The Caretaker stood out for me in Series 8 as a real Gem, it surprised me in being a very unlikely way to explore some of the unfinished business between the Doctor and Clara in terms of the intimacy of their relationship before and after Peter Capaldi took on the role giving the Doctor a brand new exterior at least. The chemistry that Clara and the Eleventh Doctor had was immensely intimate, episodes like The Day of The Doctor, The Name of the Doctor and The Time of The Doctor showed this well, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that two young good looking actors in Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman can, with skill, portray the appearance of being in love without ever stating it.
I think the beginning of this episode is clever, being totally apart from the main plot, we see a great depiction of Clara’s double life, snippets thrown together speedily, alternating between her mad life with the Doctor and her relatively mundane one with Danny, her boyfriend. Firstly we see Clara and the Doctor chained on some kind of altar in an alien desert. We never get to know how they escaped this but Capaldi delivers an awesome one liner to Clara ‘Why have you got two jackets? Is one of them faulty?’. Next we get a scene of the Doctor and Clara being chased through some random corridors being shot at with lasers, and finally Clara returning by TARDIS from an Underwater World and dashing straight into a Taxi in which the waiting Danny can’t fail to see the seaweed all over Clara’s hair. For me this helps in knowing Clara as the impossible girl, who is so intertwined with the Doctor throughout timelines – for Clara and Danny though, in the real world, it’s clearly becoming untenable friction. With some sense of relief, the opening chaotic pace slows right down and we get to see some days in the life of Clara Oswald, the English teacher from Blackpool, set in her School, Coal Hill.
Inevitably though these will be no ordinary days, especially when John Smith, the new Caretaker, shows up one morning in the staff room – in other words the Doctor with a very dumbed down appearance, his snazzy black and red cape now replaced with some plain brown overalls, such is the need for ‘deep cover’. It turns out the Doctor is on a secret mission to seek an immensely dangerous hostile robot, the Scovox Blitzer, which packs ‘enough explosives in it’s armoury to blow up the entire planet’ and to send it back into the future. Could this all sound a bit too unbelievable? A robot descending upon Clara’s school, meaning she can’t be separated from the Doctor? Well there is a plausible explanation in the fact that Coal Hill has some long standing history in Doctor Who and the Doctor explains to Clara due to the amount of ‘Artron emissions’ the area has seen, somehow the drifting alien monster had locked on to the location. So essentially, we are given the basis for some classic science fiction.
The point I’ll make here is that, given the facts, we can see we’re in for some fun with the story: there’s an alien confrontation with the Doctor who needs to save the school from danger by somehow defeating his foe in a blaze of glory so all’s well with the world again. However, The Caretaker tells a bigger story than just that of the plight of the Scovox Blitzer, that part of the story is almost secondary to relatively minor events which place the relationship between Clara and the 12th Doctor intriguingly under the microscope.
What emerges during the episode is a love triangle involving the Doctor and Clara, and Clara’s boyfriend Danny, an ex-military maths teacher at Coal Hill School. However, the Doctor gets his view of the triangle spectacularly wrong in overlooking Danny, deliberately not paying him any attention as he delights in seeing Adrian, the drama teacher, dressed in a purple bowtie, and bearing undeniable resemblances to Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor in all but chin. The 12th Doctor happily jumps to the conclusion that Adrian must be Clara’s boyfriend, the music at this point is playful as the Doctor almost tearfully (and cringingly) watches on as Clara chats away to Adrian, later telling Clara he ‘possibly reminds me of a certain dashing young time traveller’ whilst he’s smug with triumph about the affect his former incarnation must have had on Clara. Watching the Doctor act in this more fatherly manner and see these events as ‘cute’ whilst the soundtrack works mischievously all in all is quite painful! In any case, Adrian with his bow tie provides a good comedy element that appeals to the Doctor’s vanity.
This really is the calm before the storm though in terms of how the Doctor and Clara lay bare their relationship with each other as events proceed and Danny becomes involved with the plot to oust the Scovox Blitzer from the school.
The Doctor has changed. It’s become increasingly evident in Series 8 and a great illustration of this is a sign the Doctor has written to hang outside his Caretaker’s shed to keep people away from the TARDIS, which reads ‘Go Away Humans’. Very blunt and very grouchy! We can definitely see the Doctor is unsettled and he is reliant on Clara to help him through most social situations, particularly as his emotions seem pretty raw, not least because of how confused he feels about Clara. The Doctor uses the classic cure of throwing himself into his work though and concentrates on the dangerous robot threat to the school. We get to see how deadly the Scovox Blitzer is when a policeman wanders into an abandoned building adjoining the school, only to be blasted into Missy’s Promised Land leaving just a pair of smoking fried hands to delight the TV audience at get the critics pumped up.
The Doctor has a plan to lure the robot into a time vortex by carefully leaving a trail of chrodyne generators, alien technology that the Scovox Blitzer can’t resist locking onto. The trail leads into the school hall where a circle of the chrodyne generators can trap the robot and the Doctor will open the vortex and force it to enter and leave. The plan almost works until Danny interferes with the chain of generators and removes one causing them to deactivate, consequently the Doctor is only able to banish the Scovox Blitzer temporarily. Here’s where the beginning of the hostilities between the Doctor and Danny begin. The Doctor is furious that Danny has scuppered his plan, but when Clara arrives and placates the Doctor, all Danny can do is be shocked by everything that just happened, and points at Clara in fear saying ‘you’re a space woman’ then goes on to say to the Doctor ‘And you’re her space Dad’. This is too much for the Doctor and Capaldi delivers another classic line ‘How can you think I’m her Dad when we both look exactly the same age?’. Clara leads the dazed Danny away, giving the Doctor a disapproving look. The Doctor comes up with a throwaway remark saying to Clara ‘after all this is over you can finish the job. You’ve explained me to him, you haven’t explained him to me’. The music becomes noticeably sad in tone here and the Doctor looks betrayed.
In conclusion I think what we can learn is that there is a great and unconditional love between the Doctor and Clara – never-ending maybe – but the nature of that love has drastically changed since the 11th Doctor became the 12th. The Doctor may always be the same Time Lord but each time he regenerates there are a totally new set of challenges he must face, and carrying the memories of his previous form has been particularly difficult for Twelve.