Thursday, May 3, 2018
Let us travel back to Christmas Day 2014. Our presents have been opened, we're stuffed with Turkey and Christmas Pudding and wearing our wilting and slightly torn Christmas cracker hats. It's time for Doctor Who. It's time for Last Christmas.
I really enjoyed this. And you know I'm going to say it. I think that Steven Moffat's Christmas Specials are amongst my favourite episodes of post-2005 Doctor Who. Actually, sod the prevaricating about dates they're amongst my favourite episodes of Doctor Who. Ever.
Yes, they can be twee. But it is Christmas Day. If we can't all go a little soft-hearted for one day of the year then what I demand is the point of anything. Let us wallow in our own Weltschmerz and crack on.
We begin with Santa Claus. Or Father Christmas. He's crash landed on Clara's roof with a couple of snarky Elves and woken poor Clara up. She, clad only in a nightdress so appearing as a sort of female Arthur Dent, has come to find out what's going on. And from here all sorts of shenanigans occur.
There is danger. There's an alien threat. Obviously. There's an isolated base at the North Pole. So far so base under siege. But then there are dreams. And dreams within dreams. And dreams within dreams within dreams. And, most importantly, there's Santa. Here to save everyone on this Christmas Day. Played rather magnificently by Nick Frost at peak Nick Frost. If there was a role made for Nick Frost it is Santa Claus. He bounces off Peter Capaldi well and gets to be all cuddly and avuncular.
There's also the four members of the base. There's Shona (Faye Marsay), Ashley (Natalie Gumede), Fiona (Maureen Beattie) and Albert (Michael Troughton). Why they are all at the base is, of course, a long story but at the base, they are and threatened by things that go face-hugging in the night, which gives us the set-up for a rather nice 'Alien' joke. All four of them are excellently played by poor Ashley has the least interesting character. Shona is another in the long line of 'almost companions'. Characters so well-played and interesting that you'd quite happily have them join the TARDIS.
This story definitely wears its influences with pride. Indeed, there's pretty much a list of them towards the end: Alien, The Thing and Inception are the three most obvious. And you know I don't find that annoying. One of the great things about Doctor Who has been the way it takes an idea from somewhere else and Doctor Whoifies it up. And Last Christmas throws all its influences together like the ingredients from what's left in my kitchen cupboard at the end of the month when money is scarce and turns it into a surprisingly delicious stew type thing.*
Anyway, there's adventure and excitement and really wild stuff. But there's also tenderness and a little sadness. Clara and The Doctor reveal that they both lied to each other in order to make the other happy, which in the end probably hasn't made either of them happy. Clara slaps the Doctor again about which I am not happy, but it is slightly more justifiable here than it is in Into The Dalek. I still don't like it.
The scenes with Clara and Danny at 'Christmas' manage to be both rather moving and creepy at the same time. I really wish Samuel Anderson had been given more of a run as he's such a good actor but it was not to be. Poor Danny Pink.
This might have been Jenna Coleman's last Doctor Who story and the ending clearly could have been one thing, but she decided to stay so we have the joy of seeing the Doctor and Clara heading off out into the Universe together again. It's a happy ending to a story that flirted...no, it petted heavily...with melancholy.
I really enjoyed this one. It kept me happily occupied on the journey to work this morning. It almost made me cry on the Bakerloo Line to Waterloo, which would have been mildly embarrassing.
Next up. Season Nine.
PS I tried not to spoil this too much. I hope it worked.
*No, that's not a metaphor - or is it a simile - that's going to take off any time soon.
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
So, the first Capaldi season comes to an end. We get to find out who Missy is, which didn't turn out to be a huge surprise. We get an explanation for all the little scenes Missy has with the dead. We get to discover that Missy put the Doctor and Clara together but I'm not entirely sure why. We get to see the Cybermen's role twist from the ultimate survivors to electronic Zombies. It's the Walking Dead with circuits.
