Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Caretaker written by Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat and directed by Paul Murphy

This story in a nutshell: The Lodger with a dirty anorak...

Indefinable: You can tell that Capaldi has gotten ahold of the schizophrenic nature of the show because he adjusts his performance just enough this week to so his curmudgeonly Doctor slips right into the situation comedy well. In precisely the opposite way that he felt like an interloper in Robot of Sherwood, the way he grabs his mop and sets about insulting humanity to the nth degree was just like Eccleston domesticated. Decked out in caretakers overalls and wielding scathing judgement on humanity, he's like a grotesque Time Lord version of Caretaker Willie from The Simpsons (accent and all). It is the Doctor's treatment of Danny that grates. There is nothing clever or witty about his abusive of the Maths teacher (the PE gag is flogged to death) and he comes across as a spiteful playground bully telling him to shut up and go away all the time. I don't understand why he has such an aversion to soldiers. It has been revealed in the past year that he was one himself, for many, many years his best friend was one (the Brig) and he has been seen to be close to many over the years (Benton, Yates, Ross, Malcolm, Kate). In the previous episode in a shock twist it was revealed that the Doctor hates himself (perhaps not such a shock given it was the point of the episode Amy's Choice too) and so perhaps it isn't Danny's previous profession that he hates but the fact that he holds a mirror up to the terrible things the Doctor did during the Time War. Am I reading too much into this? Is the Doctor simply prejudiced? Let's see where this goes...but for now his mistreatment of a man who has served in the armed forces just because is appalling.

Impossible Girl: Hold on to your hats guys because this statement is going to stun you rigid...Clara was the best thing about this episode by a country mile. And do you know why? All I have been asking for is for her to be written and played in a mode other than smug self assuredness and hyper smartness (because nobody is as confident and insightful as Clara has been since her introduction) and Gareth Roberts delivers an episode where she is genuinely perturbed throughout. She comes across as a real person trapped in a personal nightmare - her best friend and her lover coming to blows. Finally something she can't control. It's glorious watching her sweat and panic and stress out - I genuinely didn't think she had the ability. And Coleman plays it all to the hilt. I thought I could see something special emerging in Listen and Time Heist between the Doctor and Clara that sparkled but that was fully realised in the opening scenes of The Caretaker. They've made it. It took 6 episodes but Moffat has managed to churn out a Doctor and companion that bounce off each other very well. If only Clara could jettison her love life and embrace the life of a companion we would be in great shape. I loved the moment when Clara (already declared a control freak by the Doctor) insists that she has everything under control and moments later the Doctor invades her professional life in a way that is about cause major disruption. She asks the question that is paramount: 'Are the kids safe?' I really respected that. The scene that made me laugh the most was the Doctor popping during class at the window and pointing out the factual errors that Clara is teaching the children - there should have been much more interaction like that throughout. The more he winds her up, the more I laugh.

Pinkster: Danny is stumbling block in The Caretaker and given he is the central purpose the episode exists, it is a massive problem. I mentioned in earlier episodes that I liked Anderson's restrained performance but it is far too reserved for this episode - it is like somebody forgot to whisper in his ear that he is appearing in a light comedy. His reaction to all the outer space madness is to barely show a flicker of emotion. Even the companions who took the whole bigger on the inside than the outside malarkey in their stride expressed a sense of awe and excitement. Danny? Nothing. And as for asking Clara why she travels with the Doctor? Erm...hello? All of time and space at your fingertips? He makes the whole travelling in time business seem like a tedious chore that Clara gets up to in between her dates with him (when it is completely the other way around...or should be). Why would anybody question the mission statement of the show? And with the Doctor and his companion already analysing the Time Lord to the nth degree and back do we really need another companion to join in and put a massive negative spin on the results? Perhaps they should call the show Doctor Who? Because it is more about the question mark than the storytelling these days (certainly in Deep Breath, Listen and The Caretaker). Danny needs to smile more, loosen up and show a bit of personality - he stomps around the school with less animation and emotion than the waddling robot. Clara and Danny's relationship is one of the dullest I have ever seen on TV. Lacking the charm and humour that would allow us to see these two relaxing in each others company, it feels like an expertly staged reproduction of a relationship without any of the things that make it worthwhile; depth of feeling, the getting to know you period, warmth and passion. When Clara says that she loves Danny it supposed to be big emotional moment but it left me cold because we haven't been able to watch this relationship evolve naturally. We've only had scant peeks at its development in between all the robots and bank jobs. Had Danny been along for the ride this season and we had experienced Clara reaching the realisation that she loves him because they have been stepping into danger together it would have had much more an impact. Instead it is the emotional culmination of scraps of a love affair and it left me questioning Moffat's bizarre timey wimey approach to relationships. Never allowing them to evolve as you would expect (two people meeting and spending time together in the right order) but instead telling them in snippets and clever narrative tricks that omits all the emotion. Bizarre. I'm not sure that unrestrained hatred between the Doctor and a potential new companion is the right approach to take, either. How can this relationship can repair itself after the fireworks in the TARDIS unless they are both in a very apologetic mood?

