30 Sep 2014

[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 8 Episode 6, "The Caretaker"

Courtesy of the BBC
I choose to view it as a positive that Steven Moffat is getting so many co-writing credits on episodes this season. I take that to mean that he has so many ideas, that the very idea of the Twelfth Doctor has excited those creative juices, that he is virtually incapable of allowing an episode to pass under his editorial nose without filling it with things for Capaldi to say. For, half way through this eighth series, and Capaldi should have dashed any thoughts from the audience of his abilities in the role. Moffat and Capaldi are on a role. He's brash and insulting and disconnected in a way that reminds of Six, if Six had been toned down just enough to remain sympathetic.

And, cheery-bang, the ideas all seem to work. I would put that credit on the door step of two things. First, the ideas are smaller. No space pumpkins or species-wide mind wipes. No timey-whimey and no interdimensional rifts and psychotic space priests mucking things up by being more complicated then they need to be. The episodes have been keeping things grounded and streamlined, and that has allowed more time for characters to guide the series rather than explosions and running about. And when I say characters, I mean Clara. Only last week's Time Heist could be said to have been lead by Capaldi.

The rest of the series, it's been the Clara show, and her steadfast companion the Time Lord. usually, I'm very much against this sort of thing. The companions should know their place in the grand scheme of things. They are, after all, the ones companioning. When Rose or Amy were pushed to the front of the queue, it was warning lights and missable bits. Clara, this season, with Moffat clearly zeroed in on what she actually means as a character rather a plot device, has had a cracker of a time showing her off. But here we come to the gravest test of all: the day-in-the-life episode.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are not otters.

The "companion has a life and a boyfriend outside of the TARDIS" has never been my favourite kind of Doctor Who episode. Perhaps it's just my antiquated notion that, whilst serving as a companion, a companion's life is pretty much defined by the TARDIS. It's when that becomes too much, or when they realize it's not enough, that they leave (or wipe out the dinosaurs). These last eight series, and especially under Moffat with Amy and Clara, the idea has become that travelling with the Doctor is a sometimes food, er, event. That these women struggle to balance their Earth lives with their time/space lives.

In some ways then, Clara's journey this series has been highly derivative of Amy's final year on the show. Moffat's been hitting pretty much the same moments, the same issues, the same concerns. I prefer to think of it as Moffat putting right what once went wrong, as Amy's story began beautifully and ended in a mess. Clara has seen the opposite happen to her. She has become refined as a notion, cut down like a diamond from something rough to something worth looking at through the glass.

This episode was also an Earth based episode, again not my traditional favourite, unless UNIT is involved. Earth based stories tend to have limited ability to follow through on their plots, if only because the notion of global jeopardy is lessened by the knowledge that the show isn't going to destroy Earth at tea-time. The stakes are raised when it's someone else's planet on the line. Earth stories work best when its private tragedy and personal loss on the line. When its about individuals. And this episode was about that. It was about Clara, and it was about Danny. When it felt the need to remind us that it's a science fiction programme, it was about one robot threatening a parent's night. All manageable, and all within the scope of potential losses.

And so, it was an episode that worked. Not brilliantly at all times, but it did give the show a chance to slow things down for an hour, and talk things out. It was a therapy session episode. Clara said what she thought, the Doctor spoke his piece, and Danny got to shout into a pillow. It's biggest faults were when it hinged too heavily on the emotional stuff, but that is mostly down to the fact that fro our perspective Clara and Danny only started dating a couple episodes ago. Her declaration of love is likely the product of months of being together, but as it stands we're all left as confused as the Doctor.

For the second week in a row, my loudest and therefore most meaningful clap has to go to the prop department, for creating yet another convincing and practical adversary. The Skovox Blitzer was a skittering and menacing beastie, just enough to provide the Doctor from venturing too far towards being an episode of East Enders. And as a prop, it was the cake. I look forward to seeing it pop up in crowd scenes further down the line.

What I'm not sold on just yet is Ellis George's Courtney Woods, but that's mostly because I'm not sure what I'm meant to make of her yet. She's been there since episode one, appearing in Clara's panic-driven flash back, and those times when we've popped around to Coal Hill, they've down nothing to bring Woods to the forefront. She's obviously meant to be something, but Moffat isn't content to tell us just what yet. Heavy foreshadowing? A companion-in-waiting? Or did Moffat simply think that Clara and Danny needed a human adversary to challenge them at home, and didn't realize quite how obvious it was going to make her.

Where this episode really didn't disappoint was in one of my favourite areas: introduction to the TARDIS. That moment when someone first gets a taste has always been a personal delight, and I love seeing how different writers come up with different ways for people to react, and how the actors choose to play that moment (arguably a science fiction equivalent to "to be or not to be," considering how many have had the chance to play it over the years). Danny's reaction was traditional, if understated. And Courtney's was unique and wonderful. "There's been a spillage" indeed.

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