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03 October 2014 @ 10:32 am
The Caretaker  
On balance I liked this. It wasn't as self-assured as Listen. Like Listen, it had things to say about the Doctor and what drives him but it didn't manage to wrap it up in quite such a compelling story.

NuWho has a bit of an obsession with the Doctor's reactions to his companions boyfriends. I thought Rory was intended as deliberate critique of Mickey and his treatment, in that the Doctor (at least initially) often treated Rory no better than he treated Mickey but Rory managed to push back and undermine that treatment. But unless Moffat is suffering badly from an inability to let go it looks more like he just likes the dynamic of the Doctor and the boyfriend. Danny Pink is a very different proposition from Mickey and Rory. He doesn't take any nonsense from the Doctor from the start and thinks no more highly of the Doctor than the Doctor thinks of him.

I complained about the Doctor's attitude to soldiers in Into the Dalek and I still think it is a rather crude character choice - a case of a character adopting an attitude because the story needs it, rather than it making any real sense for the character. At least here we get the suggestion that the Twelfth Doctor's dislike is related to his ambivalence about his own role in conflicts and, in particular, his role as an officer. I still think this sudden ambivalence comes out of nowhere rather, but it makes the dislike more interesting than an arbitrary reason to dislike the boyfriend.

The episode was telling a story about the relationships between the Doctor, Clara and Danny, drawing on themes from fathers and daughters, officers and men and soldiers and civilians. Unlike Listen, where the threat was closely tied to the Doctor's neuroses, we here had a couple of framing stories: the comedy of errors of Clara trying to cope with the Doctor's presence at Coal Hill and preventing Danny from finding out about him; and the pretty lightweight alien robot story which played up its humourous running-down-corridors elements and downplayed the tension. If we're trying to assign genres to Doctor Who stories this season (and I don't know if we are) then this was a rom-com. It was driven primarily by a series of amusing incidents which didn't necessarily bear much relation to each other.

I can see what the production team are trying to do with Clara and the Doctor's relationship this year: downplay the possibility of romance, play up the extent to which Clara is required to keep the Doctor in check, but I feel a lot of it has been fairly heavy handed. I'm not the only person to be irritated by the extent to which the 12th Doctor oh-so-humourously and apparently obliviously regularly insults and belittles Clara. The relationship reminds me quite strongly of that between the 6th Doctor and Peri and although that partnership has its fans, it's not really a good comparison to be invoking. We got signs here of genuine affection for Clara on the part of the Doctor, but they were notable for taking place mostly when Clara was not aware or could not see. Danny talks about the way men like the Doctor can inspire action and loyalty but it becomes increasingly difficult to see how he's supposed to be doing this for Clara. Scuttlebut in the press says that Capaldi put his foot down and refused to be a part of any suggestion of romance between the Doctor and companion. It is tempting to think what we are seeing is a failure of imagination on the part of writers unable to conceive how you can be nice to a member of the opposite sex without having some ulterior motive involving getting into their knickers. I'm hoping that there is more to it than that, but I do think they risk making this Doctor difficult to like unless it is addressed and/or toned down fairly soon.

This story was mostly about character arcs in a way that is comparatively unusual for Doctor Who which likes to keep character development low key and secondary to the action. I'm not sure it was a complete success; character and story didn't mesh as well as they might and the events were a little too obviously in service of the character development that had been laid out. I also feel a lot of the character interactions with Capaldi's Doctor are being played in a heavy-handed fashion which I suspect wastes both Capaldi's talents as an actor and risks trying the audience's patience with the Doctor. On the upside, it is always nice to see Doctor Who experimenting with a different type of story and the dynamic between Clara, Danny and the Doctor (for all NuWho's obsession with the boyfriend) is new and has a lot of possibilities.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/128821.html.
philmophlegm: I'vegotasportscarphilmophlegm on October 3rd, 2014 10:48 am (UTC)
Yes, yes, yes. Agree with lots of this, but need to go out and a longer reply will have to wait until later!
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on October 3rd, 2014 10:49 am (UTC)
I really liked Gareth Roberts' two previous "Doctor undercover" stories and was looking forward to this, but this seemed tired, repeating motifs from previous stories. Maybe there are only so many ways the Doctor can take on a non-Doctor-ey role and do crazy, eccentric things.

Agreed about the dislike of soldiers coming out of nowhere, or perhaps out of vague memories of the early seventies (though the actual dynamic was different).

I'm getting rather bored of the emotional bits in new Who all revolving around romance, as if that's the whole of the companions' emotional lives. What's being done with Danny doesn't interest me at all, which is a pity, as the actor is pretty good and the character has potential.

I hadn't thought of parallels between the Doctor-Clara and Doctor-Peri relationships, but they are there.

