Doctor Who Review: “The Caretaker”

The Caretaker

Spoilers, sweetie.

“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.

5 thoughts on “Doctor Who Review: “The Caretaker”

  1. Krysta says:

    Yes, I’m getting tired of watching the Doctor fight with everyone, too, and even though the Doctor has always found the humans slower or less intelligence than himself, I thought it was a high point of the show that he never disparaged them for that–because a person’s IQ isn’t what gives him or her worth. Also, I’ve hung out with people who think themselves superior in intelligence to everyone else and it’s not a positive experience. I liked that DW took such an experience and turned it around, showing the Doctor sharing his knowledge and the wonders of the universe with others, rather than just mocking them for not having ready access to everything he does. Because that’s what his gifts are for–to be shared with and used for the good of others, not to make them feel badly about themselves.

    And I don’t like the Doctor’s prejudice against soldiers, either. Ten was very much a pacifist but he still saw soldiers as individuals with choices. He didn’t lump them together in a collective group of “evil”. Plus, Twelve has already met soldiers (in this season even) who turned out to be decent people, so it would be nice to at least show a bit of a softening attitude. It’s true prejudice isn’t likely to go away in a day, but it’s like Ivy Blue and Co. never existed.

    I hope that by the end of the season the Doctor straightens himself out and starts showing some more care for and respect for others because his character is going far beyond “grumpy old man.” Just because he saves the universe all the time doesn’t mean he gets to be rude and mean toward everyone.


    • Briana says:

      I was reading some other reviews on various sites, and some commenters were arguing that the Doctor’s issues with soldiers is just a character flaw that makes him more real. Personally, I think it goes far beyond a character flaw; its bigotry and it isn’t charming or interesting. It also just doesn’t make sense. I think they’re trying to suggest that this older Doctor sees things in black and white–but how can he? I always loved the fact that the Doctor was a nuanced character, and that he HAS to be nuanced just due to his age and how much he has experienced in life. I liked watching him struggle to resolve things and to decide things that were very much in a gray area. Having this Doctor be so vehemently decisive and opinionated about everything is both boring and out of charactter.


  2. Stephen Robinson says:

    The Third and Fourth Doctors had contempt for military thinking but not for the individual soldiers. The Tenth Doctor was harsh around an actual soldier carrying a weapon, but there’s the key difference: Danny is no longer a soldier. Past tense. Judging him based on former actions and refusing to process new information that demonstrates that he’s different from what he’d like to believe is textbook bigotry. For example, it’s like someone who believed all beauty pageant contestants are airheads. And when he later meets an engineer who was a Miss America finalist refusing to accept that she’s an engineer and continues referring to her as a “flight attendant.” It’s rude. It’s nasty. It’s meanspirited. It’s just not who The Doctor should be.

    (It’s also rather classist, though I imagine the writers didn’t consider this: Although the UK and the US have a volunteer military,arguably many of the people who enlist and risk their lives to serve their country — oh, and why are we talking about this as a bad thing? Like Danny was an ex-con? Anyway…. many of them are from lower and working class backgrounds. The bow-tied English professor can “choose” not to enlist perhaps because of a well-off family background, whereas Danny might have enrolled in order to see the world (again, a somewhat Doctory thing to do) and to later study mathematics.

    The Doctor I like would be *delighted* that Danny Pink is a former soldier who now teaches math to kids. The Doctor I like would also not dismiss a woman as just a “soldier” who wants to change her life and stop being a soldier to travel with him (INTO THE DALEK). If The Doctor was always this way, he never would have married River Song (former assassin) or consider among his closest friends Vastra (Silurian) and Strack (Sontaran).

    The whole point, for me, of an older Doctor, especially after revelations made in DAY OF THE DOCTOR, would be that we’d see a more *mature* Doctor. The 12th Doctor is still an overgrown child, despite Vastra’s comments about his “removing the veil’ of youth, he comes across as far less wise than the 11th Doctor. His apparent age is almost a “cheat” now for the respect that the younger Doctors had to earn.


    • Briana says:

      I completely agree with you. There’s a large gap between previous Doctors’ being uncomfortable with violence or military mindsets and this one’s unbridled hatred for anyone who has or had any associations with the military. As you said, it’s bigotry. Also, you make a great point that, if he were logical, he should be thrilled that Danny has evidently left the military in order to teach math. That should be an improvement in his eyes, and yet he wants to continuously define Danny by his past instead of taking into account his present.

      You make a good point about potential classism, and I’ve seen commenters elsewhere online state they thought the scene came across as racist. While I don’t think either of those things were the writers’ intention, or even in their minds, it is a huge problem that a large part of the audience is interpreting the Doctor as prejudiced on a variety of levels. For something marketed as a family show, Doctor Who is clearly broaching some troubling topics.

      I also agree that this Doctor isn’t coming across as mature. The writers are relying very much on Capadi’s age. I don’t like that approach either because, as I mentioned, they also seem to associate age with grumpiness and narrow-mindedness. I don’t think that because the Doctor is older he needs to see everything as black and white. Sure, some elderly people do get set into their ways and are not necessarily open-minded, but we’re not talking about someone who’s 80 here. We’re talking about someone over 2000 years old with tons of amazing experiences. How can he not see the universe as something nuanced and complex?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stephen Robinson says:

        In DAY OF THE MOON, the 11th Doctor speaks up to Nixon on Canton’s behalf and points out that the latter just wants to get married and that’s a silly thing to lose his job over. The way Smith performs the scene, it doesn’t come across as “Hey, I’m a young hipster who’s down with interracial marriage and/or same-sex marriage!” No, he sounds like a wise old man (which the Doctor is) who sees the world far more complexly than Nixon does.

        Also, despite Capaldi’s statements about no “flirting in the TARDIS*, two out of six have involved The Doctor and another man “fighting” over Clara… in the most juvenile ways possible. And the attempt to put The Doctor in a paternal role is actually more off-putting (and unlike most fathers I know) in that he hasn’t earned that relationship with Clara and she’s an adult and doesn’t need his approval.

        *I fear that “flirting” has been translated as The Doctor not insulting his female companion. I again long for the fourth season pairing of The Doctor and Donna, as the two genuinely liked each other and The Doctor treated his friend well (imagine that!). No barbed comments and no reason for Donna to constantly defend the Doctor to other people.

        I fear Moffat doesn’t know how to write a female/male relationship that is not sexually charged on some level. The Doctor is dipping Clara’s pigtails in ink. He’s not relating to her as a fellow adult or even as a paternal figure, which I thought the 5th Doctor despite his apparent youth did well. Watch ARK OF INFINITY or CAVES OF ANDROZANI and how the Doctor interacts with his young female companion. I wish Capaldi was given similar scripts.


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