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Monday, 29 September 2014

Doctor Who S34E6: The Caretaker.


Doctor Who
Series 34 Episode 6
The Caretaker.



We are now halfway through this series. It's a little shorter than most Doctor Who series, twelve episodes instead of thirteen, and I do wonder why, although the answer is almost certainly 'scheduling blocks are not always the easiest things to work with' and not anything more interesting and sinister than that.

This episode is also, as the preview probably told you, focused mostly on the Clara and Danny romance subplot, which is not my favourite subplot. Not because I dislike Clara, not because I dislike Danny, nor even because I dislike them together, but because Steven Moffat is not good at penning romances. He keeps doing it, and god only knows why, because the man is incapable of writing a compelling romance without relying on destiny and the major plot points of Audrey Niffenegger books.

I was not predisposed to like this episode, and yet, the romance is not my most major problem with it. But before we get started, let's look at last week's bingo:



Okay, that will – a few more spaces will be filled in this episode, I'm sure of it.

In this episode, Clara, already struggling with balancing her regular life as one of the most overworked and derided professions in the UK (what up, Michael Gove) who's also carrying on a romance, and her less regular life of travelling time and space fighting crime, is alarmed to learn that the Doctor has turned up at her school, posing as a new caretaker, to take down an alien menace who looks suspiciously like Davros crossed with that one Russell T. Davies monster from that interactive special. What will Clara do when – you know, I can't complete this summary in a way that sounds remotely interesting, this episode was just too frustrating.

Okay, review over, go home.

… Not that you're not – I mean, if you're at some kind of internet cafe, maybe … Look, maybe just switch tabs.

I am a highly professional reviewer, you see, you see.

… Right, okay, yes, more – more reviewing.

Where do I even start. This is a premise that has potential: The Doctor blurring the lines between a companion's regular life and their life with him, and the ensuing problems with that, have been a staple of New Who. Moffat tends to devote slightly tedious episodes to it, but it was a running theme in Davies' series as well. It recurs in large part because there's a lot you can do with it, and it contextualises just how alien the Doctor is.

Note that I'm saying 'alien' and not 'racist', as the latter was what I got from the episode, not the former.

There are many unfortunate implications with the Doctor's recurring insistence that Danny must be a PE teacher, not a Maths teacher: The implication we're supposed to take from it is that the Doctor thinks Danny is stupid because he's a soldier, because – I don't know, soldiers don't regularly work with complicated equipment and machinery?

But here's an experiment. Detach it from the Doctor's random rants about soldiers so far this series, and what are you left with? Yes. An elderly white man refusing to accept that a black man is an intellectual and instead insisting that he must be a knuckle-dragging idiot. Golly. That's a bit awkward.

You know what makes it more awkward? Courtney. Courtney, the young black girl who gets no characterisation other than being called a 'disruptive influence' and which the Doctor snidely implies is a shoplifter.

So what we're left with is an episode where, among other things, an elderly white man calls a young black girl a shoplifter and implies a black man is stupid. Are you okay there, Moffat?

I mean, apart from being so misogynistic you can actually prove it
through science, Moff.

But fine, fine. I can judge an episode on the merits of its non horrifyingly unfortunate implication sections. So what is the rest of this episode like?

Frustrating. Incredibly frustrating. Frustrating.

I am frustrated.

Here's a suggestion for the episode: Have Clara just tell Danny what's going on, in the first thirty seconds. How weary I have grown of the 'lulz we have to keep it a seeeecreeeet from our loved oooones' plot, having seen it in every comic book, vaguely supernatural television series, and film produced since before my birth. In this case, there's no good reason not to tell Danny: They live in a world where aliens are common knowledge, and it's not as if him knowing will put him at risk. Just do it.

Instead, what proceeds is a tangled skein of bad lies that eventually culminate in some of the most poorly written conflict I've seen in literally two or three weeks, as the Doctor casually mentions that he's aristocracy and Danny flies off the deep end. Speaking of, Doctor, the Time Lords are the standing military of Gallifrey, you are an ex-soldier.

Also, the Brigadier. The Brigadier, the Brigadier, the Riedagirb, the Brigadier. I will keep mentioning him every time the Doctor raises his dislike for all things soldier, because Moffat appears to have forgotten he existed.

I'm alarmed too, suspiciously familiar but not technically recycled monster.

But it's okay! With some well-placed somersaulting, that time honoured method of conflict resolution (Sano Gaku is highly sought after for Northern Ireland police work), an agreement is come to, because it turns out that what each of our grim male characters want is for the other to treat Clara proper. The Doctor gruffly nods, his eyes alight with the 'treat her wrong and I'll gut you' schtick. Danny wraps Clara in his strong, muscular arms, rants at her for about sixty minutes about how she's a liar and that's terrible, before telling her to tell him to go talk to him if the Doctor ever gets too pushy.

It's like a WH Smith romance novel, except not entertaining. This, incidentally, is why I finally deigned to cross off 'misogyny' on the bingo, despite holding back on that thus far. Because two men gruffly fighting over the safety and happiness of a woman without ever actually taking said women's feelings into account, asking her what she thinks about this, or in any sense seeking her input at all except to clarify certain factual points? That's pretty misogynistic by my standards.

Especially when it's in the same episode as the Doctor humiliating Clara in front of her class. Remember, there is nothing more brutal and ruthless than children trapped in an enclosed space for a day with authority figures telling them what to do.

This has knocked the first episode off its throne, and that isn't an easy task. It is the worst episode this series.

Ugh. Here's the bingo: 



If you're wondering why 'mysterious mature female character who wants the Doctor's D' is crossed off, it's because Missy showed up again, if only for a second. We already know that she fits that square like a glove, it's just that she hadn't appeared from the third episode onwards.

Next week, we're on the Moon. Should be fun. Like the Moon.


2 comments:

  1. Oddly enough this is one of the few episodes I enjoyed. And not because I disagree about the racism or misogyny. I just haven't taken to Capaldi's Doctor and in this episode he wasn't the focal point of the episode. So I found it more enjoyable from that standpoint.

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    1. It helps that Gareth Roberts, who co-wrote this episode with Moffat, is actually a pretty good writer, and seems to quite like doing these kinds of 'the normal world collides with the Doctor at great speeds' stories. I quite like Capaldi's Doctor, but it's still nice to have stories where the focus is shifted off him a bit.

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