Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 6, “The Caretaker” Review

by William Hohmeister

Hi all. My review of “The Caretaker”, the episode 6 Doctor Who series 8, differs a bit from my other reviews. I’ve got more questions than answers.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is the titular caretaker at Clara’s school, Coal Hill. Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) has to handle both the Doctor and her boyfriend, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). The episode is pretty standard monster-of-the-week stuff. The Skovox Blitzer, a robot with an arsenal that can destroy a planet, does little more than advance the plot between the characters.

The Doctor doesn’t like soldiers. Why? None of the prior Doctors displayed this hostility. Even Ten, who hated guns and disliked authority, worked with and seemed to respect soldiers. Eleven was sympathetic towards the grunts, like Cleric Bob in “The Time of Angels.” The Eighth Doctor asked to be a warrior in “The Day of the Doctor.” But Capaldi’s Doctor displays little but scorn and contempt for people like Journey Blue and Danny Pink. Why?

I think this is a more important question than it seems at first. In “Deep Breath”, the Doctor claims he wants to fix his past mistakes. Have we seen him do that? Is there any way that this Doctor seems like he’s grown as a character from Eleven? The argument I’ve seen is that he’s more mature because he’s disillusioned; instead of trying to save everyone, the Doctor saves the people he can and maintains “professional detachment” (to quote Psi).

skovoxblitzer

The Skovox Blitzer

How is this maturity? The Skovox Blitzer is a war machine in hiding. It kills a policeman early on. We know little about it beyond that. The Doctor wants to lure it to Clara’s school to dispose of it safely. Clara objects, but goes along with it. Danny accidentally interrupts the process, which causes the Doctor to go on a rant about Danny’s stupidity. In reality, this rant should be directed at the Doctor, who, aside from reckless endangerment, never thought to create a backup plan in case someone found his devices.

The Skovox Blitzer is a war machine, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility of sentience or redemption. The Doctor gives it the chance for neither. The monster reinforces the Doctor’s militant beliefs. The Doctor is so focused on destroying the threat, he ignores everything else, including:

  1. The Doctor created the threat by provoking the monster
  2. Danny’s suggestion to evacuate the school after the monster returns
  3. Clara’s dependence on orders to stay alive
  4. The Doctor only tries to negotiate when he is cornered and unarmed

Although he claims to hate soldiers, the Doctor uses the instincts of soldiers to his advantage. And the primary instinct of a soldier isn’t to kill or destroy. After seeing her with the Doctor, Danny Pink points out to Clara:

dannycaretaker

Danny Pink

You weren’t even scared. And you should have been.

Danny questions the Doctor, and does not obey; when he comes to the rescue, it goes against the Doctor’s plan. When he questions the Doctor, he touches a more sensitive nerve than we’ve seen yet. The Doctor loses his calm because Danny salutes him and points out the obvious: the Doctor has considerable more bloodlust than any soldier we’ve met in the series. The Doctor believes that fixing his mistakes means destroying threats, not saving people.

Clara has the soldier’s instinct to obey. A warrior/murderer/psychopath is driven by bloodlust, but a soldier functions on a strict hierarchy that he or she trusts to keep them alive. Clara trusts the Doctor, so when he uses her as bait/distraction, she doesn’t question him. The Doctor uses this, and has developed a paternal attitude toward Clara because of it. He says (of Danny):

You’ve explained me to him, but you haven’t explained him to me!

Not to mention his threats to kick Clara off the TARDIS if she disobeys. More than any other Doctor I’ve seen, Twelve has deliberately turned Clara into a useful weapon/tool. Though the episode explores Clara’s relationships, she is the only character left without resolution. The Doctor has always been dangerous to be around, but now he is a bad influence for his only friend.

seb

Seb!

Which makes Missy (Michelle Gomez) much more interesting. We know little about her, though we meet her assistant, Seb (Chris Addison), who introduces the dead policeman to… somewhere. It acts as a way station, I think, a way to the Promised Land, the Afterlife, the Nethersphere, and probably more. Seb also hints that Missy is god, or god-like. She certainly shows more concern for the (mostly) nameless casualties the Doctor now ignores. Which brings me to my question:

Is the Doctor still the hero of Doctor Who? Small things say “no.” The monster-of-the-week, though common to past series, was usually the focus of the episode. Instead, the monsters are nothing compared to a Doctor more willing to take the extreme/easy option.