O, and the whole soldier thing comes to an end with the fate of Danny Pink and the Doctor's salute. Death in Heaven was broadcast on Remembrance Weekend in the UK and I did wonder whether the soldier theme of this series was built in because Steven Moffat knew that, which might be giving him too much credit. But if not it seems like a nice coincidence. Danny is a living illustration of the truth expressed a long time ago by the Earl of Leicester in The Crusade that: '...when you men of eloquence have stunned each other with your words, we, we the soldiers, have to face out. On some half-started morning, while you speakers lie abed, armies settle everything, giving sweat, sinewed bodies, aye, and life itself.'
Leicester was wrong about the Doctor then and Danny is wrong about the Doctor now. Quite why Steven Moffat feels the need to break down the Doctor's character quite so much I don't know. It obviously seems to be part of Missy's plan, which is to present the Doctor with an army with which he can take over the Universe in the name of good but this seems to be the classic Christmas present purchasing mistake of Dads the world over: buying something for your child that is really for you. I mean why would the Doctor want an army? As soon as he took control of it he would no longer be the Doctor anymore. Missy, on the other hand, would love an army. She's missed the point. Whatever kind of friendship they once had they can never have again. Or perhaps they can but it would need Missy to change not the Doctor. And that's not going to happen, is it?
Anyway, let me rewind a bit.
This story begins with [SPOILERS] the death of Danny Pink. It is followed up with Clara's grief-stricken reaction to Danny's death. She goes off the rails, frankly. It becomes all about her and her grief. But then perhaps that is what grief does to people. She tries to force the Doctor into finding Danny 'wherever he is'. There's a lot of emotion in this. The Doctor though refuses to be blackmailed (and/or sees through Clara's plot*). He does, however, agree to help her despite her actions. That little speech that ends with 'Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?' is bloody fantastic.
The next thing we know we're inside an odd looking building with skeletons sitting in chairs, Missy popping up to snog the Doctor and drop hints about who she is and Dr Chang (Andrew Leung). Meanwhile, Danny is being introduced to the afterlife by Seb (a rather delightful Chris Addison). The stories run in parallel building towards the revelation of a) Cybermen and b) who Missy is. It's all done reasonably well, although I was slightly surprised that they got away with the cremation stuff, even allowing for the warnings etc.
And then we're into the hour-long final episode Death in Heaven, which frankly I can't stand.
But let's not dwell on that. Missy has a history of insane plans that fall apart at the end, although here she comes close to winning.
However, love saves the day again as CyberDanny refuses to be a Cyberman, gives a lovely speech about the promise of a soldier and then kills himself and all the other Cybermen to bring an end to the Cyber rain. Love. Love will tear us apart.
O, and then the CyberBrigadier turns up. Now, nothing makes me happier than seeing a character we fondly remember played by an actor who had fairly recently died made into a zombie. Even if that zombie can hold off its Cyber conditioning and do the right thing. Hey, the salute is nice. But hey, let's not.
I don't know why entirely but Death in Heaven really pisses me off. It's bleak. No one seriously believes Missy is dead at the end. No one seriously believes anyone is dead as Steven Moffat proves himself unable to kill anyone. So it makes a story predicated on grief seem lacking in emotional heft. It's a lesson I think he learned and which I will talk about again later.
The end of this story - before Nick Frost appears - is genuinely bleak. I don't think Doctor Who should be this bleak. I don't think the Doctor should be hammered into the ground like that. Doctor Who is one of the few sources of optimism and positivity on television. I've said before that I liked the idea of 'dark Doctor Who' but the truth is 'dark Doctor Who' wouldn't be Doctor Who. The Doctor saves people. She doesn't save everyone and sometimes he doesn't save the best people.**
I'm not saying there shouldn't be loss and death in the Doctor Who universe. Death is everywhere in it: explicit and implicit but the Doctor is there to remind us that, as Gandhi said, that however bleak it looks and however strong the bad guys look they always lose. That 'You must not lose faith in Humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.' That's what the Doctor should stand for.
Perhaps, once again, I am taking this too seriously. Perhaps I have missed the point.
