Timestamp #257: The Caretaker

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Doctor Who: The Caretaker
(1 episode, s08e06, 2014)

Timestamp 257 The Caretaker

Life, love, and lies in time and space.

Clara and the Doctor begin this adventure chained to posts on Geonosis a red desert planet with no name. The Doctor asks Clara for the vibro-cutters, but she left them in her other jacket. The Doctor asks why she has a backup jacket, to which Clara retorts that even if she had the device, she wouldn’t be able to pass it because her hands are restrained.

Of course, they won’t die of exposure because the sand piranhas will eat them first.

They escape somehow and Clara meets Danny for a date. He comments on her deep tan.

Later, she tries to leave for another date only to find the Doctor and the TARDIS in her bedroom. He tempts her with an adventure among the fish people. She later explains her soaking wet dress and the seaweed in her hair as a freak rain shower.

On another adventure, the travelers run from soldiers bent on killing them. She then meets up with Danny for a run outside. When she gets home, she claims that she can’t keep this up. She then decides that she has everything under control.

Clara enters the TARDIS for another trip but the Doctor says that he has nothing for her to do. She calls his bluff but he maintains the story that he’s going undercover. Clara is not convinced but leaves the Doctor to his work. Clara finds out the next day that his undercover assignment is as John Smith, the new caretaker of Coal Hill School.

Oh, boy.

Clara finds a moment to interrogate the Doctor about this mission, but the Doctor has no desire to explain why he’s working there. He simply says that the children will be safe if he’s allowed to complete his task.

Later on, a police officer finds two students on the street. He tells them to get back to school, then investigates a strange noise in a nearby abandoned building. The officer is soon killed by an alien robot.

The Doctor interrupts Clara’s class to tell her that she has the publication date of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice wrong. She introduces him to the class as the new caretaker, and as the bell rings, he continues laying devices around the school perimeter. Clara finds the Doctor talking to Danny and Adrian Davies, and she eavesdrops to help preserve the secret of their traveling relationship. She also reminds the Doctor about Colonel Orson Pink before being pulled away for teaching business. The Doctor mistakes Adrian for Clara’s boyfriend, and as he continues his work, Danny keeps a suspicious eye on him.

The Doctor also meets Courtney Woods when the schoolgirl finds him working in the TARDIS (which is hidden in the caretaker’s workshop). Courtney threatens to tell the headmaster about the strange blue box but the Doctor deflects as Clara arrives. After Courtney leaves, the Doctor explains that he’s looking for a Skovox Blitzer, a machine that may be hunting the artron energy and will kill everyone in its path before destroying Earth. He also shows her a wrist-mounted cloaking device that he will use to prevent the Blitzer from scanning him while he traps it.

Oh, and he’s lured it to the school.

Clara meets up with Danny and they discuss plans for a date and the new caretaker. After the school closes and the sun sets, the Doctor puts his plan into action, unaware that Danny is stalking him. Clara also canceled her date in order to help the Doctor, so all three of them are in harm’s way.

The Blitzer pursues the Doctor by following the scanning devices that Danny Pink moved to the assembly hall. The Doctor saves Danny’s life by pulling the Blitzer into the temporal vortex and casting it into the future. He chastises Danny for interfering, concerned that the device changes have altered the plan. Instead of returning in one billion years, the Blitzer will return in three days.

Danny puts the clues together and the Doctor tries to erase his memory. As Clara tries to convince him otherwise, she admits that she loves the math teacher. She determines that the best way to explain everything is the truth, including showing Danny the TARDIS.

Danny wants to call in the military to fight the Blitzer, but the Doctor tells Clara to take Danny away. The humans go to Clara’s flat to deal with what Danny has learned while the Doctor resets the trap. Despite her denials, Danny struggles with whether or not Clara loves the Doctor romantically, but he does accept that she travels to see the wonders of the universe. He does, however, feel betrayed by the lies, so Clara offers the cloaking watch so he can observe how she interacts with the Doctor.

In the TARDIS, Clara tries to change the Doctor’s opinion of Danny, but she fails. Danny decloaks himself and the Doctor reveals that Time Lords can feel invisibility fields around them. Danny and the Doctor argue – Danny considers the Time Lord to be pompous due to his aristocratic title and the Doctor sees the math teacher as nothing more than a soldier – and the teachers leave for Parents Night.

The Doctor presumes that he is alone but is met again by Courtney. The Doctor shows Courtney the TARDIS, suggesting that she could travel with him because there may soon be a vacancy. Meanwhile, the teachers meet with the parents as the vortex unexpectedly opens and deposits the Blitzer in the assembly hall.

The Doctor summons Clara to help. Danny follows but is rebuffed by the Doctor while Clara acts like a decoy. The Blitzer chases Clara into the caretaker’s storeroom where the Doctor is waiting with an improvised trap and poses as the Blitzer’s superior officer. Danny provides a final distraction that gives the Doctor enough time to end the threat. The Time Lord and the math teacher finally resolve their conflict as they both realize that Danny is good enough for Clara.

The Doctor takes Courtney as he leaves the Blitzer in deep space, but the schoolgirl proves that she can’t handle travel in the TARDIS. Back in Clara’s flat, Danny explains that he knows the Doctor because he’s seen men like him in the military. He asks her to tell him if the Doctor pushes her too far.

Finally, in a brightly lit office, the police officer who was killed by the Blitzer is being interviewed by a man named Seb. It is revealed that CSO Matthew is in the afterlife in a place called the Nethersphere, and as he spots Missy walking the hallway, Seb asks the new arrival if he has any questions.

This story is this set’s The Lodger and Closing Time, and that leaves it on somewhat shaky ground. It is great to see some development with Clara and Danny, but the counter is how the Doctor is so abrasive and detached from the people he’s trying to protect. Further, he literally draws the threat to the school, potentially placing plenty of innocents in danger when the plan goes sideways.

At the point, the halfway mark in Peter Capaldi’s debut series, it’s painfully apparent that the Doctor is alien. It’s also painfully apparent that he has not grown into the traditional role of being a companion to those he serves and travels with.

It’s a double-edged sword. It’s a good dynamic to explore in the revival era, which has had plenty of Doctors that are intimately familiar with their companions, but the abrasiveness is also off-putting. Even the Sixth and Ninth Doctors had a certain degree of compassion, but the Twelfth (to this point) feels like he sees humanity as something beneath him.

This story also echoes to another revival-era undercover story in School Reunion with similar results from a less prickly Doctor. The artron emissions that drew the Blitzer to Earth could either be from every adventure that the Doctor has had on the planet, or it could be specific to Coal Hill with An Unearthly Child, Attack of the Cybermen, Remembrance of the Daleks, and maybe even The Day of the Doctor. The first adventure is also nodded to with the “Home sweet home” throwaway line, and another callback reaches out to Mawdryn Undead with the discussion that a soldier cannot become a math teacher. The Brigadier would like a word, dear Doctor.

This had the power to be a great character-building story, but I couldn’t get past the Doctor’s apparent lack of progress on the same plane.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Kill the Moon


The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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