As you know if you’ve read any of my previous reviews (and why would you have done?) I’ve been struggling with this season of Doctor Who. It seems so unformed. The Character of the Doctor isn’t clear, neither are his motivations; the stories have been a little lacklustre – barring the stunning “Listen” – and the programme seems to have been in something of a holding pattern. Fun but not the best the show has ever been.
Doctor Who is always at its best it’s doing something different, when it stretches it brief or just takes risks. And this episode was a bit of a risk. Not in any format busting way, but in the way it managed to clarify so much about the relationships between the three prinicples. The killer robot schtick was merely a device to get them all together and talking; once dispensed with, it only appeared again to further emphasise a point about the relationship between Clara and Danny for the benefit of the Doctor. It was pretty much only there because Doctor Who requires a monster rather than having anything practical to do. It was almost as incongruous as the ‘Dawn vs Vampire’ sequence at the end of “The Body” in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
But, of course, this is a Gareth Roberts episode and if there is one thing Gareth does exceptionally well, it character pieces. One only has to look at the magnificent The Lodger/Closing Time to see how well he writes relationships and gets right to the heart of them. His characters are never less than believable, never less than fully realised and if this season has needed one thing above all, it was a sense of who these characters are. “The Caretaker” does that in spades.
Clara, as I’ve said before, has pretty much owned this season and, in it’s own way, that has been problematic. Despite Jenna Coleman putting in an often stunning performace it’s disconcerting that she is a far better character than the Doctor. Or at least had been until tonight.
The script and the performances simply sparkled. I don’t really know what else to say (although I’m having a bloody good go at it).
Of course, there will be detractors complaining that there wasn’t enough of the monsters and ‘why has it turned into soap opera’ and all that stuff (hell, I’m guilty of that myself at times!) but such is the strength of this episode that we now have a clear understanding of the way The Doctor works, primarily because of the extremely human way he reacts to the Clara/Danny relationship. Danny had always been a bit of a cypher, but he came into his own tonight (good trick if you’re that supple). Even after the revelation about “Orson Pink”, I never really got a handle on Danny, so it’s brilliant to see him fleshed out and human.
Finally, can you believe it, we have a Doctor and a Danny we can actually give a toss about.
You’ve no idea how big a sigh of relief I breathed at that.
As a Post Script, can I recommend Gareth’s re-writing of “Shada”, based on Douglas Adams original scripts? Bloody marvellous and one of the few Doctor Who novels I’ve read more than once!