Other things of interest: What is a Time Lord? I thought it was a species name for the former Gallifreyans, but “Listen” and “The Caretaker” state it was a social class or rank. If you know the history (and though I’ve looked it up, I can’t find a definite answer) leave m e a comment below or tweet @hohmeisw.

images © BBC Worldwide

Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 5: “Time Heist” Review

by William Hohmeister

“Time Heist” is a good episode. I do not like it. The fifth episode of series 8 Doctor Who is well-paced, has strong characters and an interesting plot, but I can’t stand it. It was co-written by Steven Moffat and Stephen Thompson. Thompson also wrote the episode I hate most in all of Doctor Who: “The Curse of the Black Spot.”

The episode is a bit disjointed because the characters each wipe their memories five minutes in. The setup is: Madame Karabraxos (Keeley Hawes), an old woman full of regret, calls the Doctor (Peter Capaldi). She met him long ago, but he has not yet met her. She asks him to save the Teller (Ross Mullan), a telepathic species with only two living members. The Doctor agrees, and assembles Team Not Dead: Psi (Jonathon Bailey), a cyborg, and Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), a shapeshifter. Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) is also in the episode, but only for morale.scrooge

Team Not Dead plans how to break into Bank Karabraxos, the most secure bank in the universe. The bank uses the Teller to detect guilt, and melt the brains of the guilty. The Teller’s mate is a hostage to young Madame Karabraxos, who lives in her bank vault like Scrooge McDuck.

The Doctor uses the Tardis to plant equipment for the heist, and records himself as the “Architect” to give the team instructions. He uses the gross/adorable memory worms to wipe their minds, including his own. This is interesting: the Doctor is unusually open and honest prior to the heist. He makes plans to keep everyone alive, tells them why he wants to rob the bank, and tells them what treasure they will want to take. After the mind-wipe the Architect manipulates everyone, including the Doctor. The Doctor tries to remain aloof, but his confusion makes him a part of the team.

psiPsi and Saibra have short backstories, but their motivation and abilities are clear. Psi interests me more, because even before the heist he had wiped his mind to protect his family and friends. This clearly affects him more deeply than he lets on; when Clara asks how he could do that, Psi replies:

I suppose I must have loved them.

Saibra can perfectly imitate any other human, but she has a dash of Rogue: her power is not under her control. She can’t help but change when she touches someone. She and Psi each steal things to help with their particular problems as payment. Saibra also establishes the theme of the episode when she asks the Doctor:

Could you trust someone who looked back at you out of your own eyes?shapeshifter

The theme is self-loathing. Young Karabraxos uses a clone of herself as the head of bank security at each branch. When a clone fails, she burns it alive. This self-loathing will later prompt her to call the Doctor as she’s dying, but for now she’s just a rich woman in a vault. The head of security, Ms. Delphox, serves as the villain instead. This is the main problem with the episode.

The villain of any Doctor Who episode has to meet a lot of requirements. They need to be intelligent and strong, but not overpowering. If the Doctor has no chance, his win feels like a cheat, or absurd, like “The Last of the Time Lords” (series 3). If the villain presents no challenge, the episode is boring. One of my favorite one-shot villains is Miss Foster in the series 4 episode “Partners in Crime”. She’s not physically threatening, but she’s competent, has a goal, and works toward it. Most of all, she believes in her goal.

Madame Karabraxos has no goal. She seems competent for the short time we see her, but she wants nothing. Ms. Delphox is no better. As head of bank security, and with an interest in not being burned alive, she should be vicious and practical. Instead, she relies on the Teller. Deterrence seems to be the goal, but she later claims that intruders are welcome because they help test defenses. The Teller is frightening, but it lumbers along like a slasher-movie villain, and, on rewatch, presents no actual threat.

tellerThis is one of the few episodes that I disliked more after rewatching it. The most secure bank in the universe has terrible security. We see only one camera and DNA scanner in the entire building, and the camera is focused on a victim of the Teller. Saibra passes one DNA check, reverts to her own form (for no reason), and it still takes Delphox several minutes to send guards. The guards exist only to chase the team toward the Teller, which is the only source of real tension. However, the Doctor saves the day by allowing the Teller to scan his mind, which reveals that the Doctor is here to save it and its mate. Every time Team Not Dead encountered the Teller there was no danger, as a scan would reveal the truth.

After the rescue, the Doctor drops everyone off. I hope we see more of Psi: what will he do now that he can have his memories back? He’s still a danger to his friends and family. I also like how he shuts Clara down when she begins making excuses for the Doctor after Saibra appears to die.

