Doctor Who: The Caretaker – The Spoiler Review by John Rivers (TV review).

If you haven’t yet seen Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat’s sixth episode of the new ‘Doctor Who’ series ‘The Caretaker’ you may want to take a look at Geoff’s spoiler-free review here: Otherwise, pick up your broom and don your brown coat to go undercover at Coal Hill School.


In fact, in ‘Doctor Who’ history, people have often gone ‘undercover’ at Coal Hill School. Susan attended pretending to be a normal human teen-ager, until her history and science teachers discovered she lived in a police box that could travel through time and space. The school later became a focal point for the Doctor’s bid to trap the Daleks in their race to acquire the Hand of Omega with one unlucky Coal Hill pupil plugged into a Dalek battle computer in ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’. The school itself also housed the transmat link for the Imperial Dalek incursion team. To put it another way, Coal Hill at least during the sixties saw its fair share of weirdness. Step forward then, Peter Capaldi’s abrasive, secretive and at times downright aggressive Doctor, masquerading as the school caretaker while Jenna Coleman as Clara tries to teach and hold down a relationship with her colleague Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson).

If this sounds a little familiar, you may remember the Tenth Doctor went undercover at a school in ‘School Reunion’ where he got reunited with Sarah-Jane Smith and K-9. Interestingly, this episode perhaps felt a lot like ‘The Sarah-Jane Adventures’, with Ellis George (previously seen in ‘Deep Breath’ and ‘Into The Dalek’) providing a child’s curious perspective as pupil Courtney Woods. The Doctor is delighted when she mentions that her name is also ‘Disruptive Influence’. The plot here is admittedly slight. A alien war machine called the Skovox Blitzer has arrived in Shoreditch attracted by Artron Energy. This is essentially the fault of the Doctor, Artron Energy is more or less what TARDISes run off and as well as the stories mentioned above, he’s popped back in ‘Attack Of The Cybermen’, as well as picking up Clara all the time to rob banks and try and escape from the Sand Piranhas. This may indeed be the Doctor trying to fix his ‘mistakes’ again.


In order to trap the Blitzer, he sets up a network of sensors to scan for the robot and in doing so attracts the attention of Clara’s boyfriend, Mr. Pink. So while the action moments of the story are an excuse for the Doctor to wear a Ghostbusters style proton pack (see ‘Army Of Ghosts’) and Clara to wave the sonic screwdriver like she’s at Hogwarts and not Coal Hill, the story is essentially about the Doctor meeting Danny and the jealousy, mistrust and anger that follows.

And it is shocking.

I would argue that few scenes in ‘Doctor Who’ are emotionally uncomfortable to watch, as Danny confronting the Doctor in the TARDIS. It was one of the most surprising the series has dealt us yet. The Doctor’s animosity towards soldiers, compounded by his experiences in the Time War, the death of his best friend, the Brigadier, the defence of Trenzalore not only now bubbles but overspills. Never mind Courtney being sick in the console room, there is bile everywhere. The Doctor’s taunting of Danny being a PE teacher is on a level with the Ninth Doctor’s dismissive nature towards Mickey ‘the idiot’ or even Harry Sullivan ‘the imbecile’ but his confrontation with Danny where he points out to Clara that he can carry her out of fires, but it’s the Doctor that lights them, is pretty damning. The Doctor responds by aggressively telling Danny that he is dismissed. It’s a confrontation based on jealousy over Clara and class and while it is tempting to also point out racial differences that would be totally out of character for the Doctor and the scene doesn’t go there. In the Doctor’s defence, he has got a lot of work to do and has been humiliated by his arrogant and wrong assumption that Clara is attracted to Adrian, an Eleventh Doctor look-a-like uncannily played by Edward Harrison.


This is what ‘Doctor Who’ looks like grown-up. For all those people who claim the show has learned nothing from its contemporary peers. ‘Mad Men’, ‘Game Of Thrones’, etc this episode dared to move the monster to one side for a moment and let the character development take over. There was still plenty of action, even acrobatics – we suspect Mr. Pink maybe a fan of ‘Tumble’ – and the episode was still funny. For example, the Doctor’s admission that he once lived with otters after a fight with River Song, whistling ‘Another Brick In The Wall’, but it showed a level of maturity that was hinted at in episodes like ‘Boom Town’ but not fully explored until here. For this reason, it may well be one of Gareth Roberts’ best scripts, though as Steven Moffat has been sculpting the Clara and Danny storyline it’s unclear who has contributed what in this episode more than others.

‘Doctor Who’ is an anthology show, as I’ve maintained before letting episodes feel the same is a good way to make the show feel old and repetitive. Now this does mean that we’re used to certain tropes in the show ‘the comedy historical’, ‘the far future allegory’, ‘the returning monster two-parter’, etc. However when the show attempted to deviate from this, series 6, the results were largely negative, a confusing arc about the Doctor’s death, a recurring though unresolved theme about fatherhood and three different stories where the characters wished themselves better (‘Night Terrors’, ‘The God Complex’ and ‘Closing Time’). ‘The Caretaker’ though, again in series 8, feels like it is doing the ‘companion relationship’ trope better than many of the attempts before it.

This was a funny and moving episode of ‘Doctor Who’, played believably by Capaldi, Coleman and Anderson. No longer is the Doctor being ‘a clever boy’, he’s being a stupid man and a brilliant Time Lord, complimented by a companion who has stopped being a one-note cipher (‘The Impossible Girl’) but is now a fully-rounded individual. Even if the second half of series 8 turns out to be trash, we should be content that the first half has been pure gold.

© John Rivers 2014

all rights reserved

Doctor Who: The Caretaker:

Doctor Who Extra: The Caretaker:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.