‘Doctor Who’: ‘The Caretaker’ review

One thing that has eluded Doctor Who in recent years is consistency.

Matt Smith’s final season was let down by clunkers like ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ and ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, but the gilt edges of the previous season were certainly rubbed off by ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ – and the less said about 2010’s ‘Victory of the Daleks’, the better.

Peter Capaldi’s first five episodes, however, have been uniformly solid: not a dud among them. Trouble is, there’s been no standout instant classic. The spooks of ‘Listen’ captivated many; the LOLs in ‘Robot of Sherwood’ impressed others; Capaldi himself has been bloody marvellous throughout. But he has yet to be blessed with an ‘Empty Child’, a ‘Midnight’ or a ‘Doctor’s Wife’.

Doctor Who The Caretaker

No surprise, then, that ‘The Caretaker’ is very good; funny, sharply-written and engaging throughout. But the nagging sense that has dogged Season 8 since the beginning remains: that the next episode will be the one.

There’s plenty to enjoy nonetheless. To prevent the laser-happy, alien-android-on-castors Skovox Blitzer destroying the world, the Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School as the new, wild-mannered janitor, John Smith: part Grange Hill’s Mr Griffiths, part Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons.

Doctor Who The Caretaker

Yet despite the threat of global annihilation, the main thrust of the story is Clara’s attempts to keep the Doctor from finding out that Danny Pink is her boyfriend and Danny from finding out that the Doctor takes her off on jollies through time and space. Keeping Earth safe from an intergalactic robo-bastard pales in comparison.

The Doctor, intent on identifying Clara’s suitor, dismisses Danny Pink as an ex-soldier and PE teacher (despite Danny’s area of expertise being mathematics), his attention falling instead on another of her colleagues: a bow-tie wearing, floppy-haired ponce reminiscent of the Time Lord’s previous incarnation. ‘Oh Clara …’ he coos wistfully, bursting with misplaced pride.

Doctor Who The Caretaker Clara

Danny, meanwhile, is suspicious of the new caretaker (whose whistling of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ is doubly appropriate, given the educational environment and Danny’s surname). After narrowly avoiding being fried by the Blitzer, he realises there’s more to Mr Smith than meets just a brown coat and a sparkly sweater. He also twigs that his girlfriend has been more than a little economical with the truth.

‘You’re a space woman,’ he protests. ‘You said you were from Blackpool.’ And the Doctor? ‘He’s not the caretaker. He’s your dad. Your space dad.’

The Doctor is equally unimpressed. ‘You’ve made a boyfriend error,’ he snaps, aghast that Clara is dating someone with an army background. His contempt for the military has been made clear throughout this season – ‘I hate soldiers … don’t you hate soldiers?’ – but it’s only now, thanks to Danny, that we get an idea why.

Doctor Who The Caretaker Danny

The onetime Sergeant Pink sees the Doctor as a soldier himself: a commanding officer who expects absolute obedience from those who travel with him – even to the point of putting their lives on the line. This is clearly too close to the truth for comfort.

For the first time, we get a glimpse of the Doctor’s guilt, doubt and perhaps even self-loathing that haunts his latest incarnation. His rage at Danny addressing him as ‘Sir’ is naked; ugly, beyond doubt – something rather new for modern fans of Doctor Who. But it’s a measure of Capaldi’s brilliance how quickly and fully his acerbic, snarky performance had been accepted.


Aired at 8.30pm on Saturday 27 September 2014 on BBC One.

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What did you think of the episode? Let us know below…

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  • No I’d say Listen is definitely a standout episode. Maybe that’s just me.

    • Miv

      I don’t think so. “Listen” was definitely pushed out to be the standout, but it seemed just a little too overdone for me – it was like having Moffat behind your back pointing things out and whispering “ooh, look at this, this is gonna win me an Emmy”. And it didn’t really contrast with the rest of the series like, for example, Blink did – and I think part of the success of Blink was that it was so different from all the other episodes. Capaldi’s run is so far a whole series of episodes which would be standouts before, but since they’re all lumped together neither really stands out too much.

