A caretaker is someone that maintains a particular space and cleans up messes. The Doctor manages to almost spectacularly fail in both of these roles: at least for this episode. For a Time Lord who is excellent at running, he is dismal at hiding for extended periods of time without drawing a great deal of attention. For a Doctor Who episode that is called “The Caretaker,” the events that unfold are the antithesis of that word.
In fact, it seems as though The Doctor is not the only one good at making messes for the purposes of attempting to fix them. Even as The Doctor — and I use the term lightly — infiltrates Clara Oswald’s school in order to lure an alien weapon called the Skovox into neutralization, Clara herself is on a tight-rope balancing act between not telling The Doctor about her boyfriend Danny Pink and not telling Danny Pink about The Doctor. It’s in this episode in particular that we get to see the complexities of the relationships between these three characters and just how messed up they become, at least initially, when they finally reach a head.
Clara … does not handle this well. For someone who is a Companion to a two thousand year old Time Lord, who has reached the point of opening the TARDIS with a flick of her own fingers, who had her sense of self spread throughout space and time, she comes across as quite immature in dealing with and making sense of romantic and even platonic love relationships. However, I’d like to think that this can be forgiven to some extent as Clara has spent most of her life, with or without The Doctor (if the latter is at all possible) doing other things and not focusing on relationships. She might be an excellent Companion, but as a girlfriend she is still learning. And as a character outside and away from The Doctor she is still growing too.
But The Doctor has far less of an excuse: especially with his hostility towards Danny Pink. I think, however, that Danny Pink opens up another facet to the show and this is the episode, where everyone is stepping on each other’s toes, that he really starts to shine. It’s here, when he finally confronts The Doctor that we learn two things. First, that The War Doctor still exists inside of our favourite Time Lord in a lot of ways and, second, there may be something of a story behind Danny’s hesitancy in talking about his past as a soldier. This man is no Brigadier or Wilfred Mott and The Doctor is not the same being he was before he left Earth in his fateful Eighth incarnation. I will say that the words “soldier” and “officer” come into play and they explain a lot about those two characters.
In a way, the monster in this episode was almost quite incidental and just a plot point to get all three characters truly acquainted. I do find it ironic that The Doctor, who creates an invisibility watch, is really bad at hiding and the mechanism that he wears on his back to deal with the second coming of the creature looks like a Ghostbuster proton-pack. I also think the question, “What’s a policeman without a death-ray?” truly made my day.
It was also fascinating to see this Doctor deal with elements of his past: particularly his reference to River Song (the first time this incarnation ever refers to her), the adoption of his age-old moniker John Smith, and the red herring in the form of an excitable younger man in a bow-tie whom he believes that Clara is in love. Even the title of this episode is a misconception, “The Caretaker” being a word sounding awfully close to Tom Baker’s “Curator,” but The Doctor is a long way from becoming a kindly, sedentary old man. Right now, he can barely even deal with a small child throwing up in his TARDIS.
As a result “The Caretaker” ends up leaving more loose ends than resolutions. We have yet to see the further dynamic between Danny and The Doctor: or just what orders might have been too much for Danny to follow back in the day. And then there is Missy again, and someone else who is working for her in the Promised Land … dealing with the dead.
No matter what you think of this series, I think we can all agree that no matter what this is going to be messy indeed.