Caution: This review contains spoilers on “The Caretaker.”
It was only a matter of time before a fight broke out on grounds. The rumble did not occur in the playground nor in the cafeteria of Coal Hill School but inside the assembly hall last week. There to break up the bout between the two upstarts was feisty schoolteacher Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), who attempted to restore order. Unfortunately, she’s not impartial in this case, as her heart is pulled toward her boyfriend, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson).
Let’s backtrack a little here. “The Caretaker” marks the sixth installment in the eighth season of “Doctor Who.” Clara’s life is a bit crazy as she balances the two most important relationships in her life. The Doctor beckons her to join him in a few adventures and after each, she’s catching her breath as she opens her door to Danny or joins him in the cab for their dinner dates. Sounds like the best of both worlds, right?
It seems to creak to a halt, not on Clara’s part, but the Doctor’s as he insists that he has something to do “deep cover.” However, this task requires going undercover as John Smith, a fill-in caretaker (school janitor) at Coal Hill School. There’s a Skovox Blitzer loose nearby, capable of taking out the entire planet, and the Doctor is determined to set a trap to lure it into a vortex that will send it far into the future. Skovox operates by scanning its target and then killing it with a barrage of lasers, as we saw with Matthew the Policeman.
There are a couple of lighter moments as the Doctor is setting his devices for the net. He unknowingly meets Clara’s boyfriend, whom he dubs “PE.” He can’t process that Danny is a Maths (or Math) teacher as he is a soldier. Adrian, another schoolteacher, stops Clara to set up a meeting about “The Tempest.” The Doctor mistakenly assumes that Adrian is Clara’s boyfriend and approves of the relationship, as the young man “resembles a certain time traveler.” Danny disrupts the Doctor’s net that evening, shortening the vortex’s time launching ability to 72 hours and leading to two major shouting matches by the two men. The Maths teacher finds the truth about the Doctor hard to believe, but he’s even more upset that Clara hid this part of her life from him.
In the end, Danny is quite instrumental in disabling the Skovox, which was a rather impressive robot complete with the lasers, scanner, and multiple legs. He knows that the Doctor wants someone who is “good enough” for Clara and his stunt to protect his girlfriend seems to appease the Time Lord for the moment. We get another glimpse of Matthew the Policeman, as Missy’s henchman Seb reveals another name for the Promised Land: the Nethersphere. Missy is too “busy” to speak with Matthew and looks unhappy.
Overall, the episode was decent. It’s easy to be a broken record about Peter Capaldi’s great performances. I’m still not sure about the big push to pair off Danny and Clara. The Danny-Clara conflict seems to take a lot of time away from developing the Doctor. The Doctor is supposed to be a darker figure this season, but often the time spent arguing with other characters almost casts him as puerile. I suppose that would be fitting for an episode set in a grade school, but it shouldn’t continue for multiple episodes. Connecting Danny and Clara (sometimes in such an obvious way, as with “Listen”), also suggests that Jenna Coleman might leave “Doctor Who” as speculated in the media. Ultimately, Clara will have to make a choice, unless the Promised Land premise turns out to be a big game changer here.
“Doctor Who” airs Saturday evenings on BBC America at 9|8c.