Who wouldn’t want to travel with the Doctor on the TARDIS? If you wouldn’t, why are you watching Doctor Who? And worse, why in the blue Gallifrey are you reading this review? Most Whovians have spent considerable time imagining what it would be like to travel all of Time and Space with the Doctor, but I’d bet a lot of us haven’t actually thought through the logistics of hanging out with a time traveler. How would it impact our ‘normal’ lives?
Clara Oswald hasn’t actually ever had a normal life, no matter the incarnation. But recently, while she gets closer to Danny Pink, her life with the Doctor has started causing some hiccups with the new couple. It started in Listen, and it all boils over in The Caretaker.
More than any other companion before her, we get a real glimpse of how Clara’s life with the Doctor confuses and intermingled with her real life. And perhaps that has to do with the fact that she’s really the first companion not to travel with the Doctor for a solid, unbroken block of time. The episode opens with a brief montage of Clara dashing about, dodging danger with the Doctor, and slipping back into her relationship with Danny. The Doctor pops in and out of her life, but also, she pops in and out of her own life. It’s all very difficult for Clara to keep up with.
The Doctor shows up at Coal Hill school one day, playing the role of, who could have guessed it, the caretaker? And suddenly Clara’s life gets complicated and awkward to the point of frantic panic. But Clara knows the Doctor wouldn’t just show up for no reason. While she would love for him to get out of her ‘normal’ life, she understands that if he is there something is wrong and his presence is necessary.
But before that danger escalates, the Doctor starts to disrupt Clara’s otherwise normal life at school. Not only is he obviously investigating something, but he starts to come into direct contact with Danny, which worries Clara to no end. Obviously she isn’t ready for Danny to know her secret. But now that the Doctor is around Clara takes the opportunity to probe the link between the future Orson Pink they met during Listen. The Doctor, however, conveniently doesn’t remember Orson. The Twelfth Doctor’s propensity for forgetfulness and inability to assess anything human is, so far, one of his most charming traits. But of course, the Doctor lies, doesn’t he?
The first half to the episode is taken up mostly by this careful dance of maintaining distance between Clara and the Doctor. Unfortunately Danny begins to notice, and it’s only a matter of time between Clara’s cover is blown. But Clara is more concerned with why the Doctor is at Coal Hill, and he explains that a seriously bad killing machine is lurking somewhere nearby. Forget logical reason, it just is. The Doctor’s plan is to lure the dangerous killer to Coal Hill in order to trap it and take it away for safe removal. Again we see the Doctor willingly put others in danger, another recurring trait of Twelve.
The Doctor seeks out the episode’s villain as Clara searches for him, now that Danny has canceled their date. But Danny sees an opportunity to investigate the caretaker, who he is starting to suspect isn’t so much like a caretaker after all. Things take a bad turn when Danny runs into the Doctor trying to deal with the monster, and just like that everything Clara holds dear is thrown into turmoil. Danny finally sees Clara for who she is, an unfazed-by-aliens, knowing-more-than-she-should traveler of some sort. It’s a scene that really lets you feel for Clara, and you truly hope she and Danny can recover from her long-standing sham.
The thing is, it’s also one of the show’s greatest recurring moments: when someone new, someone you know is more than just a one-off, learns the startling truth about our favorite Time Lord. There’s something about that reveal that is so sacred to this show!
The whole episode was crafted as a way to bring Clara’s two worlds together. At one point the Doctor and Danny’s interaction becomes hostile, and it’s shocking to feel such anger and malice not only from the Doctor, but the show itself. The episode also serves as a sensitive look into who Clara is, and why she continues to travel with the Doctor. She’s quite vulnerable in this episode, and in portraying that it makes her and Danny’s relationship more tender and real. At this point Danny’s introduction, in light of his relationship with Clara, has been the most thoughtful and realistic in the show’s history. It actually makes the wonder we all feel at the prospect of flying off with the Doctor feel somehow less perfectly fantastic.
The Caretaker’s maguffin, the alien robot killing machine, is actually used quite well in that it is almost meaningless and a non-factor. The episode is so much about Clara’s lives mixing, and Danny being drawn into her life with the Doctor, that it only truly serves as a focal point to bind the episode together.
The question that hangs over the aftermath of The Caretaker is whether or not Clara will continue to run off with the Doctor by herself, or with Danny. It’s not clear as to whether or not Danny is really a new companion. From the previews of the next episode it doesn’t seem so, but there has to be more to Danny than just being an off-screen boyfriend. Only time will tell. All in all, The Caretaker was a surprisingly introspective look at a show that has never truly shown the serious side of it’s most fanciful notion, running off with a time traveler.
I still don’t think I’d hesitate!
image source: [doctorwhotv]