“Ooh, ooh! Well done P.E! Brilliant work! ‘What’s this - a Chronodyne generator. I’ll just deactivate this should I, I’ve got a swimming certificate! So that qualifies me to meddle with higher technology, never mind that some people are actually trying to save the planet. Oh no! There’s only room in my head for cross-country and the Offside Rule!’”
He’s opening his little face to the skies;
He’s George the Rabbit, the Rabbit
And he’s got a little habit;
Of stroking and being lovely
Fear not, readers, I haven’t gone completely mad. Not yet anyway. This example of lyrical genius is, admittedly, my own creation - but it’s not something I’ve just whipped up. Oh no. In what will undoubtedly guarantee me a place in the Rock and Roll ‘Hall of Fame’, I conjured up this particular verse on Saturday night, whilst high on morphine. There’s even a video to prove it. (And no, you can’t see it. Oh, and, to all future employers happening upon this page, perhaps whilst reviewing my resumé: this is all just a joke. HAHA. GET IT. HUMOUR IS VITAL FOR THE WORKPLACE.)
My point in regaling this embarrassing little tidbit is that we didn’t actually watch The Caretaker on Saturday night. We very wisely went straight to bed before I could film an audition for Britain’s Got Talent. Which is a shame in one sense, as it was the first time in eighteen years that DW has aired post-watershed. Perhaps one should have been more compos mentis for this historic occasion, but, clearly, I was too busy becoming Shakespeare for lagomorphs.
So - watching it on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September lent Graham Roberts’ The Caretaker a certain ‘back to school’ quality. Which is rather apposite, really, when you think about it.
Of course, the more fruitful parallel here is not Roberts’ earlier episodes, but School Reunion - written by Toby Whitehouse. I was worried that we’d see another example of S8 cannibalising previous DW stories - specifically Reunion - but I needn’t have been concerned. This was a very different episode with an entirely distinct structure and purpose. However, there are some interesting comparisons to be made.
- In School Reunion, the character drama is largely based on the companion’s (Rose’s) chagrin at the introduction of a foreign agent (Sarah Jane), leading to the embarrassment of the Doctor, as he has to deal with the presence of his two ‘loves’. (Resulting in one of the best lines in the entire episode.)
- In The Caretaker, the Doctor becomes the foreign agent, leading to the companion’s embarrassment, as she has to deal with the presence of her two ‘loves’.
The weight of power in the episode is thereby shifted onto Clara - a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of critics. For example, there’s definitely some significance in the reversal of roles here. Whitehouse has the Doctor as a teacher and the companion with the hands-on job (albeit for comic effect). Roberts, on the other hand, flips this round - Clara is now the teacher, and the Doctor is the school’s handyman.
“Oh, a Time LORD - I might’ve known."
"Might’ve known, what?"
"Well, the accents good, but you can always spot the aristocracy - it’s in the attitude. Now, Time Lords, do you salute those?”
The most memorable scene in The Caretaker for me was Danny’s confrontation with the Doctor in the TARDIS. It was, for lack of a better word, brutal. The principle actors performed the scene brilliantly - so well, in fact, that it all felt horrendously uncomfortable. I do wonder sometimes whether the subtleties of such moments is lost on DW’s international audience. The British just ‘get’ issues of class and privilege instinctively. They’re as ingrained in our history and interpretation of the world as much as issues of race are in North America.
When Danny lays the charge of aristocracy at the Doctor’s feet, then mockingly and self-abasingly puts himself as a soldier at this Officer’s behest - and in the CENTENARY year, no less - a little alarm goes off in the British sub-conscious. ‘Lions led by donkeys’.
Again, this is a meditation on power. We’ve already heard the Doctor described as hailing from a position of privilege (although we’ll ignore the fact that Listen seems to mess this up a bit). The Doctor is charged with being a toff. Grumpy, condescending, dismissive, detached and distant. An aristocrat. A donkey. His hatred of soldiers is not now seen ‘from below’, as if he was one of us, but as he’s one of those ’from above’ - an upper class gentlemen with contempt for soldiers, barking orders with dreadful consequence.
Power is what’s in focus here - and in this scene, it all takes on a slightly Marxist hue.
One can certainly see how The Caretaker could be charged by those so inclined. Although Clara is shouldered with both the dramatic and professional weight in this story, she is still subject to the two men in her life. She is forced to explain her choices and life-decisions to them. And then, these two men assert their custodianship over Clara - something she accepts as endearing. In that regard the title of this episode might prove a little more unsettling for some.