Why was Clara along? We find out at the end: the Doctor is jealous. After she leaves he celebrates, saying:

Robbing a bank, robbing a whole bank. Beat that for a date!

How serious was the Doctor when he said “I’m not your boyfriend?”

Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 4: “Listen” Review

by William Hohmeister

In Doctor Who series 8, episode 4 , we learn the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is scared of the dark. “Listen” is a character episode that focuses on revealing more of the Doctor’s nature. It is less concerned with the plot, which is purposeful nonsense.

DannyPinkClara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) get a bit of character development as well, though I do not understand it well. They go on a date, but take turns offending each other. First, Clara storms out, then uses time travel to try to fix the evening. Danny becomes suspicious when Clara calls him “Rupert”, and storms out. Neither “offense” seems terrible enough to leave, but at the end we see them make out. There’s a creepy reason for this I’ll reveal later.

The premise of the episode’s plot is flawed, which is the point of the episode. Steven Moffat wrote the episode, and he has a history of revealing the “cause” of basic fears; think of the Weeping Angels and the Vashta Nerada. In “Listen,” Moffat subverts his own plot to show us something very interesting about the Doctor, but he builds the suspense in such a way as to make us believe in the premise.

The Doctor claims there are creatures with the skills of perfect hunting and Listenboardperfect defense, and asks an empty TARDIS why there is no creature with perfect hiding. The Doctor’s premise is wrong; there are apex predators, but there is no perfect predator (not even that one: tell-tale shimmer). Assuming there is such a thing as perfect hiding is also wrong. However, when the Doctor puts down a piece of chalk, something picks it up and writes “listen” on his blackboard.

The Doctor picks up Clara after her date, and proposes a theory: at some point, every human has a dream in which the perfect hiders visit them. The dream is a hand from under the bed grabbing the dreamer’s leg. Clara asks if the Doctor has had this dream, but he turns the question back on her, and doesn’t answer.

Clara and the Doctor have a great moment when the Doctor turns control of the Tardis over to her. It means a lot to Clara, from the look on her face, but the Doctor does it with total trust. Clara tries to steer them to when she had the dream, but she’s distracted by thoughts of Danny. She takes them to the night when Danny had the dream.

The Doctor talks to the night watchman of Danny’s orphanage, while Clara talks listenbedto Danny. Here is the creeper part of the episode: Clara gets under Danny’s bed to show him there’s nothing there. Danny crawls under with her. He has never heard the term “stranger danger”. Someone sits on the bed. Clara and Danny crawl out from under, and see someone hiding beneath a blanket. This is almost certainly a metaphor for the unintentional erection Clara just gave young Danny, and also explains why he’s so into her as an adult (childhood formative experiences are powerful).

The Doctor breaks the tension, but brings it up again as he instructs everyone not to look at the creature until it disappears. This, to me, is where it became clear the “monsters” are not real. A perfect predator always kills, a perfect defense is impregnable, and a perfect hider does not randomly hang out on top of a bed, beneath a blanket but still in clear view.

Clara’s skepticism seemed odd to me, but at this point it seems like she is the Listenhandadult, while the Doctor has succumbed to a childhood fear. This is the purpose of the rest of the episode. The Doctor risks his life to find out if the perfect hiders exist. Clara pilots the TARDIS to safety, but inadvertently plants the idea in the young Doctor’s head. She lands on Gallifrey, is forced to hide under the young Doctor’s bed, and grabs his ankle when he stands up. When she reenters the TARDIS , she points out the obvious: there is nothing in the dark but the fears the Doctor projects.

I really like this. It’s a twist on a typical story, and it reveals much about the Capaldi-Doctor. He is the oldest, most mature Doctor we’ve seen in the new series. He’s also afraid of the dark. The Doctor, despite all his glibness and bravado, has a child’s fear of the unknown. Every instance of the “creatures” is explained by something reasonable – rattling pipes, rushing air, the Doctor writing on his blackboard and forgetting it. It’s an anticlimax, but I dig it.

The episode ends with Danny and Clara together. Clara also meets Orson Pink, her (probable) great-grandson with Danny. I hope this is a setup. Danny and Clara are sweet and awkward, but I want something terrible to happen to that relationship and break up Clara’s (presumed) timeline. Orson Pink also hints that there is a family history of time travel, implying perhaps that Danny will travel through time. Or has he already?

What do you think of the monsters? Is there an obvious answer to their reality that I missed? Do you have a different theory? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Doctor Who Series 8, Episode 2 Review: “Into the Dalek”

by William Hohmeister

The Doctor, Clara, and a group of soldiers in the future, try to repair a Dalek with a conscience in the second episode of series 8 Doctor Who, “Into the Dalek.”

