Saturday, 27 September 2014

Doctor Who: The Caretaker

"Human beings have incredibly short lifespans. Frankly, you should all be in a permanent state of panic."

I'm sure this episode is going to divide opinion as much of this season has, being that the (excellent) alien menace is somewhat in the background while the foreground is firmly hogged by the relationship drama between Clara, Danny and the Doctor as disapproving father figure. Well, I loved it, and as far as I'm concerned this continues to be the best season since the days of Christopher Eccleston. All this, and a ridiculous number of tributes to An Unearthly Child too.

We begin with the juxtaposition of Clara's exciting adventures "eloping" with the Doctor and her rather more traditional dates with Danny, setting us up for an episode in which Danny and the Doctor meet- and that, rather than the brilliantly designed and scary-looking Skovox Blitzer, is what the episode is about in a joyous mix of romantic comedy and serious drama as befits the talents of Gareth Roberts although, once more, we get an "and Steven Moffat". 

The long pre-credits sequence is brilliant and ends predictably but perfectly on the revelation of the school's new caretaker in a way which reminds me of the beginning to School Reunion. But this, of course, is Coal Hill, and not only to we have Clara and Danny as the Ian and Barbara of 2014 but also a policeman going into a junkyard for which I'm fairly sure I could guess the postal address. Even the junk inside recalls the scenes inside 76 Totters Lane half a century ago. But this policeman is not so lucky, and ends up in the afterlife/promised land/ Worldsphere. Policing just ain't Dixon of Dock Green any more.

The Doctor's prejudices ("I hate soldiers. Don't you just hate soldiers?") are obvious during his first meeting with Danny, and he never shakes off the idea that an ex-soldier must be thick and therefore a PE teacher. The script deliberately paints him as both unlikeable in the wrong, and takes care to portray Danny as nice, reliable, brave and, well, Ian Chesterton-like. Danny is, of course, right to finger the Doctor as "officer class", someone who can inspire his men to do what needs to be done, and he's also right, after earning the Doctor's grudging respect by saving the world, to warn Clara not to let him push her too far, or they're finished. 

This is both blatantly foreshadowing something for later in the season and a shrewd character analysis of the Doctor. Of course this veteran of the Time War is a soldier, and his prejudice is simply self-loathing. Indeed, we examines these themes with Tennant during Season 30, with his aversion to guns, soldiering and UNIT being foregrounded. And yet he went to his final battle with Rassilon armed with Wilf's gun, symbolising that, much as he may hate it, deep down, this Time War veteran is very much a soldier.

On a lighter note, we also get to meet Courney Woods, the disruptive pupil of whom we have heard before; I'm sure we haven't heard the last of her. The parallels to one Susan Foreman are obvious, and I love the way she immediately vomits after the Doctor shows her the stars.

This episode is superb, but I fear there will be many who dislike it's strong focus on the arc plot and the foregrounding of character drama over monsters and danger. I hope I'm wrong. Time to brave the internet...

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