I have a theory: let’s say that The Doctor undergoes a bit of a midlife crisis circa 2006, materializing in the regeneration into David Tennant and Matt Smith, his two youngest bodies at a ripe old age that he’s maybe starting to feel a little bit. He learns some lessons, experiences some things, reconciles aspects of his old, warmongering nature in the form of John Hurt’s “War Doctor,” and finally takes the form of a more “age appropriate,” older gentleman in the person of Peter Capaldi. This season, the midlife crisis is over and The Doctor is coming to terms with himself and his age and is now engaging in some old man stuff like watching his daughter figure grow up and replace him with a new male figure.
We could never have had an episode like “The Caretaker” in the Matt Smith era because Clara never would have had a boyfriend with XI around. Amy of course had Rory, but the issue of her having two boyfriend figures came up continuously, most effectively in “Amy’s Choice,” and later in “The Angels Take Manhattan” where she resolutely chose Rory. Rory was there for Amy as a stable, supportive mate when the Doctor was absent and I think The Doctor’s abandonment of young Amy reinforced Rory’s status in her mind, at least after she realized for sure that Rory was what she wanted, not for lack of waffling before her wedding. For Clara, however, XI was always a bit of a boyfriend figure for her, as Vastra so astutely pointed out in “Deep Breath.” Part of Clara’s struggle this season is to reconcile the new role The Doctor plays in relation to her and moving on from the way things were with XI. He’s the same but not the same; there are roles he can’t fill anymore. Clara must go elsewhere for certain things.
Part of the reason Danny is such an interesting choice for Clara is that he embodies (or so The Doctor thinks) the aspect of The Doctor he favors least about himself, that of the warrior. Danny is surely correct in his assessment of The Doctor as “an officer;” he marshals others to his causes and uses them as he sees fit, knowingly putting them into danger under his command. Then, of course there’s The Doctor’s backstory as a belligerent in an actual war. Throughout the series post-reboot, The Doctor’s guilt stems heavily from his actions in that war.
I can’t tell if this week’s monster was undercooked on purpose or not. For me the Skovox Blitzer represented the mindless soldier The Doctor accuses Danny of being, an image that Danny mocks when he confronts him on the Tardis. That Danny doesn’t behave like this even remotely in civilian life, the only life we’ve seen him in, highlights The Doctor’s unfairness in this pigeonholing. The Doctor seems to feel especially insecure or uncomfortable around soldier types who don’t follow his orders (think Daleks). He seems to need to be needed; that’s one of the reasons he travels with Companions. The Skovox serves as a blank canvas for The Doctor to work out his issues with the figure of Danny in Clara’s life.
In addition to the obvious funny bits, there were several moments in this episode that were genuinely sweet, most of them demonstrating Clara’s desire for Danny and the Doctor to approve of each other. This was a good way for them to finally meet because The Doctor was in a position of lesser power because he guessed wrong on the identity of Clara’s suitor and Danny was understandably knocked off kilter by the presence of aliens and all that entails. Those moments of revelation were especially entertaining.
As the black son of an interracial couple of teachers, I have a particular affection for the Clara-Danny storyline. Additionally as the black son of educators, I’m particularly defensive of teachers and sensitive to racial and ethnic stereotypes. The Doctor’s willful stereotyping of Danny as a “PE teacher” made me cringe on both levels. Not only is he stereotyping Danny as a jock-an age old stereotype of black males, but he’s maligning PE teachers in general as being obtuse, unintellectual, second-rate educators, an age-old and wholly unfair misconception of the profession. I like to think Roberts and Moffat were aware of all this when writing the episode, because it’s pretty obvious to me. It clearly struck a chord for me, so I can’t say it wasn’t effective. I’m well aware that The Doctor only made explicit his contempt for “soldiers” and didn’t express any racial animus, but the ethnic stereotype there is unavoidable. It helps that The Doctor was clearly in the wrong here.
Lastly, I cannot wait for the Malcolm and Ollie reunion we’re surely building towards. It was great to see Chris Addison in the final scene here. He’s always fun to watch and it would be interesting to see Capaldi and himself interacting outside of the Iannucciverse. I’m still getting used to Capaldi talking at length without swearing or insulting someone. Two Thick Of It alums doing so at once would be fascinating television indeed.