Critiquing Capaldi: “The Caretaker”

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Doctor Who, while at times being quite inconsistent in terms of quality, is a show I feel is very aware of its own strengths, something which has been very apparent in this series so far. Naturally, it has what has made this series, on the whole, a great success. For the most part, it hasn’t spent time faffing around with qualities which the show isn’t good at, instead, it has been using “the selling points” of the show each week to their full potential. It’s why Peter and Jenna have received most of the focus, why the series has gone deeper and/or darker, and why we’ve chosen some of the show’s finest directors yet. Unlike Series 1 or Series 5, which were very “trial and error” despite being masterpieces, Series 8 knows why the show can sometimes be the best show on TV. It hasn’t always fully delivered, granted, but for the most part, it’s been very solid.

“Solid” being exactly the word I’d use to describe The Caretaker. While far from a masterpiece, the episode does contain all of the aspects which the current show and Gareth Roberts are both good at. Gareth Roberts, in terms of Doctor Who at least, being very good at writing humorous adventures which are full of heart (which is why he could be brilliant at SJA). Again, like Listen, this one makes full use of our two leads, making sure at least one of them is on screen for almost the entire duration of the story, giving them their chance to shine by putting all of the focus on them, and limiting the prominence of the guest cast as much as possible. The Caretaker is far from a perfect episode, however, and the few flaws it has are quite big ones, in my opinion, however, it’s certainly a lot of fun and a solid 45 minutes of TV.

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Let’s start with the humour. It’s episodes like this which make me really sad about Gareth Roberts, because when he’s actually being funny and not horribly offensive or snarky, he’s got a real talent for making his audience crack a smile. The Caretaker almost feels like Doctor Who in a sitcom setting, which does work in its favour. The gags are fast and they hit the vast majority of the time. Though the gags are funny on their own, it’s Peter and Jenna who do make this episode frankly hilarious, again proving that they are one of the funniest as well as the best doctor/companion duos. Between Capaldi’s “so outrageously blunt you can’t help but laugh” and Coleman’s “so adorably cute and energetic you’d have to be a puritan to not smile”, the pair really do have me in stitches, particularly the scenes they’re in together, as with every week.
Admittedly, Anderson isn’t as good a comedic actor as Capaldi or Coleman. I’m not sure if he’s meant to be personally, but the times he is given gags do feel a bit odd. His timing’s not as good, and he doesn’t really seem to know what he’s doing there at times, but on the whole, he gives a good performance.

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This episode is also structured very well. Each scene feels the perfect length for what it needs to do, whether that’s to make us laugh, or tell us more about the characters. Which is something this episode does pretty well for the most part, particularly through Clara. The Caretaker is more or less her story, and how she balances life with the Doctor and normal life, as well as how she acts when they collide. Roberts writes her pretty well, focussing on the control freak nature of her character more than any other, used to both humorous and detailed effect when it falls through. She’s also shown to attempt to make everything better for both The Doctor and Danny. She probably doesn’t, but she tries to be, which is the point, as she herself expressed in Into the Dalek. She’s not quite there as the Doctor’s equal yet, but with every episode, she’s becoming more like him, and it’s marvellous to watch.

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Admittedly, I’m not too keen on Danny Pink in this story. While I think Anderson is very good, and so is the character at times, I do find him a tad inconsistently written. He does almost go through an entire personality transplant here, from going from a timid, shy, sensitive man to downright obnoxious and overly confident. The ‘zero to hero’ has been done before in Who, and it’s been done well, but usually through a long duration of time, not one scene. There might as well be a red banner on the bottom of the screen saying “Danny is a good guy”, as the writing is very on the nose, and he acts like he’s the best thing since sliced bread near the end. That flip is also terrible. Firstly, probably not the best move after declaring the whole episode he wasn’t a PE teacher, and secondly, it’s far too “proving a point”. Unfortunately, I find Danny Pink more of a show-off than a hero at the end, and the last couple of scenes with him aren’t great.

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The monster is also too silly for its own good. I’m glad it kills somebody, and it’s not in love or a soldier or anything, but it does feel kind of stuck on to the story. It’s necessary to the plot, unlike some stories who obviously throw in a monster for the sake of it, but, it does feel like it was the last thing Roberts’ mind while writing the story, which explains why it’s not in it much, in one scene to establish it, one scene to almost beat it, and one scene to beat it in the laziest way possible.

Yay for Chris Addison at the end by the way. The “Heaven” arc is very eerie and creepy, and definitely intriguing, which is how it’s supposed to be like.

Overall: Despite a couple of big flaws, the story is a lot of fun, and is hilarious, showing off the comedic strengths of the cast and Robert’s writing. It’s nothing extra special, but certainly a very good bit of Who.

Previous Score: 6
New Score: 7

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