Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review - "Doctor Who: The Caretaker"

Warning: The following review will contain spoilers

Doctor Who never lets its audience forget that its main character is an alien. This interesting concept is extrapolated upon when the Doctor must interact with human characters and occasionally try to blend in. That's the premise behind The Caretaker, the latest episode of Series 8.

Clara (Jenna Coleman) finds herself juggling two separate lives - her life as English teacher at the Coal Hill School and her life as companion to the Doctor (Peter Capaldi). She has done her best to make sure these two sides of her personality do not overlap. That is until the Doctor turns up at the school masquerading as the new caretaker. He's on the trail of the Skovox Blitzer, a robotic machine with the power to destroy Earth within seconds. It's on the loose in London and the Doctor may have to rely on Clara and her boyfriend Danny (Samuel Anderson) for help.

Like many of the other episodes this series, The Caretaker was a collaborative effort. This time around it was penned by showrunner Steven Moffat and recurring writer Gareth Roberts. Roberts is one of my favourite writers on Doctor Who with such episodes as The Shakespeare Code, The Unicorn and the Wasp and Closing Time ranking among my favourites. In terms of style, Roberts seems to have drawn inspiration from his episodes The Lodger and Closing Time, which found Matt Smith's Doctor trying (unsuccessfully) to integrate himself into regular society. While the concept worked well its first two goes-around, I can't help but feel it rather misses the mark here.

I chalk it up to Peter Capaldi's Doctor. Capaldi is far more serious, dark and brooding than his decidedly more silly predecessor so this more comedic story-line does seem rather out-of-character for the Twelfth Doctor. That's not to say the comedy fell flat throughout. Much like the previously humourous Robot of Sherwood, Capaldi delivers his sardonic, sarcastic lines well, and did make me laugh out loud at times. But, while Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor seemed at home in a comedy-driven plot, I don't know if I can say the same for Capaldi.

This episode saw the return of the so-called "Clara-centric" story. Jenna Coleman's companion really is the focal point with both the Doctor and Danny Pink in more supporting roles. This isn't really a bad thing, and I argue that exploring the personalities of the companions makes for interesting viewing. Jenna Coleman proves to be an excellent actress and her screen chemistry with Samuel Anderson is good. Speaking of whom, Anderson's character of Danny Pink gets the most screen time thus far, and I continue to believe he's a likable, complex character with more background which is waiting to be explored. Anderson also has a fine set of acting chops - the scene where he discovers the truth about Clara and the Doctor was probably the episode's finest.

That's probably the ironic thing about The Caretaker - an episode obviously written for laughs delivers better drama than comedy. The alien threat, the Skovox Blitzer, was also a brilliantly designed monster and one of the creepiest things I've seen in Doctor Who lately. I wouldn't have expected such a creepy alien threat in a comedy episode - however the Blitzer receives far too little screen time. Maybe it will turn up at some point in the future.

In all, The Caretaker didn't quite deliver where it was supposed to. Despite a few laughs here and there, Peter Capaldi's darker Doctor succeeded more in the scenes where drama was at the forefront. Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson delivered solid performances, but I would have to say that The Caretaker is the weakest episode of Series 8 so far. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Next Time - Kill the Moon by Peter Harness

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