Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Caretaker

"The guy is an epic f**k-up. He’s so dense that light bends around him."

Gareth Roberts is a writer whose episodes I haven't always gotten on very well with. The Shakespeare Code was decent, and The Unicorn and The Wasp is actually very funny... But then he found his niche with The Lodger - an episode where The Doctor goes deep undercover, posing as a normal human in order to investigate some local shenanigans. Neither of his episodes since have done much for me; lacking the humour they're supposed to be boasting and sacrificing plot in order to prop-up said humour.

In The Caretaker. The Doctor goes deep undercover, posing as a normal human in order to investigate some local shenanigans. Yes, this is very much "Lodger Mk. II". But is it an improvement, or another disappointing rehash?

Basically a disappointing rehash.

But a new coat. Which is all that matters in the end.

This time, the local shenanigans are the antics of the Skovox Blitzer, who is ready to destroy humanity for... some reason or another. The Doctor is trying to avert the threat, but his attempts clash with Clara's attempts to keep her home life and travelling separate (think The Power of Three. Indeed the opening sequence screams that episode). You know, she loses control, worlds collide, Danny and The Doctor meet at last, et cetera, et cetera.

So the plot happens, and what we're left is ultimately a character piece about The Doctor, Clara and Danny. Unfortunately, none of them come off very well through it.

It all starts off very light hearted. Very easy to compare to The Lodger here, as it's exactly the same kind of antics. We've seen almost every joke in some form or another before, and Capaldi's more curmudgeon-y Doctor can only make it feel fresh for so long. In fact, I would go as far to say that the episode isn't very funny. It has its moments, but it doesn't reach the same atmosphere as - say - The Unicorn and The Wasp does. This is largely because the dramatic side of the story can be rather mean spirited.

At heart(s) The Doctor has always had a pacifistic streak, or at least an antipathy to the military. In Twelve, this apparently manifests as an irrational hatred of any soldier and the compulsion to start petty arguments with them. The Doctor's treatment of Danny goes far beyond comedic bickering, heading into deeply unpleasant contempt. At times, he approaches Tenth Doctor levels of arrogance and nastiness. The saving grace is that, unlike Ten, there's no attempt within the narrative to excuse Twelve: The story doesn't bend backwards to put him in the right, the narrative doesn't frame him to make his attitude look justified. He's a dick, and the story isn't hiding it. But it's still problematic. It's okay to be "difficult" and flawed, but it's a fine line between that and being unlikeable.

At least we're now definitely sure that we're not in for another Ponds scenario!
(Seriously though, who was actually expecting that?)

Danny is not entirely faultless, either. He still has a huge aura of awkwardness when it should have settled by now. His relationship with Clara lacks chemistry and his confrontation with The Doctor is shaky. Overall his reaction to the revelations about his girlfriend just come across as inorganic and brushed over, which is a bit odd in an episode which is contrived specifically to explore those implications. 

Danny's final scenes do carry some intriguing foreshadowing for the remainder of the season, though. All I can add is that the next three episodes at least will continue to be very Clara-centric.

Strangely, I don't feel as though Clara had much development in this episode. Despite receiving a large share of screen time, I felt as though she was going through the motions and didn't contribute much of significant meaning, despite the collapse in control which is so central to her character. It's jarring because there's plenty of room for exploration; most notably when Danny questions Clara's reasoning for travelling, which would have been a great opportunity for a call back to The Rings of Akhaten  last year and could, just perhaps, establish some continuity with Series 7b!


Our final major guest of the episode is infuriating adolescent and "disruptive influence" Courtney Woods. Continuing the theme of Whovians making assumptions based on surface similarities, many were expecting another Angie from her cameos in prior episodes. Fortunately she's wonderful! Newcomer Ellis George does a good job of portraying an accurate East London teenager without being too accurate (read: eminently punchable). Her scenes with The Doctor are sparkling and quite easily the highlight of the story.

The plot which tackles the threat posed by the Skovox is incidental throughout, and the resolution is very quick and a bit cheap. This is another respect in which it is similar to The Power of Three, but the main difference is that the threat of the Skovox is also built up far less than the cubes, so there isn't as much room to disappoint! The lack of any context to the Skovox makes The Doctor's bit of trickery would have quite a cheating effect to it otherwise.

A more secondary plot in an episode of this nature would be acceptable - even encouraged - but because I find the humour and character drama to be lacking or ineffectual, the absence of much story becomes a little more glaring. 

Hmm... Perhaps this costume shouldn't have been allowed in the day scenes?
The Caretaker was never going to be my favourite episode of the season, but the soap-opera style drama, unpleasant characterisation and tired humour presented far more of a distraction than I had anticipated. Like all of my less favoured episodes, there are some elements of it which work pretty well, but the things it is supposed excel in are a let down. My only hope is that this episode does seem to set up some threads for the rest of the series to pick up on.

I'm giving The Caretaker a 3/10, between The Power of Three and The Christmas Invasion (and ironically with the problems of both). Also, a recommendation that if Gareth Roberts be given a future episode to write, make sure he gets a different premise next time.

But doesn't he look like Matt Smith though? lol. Look at how self-referential and funny we're being. Lol.

P.S. An issue I didn't bring up in the main review is that The Doctor doesn't appear to recognise Danny as being so similar to Orson Pink. Given they did reference him and The Doctor's dismissal is unconvincing, I'm hoping that he is lying through his teeth. If not though, that is a problem. A Time Lord capable of identifying someone as a dinosaur killer just from the direction they're walking in is not that unobservant.