“The Caretaker” places the Doctor in the midst of Clara’s school, interacting with contemporary humans, and it sets the Doctor up for some truly brilliant moments. Of course, it’s always fun to watch the Doctor attempt to blend it. For some reason, he seems to botch pretending to be an ordinary person worse than anything else, and Twelve seems to be worse at it than any Doctor has before him (though I secretly hope he does it so badly partially to drive Clara insane). The episode also has some funny moments as the Doctor interacts with one persistently nosy student; one can see that this Doctor has no patience for children but is just a little intrigued by her attitude. Finally, the enemy for this episode is fantastic, stunning in appearance and definitely frightening. It quickly becomes evident however, that the “The Caretaker” is primarily about character development, not the fight—and as with much of Doctor Who since Moffat took over, character development just isn’t its strong point.
Personally, I have the most issues with the Doctor’s character. I just can’t reconcile the fact that a man who essentially had dedicated his life to helping protect the human race because he believed they were amazing, and worth protecting, suddenly has such an apparent disregard for their individual lives and continuously makes disparaging remarks about them, their intelligence, etc. In “The Caretaker” he compares them to otters—explaining they’re even less complex and easier to mimic.
This Doctor also has an extreme dislike of soldiers, and I do not quite understand what the origination of this abhorrence is. The Doctor, of course, has definitely exhibited distrust for the military in the past, and he is not necessarily wrong to do so. It seems right for him to worry in “The Caretaker,” for instance, that the military’s first reaction to the threat would be to attack it—which would be the worst possible action. However, the Doctor’s hatred of Danny, who is not but simply was a solider, and who at no point does anything in the Doctor’s presence that looks remotely martial (early on), morphs into an unreasonable prejudice/obsession.
“The Caretaker,” in terms of characterization, is very much a rehash of “Robot of Sherwood.” The Doctor doesn’t like another man, so he throws some temper tantrums, and the other man gets ticked off and throws temper tantrums right back. Charming. So, yes, I found Danny in this episode to be just about as childish and petulant as the Doctor. The Doctor certainly fights first, but I didn’t find Danny’s pretending to be a perfectly behaved solider speaking to his commander to be funny or clever or anything admirable. Danny comes across as a jerk just as much as the Doctor does. And I lost a bit of respect for him.
Danny also makes a lot of “insightful” comments about the Doctor really being a solider himself—and someone Clara should watch out for—that just didn’t ring true to me. This is not a moving scene, such as when Adelaide Brooke (“The Waters of Mars”) tells Ten that he doesn’t get to play God—and we know that she’s right. This is a man trying to make the Doctor look bad because he’s angry the Doctor doesn’t like him. He has a right to be angry, but I sincerely hope the writers didn’t expect viewers to take Danny’s words seriously, to wonder if there’s a grain of truth in them, because if there’s one thing we do know about the Doctor, which never changes, it’s that his companions can trust him. Having Danny suggest otherwise is so ludicrous it fails to be in any way thought-provoking. This season needs to move on from clashing male egos to real character growth and exploration.
“The Caretaker” does have one shining moment of characterization, however: when the Doctor believes that Clara has chosen her bow-tied fellow English teacher for her beau. For once, Twelve isn’t crotchety or insulting someone or proclaiming his own importance; he’s soft. For a moment, I could believe this Doctor was once the Eleventh Doctor, and the Tenth. He seems to truly like Clara here, and shows it, instead of saucily bantering with her, and he seems to recognize the friendship that she and Eleven had was special, to both of them. I hope there are more moments like this written for Capaldi because it is a lot more real than most of the grumpy old man dialogue he has been given thus far.
“The Caretaker” is not the worst of season 8’s episodes by far (I’m still reserving that title for “Deep Breath”). As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it has some very good discrete moments. However, it loses a lot of points because it really fails at its primary goal: introducing the Doctor and Danny and showing viewers more of their personalities. If I learned anything from “The Caretaker,” it’s basically that I wouldn’t want to be friends with either of them if they keep up this behavior, and I’m feeling very bad for Clara for having to put up with two childish men who each think they need to protect her from the other one. I hope their reconciliation at the end of the episode is completely sincere, because if their fighting with each other and over Clara becomes a pattern for their behavior in the series, I don’t think I’ll be interested in watching.