FREELANCE WRITER. JOURNALIST, AND SCRIPT READER – FAN OF SCI-FI AND CHOCOLATE DIGESTIVES – YSTV'S BEST DRESSED MEMBER 2013

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


Gareth Roberts has always been one of the more comedic Doctor Who writers, having properly found his niche with 2010’s hilarious The Lodger, which saw the Eleventh Doctor grounded on Earth and forced into the horrors of living with James Corden, and which got a sequel in 2011’s Closing Time. If there was one common criticism of these episodes, it’s that Matt Smith’s wacky Doctor was heightened to the point of inconsistency with other episodes. So when I found out that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was going to get the same treatment this year, I was a little concerned – would the more zany quality of these episodes fit with Capaldi’s moodier Doctor?

I needn’t have worried. The Caretaker, which saw the Doctor go undercover in Coal Hill School to track down an evil robot known as the Skovox Blitzer, was a perfect fit for Doctor Twelve. The same wit was still present, but with a much more acerbic tone, giving the Doctor such great lines as “It’s assembly, go and worship something” and “Haven’t you got shoplifting to do?”

Importantly, The Caretaker was less of an all-out comedy than Roberts’ last two efforts, for it had a serious dramatic focus – with the Doctor sweeping the corridors of Coal Hill, the stage was set for the Time Lord to finally meet Clara’s new boyfriend. This was the confrontation the series had been building up to this far, a build-up continued by the first half of this episode, with Clara desperately trying to keep the two separate and the amusing twist of the Doctor arrogantly assuming she’s going out with another teacher who happens to look like Matt Smith. But when the episode reached its midpoint and the inevitable finally happened, it didn’t disappoint. 

Danny screwing up the Doctor’s plan to off the Blitzer, only getting rid of it temporarily, allowed the episode to take a rest from the plot and really throw these characters in each other’s faces. Of course the Doctor objected to Danny’s soldiering history, but Danny’s rebuttal was a very clever move, comparing the Doctor to an officer who sends his troops into dangerous situations. His attitude to Clara at the end may have seemed overly controlling, but it felt motivated by a dark secret warning him to stop her making whatever mistake he did – and there’s clearly more conflict to come. Let’s hope Clara gets to assert herself a bit more when that happens – she was too busy patching up the conflict between the two squabbling men here to actually do a lot herself. Nevertheless, Roberts gave Clara and Danny their best dialogue of the series, a step up from the Coupling-esque awkward flirting they’ve had so far. 

One further problem with their relationship as we saw it here is that every Clara/Danny up to now has shown it on the brink of falling apart, and so it would be nice to see some scenes where they’re actually happy together. You know, to make us care more if it does fall apart. As it is, Clara’s shout of “I love him” seemed undeserved. Maybe now that she can stop hiding her life with the Doctor, things can start looking up for them...

Let’s not forget this episode’s younger guest star, Coal Hill pupil Courtney Woods. I loved how the Doctor seemed to warm to her because of her being a fellow disruptive influence – the good old supporting the underdog aspect of Doctor Who. She’d make a good secondary companion, so it’ll be interesting to see how she fares when she shows up again in the next episode.


If there’s one element I’ve not touched on, it’s the Skovox Blitzer, the robot who provides the actual plot. And the reason I’ve not said much about it is because it's a very thin plot. The robot stalks around, blows shit up, and does what it has to do to get the lead characters shouting at each other. The lightness of the plot could be a problem in other episodes, but here it works, allowing Roberts to focus both on the comedic conceit of the Doctor trying to fit in as a caretaker and on the real conflict of the episode, that between the Doctor and Danny.

There are a couple of minor things that have been annoying me. Things which I feel the need to point out. Please can we stop using the word “thing”. “I’m doing a thing”, “I’m waiting for a thing to happen”, “it’s not a plan, it’s a thing”. Three times in this episode and at least once in each of the previous two. It’s getting irritating. Also, Capaldi’s eyebrows aren’t really that remarkable, so can characters please stop acting like they are. It’s the classic screenwriting error of telling us about a character trait rather than showing it. But with eyebrows.

But, as I said, minor points. The Caretaker gave the comedy of The Lodger a grumpier twist, while knowing at what points to switch into serious drama mode. With a simple plot but a focus on complex relationships, it felt tonally like an episode from the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who, and was a much-needed opportunity to take a break from complex plotting and work out where we really are with these three characters, while setting things into motion for the darker twists I’m sure are coming. All things considered, The Caretaker is not only one of the best episodes of series 8 yet but Gareth Roberts’ best script for Doctor Who.

As a bonus feature, now we’re mid-series, here’s how I rank the episodes so far, from awful to brilliant…

2. The Caretaker
1. Listen

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