The Doctor goes in deep cover at Clara's school to stop an alien robot from destroying the planet—and the children. No biggie.
If there was still anyone hoping that Twelve and Clara were somehow going to end up in yet another romance, that ship is sure to have sailed after tonight’s episode. The era of the romantic Doctor is gone, replaced by the era of the Dad Doctor. We’ve seen glimpses of the Doctor taking on a fatherly role with various others throughout the season but “The Caretaker” hammers that image in until all we have left is the image of the Doctor as the begrudging father who is slowly starting to accept his daughter’s boyfriend.
It’s no surprise that this comes to us care of Gareth Roberts (alongside Steven Moffat), the same writer as the hilarious episodes “The Lodger” and “Closing Time,” both of which throw the Doctor into mundane settings to explore how awkwardly the Doctor fits into regular life. But those episodes were with Eleven, so who better to turn to for an episode where we get to see Twelve try to dance with normalcy?
Of course, in Twelve’s usual disinterested fashion, he doesn’t even bother trying to fit in. He’s alien, and he knows it. The Doctor’s never been a perfect hider, so why hide it at all? The episode begins with a nicely edited montage of Clara trying to balance her life between adventures with the Doctor and romantic evenings with Danny while hiding the men from each other. Not for any malicious reason, mind you, but only because the Doctor doesn’t really care and Danny’s a normal person, i.e. won’t easily believe being told that his girlfriend runs around all of time and space with an alien. Oh, and somewhere in there the Doctor reasserts his hatred for soldiers. That might be important.
And then one day the Doctor says he doesn’t have any adventures for Clara that day, so she should be on her way. She reluctantly, and disbelievingly, does so and goes to her job at the school where she tells Danny that she will make the next few days all about him as an apology for always being so rushed. And that’s when they meet their new temporary caretaker: John Smith. Though he prefers to be called the Doctor.
Clara is, of course, slightly curious about what’s going on. But the Doctor reassures her that the children are in danger and so is the entire planet; he says she should get back to pretending she doesn’t know him so that he can fix it. Which she actually does without (much) question, surprisingly. The scene shifts to an X-Files sort of sequence where we see the threat the Doctor is facing this episode when a policeman comes to the wrong end of an alien battle robot’s arm cannon in a nearby abandoned building.
Clara tries to remain out of the Doctor’s way until he winds up in her business when Danny strikes up a conversation with him. Thanks to Danny being introduced as a soldier, things do not go well at all given the Doctor’s unexplained hatred for soldiers. He literally cannot believe that Danny is a math teacher and has it permanently fixed in his mind that Danny, because he is a soldier, must be a gym teacher because, as a soldier, he must be stupid. Basically, the Doctor does not like Danny.
NEXT: Doctoring, daddying, and bow ties
Clara quickly diffuses the situation by sending Danny away, but she is pulled aside by a colleague in a tweed jacket and a bow tie. The Doctor quickly jumps to the conclusion that this familiarly dressed fellow must be Clara’s boyfriend, and so the Doctor takes an immediate liking to him. He wears warm approval for this mistaken boyfriend on his face like a doting father, which leads to a pretty comedic interaction with Clara and her colleague and, incidentally, the first time we see the Doctor take an interest in others.
He takes his caretaker duties seriously while also planting explodey-looking devices all around the campus, while humming a rather distinctive Pink Floyd tune. Back in his caretaker’s hideout, the Doctor is visited by one of the more pugnacious students where he makes a tiny (but only tiny) effort to not reveal that he’s some kind of alien.
Clara stops by to try to finally figure out what the Doctor is up to, which he promises not to reveal. So, of course, the Doctor reveals what he’s up to: He’s going to lure the Skovox Blitzer robot out and then trap it with the help of an invisibility watch and the chronodyne generators he’s been planting all over the school. He tells Clara that he’s got it all locked down so she can go and enjoy herself with her boyfriend. But, thanks to some miscommunication, the two are talking about very different people. The Doctor thinks her boyfriend is Adrian, the Eleven-ly dressed colleague, instead of Danny. The end result seems to Clara that the Doctor is approving of Danny like a loving father.
Later that night, Danny comes across one of the chronodyne generators and removes it from where the Doctor planted it. The Doctor, meanwhile, lures the Blitzer back to an empty auditorium, where he plans on sending it a billion years into the future, but, because Danny removed one of them, the trap doesn’t activate. And then Danny comes barging into the room, causing the robot to attack him. The Doctor sets the trap off while Clara, who was similarly curious about what the Doctor was up to, comes in and keeps Danny from getting sucked into the time vortex as well.
The Doctor is extremely upset with Danny for both moving his device and being a soldier, keeping his displeasure more than evident. Clara asks if it really matters since he got the trap off, but the Doctor says that because his precise placement was disturbed by Danny, the Blitzer was only displaced for three days instead of a billion years.
NEXT: Alien revelations, and robot surprises
Danny, meanwhile, realizes that Clara and the Doctor are more than they appeared to be and comes to the conclusion that Clara is from space and the Doctor, as the man she has been secretly traveling around with, must obviously be her space dad. He’s not too far off, really. The Doctor is upset to discover that Danny the soldier is actually Clara’s boyfriend. Clara and the Doctor show Danny the TARDIS to lend credence to their claims. Clara leads a shocked Danny home while the Doctor, visibly angry, says that she will have to explain Danny to him later like an angry father. Did anyone mention that he really hates soldiers?
Back at Danny’s apartment, Clara tries to make right with him by telling him the truth about who the Doctor is and her relationship with him. To convince him that she hasn’t lied to Danny about herself or her feelings, she provides him with the invisibility watch the next day and brings him along when she visits the Doctor in the TARDIS. The Doctor quickly becomes suspicious, since Clara is a bad actress, and goads Clara into going off on an adventure, which she uncharacteristically refuses.
Danny reveals himself because he knows the Doctor is aware of his presence. The two devolve into a shouting match with the Doctor still upset that he’s a soldier and Danny becoming overly provoked when the Doctor says he is a Time Lord, assuming that the Doctor is some kind of noble. It also really doesn’t help that Danny immediately starts pretending like the Doctor is a military officer. The Doctor kicks Danny out of his TARDIS and Clara shamefully follows him out. Meanwhile the pugnacious student from before, Courtney Woods, comes out of the shadows and the Doctor, in his frustration, reveals that he is in fact a time-traveling alien and the TARDIS is his ship. The student takes that in stride.
Later during the parent-teacher interviews, the Blitzer reappears days ahead of schedule. The Doctor goes into full panic mode, since his solution wasn’t ready yet, and calls Clara out of her meeting. Danny comes in tow offering help, but the Doctor flat out rejects him. He sends Clara to lure the Blitzter back to the TARDIS—as it would shoot the Doctor on sight after their last encounter—while Danny chases after to help her.
Clara gets the robot back to the TARDIS where the Doctor’s clumsily built contraption tricks the Blitzer into thinking he is its superior officer Blitzer in a reflection of the Doctor’s hatred of soldiers and Danny’s referral to the Doctor as a military officer. Some retroactive literary justification at work here. The Doctor attempts to get the robot to shut itself down, but his device is incomplete and the robot takes the command as hostile. As it prepares to attack, Danny makes an entrance and distracts the robot with a rather impressive front flip. The Doctor uses the extra time to recalibrate his contraption and gets the robot to shut down finally.
The Doctor finally admits that Danny has done something good and begrudgingly accepts him as Clara’s boyfriend, though he does not come to terms with Danny’s status as a soldier still, and then takes Courtney along with him into deep space to get rid of the robot for good. Not for any particular reason, this Doctor just does things because he feels like it.
Back at Danny’s apartment, he and Clara have a conversation about the Doctor. Danny says that the Doctor is like officers in the military who push you to be better than you’ve ever been. He makes Clara promise to come to him if the Doctor ever pushes her too far or else they’re through. In the epilogue, we see the hapless policeman from early in the episode in the afterlife, talking to a man we’ve never seen before because an upset looking Missy has had a busy day.
All in all, this episode sets up the rest of the season to be fairly interesting. The Doctor hasn’t had such an antagonistic relationship with a potential companion since Mickey and, back then, it was more about a love triangle. This time it’s about him acting like a protective father. Meanwhile, in the canon side of things, we get an exception to the whole “the people that die for or because of the Doctor meet Missy” rule since the policeman had absolutely no knowledge of the Doctor, or vice versa. And, on top of that, we see that there’s more than Missy in the afterlife and that she has something bigger going on as well.