Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pride and Prejudice: An Overanalysis of "The Caretaker"

(Another one that's just barely going to make it to print before the airing of the next episode in the US, and possibly later than the UK broadcast.  I think we need to just learn to start expecting this from me.)

Gareth Roberts knew what he was doing when he inserted Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, although if he was looking for thematic resonance this episode actually bears a much stronger resemblance to the plot of Jane Austen's Persuasion.  (Yes, I know a thing or two about classic British literature.  What?  I can be a nerd about multiple things.)  While Gareth Roberts' first two episodes for Doctor Who were about aliens attacking famous literary figures ("The Shakespeare Code" and "The Unicorn and the Wasp"), since the beginning of the Moffat era, Roberts's forte has really been episodes that bring Doctor Who down to a very human level.  In "The Lodger" and its sequel "Closing Time," Roberts brought us very human stories about love, friendship, career, and family, not entirely unlike Jane Austen.  So when you have a season arc that includes a love story, and you need someone to really dig out the human element of that love story--particularly when you need to demonstrate the conflicting pride and prejudices of two very proud men--you call for Gareth Roberts.

While this episode does bear a lot of resemblance to Gareth Roberts's last two episodes--although it's not a second sequel to "The Lodger" as many on social media annoyingly worried about--it also brings to mind Chris Chibnall's "The Power of Three" from last season.  It was last season, Amy and Rory's last season, that Moffat introduced the concept of a companion who doesn't necessarily travel with the Doctor, but more of a part time companion who can return to their life at will, but will, at random times, go off for adventures with the Doctor.  This episode, and "The Power of Three," are the ones that really take a look at how difficult that life can be.  Balancing a normal life with the extraordinary life of a TARDIS passenger would have to make for a truly bizarre dichotomy.  It's an interesting idea, and it's surprising, once you think about it, that nobody has thought of it before.  The closest we come to anything like this in the classic series is the brief time in the 3rd Doctor era when the Doctor was stranded on Earth without the use of his TARDIS, meaning that his companions had to stay on Earth and live their lives, because the Doctor had nowhere to take them.  As soon as the TARDIS got up and running on a regular basis, though, the Doctor and his new companion, Sarah Jane Smith, started traveling together again, and no other companion was allowed to live a regular life on Earth while traveling with the Doctor until Amy and Rory settled down in quiet suburbia.  Perhaps the reason that nobody came up with the idea of a part-time companion in the classic series is because the first two Doctors didn't actually know how to steer the TARDIS.  The Doctor just pressed some buttons and it took him somewhere in time and space.  He could never predict where.  This didn't really allow for part time companions, as he couldn't figure out how to bring them home.  By the time the Doctor gained the ability to steer the TARDIS--which, again, came in the 3rd Doctor era when he finally regained use of his TARDIS--the idea of a full time companion was so orthodox that nobody thought of trying anything else.

Considering his inability to steer the TARDIS, the 1st Doctor's kidnapping of his original companions seems extra-dickish.
But where Amy and Rory had each other to share their secret with, Clara has been living a double life while trying to date.  That's a little more difficult.  Back in "Listen," I kept getting so annoyed with Clara for never mentioning to the Doctor that the little boy whose timeline they keep ending up in was the guy she was on a date with.  I realize the Doctor's prejudice against soldiers was set up back in "Into the Dalek," but I thought that she could easily mention that she had a date without bringing up that he was a soldier.  But this episode made things a little clearer:  the fear of the Doctor rejecting Danny is a crippling fear.  The Doctor plays a very strange role in her life--taking up the unlikely position that lies somewhere between father figure and ex-boyfriend--and the Doctor rejecting someone she loves, so much so that she may have to choose between them, is so terrifying, it kept her from really being able to take even the simplest of actions.

Moffat has said that, as much as he loves Rory and Mickey, he felt like they were never really competitors with the Doctor for their various girlfriends' affections, and he wanted to make Danny someone who actually could compete with the Doctor.  Well, I don't know if I agree with him about Rory, but I can see what he's doing.  Danny isn't a passive man in any way.  Danny is someone who has the Doctor's number from the beginning, and that's the worst thing the Doctor can imagine.  Much has been made in the new series about the Doctor being a "soldier" from the Time War, but Danny had a different interpretation of it.  He's not a soldier, he's an officer.  That's an interesting twist, and not one I've never thought of before:  the Doctor as an officer, his companions as his willing soldiers.  I think in his short time meeting with the Doctor, Danny has a better idea of who the Doctor really is than Clara, who has now travelled with him for over a year and also managed to, in one form or another, visit every incarnation of the Doctor.

