Monday, 29 September 2014

Doctor Who Review: the Caretaker

(Yes, yes: there will be spoilers.)

Oh dear. Another stinker.

This week's episode was about the Doctor and Danny. There was some special effects malarky with what looked like a rich kid's remote-control vacuum cleaner, and a silly story to go with it. The Doctor wanted to lay a trap for the killer Hoover at the one place in the Universe where Clara would be the ideal assistant -- the school she works at -- and he decided instead to give her the day off, and to instead play the comic caretaker. As I say, it was mostly a contorted senseless setup of an officially Antagonistic Relationship.

Assuming that my intention had in fact been to watch a time-travel soap opera, I still would have been unimpressed. The Doctor apparently dislikes Danny because he's a soldier. This makes almost zero sense, because the Doctor has been friends with many soldiers in his time, even since the advent of the apocalyptic plot device of the Time War.

And even if we do accept that the Doctor has some sudden military mania, why did this manifest itself with the clumsy nonsense of the Doctor refusing to believe that Danny was a maths teacher?

And if the excuse was to maintain a Comic Tone, why was said Comic Tone shattered by many minutes of Emotional Dialogue that made Eastenders look like Shakespeare? If I want science fiction soap opera with a comic touch, I can find more emotional depth on an old episode of Red Dwarf.

If the writers think it's a novel idea to have a companion who doesn't get along with the Doctor, there must be a million other more entertaining and more convincing ways to introduce one. Couldn't the Doctor and Danny have clashed over some real difference of opinion on how to deal with the robot vacuum cleaner? Couldn't Danny have screwed up the Doctor's plan in a more definitively objectionable way than just turning up?

One possible reason is that we're supposed to finally appreciate just how alien the Doctor is -- his clashes with Danny are inexplicable because he is inexplicable. But in that case, why is this the first time in all of his incarnations that he has been so alien? We can imagine that this might be explained in some glorious season finale or Christmas Special, but I'm sceptical that I'll suddenly jump up from my seat and cry, "Aha! The writing wasn't creaky and jarring and uneven after all! It's just that he's been zapped by an Internal-Consistency Disturbance Field so strong that it threatens to destroy the entire Universe!"

No, I think the show is just struggling with its historical inability to produce decent male companions.

Usually the companions are strictly female. Back in the 70s, the assumed justification for the Doctor being accompanied across the universe by an attractive young lady was that Seventies British Dad needed something to enjoy on those Saturday nights when he couldn't go down to the pub with his mates and get hammered and blot Seventies Britain from his mind. Seventies Mum never watched Doctor Who -- she was in the kitchen with the dinner, boiling the hell out of it.

But now we are in 21st century Britain, and the whole family contributes equally to dinner, through democratic ordering off the Indian take-out menu. So the occasional male companion is also required. But these fellows seem to do no more than continue the line of dolts who came before them. There hasn't been a decent male companion since Jamie hung out with the Second Doctor [1]. Consider this short and sad list: Harry Sullivan, Adric, Turlough, and Rory. And now Danny.

Just a minute, what about Captain Jack? Everyone loved him. In fact, he was so good that he wasn't allowed to travel regularly with the Doctor, and had to be given his own television show instead.

The other male companion of note (although he rarely travelled with the Doctor) was of course the Brigadier. If ever we need to be reminded with what wit a character can be drawn, and how wonderfully he can endear an audience for decades, then we need look no further than the redoubtable Brigadier -- with every episode of gentle sparring with the Doctor, every roll of his eyes and a cry of, "Doctor, do you really expect me to believe…?", and every time he yearned to dispatch of the latest alien menace with an air strike, we remember what Doctor Who writers could once produce.

Can they do it again? I'm sure they could -- but it's not likely to be with Danny.

Other Doctor Who reviews:
Robot of Sherwood
Time Heist
Kill the Moon
Mummy on the Orient Express
In the Forest of the Night
Dark Water
Death in Heaven

1.  Jamie was a highlander who was plucked briefly from his fight against the English. Jamie, from the past, was excellently paired with Zoe, from the future. The Doctor was kind enough never to allow him the heartbreak of a visit to September 2014.


  1. You are so wrong... learn to love the show (and some of its past) and not be a complete hater .....

    Never will ever read your rubbish ever again.. time to move with the times..

    1. I loved the old show, and I've loved some of the new -- see my review of last week's "Time Heist", which I thought was fantastic.

      I should also have said that I did think there were a lot of great lines in this episode. For what that's worth.

      But you're not reading this, are you? Oh well.

  2. Looks like the brave Anonymous has found his way over from the Guardian, where it is strictly verboten to criticize the show.

    I agreed with pretty much everything you said, I also couldn't stand the "disruptive influence" girl who looks set to be a regular occurrence (sigh). Where are the kids that Clara used to babysit, they were much less annoying.

  3. Oh yeah, I forgot about her. I found the Doctor's efforts to tempt a teenage schoolgirl to see the wonders of the universe with him a tad creepy.

  4. While I concur with the overall sentiment of your review I can't agree with your inference that Adric and Turlough were somehow poor companions.

    It is a shame that Moffat appears incapable of making his recent male companions anything other than love interests to their stronger female counterparts however. It's becoming more than a little tiring to see a borderline idiotic Doctor flanked by sassy, genius-level 20-something girls with, "safe and moronic boyfriend" in tow.

    1. I may have been unfair to Adric and Turlough. I remember them as both a bit dour and grumpy, but I admit my memory of the Peter Davison years is vague.

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  6. That "killer Hoover" is a Dalek with a face.


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