TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “The Caretaker” (08.06, 2014

Written by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat

Directed by Paul Murphy

Sometimes, Doctor Who just seems to be wasting time. This episode is a good example. Clara’s relationship with Pink is “getting serious” (I hate that nonsensical phrase. It suggests an incredible amount of disprespect in relationships to say that they “get serious.”), so now we have to see whether the Doctor will approve of him. This has been a repeated plot device with this series–the Ninth Doctor was dismissive of Mickey, and then the Tenth Doctor slowly came to give him a modicum (though that is all) of respect. The Eleventh Doctor was pretty quick to be respectful of Rory, but still started out dismissive and then came to accept Mr. Pond as a member of the team, even if he was clearly second banana to Amy. The Twelfth Doctor has not been as enamored of his companion as the past Doctors have been of theirs, which could have led to a different reaction. Instead of saying, “This guy isn’t good enough for you,” he could have said, “Hey, I like this guy. I might like him better than you.” But no, Moffat has to return to the same pattern.

This episode really plays as filler–the monster is ill-defined and dull, the characterizations are flat and lifeless, the interaction is so by-the-numbers as to be dull, even the humor just falls flat (with a few exceptions–“No, I read the book. There’s a biography in the back” was awesome). Nothing that this series usually does well is done well here, and that makes its flaws difficult to swallow. It’s hardly even worth watching. An episode that gives us so many minor characters who are not likely to show up often should leave us wanting to see more of those characters, but I was already tired of Clara’s colleagues before this one ended, which is a very bad sign.

The acting is a mixed bag. With less to do in this episode, Jenna Coleman is fine. Samuel Anderson, meanwhile, continues to be really difficult to take. Danny Pink is an ill-defined character, but he’s especially difficult to understand because of his bizarre smiling and oddly changing affect. I don’t know who Danny Pink is. The writers haven’t helped, but that’s largely because of Anderson’s performance. However, Peter Capaldi continues to be brilliant. The scene of him and Danny on the TARDIS is one that I could not imagine either Matt Smith or David Tennant playing believably, but Capaldi does. While this season has been uneven Capaldi is definitely a great find.

A series like Doctor Who, one that gets to take its time with every season and hire essentially any writer it wants, should not have filler episodes. I understand it with an American 22-episode network series–sometimes you just don’t have it and you don’t have time to wait for it–but it’s really a problem for a series like this. And yet, here we are, with a completely empty episode that none of us is going to remember in a month, let alone a year.

Notes

  • Yes, it’s repetitive, but I actually like the structure Moffat has found with setting up his overall stories over the course of a season. I spent this entire episode thinking, “Well, we will probably at least get a Missy scene to think about at the end,” which made it easier to sit through an exceedingly dull episode.
  • I only knew what the word “squaddie” meant from Amy using it back in season five.
  • While the robot monster thing still looked a bit silly, it was a good example of how much better the effects are now than they were a few years ago.
  • “What good is a policeman without a death ray?” in a country where the police don’t generally carry guns. (At least as I understand it.)

TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “Robot of Sherwood” (08.03, 2014)

Written by Mark Gattis

Directed by Paul Murphy

Here is a list of all of the writers from season one of Doctor Who who are still writing on the show: Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis. Gattis first appeared writing a memorable episode called “The Unquiet Dead,” in which the Doctor encountered a great skeptic in the person of author Charles Dickens. He then wrote a terribly messy episode about a sinister character living inside televisions and sucking people in (I can’t write a short description without making it sound even dumber than it was.) in the second season’s “The Idiot’s Lantern,” which is centered on the event of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. As if either he or the show was stung by the negative reaction to “The Idiot’s Lantern,” Mark Gattis did not write for the series again until season five, when he wrote the episode Moffat described as “Churchill versus the Daleks,” “Victory of the Daleks.” He has written a couple more episodes since, but those episodes showed a particular predilection toward connecting the Doctor to famous historical events and people. Even later on, he made Vastra Sherlock Holmes, thus making all of her appearances fit his pattern.

Gattis and Moffat also work together on Sherlock, and the latter has regularly discussed his hope for an eventual crossover between the two series (a terrible idea for both series, but that’s a deeper discussion than we need here). Moffat has regularly discussed the potential of having “two great egotists” in Holmes and the Doctor meeting one another. So, it’s rather unsurprising to see Gattis putting the Doctor and Robin Hood together, depicting the famed outlaw as an impressive egotist who can’t quite match wits or skills with the Doctor but puts up quite a respectable showing for a human.

And that conflict of two egos reveals itself in competition over Clara. Clara was already smitten with the story of Robin Hood, but she also already knew the Doctor as her hero. So, the two battle over her adulation, and Clara is just clever and egomaniacal enough to recognize the situation and let it play out, perfectly happy to receive the attention.

It’s a funny situation that leads to a series of wonderful little bits of banter between the Doctor and Hood, after the Doctor has already professed his hatred of “banter” and laughter when meeting Hood and his apparently simple-minded rabble of constantly laughing friends.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is also thrown into full-on skeptic mode by discovering what appears to be a real-life version of what he knows to have been a mythical story, and the all-too-common “The skeptic versus the believer” storyline happens between him and Clara, with Clara playing the annoying True Believer and the Doctor being his usual scientific, skeptical self. His attempts to disprove the “reality” that Clara so wants to believe are as funny as the conflicts between the Doctor and Hood, and do much to undercut the annoyingness of Clara’s easy credulity.

That said, much of the episode is a bit obvious and/or clearly derivative of other episodes. The basic set-up is nearly indistinguishable from Moffat’s clockwork robots in “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Deep Breath.” The use of the golden arrow to get the ship out of orbit and Hood’s use of the Doctor’s tricks from earlier in the episode to melt the Sheriff of Nottingham are both so telegraphed as to be laughable (and the arrow is laughable for a number of other reasons as well–too many to bother bringing up).

Overall, it’s a fun but very slight episode. The Doctor and Robin Hood have some great banter, and the Doctor putting on his James Randi impersonation is always welcome as far as I’m concerned, but the story is obvious and silly and the ending is nearly as pathetic as “prayer?!” That’s enough for a filler-type episode, I suppose.

Notes

  • “If we both keep pretending to be, perhaps others will be heroes in our name.” Okay, if the Doctor is not actually a hero, no one ever has been.
  • The silly meta-theatrical “I’m just as real as you are” led me to roll my eyes.
  • Wait, so Alan-a-dale isn’t a rooster???!!!!
  • It looks like there is a very dark episode coming next week, which makes sense after a lighter episode.
  • One dark note: While we never actually saw the killing blow, the Sheriff did essentially kill a peasant on-screen. That’s the type of violence we don’t see much of on Doctor Who.
  • A passing thought about Clara: I was a little annoyed at how she enjoyed the Doctor and Hood fighting over her, and then I thought, “Well, would Amy have been any different?” I’m not sure. I may still just be holding not being Amy against Clara far too much.
  • I love lutes. Seriously. I went to a Renaissance Faire once, and the best part was that there were lutes all over. I love their tone and we never get to hear them.
  • “I’m the Doctor and this . . . is my spoon!” I can’t really decide whether that works or not. The first time, I rolled my eyes. The second time, I laughed. Maybe that’s exactly the right reaction to a Doctor Who gag.
  • I’m happy with Peter Capaldi’s performance. He doesn’t have any of the weak moments that Matt Smith sometimes had (see the aforementioned “Victory of the Daleks”). He might not be capable of bringing as much effervescence as Smith or David Tennant did, but he has the possibility of every bit as much depth as Christopher Eccleston had, and that’s a very good thing.