      And Danny Pink starts getting mildly annoying – but then again, seems like most boyfriends on the show were.

      • Darth TARDIS.

        I don’t know, Mickey was alright, and Rory was actually a great companion on his own even without Amy there. Pink I’m not sure on. One minute I like him, the next not. But that flip at the end alone was enough to stop this episode from being “very good.” That was just ludicrous, and unnecessary.

  • Evil Lynn

    I would hardly say “not a dud among them” Still not impressed with the stories so far. Not the casts fault. This was okay. Thats about all I can say about it, it was okay.

  • Jen

    I was seriously turned off from even properly reading this with remarks like ‘clunkers’ Why are those two eps clunkers? Really..and consistency? How about paying attention. So tired of ppl shouting plot holes and other words to that affect because they can’t follow orthey are confused or don’t like it. Neither of which make something a plot hole. And both episodes listed as clunkers were for me some of the best ones.

  • David Adler

    This was another excellent outing for Jenna and Peter and a really enjoyable episode. I respectfully disagree that there have been no classic episodes so far – Listen was an absolute standout. Even if that didn’t appeal, this series is consistently good, something that even the rather wonderful series 5 didn’t quite achieve due to the spitfires in space episode.
    Capaldi is cementing himself as an iconic doctor and a fresh breeze after the dull Twilight inspired Tennant and goofy childish Smith. The really good news is that from here on in, we have been promised the best and most exciting set of episodes in Who history with a batch of new writers and lots of scares and event changers. The arc this year also is promising to be exciting and is being introduced a lot more subtly that the silly Impossible Girl one from last year.
    I am very satisfied with Who this year which I haven’t said since series 5 finally made the show great again.

    • Miguel Doriard Carrillo

      “dull Twilight inspired Tennant ”

      You seriously want to make some of us really angry don’t you? 🙂

      Meh, but since nothing bad has been said about Mr. Eccleston, I’m happy here.

      Capaldi is an AWESOME Doctor.

    • Rob W

      Twilight didn’t even hit cinemas until after the end of Tennant’s final series!

  • Rupti Doolooroodoo

    Well you can’t say season 8 doesn’t have an “instant classic” after only 6 episodes… Blink was near the end of the season, as was The Empty Child, Midnight and many others. So far I feel that every episode was better than the one before it. And if this series indeed doesn’t spawn such an episode… Well, we’re just gonna have to wait for Neil Gaiman to get back on board, which he will hopefully do in season 9.

  • ohforheavensake

    Yep- I think we’ve had the classic; Listen was one of the best episodes in the whole span of the series, from 1963 to now.

  • Jim Ryder

    I suspect that part of the reason that the show seldom really hits the spot is that we are denied the real sci-fi show that Dr.Who could be in favour of a self destructive focus on the lives and relationships of his minders. On top of that way too much self recrimination. He has spent his career saving the Universe, Galaxy or planet Earth…but we aren’t allowed to admire heroes anymore, we must find a weakness, because no one, particularly a man must be a role model on the telly. Hence the really universe shattering stuff is now done by his pretty assistants. It is a shame. Capaldi like Matt Smith could be a Doctor of classical quality…but will he be allowed, Matt wasn’t.

    • John J Wyres-Smith

      I don’t mind him questioning the impact his actions have had on events and those he cares for. What I don’t get is how he suddenly doesn’t understand humans. The soap opera/romcom element is killing the show. The only bits that worked for me in this episode were when the Doctor was on his own.

  • NaturallyCurlyHair

    So far Capaldi has been hit-and-miss with me, but this was a very solid outing for his time as the Doctor. I just wish so many people who do love him would stop putting down Matt Smith when they say “how much better!” this Doctor incarnation is. There’s no reason to belittle the previous Doctor, who brought a great deal of joy to a great many people, to bolster up this one. Capaldi could indeed be a great Doctor — but that does not mean that Smith was not, also.

  • Raymond Doubrava

    I think the main reason that Series 8 has had no instant classics is because they have all been good. To date the quality of Doctor Who has been up and down always equaling out to good, although only because ok and awesome equals 2 good. But we has had a 6 episode run of good, borderline awesome episodes (with Listen and Time Heist being the best imo.) And this one stuck with the trend.