Let me be clear here. I’m not subscribing to this criticism myself. In fact, it was one of the first things my wife said to me after finishing the episode, that Danny constituted a positive example with respect to how men relate to women. Not abusive or harmful or controlling, but instead lovingly protective. Here at The Long Defeat we’re card-carrying complementarians. (But not gender essentialist. We’ll expand on all this at a later date on this blog.) Of course we’re going to affirm this as a relatively good example. Not only that, but perhaps also as an encouraging sign - that DW, a show notorious for its social liberalism, might depict performances reminiscent of (but not identical to) the NT's approach, perhaps indicating a ‘tectonic shift’ in pop culture’s approach to gender politics.
Still, it’s worth noting - the theme of ‘power’ runs deep in Roberts’ story, in a four-fold manner. First, contrary to School Reunion, the story shifts dramatic power away from the Doctor. Second, contrary to School Reunion, Roberts gives the professional power to the companion. Third, in this centenary year, we can identify a subtle class power in framing the Doctor as an aristocrat. Finally, the sexual power is for some unacceptably weighted in favour of the men in this episode.
Ellis George as Courtney was, for me, one of the biggest surprises. After the abomination that was the two kids in Nightmare in Silver, my heart sank a little when I learned that we’d have yet another child on board the TARDIS in this and the next episode. (Which looks genuinely incredible, by the way.) As it happened, she was, and is, perfectly cast. I think what makes it is that the Doctor is not the kooky uncle, but rather the exasperated stranger who just lets Courtney into his time machine to shut her up. His cynicism saves it. And in response, Courtney isn’t a cocky, spoilt little brat - she pukes on the TARDIS because she can’t handle it all. That’s all we ask when kids are allowed in to the show. No, not vomit, obviously - we just want to see them as real people. Scared, overwhelmed, ecstatic, whatever. But never Richie Rich - which is what Nightmare felt like, frankly.
Like last week, this episode boasts solid physical effects. The arachnid-styled Blitzer had a slight look and feel of the Racnoss about him, but I was surprised to learn from Doctor Who Extra that the person inside was Jimmy Lee, the same actor who played Banacafalata in Voyage of the Damned. He was one of my favourite things about that episode. (One of the only things!) Good to know he’s back in one form or another.
It was also wonderful to see Danny have his ‘revelation’ moment, when he finally realises who the Doctor is and gets to examine the TARDIS in all its glory. Did you notice Murray Gold’s subtle use of some of Amy’s music from Series 5? It was lovely to hear, and in a way it was fitting - we’ve not had a moment like this since Amy in The Eleventh Hour. Clara’s (multiple) introductions to the TARDIS, though majestic, weren’t as charmingly magical as Amy’s.
On top of this, Matt Risley’s review of this episode at IGN makes an interesting point. According to Risley, “Clara was always a companion whose very introduction made character growth problematic”. Think of ‘the impossible girl’ theme from Series 7b, and how, frankly, convoluted and odd that all was. Do you think we’ll ever see Clara explain this to Danny? It’s one thing revealing that you know a Time Lord from Gallifrey who takes you on trips in his magical time machine. It’s another thing entirely to reveal that in one sense or another you’ve lived countless lives, integrated into his time stream, never touching but always present, disseminated into bits to save the Doctor at all points in his life.
Yeah. I think that would be a tad cumbersome. And it’s telling that Roberts skips over it.
So, these are our (i.e. Jo and my) control scores:
- Day of the Doctor - 10/10
- Blink - 10/10
- Unicorn and the Wasp - 8/10
- Fear Her - 4/10 (Nathan); 6.5/10 (Jo)
- Love and Monsters - 6.5/10 (Nathan); 5/10 (Jo)
What about you?
And now, these are our scores for Series 8:
- Deep Breath - 9/10 (Nathan); 9.5/10 (Jo)
- Into the Dalek - 7.5/10 (Nathan); 7/10 (Jo)
- Robot of Sherwood - 8/10 (Nathan); 8.5/10 (Jo)
- Listen - 8.5/10 (Nathan); 8/10 (Jo)
- Time Heist - 9/10
- The Caretaker - 9/10
Again, what about you? We’ll do this again after the series finale, so you might want to keep track until then! :)