Whatever, I just don't like it. That isn't to say there aren't some good things in here. Capaldi is superb. Again. So is Jenna Coleman. Michelle Gomez does a fine job as Missy giving her a nice touch of both the Simm insanity and the Delgado wit. She's one of the highlights of the programme. It's nice to see Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart and Ingrid Oliver as Osgood. They've both settled into their parts.
But overall I really didn't like this. Dark Water was fine but Death in Heaven really didn't do it for me at all.
Next up: Last Christmas.
*Which also seems to fall down on the fact that the Doctor can open the TARDIS door with a click of his fingers these days. He doesn't NEED a key.
**And don't get me started on this recent thing that the Doctor only takes the best people into the TARDIS, which is a way of making everyone feel better about being a Doctor Who fan. The Doctor doesn't take the best people. He takes ordinary people and lets them find their best.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
I suspect how you feel about Frank Cottrell-Boyce's In The Forest of the Night will be similar to your feelings about Kill The Moon. Because this is not a science-fiction story, for all its talk of solar flares. This is a fairy tale.
The Doctor's TARDIS almost functions as the witches house tucked in the middle of the forest. Except the Doctor is a good witch - or a good Dalek - not a wicked one. There are children. Many, many children. Some of whom, I'm afraid, set off my dislike of child actors. The ones who seem to have walked straight out of some horrific stage school and straight on to my screen. The ones with all the subtlety of a concrete block.
However, I found Abigail Eames, who plays Maebh Arden, is reasonably good most of the time. And there, in her name, is a clue to what this story is riffing off: Queen Mab and the Forest of Arden. The role of forests in literature - especially Shakespeare - as a place of magic and fairies. The forests of As You Like It or A Midsummer Night's Dream. The forest perhaps of Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood too. The forest of myth not the forests of the real world.
Also, there's a famous speech by Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet about Queen Mab - and Maebh/Mab are probably the same names just twisted by time and place - which begins:
"O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you
She is the fairies midwife..."
Which, at a stretch, is a fair description of Maebh's role in the proceedings.
Or perhaps I'm trying too hard.
However, I'm sticking with the fairy tale thing because it is just so damned obvious. There's Maebh's 'Red Riding Hood' pursued by wolves, Maebh lays a trail for others to follow etc.
Analysing this a science-fiction is a mistake but even allowing for that and the long argument that could be had about how much of a science-fiction series Doctor Who actually is this pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in Doctor Who. I think the problem I had was hammering the fairy tale into the real world and suggesting trees have saved us before. Or if not the trees then some kind of mysterious life force that flitters about like a firefly. It's wishful thinking.
And this is a story full of wishful thinking. Maebh isn't ill, she's listening to a different conversation, which is sweet but seems to suggest that not taking your medication is the way to set you free. The trees will save us almost seems to be a prayer about climate change. If humanity won't save itself - which it looks determined not to because it might be a bit hard - then maybe the planet will do it for us. Me, I'm more of a pessimist. I think the planet might have had enough of us. But that's a blog for an entirely different time and place. The wishful thinking that a message on every phone in the world from an unknown little girl would somehow stop humanity being stupid. It's a nice thought. I'd suggest the history of the world suggests it wouldn't work.
If this story had taken place in the distant past or on an alt-Earth or something then it might not feel so...wrong.
I'm loathed to say anything is 'not really Doctor Who' because that's usually a phrase used by people to write off whole chunks of Doctor Who they don't like, e.g. New Doctor Who. But this teeters on the brink of 'not really Doctor Who' for me. And I hate* myself for even writing that phrase.
Having said all of that the main reason I didn't particularly like this story was that the Doctor is so stupid in it. It takes him far, far too long to work out what's going on. He starts from the worst case scenario - an alien invasion - and never really gets himself back on track until right at the end. By which time it might as well have been spelt out in huge letters in the sky.
We also get a lot of Danny Pink and Clara relationship stuff, which is fine because I think Samuel Anderson is great but there's something uncomfortable about Clara's dishonesty, Danny's desire to be the ultimate arbiter of what is good and right for Clara and the Doctor's (almost) voyeuristic role. Maybe it is just me.
