Monday, 29 September 2014

DOCTOR WHO: THE CARETAKER review, 27 September 2014

Another winner for the Peter Capaldi regime. No, I can't quite believe it either.

"Call me sir!" (Image: BBC)

Gareth Roberts is great at writing comedy. 'The Caretaker''s romcom intro sets out the story's stall, using the conventions of farce that have served everything from The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) to Peep Show (2003-) so well: characters trying to keep secrets from each other as they dash from one situation to the next. Having the Doctor pose as a caretaker in a school also taps into the childhood wish that your hero might be hanging out in the boiler room and keeping a discreet eye on you.

'The Caretaker' is a lot better than Roberts' last undercover-Doctor-story 'Closing Time'. In that Roberts got a bit carried away with the comedy so that most of the dramatic scenes with the Cybermen were crammed into the climactic sequence; the 'power of lurve' solution was also really annoying, as it'd been used in just about every story that year. By contrast, 'The Caretaker' is an extremely well-constructed and elegant piece of writing. The humour and drama are well balanced and don't result in a mixed message, as happened in director Paul Murphy's last episode 'The Robot of Sherwood'. There, the fun Errol Flynn-ness of Robin Hood and his merry men didn't connect with the serious theme of myths being more powerful than history. Here, everything fits together seamlessly.

Like all the stories in this series, 'The Caretaker' is hugely entertaining as well as offering plenty to think about. The Doctor and Clara are now an A1 combination, perhaps one of the best Doctor/companion combos ever. With great material to play with, Jenna Coleman shows what an accomplished comedienne she is and Peter Capaldi reveals a more avuncular but still abrasive side to the Doctor, handling all Roberts' one-liners with great skill. 

What's brilliant about Doctor Who is that in the space of one scene, the tone can switch from sprightly humour to thought-provoking seriousness. Danny Pink's past as a soldier comes into sharp focus when he calls the Doctor an 'officer' and, from his past military experience, he recognises how dangerous the Time Lord can be. Predictably, they don't get on, but it's not that simple – perhaps from his spat about rank with Danny, the Doctor gets the idea for defeating the Skovoz Blitzer, convincing the war machine he's its commander so he can order it to shut down. It's understated, but in defeating the robot with words, not violence, he's making a point to Danny. That's how great Doctor Who is this year. And how good is Samuel Anderson?

Continuing the theme of words, it's great to see more literary references in the series and they're both there for a reason. Pride and Prejudice's Mr Darcy lets his pride get in the way of good judgement and the Doctor isn't above making incorrect assumptions about people either, the intellectual time traveller dismissing Danny as 'PE'. The Tempest, featuring Prospero, a wizard in charge of his own world who has an attentive daughter called Miranda, are an obvious and telling parallel with the Doctor and Clara. The series is also referencing itself, with Adrian (Edward Harrison) bow tied and coiffured to resemble the Eleventh Doctor. When Clara says 'He's just a friend and not my type', the look the Doctor gives her - having previously glowed when he assumed Adrian was Clara's boyfriend - is really funny. 

Ah, and Missy is back. My theory is that she's the Master (Missy = Mistress, the feminine of Master). But coming back from the afterlife? That's bold territory for Doctor Who to explore.

My only criticism is that Roberts expects the audience to already know why the Skovoz Blitzer is interested in Coal Hill School. The reference to 'artron energy' is very throwaway, and if you were a newbie you'd be unaware of a backstory that goes all the way back to the very first episode 'An Unearthly Child', as well as the 1980s stories 'Attack of the Cybermen' and 'Remembrance of the Daleks'. 

And there were no Harold Pinter jokes. Then again, I guess you can't have everything. 99% will have to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment