This story in a nutshell: The Lodger with a dirty anorak...
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.'
* 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.
* 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 is...to 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