“The Caretaker” is only the fourth or fifth best Doctor Who story centred on a school… but given that three of the others are “Remembrance Of The Daleks”, “School Reunion” and "Human Nature", that’s no disgrace. Neither is it the best of Gareth Roberts’s trio of tales which place the Doctor in a very domestic setting: “The Lodger” is a bit of a modern classic, and had surprise on its side, so it remains, by a shade, the best of the three. Using the format a third time was a bit of a risk, but “The Caretaker” pulls it off, striking just the right balance between relationship drama, witty banter and extra-terrestrial peril.
The most intriguing thing about the episode is that it shows us yet another side of the Doctor: something you can only describe as bigotry. And no, that’s not a reference to the fact that the Doctor treated Rose’s boyfriend equally badly... (though come to think of it, that’s a tiny bit awkward, isn’t it?) The Doctor dismisses Danny Pink purely because he’s a soldier, as if he’s incapable of being anything other than a mindless killing machine (or, worse, a PE teacher).
Even though the revived series has repeatedly emphasised the Doctor’s disdain for the military mindset, this is still pretty shocking. Open-mindedness is one of the Doctor’s key credos: he doesn’t meet a strange-looking alien creature and automatically assume that it’s an evil monster, and he shouldn’t be judgemental about categories of people either. Has he forgotten about his decades-long friendship with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart? (Or, for that matter, the quiet courage of Father Octavian in “Flesh And Stone”?)
In the end, Danny hands the Doctor a get out of jail card, spinning his undisguised contempt as a kind of paternal concern for Clara’s welfare, but his behaviour is still pretty reprehensible. Not for the first time this series, the writers are pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptably “Doctorish”, and while it makes for dramatically interesting television, it also makes you feel uneasy. Pull out enough bricks from the stack that make up the Doctor’s character and couldn’t the whole edifice come toppling down?
The other notable thing about the episode is how funny it is. There are some cracking one-liners, and many of them are accentuated by the brilliance of Jenna Colman’s performance, who spits them out like a veteran of screwball comedy. This should be Capaldi’s season, but so far it belongs just as much to his co-star. She doesn’t even need good dialogue: the “I’m watching you, sunshine” looks she shoots the Doctor as he shoos her out of the TARDIS early on are equally hilarious. It's frustrating to think back to her year as “the Impossible Girl”, when Colman was lumbered with playing an enigma, never really fleshed out as a character. Now she’s being given better material, she’s batting it out of the park.
Doctor Who airs on BBC One in the UK on Saturday nights and BBC America in the US on Saturday nights.