Am I Bovvered: A gobby kid companion? Let's hope not but to be fair we don't see enough of Courtney to make much of a judgement, although I am definitely picking up potential vibes of Angieness.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Human beings are not otters!' - good to know.
'Who asks for homework? Amateurs...'
'No, it says go away humans' 'Yes it does. Never lose your temper in the middle of a door sign.'

The Good:

* I know I have banged on about those busy busy busy pre-titles sequences that Moffat enjoys, taking us to a myriad of locations to make what is usually a very small point but just this once it really worked on me. I thought the transitions worked extremely well, with Clara getting more and more perturbed and knackered as she juggles up her life on Earth with her life with the Doctor. It's a funny situation (which this episode masters) and is played to the hilt. It's this sequence that unveiled the newly formed gorgeous chemistry between Coleman and Capaldi and the lack of chemistry between Coleman and Anderson. Seeing the two highlighted against each other bolstered one and obliterated the other.
* Fish People? Did the Doctor and Clara go to Atlantis and hang out with Zaroff?
* The Doctor under the mistaken impression that Clara has fallen for the teacher that closely resembles the Eleventh Doctor is chucklesome and it's another acknowledgement that it was the wrong approach to take last season. At least Moffat is learning as he goes and ripping the piss out of those errors. It's certainly more a more subtle and amusing way of handling the criticism than 'I'm not your boyfriend.' Still the worst line ever.
* More of an observation. The music feels more Sherlock than ever. It's such a distinctive pace and style of music I had to question whether I was watching Doctor Who at times.
* You haven't seen fireworks between two men in the TARDIS quite this explosive since the climax of The Massacre. Or Earthshock if you count the Doctor and Adric's E-Space domestic. Danny comes across as a complete douche, pressing all of the Doctor's buttons (he clearly has a problem with being treated like a soldier so why push it unless Danny wants a fight?) and bringing out the more violently side of his personality. It does feel a little like playground shoving and I'm not sure if I buy the tension completely but what really works is Clara's desperate reaction - she is completely out of control of the two men in her life now and is pleading with both of them to stop. That's where the real drama is in this scene and it made me sit up and pay attention more than any other point. 
* Perhaps they should have set the final showdown in the school gym and Danny could have been seen to use the trampoline that Anderson clearly avails himself of to perform that stunt. Still, what a stunt.
* The robot floating off through space, fizzing and sparking, is the most hilarious thing in the whole episode. Poor bugger.
* Without a doubt the most interesting scene is the coda set in the Neversphere. How unfortunate for The Caretaker but at least it leaves us on a positive note. I'm looking forward to seeing where this story goes.

The Bad:

