Yay for present day episodes!
Considering that the major complaint about Clara is that she’s been more of a cardboard cutout than a character, it was exciting to see an episode with at least the potential to be all about Clara and her life outside the Doctor.
And did it succeed? Well, sort of.
We definitely saw more of Clara as a person, a teacher, and even someone who (gasp) has a life of her own. But this episode also underlined a major problem in Clara’s character like Amy, she doesn’t have anyone important to her outside of her new love interest. No family, no friends, no colleagues that irritate her. Those two kids she took care of seem to have vanished into thin air. It’s set up as though the only person who could ever notice that Clara keeps disappearing and making weird excuses is a boyfriend, as though Clara wouldn’t possibly have plans to see anybody else. And if that was the case, wouldn’t that be a plot point? Because that sounds incredibly lonely. But it’s not a plot point, because it’s not intentional. It’s just that no one thought to consider those parts of Clara’s life.
Generally speaking, The Caretaker balanced fun moments (like the fast-paced opening) with a rather unremarkable monster of the week to give an episode that was mostly enjoyable to watch, but not exactly memorable. It’s a shame that the male characters had to ruin it by being completely unbearable towards Clara.
Again, I don’t think this was intentional. But combine Steven Moffat as a showrunner with a team of writers that is 100% male, and this seems to be the result. From small moments to big plot points, Clara is under attack. First it’s another joke from the Doctor about Clara’s appearance — I think that’s one for every episode so far. These jokes seem to be intended to show how not-human and not-concerned the Doctor is with Clara’s appearance, but the fact that they appear every single episode has the opposite effect, suggesting that her appearance is in fact one of the most commentable things about her. Then we have a plot set-up where the Doctor completely dismisses Clara and keeps her in the dark about his plans. This seemed to be entirely for the Big Reveal moment of him as the Caretaker, because there’s no logical reason why the Doctor would refuse to tell her about something that she was going to see for herself ten minutes later anyway. No reason except to show that the Doctor is cold and blunt and totally above his companion.
And then we had a wonderful subplot of the Doctor and Danny fighting with one another. This, at least, has been earned by the past few episodes. The Doctor hates soldiers, so of course he hates Danny. No problems there. They can fight and insult one another all they like. But things get incredibly dicey when the two men start to fight with Clara over one another. Except “fight” isn’t quite the word. It’s more like “command.” Danny is incredibly pushy with Clara, asking her why she travels with the Doctor in an almost aggressive manner — despite the answer to the question being pretty obvious to anyone who’s ever heard the words “time travel” before. Then the Doctor gets incredibly angry at Clara for daring to like someone he doesn’t approve of, and things quickly devolve into both male characters telling Clara what she should think, and being angry at her for not thinking as they want her to.
Even the apparently “nice” resolution, where the Doctor admits he just wants to be sure that Danny is “good enough for her,” feels creepy in this context. It’s too paternalistic, too controlling, like Clara’s opinion on that doesn’t hold any weight at all, and Danny must prove himself to the Doctor in order to be considered worthy. It was creepy, and all of Clara’s individuality vanished in the clash. She became defined by each male character in the other character’s eyes, and although she was forced to defend both those characters and her own feelings, the male characters didn’t actually ask for her thoughts or give those thoughts any weight. She was pulled into this fight, but only the rival male character’s words and actions held any weight in the end.
Again, I’m pretty sure this is all completely unintentional. It was intended to be both amusing and emotionally compelling, showing both the strain of a life travelling with the Doctor for Clara, and also showing the Doctor’s hidden vulnerability and his protective affection for his companions in the end. But instead, it came off as patronizing, dismissive, and punch-the-wall infuriating.
And the show can do so much better. It has been doing better. So if the writers could just think about what they’re doing, that would be greatly, greatly appreciated.