Coming off an exhilarating bank heist it’s back to the daily grind of Coal Hill School for Clara and… The Doctor? Yes, this week’s episode sees The Doctor again trying to blend in with humans, going deep undercover in “The Caretaker” from returning writer Gareth Edwards (“The Lodger”, “Closing Time”) and Steven Moffat. What is it that brings The Doctor to Coal Hill? Aliens? Robots? Alien robots?
Well… yes, but that’s not really the point or all that important. Instead, “The Caretaker” is about Clara coming clean about her double life and introducing The Doctor and Danny to one another; which goes just about as well as you’d expect. There may no longer be any hints of romance between The Doctor and his companion, but he’s still intensely protective of Clara.
Only making matters worse is the fact Danny was once a soldier, and for whatever reason (well, likely for just this kind of dramatic tension) this incarnation of The Doctor really, really, REALLY dislikes soldiers. Which is a little odd considering how in the past he worked with plenty of soldiers (UNIT, anyone?) but was always able to distinguish between those following orders and the true tyrants.
“He’s … your dad. Your space dad.”
It may have been the weird spider-crab-robot-thingy that brought The Doctor to Coal Hill, but it’s realizing that Clara has a boyfriend that keeps his interest. And while it’d be easy to blame The Doctor’s dislike of Danny on jealously (and I’m not entirely ruling that out), what it really boils down to is he doesn’t think Danny’s good enough for Clara. Yup, he’s her Space Dad all right.
And what’s all the better is that it’s Danny who calls him out on it! It’s Danny who recognizes that The Doctor is sizing him up, and not as competition, but for his worthiness. In fact, Danny has an equally as good but decidely different way of reading The Doctor than Clara; something that will surely come in handy once he graduates to fully-fledged companion.
Though, where Danny really shines this episode – and the moment I believe earned him The Doctor’s respect – was not when he saved the day with that ridiculous jump flip (as cool looking as it was), but when he called The Doctor out on his bullshit. Danny may be a soldier, but because of this he can recognize a superior officer when he sees one. And that’s exactly what The Doctor is, whether he wants to accept it or not.
The Doctor is more than just that, of course, but being in charge, giving orders, and at times leading people to their death is as much a part of who The Doctor is as the dashing, silly, carefree man. Danny recognizes this, and more importantly, he recognizes the kind of effect it has on Clara. And if The Doctor needs Clara to be his conscious, then perhaps this is why Clara needs Danny. She needs reminding that while traveling with The Doctor is amazing and wonderful, it is also dangerous.
Yet, this is all making “The Caretaker” sound like a very dour, introspective episode, which for the most part it’s not. Sure, all this psychoanalysis is right below the surface, but for much of this episode it’s all a farce. The Doctor trying to blend in is downright hysterical, whether it’s him popping in on Clara’s class or his keep away sign which reads, “Go out humans!” Clara is equally hilarious in her attempts to first hide Danny and The Doctor from one another and then upon the truth coming out, trying to still play everything off with a terrible lie about practicing for a play. It’s so painful, yet so funny.
Both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have excellent comedic timing, and that could very well be why this episode and the earlier “Robot of Sherwood” stand out as two of their best. Serious matters and dire circumstances can make for exciting episodes, but these two and the way they taunt each other is very funny and it’s becoming a defining element of their Doctor/companion dynamic.
Now, because Series 8 is building towards some kind of climactic showdown with whomever Missy is, there is yet another tease of Paradise. Still, we learn very little and are again only left with more questions; questions Moffat better intend on answering succinctly because he’s running out of episodes.
Doctor Who airs Saturday at 9pm on BBC America.
Watch a preview of next week’s episode – “Kill The Moon”: