It’s often tricky to keep the pace going in the middle of a series (unless you’re Game of Thrones and you can just kill off six or seven key characters largely on a whim), and unfortunately ‘The Caretaker’ did little to disprove this of Doctor Who.
This rather bland and slow-paced episode was Earth-centric, set almost entirely in the school that Clara (Jenna Coleman) and Danny (Samuel Anderson) teach in. Dismissing Clara for a few days, The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) goes into “deep cover”, disguising himself as the new school caretaker named, of course, John Smith. Refusing to explain himself, he proceeds to crop up at inappropriate and awkward moments, fiddling with the electrics and generally being quite mysterious. Eventually, after a fairly amusing case of mistaken identity as The Doctor tries to guess who Clara’s boyfriend is, we learn that there is an alien residing in the local area, and, naturally, it plans to take over the world.
Incidentally, said alien is a brand new monster for the show. Named the Skovox Blitzer, it is one of many things in this episode which just doesn’t quite hit the high mark so many other shows in this series have achieved. Quite Dalek like in appearance and attitude (“Problem, solution – destroy!”), it came off as a bit of a budget version of them. It wasn’t really anything we hadn’t seen before, and didn’t feel particularly imaginative. It was also wheeled back off into space and time without much of an explanation of what it was doing in an East London comprehensive in the first place.
This neatly summarises my main issue with it. Much as I love a character episode, and believe me I do, ‘The Caretaker’ felt far too caught up in the triangle between The Doctor, Clara and Danny and not nearly enough on the nearby alien killing machine. We were left feeling distinctly underwhelmed and unsatisfied when the credits rolled, as if we’d missed the scene where we found out about the alien and where it came from and what it was doing and, actually come to think of it, anything at all beyond its name and catchphrase. It seemed particularly unfair and strange to entirely gloss over this extra-terrestrial being when other areas of the episode, such as the argument between The Doctor and Danny, felt so arduous and over-done.
On the positive side of the spectrum, whilst a bit too much time was spent on it, The Doctor and Clara’s relationship does indeed continue to flourish, and the episode was genuinely laugh out loud amusing in places, such as the discussion about Clara looking nice because she’s had a wash, or the two of them looking the same age. Their dynamic really is working very well, much as the show should now leave it alone as a job well done and show us less of Clara’s, I assume entirely Topshop sponsored, wardrobe, and more aliens. Although that said, I did enjoy the reference to both mine and Jenna Coleman’s home town. Admittedly there perhaps wouldn’t have been the opportunity for an “I thought you said you were from Blackpool?” conversation if they’d been running around a far-off planet dodging lasers instead of all standing around having a chat in a school hall.
Whilst we’re over here on the bright side, we were also treated to another sighting of Missy (Michelle Gomez) – our first in quite a few episodes now. Even more significantly than that, we were introduced to another new character in Chris Addison’s Seb. He seems to be some sort of afterlife-based receptionist, or perhaps secretary to Missy. Either way, he provided another darkly comic element, explaining to one of the Skovox Blitzer’s victims, confused as to how he’d survived, "I was coming to that. I'm afraid you really, rather didn't”.
Ultimately, however, and it seems only fair to quote The Doctor at this point, the show all felt a little too focused on “Boring little humans”, and not nearly enough on all the exciting stuff.
Never fear though, it looks like next week’s is set on the moon! Moons are cool.
You can check out Becky’s thoughts on Time Heist here.
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