Doctor Who returns to Earth with a covert adventure from Gareth Roberts, writer of Agatha Christie-inspired episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp." This episode, while genuinely as entertaining as this season’s most recent tales, very well may be the most integral in terms of solidifying Capaldi’s brilliance as the iconic Time Lord (and vindicating Moffat for… lesser times).
“The Caretaker,” written by Roberts and Steven Moffat, marks the return of the Doctor’s (Peter Capaldi) alter ego, John Smith, who must go undercover as the caretaker of Clara’s (Jenna Coleman) school in order to save the Earth from a misplaced alien known as the Skovox Blitzer. To help matters further, a suspicious Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) takes a keen interest in his newest co-worker and is unimpressed with the amount – and type – of influence he has on Miss. Oswald, among other things.
It’s been over a month since the Doctor Who season 8 premiere provided the last real Earth-based adventure for the new Doctor, and this week’s episode thankfully continues this season’s trend of delivering “the best episode of the season," week after week. Though in this case, there appears to be many reasons “The Caretaker” may hold onto that title for quite some time, and rightfully so.
At the core of this story, at best, is a weak episodic tale, if we’re all being honest. A monster who is lost on Earth, and can, at any moment, destroy the planet is not exactly new to the series, and making it a robotic crab only makes its presentation that much more awkward. That is, of course, until you fall away to the impressive amounts creativity that’s being sprinkled throughout, allowing Clara – and in many ways, Danny – to take center stage, while Capaldi jumps in, here and there, to give viewers glimpses of a fantastic interpretation of the Doctor he’s yet to fully reveal.
There’s no doubt that being the companion of the Doctor can be as tiring as it is dangerous. This episode, however, gives viewers the truest sense of what it would be like to try and keep up with someone who has lived more lives than any human can imagine. From the opening montage which sets the pace of this episode to the surprisingly suspenseful final scenes, Clara has never served the role as companion as perfectly. She’s now more than just a plot device named “The Impossible Girl” with Capaldi, and as such, the clear divide that the series made with Clara’s feelings toward the Doctor has allowed her to become as rich of a character as her name would lead you to believe.
Right now there are two men in Clara’s life, the Doctor and Danny. Each have their own point of view, and each have their own “use” for Clara – a “use” which will likely be called into question in the near future. The Doctor wants Clara’s time and, as her title suggests, companionship. Danny, on the other hand, appears to be more altruistic in his intentions, though his want “to help” Clara will certainly require someone needing help. At this point, good intentions is where we lay, and it’ll be the subtle influences that Danny and the Doctor have on Clara which ultimately dictates her future.
The character of the Doctor, meanwhile, continues to prove himself to be the evolution Stephen Moffat said he would be. The last few episodes were more playful and fun, allowing Capaldi to grasp hold of each tale and enjoy the fruits of being employed on Doctor Who under Stephen Moffat. This tale required much more from Capaldi, however, as the core story alone couldn’t carry it, and he impressively uses each and every scene, as well as the breaks in between, to ever so slightly shift the character of the Doctor toward something more calculated, contemplative and, most importantly, dark.
Aside from the awkward season 8 premiere, this season of Doctor Who is actually turning out to be quite the fun adventure to follow. We’re now over halfway through with this current season and have already seen a number of fun episodes in Capaldi’s little time in the role. This week’s episode turned on the real character stories, which are now hopefully building toward something truly rewarding, and there’s really no sign that Moffat will be slowing things down in the coming episodes.
What about the Neithersphere, you say? The terrifyingly beautiful place which seems to occasionally pop up and give us a glimpse into a world filled with those who have passed. That, as always, will be revealed in time. Still, perhaps some hints can be revealed if one were to look closer at the moments it appears. Perhaps.
Doctor Who returns next Saturday with “Kill the Moon” @9pm on BBC America. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below: