Doctor Who 08×06 – Cleanup at Coal Hill


*WARNING – contains spoilers*

Doctor Who returns this week with a more subdued formula after the last few weeks of high octane action, excitement and horror. ‘The Caretaker’ is a comedic installment based around the relationship of Clara Oswald and Danny Pink and is likely the ‘cheap’ episode of the series. Based solely in the Coal Hill School at which the couple work, it is a refreshing return to Earth after weeks of planets, banks and the inside of Daleks – probably needed at this point in the series.

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The plot is simple this week. An intergalactic killing machine robot – the Skovox Blitzer – is trapped in the local area of the school and must be ‘removed’ before it has a chance to destroy the entire planet, which apparently it has the power to do. Okay, a bit melodramatic, but it could blow up the whole school at least. To lure it in, the Doctor must go undercover as a Caretaker (hence the title) at the school for a few days before sending it into the future to remove the threat.

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There is a revisiting of the three-way relationship difficulties of Matt Smith’s run, as The Doctor does not know about Danny Pink and vice versa. Clara struggles as she is unsure whether the two should meet, for a variety of reasons. Danny and the Doctor’s interactions throughout are not positive – there’s a clear tension between the two towering personalities which grows throughout the episode. This dynamic is fascinating and I am sure it will continue through the rest of the series. Danny was a soldier, which the Doctor disapproves of, as commented on in episode 2 ‘Into the Dalek’. The Doctor has power and control, things which Danny has had problems with in the past – probably why he left the army. Hints about this have been dropped throughout this series and it was really interesting to see it come to a head for the first time.

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Meanwhile, there are some great comedy moments in this episode, such as the fact that the Doctor can’t accept an ex-soldier is a Maths teacher – I mean, he must teach P.E. right? There are also the kids teasing Clara and Danny because they’ve worked out that the pair are dating. The Doctor trying to fit in at a school as a human being is comical, with his outbursts about how stupid normal people are. The jokes were great and as usual, Capaldi has a fantastic biting delivery of his lines that just makes you chuckle.

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The first attempt to vanquish the robot was a complicated mission where the Doctor planted little devices around the school and then used a watch to turn himself invisible, tricking the robot into following him into the school hall. When there, the devices were supposed to create a portal to send the robot billions of years into the future but of course, this plan was messed up by Danny who was fiddling and removing the devices out of curiosity, causing the robot to only be sent 72 hours into the future. A new plan was needed. Then inevitably, the Doctor and Danny get into a huge argument and the Doctor finally realises that Danny is Clara’s boyfriend, leading him to react with disgust. He thought that the nerdy English teacher reminiscent of a certain bow-tie wearing Matt Smith was the mystery man, not Danny.

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This happened in the TARDIS after Clara snuck Danny on board wearing the invisibility watch (cool gadget) to see Clara and the Doctor in action. It was a huge clash of personalities. The struggle was fantastic to watch, whilst also being visibly painful for Clara as she struggled to reconcile the two lives she leads. I imagine that this will ultimately end up with a choice at the end of the series – Danny or the Doctor?

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In the end, the Robot returns at the Parents’ Evening. Clara is used as a decoy as the Doctor suits-up Ghostbuster style. He means to con the robot into believing he is its military superior in order to shut it down. But to get to this point Danny had to distract the robot by leaping over it in action movie fashion with a slow-motion shot to boot – pretty cool. It turned out at this point that he was following right behind Clara with the invisible watch to make sure she was okay. This was supposed to sound romantic I’m sure – but to me it just sounded creepy and clingy.

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At the end, we were left considering the state of the relationships between the characters. The Doctor was expecting an explanation about Danny whilst Mr. Pink was demanding that Clara was careful and not to take blind orders – with the threat of their relationship on the line. It was cool to see the characters develop to establish a great platform for the coming episodes.

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The ending however, was where it got really exciting. Early in the episode a police officer had been killed by the robot. We now see him in a white room, talking to…Chris Addison?! (of course, of ‘The Thick of It’ fame, reuniting with Capaldi). Seb (Addison) revealed to this alarmed officer that he was in the afterlife, or ‘the Nethersphere’. Ooh, exciting. Then, briefly, Missy walks out of a door, looks over, and then walks away. Seb said she has been busy, which clearly she has been for a few weeks as we haven’t seen her. It’s really picking up now. With Chris Addison joining in the fun, the finale this year is shaping up to be something spectacular.

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The humour in this episode was great, the action enthralling and the drama and development of the primary characters is exactly what is needed to push the series forward. Okay, the robot was a bit silly looking and the school thing slightly cheesy at times, but for a light episode this was perfectly normal. It was a welcome break to the big scripts of recent weeks and was a coy hint at what is due next week. Moon-bases, spiders and the future of the human race are on the line in a Peter Harness penned adventure of which he said, “I still don’t know how people will take it. I’m in this kind of limbo now waiting for people to see it, and I’ve no idea, really I do not know how it is going to go down”. Wow, it’d better be good.

By David Roberts

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