And that's about all I have to say about this story. I'm out of energy and (almost) out of words. I don't hate it enough to wish to write raging prose demanding this be burned from the national consciousness. I don't like it much either. It is, I think, my least favourite story of the season - so far - just because I couldn't quite get on its wavelength, which is odd because I normally have a great love for Doctor Who's stranger children.
I suspect I'll have forgotten pretty much this whole story by tomorrow evening.
*I don't hate myself really. At least not for that.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Flatline is very good. It is probably one of the scarier Doctor Who stories of the New Doctor Who era. Not just that it manages to be fun and continue the thread of Clara's relationship with Danny, her dishonesty and her increasing 'addiction' to the Doctor's universe. In this story, she even gets to play at being The Doctor. To the Doctor's own chagrin.
There's even a companion for Clara, Rigsy. He's a graffiti artist who might actually be an artist. [Pause here for discussion about graffiti and art before getting into the depths about what is art and who gets to decide.] Rigsy is played by Jovian Wade, who does a fine job being a companion. He also gets to (almost) die a courageous death but is gazumped by Clara's hairband.
Even the pre-credit sequence is quite dark and it tips us - the viewer - off to the problem we might be facing, but that it takes the Doctor and Clara a little more time to realise. The scene with PC Forrest (Jessica Hayles) is pretty damn disturbing. It becomes even more so when we realise that the 'Boneless' have 'graffitied' her nervous system all over the wall.
Meanwhile, the Doctor is trapped in the ever-shrinking TARDIS - its external dimensions at least - and trying to work out that problem. Of course, the two are linked. Unusually in this story, we're ahead of the Doctor and Clara as we've seen what happens to people already. They haven't. It's only when the Community punishment team are attacked right in front of Clara that we realise what's happening.
The Doctor is Doctor enough to at least try and work out whether the 'Boneless' understand what they are doing (and are therefore not very nice) or if they're just trying to communicate. Unaware that their two-dimensional universe is pretty fatal for us three-dimensional beings. They've been trying to communicate but now are they trying to invade? It's a quandary that lasts a short time as the 'Boneless' kill another member Community punishment team - poor number 22 aka George. That's the point at which the Doctor decides he needs to take things into his own hands I suspect but he's a bit stumped by the ever-shrinking TARDIS, especially when it is dropped onto the railway line following a brief argument between Clara and the grumpy Fenton (a magnificent Christopher Fairbank.)
We get one of the Doctor's big speeches about who he is. Once again I think this is aimed less at the aliens and more at the audience at home. It's an 'I am the Doctor' writ large and in firey capital letters. I like Capaldi's delivery of the speech, I'm just not at home with the Doctor being turned into this legend. A legend who, periodically, needs to either remind people of his own legendary status via speeches (or get other people to do it on his behalf.) I know they can be fun. I know they can be endlessly quotable but they just don't seem very Doctor-ish. It's his enemies that make grand 'people's of the universe please attend' style speeches. It gloriously illustrates their pompousness (and often their lack of humour) so I'm always a bit uncomfortable when the Doctor does it.
The solution Clara comes up with is clever and ridiculous. But it works. The TARDIS, which by this point had been reduced to a large block had lost its Police Box exterior and is in 'lockdown'. We get to see this process reversed and victory is Clara's (and the Doctor's). There's a nice farewell scene for the survivors, which includes the unpleasant git Fenton. And git is the only word that really fits that one can use in a family blog.
However, we get to see the Doctor and Clara discussing Clara's 'Day As The Doctor'. Clara seems to want to be graded like it is homework but the Doctor is less comforting. I'm not sure if the Doctor is worried about Clara's behaviour or still fretting about whether he's a 'good man' or not. Possibly a bit of both but he doesn't applaud Clara's work the way she expects. And we all now know that Clara's lying to Danny. The Doctor calls her out on it but we never have it properly discussed. That's a thread to pull at on another day.