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is not a nice man, and he’s not sympathetic. He rescues a ship pilot, Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton), from a pursuing Dalek warship just as her ship explodes with her dying brother inside. Journey, upset and confused, pulls a gun on the Doctor. He shows no concern, and mocks her. Journey screams that her brother just died, but the Doctor responds: “His sister [Journey] didn’t. You’re welcome.”

Journey is part of the Combined Galactic Resistance, on board a hidden hospital ship, the Aristotle. Her commander and uncle, Morgan Blue (Michael Smiley), shows the Doctor a captured, injured Dalek. The Doctor is disgusted by it, but becomes intrigued when the Dalek says “All Daleks must be destroyed!”

DannyPinkOn earth, Clara (Jenna Louise-Coleman) meets Daniel Pink (Samuel Anderson), a new teacher and former soldier. She makes plans with him, but leaves when the Doctor arrives to collect her. Gene’O has some interesting ideas about Mr. Pink over at Part Time Monster.

Clara and the Doctor discuss the possibility of a “good” Dalek. This is my first problem with the episode. The Dalek shows no morality. It wants to kill the Daleks, but that doesn’t make it “good.” The possibility of a moral Dalek is the only thing that interests the Doctor, however. The Doctor shows no empathy, and when he introduces Clara to the soldiers, we get this:

Clara: I’m his carer.

The Doctor: Yeah, my carer. She cares so I don’t have to.

The Doctor has no reason to help with the Dalek other than the false assumption that wanting to kill its own kind makes it “good.” It bogged the episode down for me until the midpoint.

The Doctor, Clara, and a group of soldiers led by Journey shrink themselves and physically enter the Dalek. The Doctor names it Rusty, and talks about the memory drive that keeps all Daleks pure hatred. Antibodies attack the group. The Doctor shows what a bastard he is.

The Doctor sacrifices one soldier to escape with the others into the people-slurry that feeds the Dalek. The Doctor jokes that the top layer of the slurry is probably the dead soldier. At this point, the Companion should confront the Doctor about his actions. This generates sympathy and interest for the Companion, allows the audience to understand the alien Doctor’s actions, and humanizes his character. For a great example, watch “Daleks in Manhattan” in series 3. Martha Jones acts as a foil to the Doctor’s decision to help the Daleks.

Instead, Clara makes excuses for the Doctor. At this point, the only character I like and empathize with is Journey, who I think takes up the Companion’s role. The Doctor is supposed to be unsympathetic, but this makes Clara seem heartless, which I think is a mistake. Clara and Journey probably should have been combined into a likeable Clara.

They find and repair the radiation leak that was poisoning Rusty. Unfortunately, the leak was also the source of Rusty’s change of heart. It breaks free, kills most of the soldiers not miniaturized, and contacts the Dalek warship, which boards the Aristotle.

Clara comes up with a solution after finally getting fed up with the Doctor and slapping him. This moment did make me like Clara briefly. She climbs up to Rusty’s memory drive and gives it access to all its memories, as the Doctor mind-melds with it. He expects the Dalek to be overcome with goodness; Rusty sees only hatred of the Daleks.

Rusty betrays the invading Daleks and saves the ship. It leaves, but as the Doctor prepares to go, Journey asks to go with him. The Doctor refuses because she is a soldier. Again, Clara does not object, although I think this is more selfish and cowardly than leaving the soldier to die in Rusty. Even the Doctor’s disgust in Rusty feels selfish; the Dalek begins and ends the episode by saying the Daleks must be destroyed. The only change is that, in between, it hurt the Doctor’s feelings.

Missy (Michelle Gomez) rescues one of the soldiers and introduces them to heaven as the episode ends. missyShe seems to be the plot arc, but I’m more interested in the Daleks. The Dalek duplicates (Daleks disguised as other species) are still around, and the Combined Galactic Resistance indicates the Daleks of the future are not a local problem. The argument against returning the Time Lords is the possibility of a new Time War. But Time Lords or no, the Daleks will eventually destroy the universe if they’re unopposed – and the Doctor seems uninterested.

Other things of interest: Journey Blue and Danny Pink share a soldier background and color surnames. The Daleks call the Resistance “rebels”, though we’re told the Daleks don’t leave wounded. I think these may be related (again, thanks to Gene’O for pointing it out).

Let me know what you think of the episode and speculate for the future in the comments, or on Twitter.