With this being episode six, we’ve hit the halfway point in this shorter-than-usual series of Doctor Who. It’s hard to really assess how the Capaldi ‘era’ has fared thus far, given that it has been so much of a mixed bag; a good element always accompanied by a bad one, and vice versa. Incidentally, that was extremely clear in this week’s episode.
The Caretaker was essentially a whole slot devoted to bringing Clara’s double life, that’s been developing over the previous five episodes, to the forefront. Yes, there was an ‘alien-of-the-week’ style plot as well, but the tables were certainly turned, with that being the side element and the Clara plot the focus, in contrast to the previous episodes.
On paper, this is perfectly fine. It’s clear that Danny is being groomed to be, or indeed is already starting to become an integral part of the show. The amount of character build-up that’s gone into his introduction means he can’t turn out to be anything else. Therefore, introducing him to Clara’s secret life like this made sense, as to have it tacked on at the end or start of another episode simply wouldn’t do justice to what Steven Moffat is clearly trying to accomplish.
The problem, however, was that for all the character focus in the episode, Doctor Who is still a sci-fi show about battling aliens, meaning it will always have to have a solid antagonistic or malevolent alien or presence; without it, an episode just won’t work. In The Caretaker, that presence simply wasn’t anywhere near strong enough, failing in a number of ways.
Firstly, the relevance of the threat to the storyline was forced. In the previous school-based outing, School Reunion, the teachers were the aliens, meaning the school had to be focus, and that was why we met Sarah Jane again. Here the plot could’ve bypassed the school completely, and it wouldn’t have left a significant hole in the story. It’s clear that the alien was simply a plot device to bring the Doctor into the Earth-based equation, but the job of the writers is to make that device appealing or at the very least logical.
Secondly, the alien itself was, despite the necessary balance of the episode, given so little time to be developed. For a being described as ‘one of the deadliest’ and with the firepower to ‘destroy’ the planet, it didn’t feel particularly lethal. Bar its introduction, it was constantly outrun and its ‘deadly firepower’ was dodged by a slo-mo front flip.
However, this was a character-orientated episode, and it did okay in that respect. The central trio all did well to convey their respective parts – Samuel Anderson was strong enough to make Danny heard alongside the two established leads; Peter Capaldi was, as usual, great, with a large comedic edge to his performance, while Jenna Coleman managed to make sure the episode didn’t end up overly demeaning towards Clara. What could’ve been the two men ‘fighting over her’ was actually Clara in control and holding the answers. Meanwhile there was mention for Chris Addison in a brief visit to the Promised Land – surely we’ll see more of him, and maybe have some answers there, soon?
The Caretaker was an average episode then, where the sci-fi to drama balance didn’t quite work out. Next week: Moon Spiders…