So, to conclude Flatline is an excellent story. I haven't commented on the weird jerkiness of the 'Boneless' once they start to get their heads around three-dimensions. Were they working towards perfect replicas? Whatever. They're a creepy addition to the Doctor Who universe, although whether they've got much comebackability [Yes, I'm making up words again.] is moot. It's fantastically well-written by Jamie Mathieson and directed by Douglas McKinnon. It might be my favourite story of the Series 8 - so far.
Next up - In The Forest of the Night, which I think I'm expected not to like if its reception on the first broadcast is anything to go by but as I'm the sort of fan that loves The Web Planet, The Gunfighters, The Horns of Nimon and The Happiness Patrol we shall see. I have a high tolerance for whimsy, as you should have already realised.
Saturday, October 21, 2017
After a bit of a two-story blip we arrive at a rather fine little story in Mummy on the Orient Express. Clara is still - unfairly - upset at the Doctor after the events of Kill The Moon and this trip is supposed to be a final hurrah for their relationship. although I was never entirely convinced that this is what was going to happen.
They arrive, both dressed rather beautifully, on the Orient Express...IN SPACE. Clara looks amazing in what looks to me - a fashion expert obviously - an art deco influenced 1920s dress. Meanwhile, the Doctor seems to have dug his suit out from The Gunfighters. They look great together and separately. Initially, this story looked like it might get a bit hung up on the relationship stuff but it shook that off pretty darn quickly when a killer Mummy - known as the Foretold - pops up and starts murdering people in a very time specific 66 seconds.
There's a mystery to solve and friendship issues or not the Doctor is going to solve it. Capaldi is majestic in this: sweet, arrogant, sad, angry and clever. Often at the same time. His focus on solving this mystery to the extent that he is trying to get information out of people as they are dying annoys Clara. Again.
She almost loses her temper with the Doctor when he seems to make her an accomplice to the impending death of the rather confused and upset Maisie (Daisy Beaumont) but the Doctor has a plan. Of course. The thing is, with Capaldi's Doctor, his focus on saving people is broader than trying to save everyone. The Twelfth Doctor knows he needs information to stop the Foretold and that information is only going to come as and when the Foretold pops up to kill another person. What he's trying to do is make sure that the number of people that have to die before he has the answers is minimal. It's a terrible thing to have to do but it is the only way to win. As the Doctor himself says, 'Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to make a choice.' The Twelfth Doctor isn't heartless but he can be ruthless.
There's a lot of fine actors in this story in small parts: David Bamber as Captain Quell who gets a small character arc of his own; Christopher Villiers as Professor Morehouse; John Sessions as the voice of Gus and it is nice to see Janet Henfrey make a New Doctor Who appearance (even if it is a short one) after her appearance in The Curse of Fenric. Oh, I forgot that Villiers made an appearance in Classic Doctor Who himself in The King's Demons
I think my favourite performance though is Frank Skinner as Perkins, the Chief Engineer. Skinner is, I have discovered something of a massive Doctor Who geek. I was a bit concerned because I wasn't sure Skinner could act but he does an excellent job with Perkins who is cool, calm and collected most of the time. Indeed, the Doctor likes him enough to offer him a role about the TARDIS, which Perkins turns down. Perkins has seen enough, from this one story, of how the Doctor's lifestyle can 'change a man.' But I'd be happy to see more of Perkins at some future point.
There's some fine writing here from Jamie Mathieson, but I think the almost final scene of the story when the Doctor and Clara talk about why she is asleep on a beach is brilliant. It pokes at the issues Clara's been having with the Doctor and the Doctor refuses to make it easy for her. It's well-played by both Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. As is the final scene in the TARDIS where Clara seems to have decided that she was just suffering from a 'wobble'.
The discussion about whether what the Doctor does - making life or death decisions - is an addiction is lovely writing. Then Clara's call with Danny and her decision to 'stay' with the Doctor is done beautifully. I can't be the only one that thinks Clara's 'I love you' to Danny is actually aimed at the Doctor. Or perhaps I am.