    Part of me fears that it cannot last, that soon there is going to be an episode and we are going to go, “Oh, yeah, that wasn’t that great.” The other part of me says that they took 15 months between series thus there is no excuse for any of them to be bad. JMO.

  • Doug Pollard

    I think Capaldi is shaping up to be the best Doctor of the whole reboot, if only they’d give him some decent scripts. This week was the first one that didn’t sound as if he had been given something originally written for Smith. The new Dr finally arrived. But it was a very backward looking ep: two schoolteachers, one irascible old man, and one schoolgirl, at Coal Hill School??? Ring any bells, anyone??? Plus a not especially scary monster and woeful SFX straight out of Sarah Jane Adventures? Kudos to Capaldi for making such a good job of it. Now, from here on in, can we please have a series that’s about the Doctor, and not all about his bossy schoolmarm governess companion? Thanks! Oh, and PS, the Robin Hood thingy was the most woeful mess the reboot has served up to date. Almost had me ready to give up,on the show.

    • John J Wyres-Smith

      It’s amazing how well Capaldi’s doing given the poor scripts.

  • Jack Bradbury

    It’s my hope that they are playing it “safe” at first because they plan to knock our socks off soon. Though, I have to admit “Listen” was probably my favorite regular season episode in a while. This Heaven thing is going to be awesome.

  • Finn

    I don’t get how everyone thought that ‘Robot of Sherwood’ was so good. My friend is a professional writer, and we both agreed that it was a massive pile of cow dung. The writing was appalling, the character of Robin Hood was terrible, and the pointless banter between The Doctor and Robin Hood was not funny at the slightest! I just think the story was not strong and didn’t make much sense. I was really upset about this episode, and trust me, I am a Whovian and not just a random person who watches an episode randomly.

    • John J Wyres-Smith

      What do you and your friend make of the quality of the writing overall?

  • Impromptu

    Personally, I’m happy to live without (or wait for) standout instant classics as long as we get consistency.
    Don’t generally like the boyfriend episodes myself, but Caretaker surprised me.
    “Wild-mannered janitor”! Hah – it’s Danny that has the inexplicable (as yet) Hong Kong Phooey powers… A 6ft heavily built 20-something performing a running somersault to clear an obstacle his own height? Sure he’s fit, but afaik the military doesn’t have an Olympic Gymnastics Corps.
    And surely we’re running up to a reminder that it was the Doctor himself that probably set Danny on the soldiering path – remember the dreams he gave him as a kid?

  • Bo Jacobs Strom

    Even if this series doesn’t have a stand-out episode overall I think as a collective it will be a stand-out series.

  • Ian Thomson

    To be honest the best eposide was the first one and the changing into and accepting the Dr role. The rest of the episodes have not really got there yet. “Listen”, being the scary behind the couch moment and then the story line became so convoluted that it spoiled it. I think Peter is amazing and i have always liked him as an actor. But they really need to get to the situation where the Dr is saving the world again. Shop dummies coming out of windows of stores, the things that made me hide behind the couch and look at every tailor’s dummy for about a month after the episode. Robots of Sherwood i must admit was so tongue in cheek and just did not do it at all. Yes we can look for the past references hidden in the subtext. But where is the story and the Dr’s genius. The Pertwee moments as I would call them. Or the Tom baker madnees that saves everyone. Even though they think he is mad. I am still waiting for the landmark episode of this series. hopefully soon.

  • John J Wyres-Smith

    The whole series has been a let down. Surely the dwindling numbers of viewers should hint at how disappointed people are with it.

  • Sabrina

    Personally my favorite so far is Time Heist 🙂

  • Meh

    “and the less said about 2010’s ‘Victory of the Daleks’, the better.”

    **clicks link**

    “Now, this is more like it. After a (reasonably necessary) circling of non-plots for Matt Smith’s two opening stories, we hit the ground running with a genuinely scary, gorgeous looking, very grown up, and fiendishly clever Doctor Who adventure.”


    • Meh

      Can’t keep up with your own bullshit apparently