danny reiterates the need for her to be honest with him and not allow the Doctor to push her too far. Danny quite revealingly seems to know exactly what kind of man the Doctor is. As an aside, Courtney Woods, a Coal Hill pupil played confidently by Ellis George, seems set to be at least a temporary travler aboard the TARDIS.
After a multi-episode absence, the other overarching theme returns as well. While Missy is ‘busy’ and remains off-screen, her assistant Seb explains that the promised land, the afterlife, and the newly-termed Nethersphere all lead to the same place, emotively asking if there are any questions. So little information has been revealed about where these scenes are leading, but every piece gleaned has been very meaningful and has kept the mystery building and intriguing.