Doctor Who, Season 8, Episode 6, “The Caretaker”
Written by Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat
Directed by Paul Murphy
Airs Saturdays at 9pm ET on BBC America
This week, on Doctor Who: Danny isn’t an idiot, the Doctor can’t be bothered, and Clara is far too calm
Remember when the Doctor was nice? Let’s lower the bar: remember when he wasn’t an asshole? “The Caretaker” should be a lighthearted episode, a character-heavy look at what happens when Clara’s two worlds come crashing together. Instead, the episode’s lighter moments are weighed down by the Twelfth Doctor resuming old habits and treating Clara just as disrespectfully as the Eleventh Doctor. After weeks of promising developments (Clara’s front and center in “Deep Breath”, “Robot of Sherwood”, and “Listen”), after thoughtful, honest conversations between the Doctor and Clara and episodes that took their time, with “The Caretaker”, writers Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat put the two right back where they were last season.
The Doctor used to travel with his best friends. For ten regenerations, he traveled the universe with them, getting into and out of scrapes. The Doctor was many things, but he was rarely jealous and almost never unkind, not to his friends and Companions. This changed with the Eleventh Doctor and could’ve been considered a quirk of that regeneration, but this episode extends these traits to the Twelfth Doctor, revealing self-involved, absent-minded cruelty to be a trait showrunner Moffat sees as intrinsic to the character, rather than to a particular regeneration. When presented with Danny, someone the Doctor’s dear Companion says she loves, his response is not to try, or to learn, or even to abide—it’s to pass judgment, and then literally demand an explanation. Clara owes the boyfriend she’s been lying to an explanation. She owes the Doctor nothing, and his assertion otherwise is utterly insulting. Even more so is Clara not standing up for herself.
It’s not that the Doctor needs to be cuddly. Plenty of his regenerations haven’t been. Many have been controlling and secretive, or arrogant, or brusque. But ever since Barbara and Ian won over the First Doctor, he has always respected his Companions. That is no longer the case and any hopes that the Doctor’s shoddy treatment of Clara would be rectified by a regeneration are now dashed. What’s even worse is that the show seems to agree with him; Clara’s passivity on this point and the show’s lack of critique of its protagonist put it squarely on the Doctor’s side of things, and a condescending, paternalistic end-of-episode, “He’s just worried about you” message does nothing to address this massive imbalance. Clara asks if the Doctor’s previous Companions put up with his manipulations and secrets: the answer is of course not, because they didn’t have to—he trusted and respected them enough to not treat them this way. She also defends the Doctor, saying he’s never let her down; if only she realized just how many times he has.
The return of the Doctor as all-knowing-greater-than figure is a massive disappointment, because a lot of “The Caretaker” really works. The monster of the week is a blast, finding the sweet spot between camp and menace. Clara’s chase through the halls of Cole Hill School is energetic and fun, with the lumbering robot cheesy enough to keep the moment upbeat, rather than fraught with peril. Courtney makes a welcome return (though her first appearance, in “Deep Breath”’s unfortunate flashback, remains inexplicable) and apparently, the TARDIS now full-on likes Clara, allowing her to control it telepathically in “Listen” and opening the door at her snap here, removing at least one example of Moffat-era Doctor-related possessiveness.
There are several Classic Who shoutouts, the most entertaining (specifically, for “Spearhead from Space” fans) being when the police officer enters the abandoned building and walks past several prominently lit (for the space) mannequins. The episode’s opening is a nice cut-away, Jenna Coleman continues to do good work with what she’s given, and Samuel Anderson is once again a fantastic addition as Danny. The Doctor is even full-on adorable when he thinks he’s discovered Clara’s boyfriend—it’s a surprising, sweet moment. Unfortunately, it’s undermined completely when the audience discovers he was only glowingly happy for her because he thought she was dating a human version of him (apparently the Doctor’s grown since Jo Grant’s departure).
Even putting aside the Doctor’s new-found and utterly contrived hatred of soldiers*, his disrespectful treatment of Clara and disregard for her opinions leaves a sour taste in the mouth, bringing what had been a rejuvenated series and relationship to a grinding halt. Perhaps this is a fluke, and the rest of the season will be filled with the reflective, equal partnership explored in the Twelfth Doctor’s first episodes. Given Clara and Danny’s final scene, however, this seems unlikely, and fans of respectful Doctor/Companion relationships will need to wait for a new Companion (or a new showrunner) for any chance of a return to the series’ core dynamic of best friends travelling among the stars. It’s a shame—Clara, Coleman, and the audience deserve much better.
*Previous soldier/warrior/military Companions include: Sara Kingdom (First Doctor), Ben Jackson (First and Second Doctors), Jamie McCrimmon (Second Doctor), Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (almost every Doctor), all of UNIT (Third Doctor), Leela (Fourth Doctor), Captain Jack Harkness (Ninth and Tenth Doctors), and of course, Wilfred Mott (Tenth Doctor). And these are just the Companions who fit that description before traveling with him. Sir Ian of Jaffa, The Lone Centurian, plenty of Companions have ended up as soldiers due to the Doctor’s influence.