September 30, 2014

Ossie Loves a Squaddie: A Review of THE CARETAKER

Modern Doctor Who has tended to break several of the classic series' storytelling "taboos": it has suggested that companions have a life outside of the TARDIS; it has delivered liberal amounts of humor without devolving into camp; and it has made the Doctor fair game in terms of character development. Some sections of fandom hate that, claiming that "my Doctor wouldn't do that" and complaining about how the new series just "isn't as good" as the classic.

If you're one of those people, this review of The Caretaker is going to deeply offend you. So please head to YouTube and watch funny cat videos.

Are they gone? Good, because I really enjoyed The Caretaker....probably more than I expected, simply because it deftly balances humor, wit, and some darker, more complicated emotional tones without missing any marks.

Gareth Roberts is probably the closest modern Who has to Douglas Adams - there's a good reason why Roberts was chosen to novelize Adams' lost script Shada (and coming soon, City of Death). He manages to write witty, funny dialogue that never seems over the top. In tone, The Caretaker resembles both of Roberts' latter Who scripts (The Lodger, Closing Time) than his earlier ones (The Shakespeare Code, The Unicorn & the Wasp). The first half of the episode simply crackles - I was thinking of including favorite quotes, but realized that I would merely be parroting most of the first half of the episode.

But it's how Roberts (and I'm presuming, Moffatt, who gets co-writer credit) shifts into the second half, turning it into a conflict between Danny Pink & the Doctor. It's here that we get a lot of insight into the Doctor's character - sure, the Doctor has spent the first half making "PE Teacher" jokes about Danny, but when the two men meet, sparks fly....and many of the themes of this season begin to take shape.
Some commenters/podcasters/bloggers have remarked that this episode drifts away from the theme of the Doctor wondering "What kind of man am I?"....but I would like to offer a rebuttal. I've been catching up with Mad Men, and one of the themes of that show is that self-discovery is never easy. Living a dual life has a psychological and emotional toll, especially living within a given context. For Don Draper, the self-confidence that emerged from living another man's life lead to some reckless, potentially self-destructive behavior....but there's never been a "eureka" moment in his life - just a series of confrontations and subtle revelations.

In "The Caretaker", Danny Pink provides (possibly) the greatest confrontation - and explanation - of the Doctor's behavior, and it's not pleasant.
"You're not a solider - you're an officer.

So far this season, we've seen the Doctor be vulnerable and regretful for his mistakes; learned that he defined himself as "not the Daleks" - so much that his core is a hatred of them; he's rather competitive and arrogant, and that his own feelings of superiority lead him to some self-hatred. Here, all of that comes to play on some level - the Doctor has led a hard-scrabble life, and has actually been a soldier. Now, on some level, he sees himself as a "higher rank"....and Danny Pink knows it and calls him on it. And I'm really liking Danny Pink as a more down-to-earth perspective on the much so that I hope he never becomes a traveller in the TARDIS.

Finally, another thing that - I hope - is a change from business as usual. Normally, the female lead in modern Doctor Who has tended to leave under less than ideal circumstances. (And no Journey's End/End of Time references - I'm talking about how past companions have been exiled to parallel universes, have their families nearly destroyed, and having their mind wiped). Given recent rumors about Jenna Coleman's status in the show, this episode may be laying the groundwork for an eventual endgame....and I'm hoping it's positive. After all, having a healthy, well-adjusted person choose to leave the Doctor and live a relatively drama-free life?
Now that would be a taboo worth breakng.

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