* I understand that The Lodger was a surprise success. As both a comic strip and an episode but why is Gareth Roberts flogging the same horse with diminishing returns with each episode he has written since. Go and check out his work on The Sarah Jane Adventures (Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? and The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith in particular) and some of his books (The English Way of Death, The Plotters, Only Human), he is a writer that is capable of producing much more than a duplication of the 'Doctor goes undercover as a human' scenario.
* One of the deadliest killing machines in the universe waddles like a great duck and waves its arms about alarmingly. I couldn't help but waddle along with it every time it appeared and jiggle my arms about in sympathy. It might be cynical of me to see marketing opportunities where there is probably just a cute design but if this isn't on the shelves come Christmas I will be very surprised. Without taking the robot by the nuts (hoho) and de-circuiting it further let's just say it is far more Styre's robot than Drathro.
* Was this the budget saver of the year? After the expensive CGI landscapes of Listen and Time Heist and the glorious location work of Robot of Sherwood, this felt very contained within Coal Hill School. That's fine, that's where the story is set but even Coal Hill School felt like it was little more than a classroom, a tiny courtyard and a corridor. Remember that enormous playground in Remembrance of the Daleks?
* The robot blowing the coppers arm off and it charring away in shot would have been a much more effective place to end the pre-titles sequence. I realise that the episode is much more about the Doctor's ability with a mop than it is about the worlds wobbliest killing machine but from a dramatic standpoint him meeting the faculty is the waste of a cliffhanging moment.
* Go watch the Clara/Danny scene in the middle of this episode where she reminds him it is parents evening the next day. Explain to me why these two should be together. There is nothing there between them. It is a vacuum of a relationship.
* Some of the humour fell on its face and was unworthy of Gareth Roberts. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The New Adventures of Superman both used to play the 'let's pretend' game where the heroes would have to make up insane excuses to try and explain away why they are in uncompromising positions without giving the game of their real lives away. Doctor Who has a go at it here with Clara's 'it's all an amateur dramatics production.' It's awkwardly scripted, like the writer didn't even believe it and it never dares to approach being funny. Clara is improvising a load of bollocks and even she can't quite buy into it - the whole scene pendulously drags between failed comedy and failed drama (Danny's reaction to all this not react). It's discomfiting to watch everything unbalance so spectacularly. The parents evening sequence is clearly supposed to be a cleverly worked out farce, the teachers juggling up dealing with the students parents and the possible end of the world. Again it kind of falls flat; the dialogue isn't witty enough, the pacing is off, and the performances are a little too knowing. Real farce should have an element of unpredictability and madness to it but this plays out in consecutive, easy to guess stages. Buffy pulled off the parent's night going horribly wrong with a much more successful blend of comedy and drama in School Hard. There aren't enough gags and the threat isn't credible.

Opinions are such a subjective thing but I find myself reading through the rate/review thread on Gallifrey Base in incomprehension. There seems to be as many people declaring this the best Doctor Who story ever as those who think it is the worst piece of television they have ever clapped eyes on. To my eyes this inoffensive character piece hardly deserves a swing in either direction. I'm not sure how it can be considered perfection (it isn't great drama, especially probing, thought provoking or laugh out loud hilarious) or complete garbage (the performances elevate it to something at least watchable and there are some great lines). The pendulum swings dramatically for some when these middling episodes are dished up. It's fascinating. I wonder once this slip of an episode is digested a couple of times if it will provoke such extreme feeling.

The Shallow Bit: Anderson's one redeeming feature is that I want to snog his face off.

Result: It's the robot I feel sorry for. Billed as the most deadly killing machine ever, it waddles into action like a hyperactive duck waving it's arms about... I couldn't help but go 'beedy beedy beedy' every time it showed up. It belonged in another episode too, like Robot of Sherwood it was another superfluous splash of SF in an episode that was trying to stay grounded in another genre altogether. I'm not sure Waterloo Who has legs to stand on; the school bound drama concerning two teachers, the alien caretaker that interferes with their love affair and the gobby student who stands in the background with her hands on her hips unimpressed by everything. If Moffat is trying to recreate the magic of the original TARDIS line up he has quite a way to go. What to think of The Caretaker? It was entertaining enough, but I did spend most of the hour wondering why I was watching this instead of something more engaging. 45 minutes passed harmlessly enough; some of it made me smirk, some of it made me clock watch and most of the relationship stuff fell flat because it was told without any joy. It's all character development, a story is barely considered. This is proof, if it was needed that I wont watch any old kitchen sink domestic drama and give it a free pass as some seem to think. This is what Russell T Davies was trying to achieve without the charm to make it work, this is domestic drama played for real without the entertainment value of warm and funny characters that makes getting close to them worthwhile. I am a long way from being convinced by Clara and Danny's love affair, which might just be the most sombre relationship I have ever witnessed on television. It's missing two things that would really make it work, humour and passion. In contrast the Doctor/Clara relationship has really started to gel for me now and they share a number of moments in The Caretaker where the characters sing together. It might have something to do with how Clara was wrong footed throughout, how the Doctor constantly kept her on her toes. They just work, in a way that Coleman and Smith never really did for me. The Caretaker is another episode this season that left me quite ambivalent (just like Deep Breath and Robot of Sherwood), I question whether this is a story that needed telling. Danny's integration into Clara's other world did not require an entire episode and if it was necessary I question whether it was told with enough pizzazz. There were some funny lines and moments but this wasn't a patch on Aliens of London (secondary characters drawn into the Doctor's world), School Reunion (the Doctor undercover in a school that evolves into the ultimate love triangle), The Lodger (the Doctor posing as a human and interfering with a blossoming relationship) or The Power of Three (companion who hops from one life to the other trying to reconcile the two). It was an awkward hybrid of old episodes, like most episodes in season eight, struggling to say something new but passing the time amiably enough. A situational comedy, that's where all the humour is (in the situation) and there is none left over for the characters, a fatal error: 5/10


Anonymous said...