Was that supposed to be the Totter's Lane junkyard again? I think so, but I'm not sure. I'm not sure it was good or bad for it to be downplayed - good in that it would be meaningless to 99% of the audience, but why bring it up for a one-line comment?
louisedennislouisedennis on October 3rd, 2014 11:48 am (UTC)
In the 70s it was at least fairly clear that he disliked certain ingrained reactions, procedures and attitudes displayed by the military both individually and as a whole, but that he was prepared to treat individual soldiers with respect until they proved otherwise. Here we have a blanket "soldiers are too dumb and nasty to be Maths teachers" attitude which is, frankly, somewhat distasteful.

It is a shame Doctor Who gets so bogged down in romance, but I think it is hard to blame it strongly. Show runners know that a good central romantic pairing is a key strength of a great deal of popular media (not all, by any means, but it definitely ups your chances of getting bums on seats). I like Danny as someone with a fairly clear-sighted view of what the Doctor is with the ability to articulate that view. In the past the characters with the "he's dangerous" attitude have been Rose and Martha's mothers and they were, sadly, not really portrayed as rational actors. I'm interested to see where they take the dynamic of a companion with a boyfriend who disapproves of the Doctor but who is not going to attempt to prevent her having adventures with him.

I missed the junkyard reference entirely. Was it where the robot was? In which case, yes, more work was needed.
daniel_saundersdaniel_saunders on October 3rd, 2014 01:27 pm (UTC)
Re: the junkyard, I thought when the Doctor tracked the robot to its lair he made a comment (I forgot what exactly, something like "Home again") that only made sense if that was THE junkyard. I can understand not wanting to overwhelm the casual viewer with continuity, but it seemed odd to bring it up at all for something so throwaway and ambiguous.
louisedennislouisedennis on October 3rd, 2014 01:31 pm (UTC)
Especially since, didn't they have the junkyard in the 50th anniversary special complete with I.M.Foreman on the gates? or am I imagining that? You'd think they would manage the gates if they were really going for the junkyard.
bunnbunn on October 3rd, 2014 02:51 pm (UTC)
I thought it was The Junkyard - something about the way the shot was framed, as well as the general idea - and I'm really not a hardcore fan, I don't think I would have recognised it without all the anniversary stuff. The fact that it was such a brief shot made me think, hmmm is there a story arc lurking here? But if there is, I don't think I can spot the shape of it yet.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on October 3rd, 2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
I didn't recognise it as the junkyard - I thought it was an interior scene for a start.
bunnbunn on October 3rd, 2014 02:43 pm (UTC)
Do you think the soldier thing might be going somewhere?

I thought the extreme reaction was just odd to start with - after all, UNIT etc - then I wondered if his attitudes were supposed to have hardened during the war on Gallifrey - but then, there was the whole thing with the toy soldier (and the thing about the toy being in charge because he doesn't have a gun, and the confrontation about 'officer class') and I started to wonder if there was something more in the future.

Wait and see if it's randomness or a Plan, I guess...
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on October 3rd, 2014 03:33 pm (UTC)
I think the soldier thing is going somewhere, but possibly only somewhere a bit trite - like the Doctor having a "not all soldiers are bad" moment, or agreeing to allow a soldier as a companion after all. It would be nice if it was going somewhere a bit more nuanced but, much as I love the show, there is only a certain amount of room for nuance in Doctor Who.
lukadreaminglukadreaming on October 3rd, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
And Moffat couldn't do nuanced if his life depended on it ...!
louisedennislouisedennis on October 4th, 2014 04:41 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I'm not sure I agree there. Occasionally he does quite subtle stuff, but most of the time, year sledgehammer to the fore.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on October 3rd, 2014 06:18 pm (UTC)
I hope as much room for nuance is made as possible; though I thought part of the problem with the depiction of the relationships might be that the programme is already trying to do too much in forty-five minute slots. It's clearly asking too much of some viewers who think it's not possible to infer what I think the series wants them to.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on October 3rd, 2014 11:13 am (UTC)
You've expressed a lot of my anxieties better than I had done.
louisedennislouisedennis on October 3rd, 2014 11:49 am (UTC)
I have a worrying sense that Capaldi is being wasted. I think the writers should stop trying to tell us what the Doctor thinks and let Capaldi show us instead, because I think he could pull it off.
lukadreaminglukadreaming on October 3rd, 2014 04:34 pm (UTC)
Capaldi is being totally wasted, and that's what's depressing me the most. He's a tremendous actor, and I think he's totally right for the role. But he's been presented with a sub-standard selection of scripts that are impossible to do anything decent with.
eve11eve11 on October 3rd, 2014 01:15 pm (UTC)
a case of a character adopting an attitude because the story needs it, rather than it making any real sense for the character.

Definitely this! And yeah, the idea that the writers have no idea how to write opposite sex relationships without the hovering threat of Romance/UST... distressing but sadly, likely on the mark.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on October 3rd, 2014 01:30 pm (UTC)
It's a tempting theory but it is so WTF? that I find it a bit hard to credit. I mean Moffat definitely has a schtick which involves a lot of battle of the sexes type flirting, but there are other writers involved, many of whom are gay, so the mind just boggles that they can't manage anything else.

