The Doctor invades Clara’s home life, meets her boyfriend, and takes a new companion for a spin all in this classic hour of Doctor Who.
In which John Smith meets Danny Pink…
Clara is attempting to balance time with paramour Danny Pink and her TARDIS adventures, taking the running lifestyle to a whole new level. Always in a rush and making excuses to both of the most important men in her life, Ms. Oswald is understandably beat. Just when the hectic pace seems unmanageable, the Doctor shows up at to cancel any future plans; he’s got “a thing” that does not involve her. Interesting that he would show up just to tell her they can’t take a trip in the TARDIS – more on why I think that is below.*
Turns out, the Doctor taking a break from Clara gives her extra time with Danny, and she promises him just that. Her focus will just be on her Mr. Pink for the foreseeable future – and it’s a good thing, too, because the former soldier is becoming quite curious about her secret double-life. But that wouldn’t really be an episode, would it? Nope – the Doctor shows up at Clara’s faculty meeting as Coal Hill School’s new caretaker, John Smith. He is, however, quite disappointed that Clara recognizes his “deep cover” identity:
‘You’re wearing a different coat!’
‘Saw through that, did you?’
Clara’s convinced that the school is in danger, but the Doctor convinces her he has it all in hand, and adds a nice quip about River Song as well, just in case you forgot about the Doctor’s wife. It’s one of those nice touches that Capaldi can pull off so well, absorbing Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat’s dialogue cleanly, as if the words appeared to him in that moment. The school is in danger, of course, from the Skovox Blitzer – basically a Dalek-Cyberman hybrid of completely irrelevant motives that serves as a plot device to facilitate a meeting between Mr. Pink (yes, I, too, always think of this guy) and the Doctor. The Skovox Blitzer dispatches with a patrol officer, but it’s business as usual over at Coal Hill School. The Doctor interrupts Clara’s teaching and grills Danny, not yet knowing he is the boyfriend in question. Each immediately dislikes the other, both so stubborn and suspicious, and Danny makes it is mission to discover what the Doctor is up to.
The Doctor refuses to recognize Danny as ancestor of the astronaut the travelers met in “Listen,” simply because he doesn’t want to. He certainly cannot accept Danny as Clara’s beau. Instead, he becomes convinced Clara is seeing Adrian – basically a clone of the Eleventh Doctor, complete with bowtie. When Clara fills him in on this little mistake, confusion and rage masks the truth behind why Clara would fall in love with such a man.
The Danny Pink/Clara Oswald relationship is an interesting one. Pink feels he must prove to the Doctor his worth, but it is clear he sees something that Clara and the Doctor are completely missing: Pink is more like Twelve than either wishes to admit. A true soldier determined to make amends for his past, Danny’s intensity, vulnerability, and bubbling rage are all traits shared by Capaldi’s Doctor. Clara has let Eleven go and grown to love the younger version of Twelve. The reason the two butt heads goes much deeper than simple jealousy: they see in each other their own worst faults. Each realizes they both could never deserve Clara in the other’s eyes. The subtlety of this revelation is the mark of great writing.
Danny is not the only one suspicious of the new Caretaker, however, as precocious student Courtney Woods discovers the blue box, questions the Doctor on his “weirdness,” and introduces herself as a “destructive influence” – a joke repeated later during a parent-teacher conference. This scene – and one at the closing of the episode where the Doctor takes Courtney on a quick trip to the stars – is absolutely for the fans of the show and the classic format. Doctor Who has always been, at heart, a children’s television program. Its new incarnation might be a bit more for the Hipster Generation, but Twelve would fit in anywhere with One through Seven.
The Doctor eventually has no choice and gives Clara the details of the Blitzer’s desire to destroy all of humanity and his plan to stop it; unfortunately, Danny discovers some of the Doctor’s equipment and basically screws the whole thing up. Clara attempts to come clean to a shocked Danny – who, at first, believes Clara to be an alien and the Doctor her father. Once the truth is out, the three have to team up to distract the faculty and parents during the aforementioned Parent-Teacher Night, and take down the Cyberman-Dalek…oh who cares. Ultimately, Danny proves his worth to Doctor-Dad by (acrobatically?) saving Clara’s life.
“The Caretaker” is one of those episodes where the Monster-of-the-Week takes a backburner to character development. *The Doctor is so intensely immersed in competing for Clara’s attention that, when he sees he is losing, he appeals to her since of adventure and mystery, keeping facts he’d normally share hidden and attempting to hide in plain sight. The ridiculous excuse of keeping her safe with ignorance so that the alien cannot scan her thoughts is just that: an excuse. The Doctor immerses himself in her human world, thereby proving his relevance in all aspects of her life.
This season is the most complete I’ve seen since David Tennant passed the reigns over to Matt Smith. Capaldi has managed something that the three Doctors before him could not: marrying the new incarnation of Doctor Who with the classic. Modern in his quest, tactics, and approach to the dialogue but traditional in the companion/time travel relationship, the 12th Doctor can be universally loved. In it’s 51st year, Who is truly a show that defies audience categories. Though I am not quite sold on the “Paradise” arc, I’ll have to hold judgment until it plays out. Moffat has proven better on short runs than paying off interesting foreshadowing; I’m cautiously intrigued. Another excellent episode for the Capaldi era.