I wish too they would dump Clara's love life, it isn't interesting

Tango said...

I miss the Ponds, I know that their relationship was very so much the Wasp and Ant-Man of "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" series, but they were so fun to watch and I cared about them. I feel nothing for Clara and Danny, even River Song and the Eleventh Doctor showed more chemistry and love in a small scene that Clara and Danny.

I love Courtney, her reation to the TARDIS was more realistic than any I have seen in the New Series.

Anonymous said...

I loved this episode, because one thing I felt was lacking in the Matt Smith era was the character development. Especially with the whole "Oh, our daughter is a time lady and tried to kill the Doctor... it's cool."

Ed Azad said...

This was the first episode since "Into the Dalek" that I entirely liked. Not a good omen, but then it's still better than Season 7b was.

True, the first act was "timey wimey" and "clever, clever", but I thought Danny was a worthy successor to Ian. He stood his ground against Capaldi! I also loved the new musical tyle with the sci-fi flutes. It's very evocative, and a nice departure from the bombast of Matt Smith.

But that sinking, foreboding feeling is still there. Without Danny to keep them in check, the Doctor and Clara are still insufferable chuckleheads. Coleman deserves a BAFTA for injecting so many charming tics into the cardboard cutout that is Clara Oswald. It really does grate because it seems like Moffat, supposedly a great feminist, doesn't really write for women all that well.

As for the mission statement, my suspicion is that Moffat is addressing the problem with Roe Tyler's second season and Ace in the EU stories. She was basically elevated to godhood, falling out of time and losing touch with human matters. In this case, the payoff will probably be unsatisfying seeing as you can't craft a loving character study around a bore like Clara Oswald.

Anonymous said...

I don't miss the Ponds, I miss Donna Noble, she is the most brilliant companion from the 2005 series and miss Wilf Mott
I miss the Nobles!!

Anonymous said...

I totally like this Doctor's grumpiness and him insulting people, but again, I like the Sixth Doctor from Season 22, so...

Anonymous said...

I totally like this Doctor's grumpiness and him insulting people, but again, I like the Sixth Doctor from Season 22, so...

Mica said...

I have mixed feeling about this episode. I liked, but there were so many thing I didn't like as well.
The part I like the most was the one before the opening. To me that was the most interesting thing of the whole episode.
I kinda liked Clara in this one, because she was more real and I could even notice I like a lot the way she always do what the Doctor says. That's the thing I like the most in her. On the other hand, I always felt she was empty, a void, and in this episode I could really see her and that was good. I even was happy that she said she trusted the Doctor and that's why she was never afraid and always confident. It's silly, but it was important to me listening to her saying this.

I totally agree about the lack of chemistry between Clara and Danny. Things aren't working very well on screen.
And even though I liked Danny for the most part, I'm a little angry with him for what he said about the the Doctor and to Clara. He doesn't know the Doctor, he doesn't know anything and he has a lot of assumptions. I was not happy and it did no good to warm Danny up to my heart.
The Doctor prejudice agains soldiers is infuriating as well. I can't understand why. I know he was agains't Torchwood's methods, but he had a reason to dislike them. Why he hates the soldiers? Why does he hate a former soldier?
I can't accept and it gets me angry.

One last thing: it botthered me the way Clara was acting strang only because the Doctor was there. I can understand she was worried with the school and the kids, but the way she was acting she looked like she was worried only with the Doctor's mannears. I also don't understand why the Doctor didn't explain everything to her before, but what got into my nervers was the way she was suspicious and unnatural. It was unnerving.

Kory Stephens said...

Somehow I picked up an Ace vibe from Courtney rather than the eldest Maitland sibling.

Anonymous said...

Joe did you hear? Maggie Stables has died!

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David Pirtle said...

I immediately assumed the Doctor's thing about soldiers was projection and self-loathing. It was unfair, but I think we're supposed to read it as unfair. One thing about this Doctor, unlike the last two dazzlers, he wears his faults on his sleeve.

Clara is absolutely wonderful in this, and even though the episode isn't great, it is a not insignificant part of why I see the series as redeeming the character in my eyes.

Danny is not wonderful here. He's got some great lines, but you're right that his delivery, especially when things get weird, was starting to feel too reserved. I still really like him though.