That said, the failure of the imagination may be at the level of their respect for the audience. Maybe they don't believe the audience will buy a platonic friendship, I find that far more plausible, because I don't get the impression Moffat holds the viewers in a great deal of esteem.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on October 3rd, 2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
I think it's that Moffat sets the environment. The series is meant to be imbued with his signature whether or not he is the episode's writer, hence all the bantering.

I think Moffat holds the viewers in esteem; or at least as much as he holds himself and the rest of humanity.
louisedennislouisedennis on October 4th, 2014 04:42 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I'd call whatever is going on between the Doctor and Clara bantering. He used to banter with Amy and Rory, but this feels like it has more of an edge to it somehow.

As for Moffat, I dunno, "Moffat is being stupid" seems like a stupid assertion to me and it is the underlying thought behind the idea that Moffat can't understand platonic relationships.
philmophlegm: dalekphilmophlegm on October 3rd, 2014 09:48 pm (UTC)
The dislike of soldiers thing worried me initially. Yes, this Doctor is damaged and this Doctor is struggling to come to terms (perhaps) with his role in the Time War (still), but the Doctor is still the good guy. Or at least he is to the general public (and to fans until presented with evidence to the contrary). If we have a good guy lead character in a show watched by young children telling people that all soldiers are bad, then that's a very worrying message to give out.

What makes it worse is that the BBC is a state broadcaster. If you were a soldier's child, then you have the situation of the state sending your daddy off to war while a different part of the state tells you that your daddy is a bad person. That really isn't right.

Now having said that, I am beginning to think I was wrong to worry. I did have some faith in Moffatt, because this is exactly the sort of thing he loves to do - he loves to play on the prejudices of parts of his audience. Having Danny turn out to be a really good guy, but one who feels the need to defend what he did in Afghanistan ("I dug lots of wells") to Guardianista Clara (presumably because he fears she'll have some anti-soldier views herself) reminds me of a scene in Coupling where Sally automatically assumes that Susan's friend can't possibly be a "tory" because he's gay.

So I'm actually liking the Danny character a lot. (Well, except for the badly done somersault.) And I think the actor playing him (whom I've not seen before) is very good; it's quite a subtle, nuanced performance. That's important when playing opposite Capaldi's manic intensity and Coleman's eyelash-fluttering flirting.

I quite like the Doctor's regular little insults - it seems like realistic banter of the sort that you might get in a workplace between a senior person and a junior person who are actually really good friends.

Edited at 2014-10-03 09:48 pm (UTC)
Young Geoffreyed_rex on October 4th, 2014 06:42 am (UTC)
State vs public
Too tired to argue (or agree) re the show, but I have to pipe up regarding your comment that, "... the BBC is a state broadcaster". This might sound like a quibble, but (as I, a Canadian with our own CBC, understand it) the Beeb is a public broadcaster, not a state broadcaster.

The former (at least in theory; obviously there's going to be tensions) serves the public good, while the latter serves the regime.

My view from across the pond is that, while the BBC is far from perfect, it is certainly not just a propaganda machine for 10 Downing Street.
louisedennislouisedennis on October 4th, 2014 04:50 pm (UTC)
Re: State vs public
Point taken, though the way philmophlagm has phrased it, he clearly means the latter rather than the former.

Incidentally, I'm interested that you have liked three of this season's episodes on first watch only to revise your opinion (to a greater or lesser extent) on the second. I've no real interest in rewatching the episodes so close to a first viewing, so I don't know how I would react to a second watch. But I was wondering if you felt Moffat's problem, this season, is its all about the sugar-rush of instant viewing with nothing to follow through on.
Young Geoffreyed_rex on October 9th, 2014 01:43 am (UTC)
Re: State vs public
To tell you the truth, I think my changes of opinion have more to do with being tired, in combination with my innate optimism, than with anything about the material itself. I typically watch the show after an 11 or 12 hour shift at work. Combine that with more than a half-hour bike ride each way and the general life leaves me kind of punch-drunk.

Although, he is still good with individual scenes, so maybe there's something to that "sugar-rush" you referred to.
louisedennislouisedennis on October 4th, 2014 04:47 pm (UTC)
Yes, the thought had occurred to me that it must be very distressing for any children of soldiers - let alone children of dead soldiers of which I'm sure there are a fair few in the country at the moment. I do think it must be going somewhere but I am a bit worried that where it's going is a "not all soldiers are bad" moment which is trite and wouldn't be necessary if a false conflict hadn't been set up in the first place. We shall see.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes Danny. Sir Gawaine, over on FB, seems to actively want him bumped off and boji's meta seems to feel he is the weak link in the trio.

I'm interested that you are reading the banter differently. It feels actively unpleasant to me at times in a way the Doctor's interactions with previous companions (bar Peri in the first Baker season - they notably toned it down in the second) have not, even when he's been insulting them.