The Doctor's prejudice against soldiers isn't entirely a new one, but its ferocity is very particular to this new, 12th incarnation.  The 3rd Doctor was stranded on Earth, forced to work with the military operation U.N.I.T., and his best friend, really, became Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, an officer in his own right.  The Doctor got along with the rank and file of U.N.I.T. pretty well, too.  He didn't hate them, but he quite often clashed with them about whether military solutions were appropriate or not.  The 4th, 5th, and 7th Doctors found their paths crossing with the Brigadier yet again, and the 9th, 10th, and 11th Doctors each found themselves working for U.N.I.T. again at least once.  The 10th Doctor said, in "The Sontaran Stratagem," upon running in to U.N.I.T. again, that he'd prefer if the Brigadier were there.  And the 11th Doctor, upon learning the ever sad news that the Brigadier had died (reflecting the real life death of the actor who played him, Nicholas Courtney), it was what finally brought him back down to Earth to realize he couldn't run from the Silence anymore.  So really, this particular prejudice, at least in this particular form, is very much the 12th Doctor's, not the Doctor's in general.  The others had no problem with soldiers until they started pointing guns around without very good reason, at which point they always incurred the Doctor's wrath.

Also, he seems to get along with this guy pretty well.
Maybe it's because the Doctor thinks of him less as a soldier, more as a potato with a gun.

I'd like to say, for the record, that the Doctor's continuous use of the name "John Smith" as an alias has always tickled me, as that's my dad's name.  Although, none of them have tickled me quite as much as "Midnight," which has the great line:  "No one's called John Smith. Come off it. "

On a side note, as a fan of classic British literature, when Clara went on her tirade about her imagined adventures of the Doctor and Jane Austen fighting aliens and meeting Buddy Holly, all I could think was:  "I want to see that episode!"  As an upcoming episode from this season, "Mummy on the Orient Express," is clearly based on an adventure-that-never-was that was brought up at the end of "The Big Bang" but never actually happened on screen, I'd like to think that this little Jane Austen adventure was a set-up for an episode that someone will someday pick up and run with and actually produce!

Courtney (no doubt named after the aforementioned Nicholas Courtney, much as Clara is named for Elizabeth Clara Sladen) is an interesting character, and certainly being set up for a return, bringing us to the often rumored return of the original TARDIS residency of 1963:  a student from Coal Hill School, 2 of her teachers, and a 55 year old actor who plays the Doctor.  Her running joke where she says (or writes on the window) a number of variations on the phrase "Ozzie loves the Squaddie" struck me as a clue at first, something that an alien presence had somehow placed in her mind to repeat around the Doctor to give him some sort of clue.  I was disappointed to find on discussion boards around the Internet that it was just a bit of slang I didn't understand:  "squaddie" is British slang for a soldier, and the kids have apparently turned the name "Ms. Oswald" into the nickname "Ozzie."  Thus, "Ozzie loves the Squaddie" is just a joke for the kids to let on that they know their teachers are hooking up.

In the end, we see another moment in paradise, when the police officer ends up at the reception desk for heaven.  Missy's newest assistant, seen in this scene, is played by Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi's co-star from The Thick of It and In the Loop.  At first, I didn't recognize Addison, as he seems to have lost weight since The Thick of It, and ditched his glasses for this role.  As long as we're reuniting cast members from The Thick of It, how about just a full cast reunion?

The five people we'll meet in "heaven"?

We don't learn much about "the afterlife," despite this being our longest scene about it since back in "Deep Breath."  But one thing we learn is that it does seem to be a strangely bloated bureaucracy.  For a place that's supposed to be heaven itself, it seems to be filled with stuffy pencil pushers and anal-retentive control freaks.  Heaven as the DMV.  I think we can be pretty sure, to begin with, that this isn't the real "heaven," but the sterile, bureaucratic nature of this "promised land" should prove to us, beyond a doubt, that this is an artificial heaven.

What Danny's place is going to be for the rest of the season remains unclear.  He wasn't asked to join the Doctor and Clara as companions in the TARDIS yet, but I think we have to assume he will be, sooner or later, unless Moffat is somehow setting him up to just be someone we see on Earth and never someone we see traveling with the Doctor.  Such a set-up would be odd, and a truly missed opportunity, so I look forward to Danny's first full excursion in the TARDIS, whenever it may come!

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