Oh, and I applaud Capaldi's conversation with himself (as the Fourth Doctor) and the jelly babies in the cigarette holder. Both of which were nice little nods without being unnecessary fanwank.
So, all in all, this was a rather lovely story. And as a result, I'm struggling to find something interesting to say. It is so much easier to write about stuff you didn't like because you can get your teeth into the bits that irritated you and shake them about. But when it is good stuff it is much harder, especially consistently good stuff.
I mean what more can I say about the chemistry between Capaldi and Coleman or the brilliance of their acting when so much can be conveyed in a smile or a look - such as the joyful grin The Doctor gives when he realises Clara's serious about getting back out there in amongst the universe. It's a joy to watch.
I had a bad night last night. A night of self-doubt and - I suppose - fear. It wasn't good but it is amazing the effect some good Doctor Who can have on my spirits. Perhaps I shouldn't be so emotional dependant on a television series for which I am no longer the target market. Perhaps I should be just a little bit more grown-up. But sometimes being a grown-up is hard work. Sometimes it is lonely and difficult. Sometimes you don't want to be grown-up for a little bit. You just want to put all your fears and worries to the back of your tired brain and have some fun. That was how I felt after I'd watched Mummy on the Orient Express and you can't ask much more than that from forty-five minutes of television.
Friday, October 20, 2017
Before I start let me say that this blog contains spoilers because, frankly, I haven't got the energy to hide them. They start from the next paragraph so if you haven't watched Kill The Moon before you should go and do so now. I'll wait.
Ah, Kill The Moon with its Moon as an egg thing. Not just an egg. An egg that will hatch and automatically lay an exact replica of itself immediately afterwards. An egg from which some kind of gigantic baby soup dragon creature will emerge and fly off into deep space. The Moon is an egg. Now, from this paragraph, you might think that I didn't like this story, but you'd be almost wrong. On my first watch, I will admit to finding the whole scenario heffelumping ridiculous. And it is.
But then you start to think. Is it any more ridiculous than a blue box that travels through space and time? A box that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Whose pilot is an alien aristocrat with a penchant for saving the universe and the ability to change from one body to another through a process known as regeneration? Well, yes. Yes, it is. But that choice is only my own. I have drawn a line in the sand where perfectly sensible storytelling begins and utter nonsense takes over.
Now. mine wasn't even the Moon is an egg. That was close to the line, but not over it. No. It was the identical new egg that replaced it so that the Earth didn't come to a wobbly end that crossed the line. THAT was ridiculous. Not the egg itself.
At that point, I just decided that I should ignore the whole thing and just enjoy the rest of the story. About which there is much to be positive. The acting is superb. Hermione Norris as Lundvik is another fantastic actor in a long New Doctor Who line who plays a small part that just demonstrates that she's worthy of so much more. It's lovely to see Tony Osoba as Duke again. Last seen as Kracauer in the Seventh Doctor story Dragonfire he's a familiar and consistently good television face. So, obviously, he's going to die. Plus Ellis George does Courtney again and manages to avoid irritating me for the second story running, which is some achievement based on my low tolerance for child actors.
But the real glory in this story is Capaldi/Coleman. There's some genuinely brilliant stuff from both of them but Clara's genuine rage at the Doctor after he leaves her, Courtney and Lundvik to decide whether to kill the creature inside the egg or let it hatch. (And here can I pause for a moment to applaud the ridiculousness within the egg ridiculousness of broadcasting a message to the whole world from the Moon and getting people to pay attention.) The Doctor's intentions seem good but bizarre. The Doctor's never worried about making decisions on behalf of humanity before so why the sudden desire to leave everything up to us now?
Sorry, I've digressed. That Clara/Doctor seen where she rages at him and he tries to understand why she's angry but can't seem to grasp it. It feels like a piece of genuine emotion. Two fine actors giving it their best. It's astonishingly good. And it makes up for a lot.
It's easy to read this story as being about abortion (and depending on your point of view) a story you can like or dislike accordingly. On this reading, Peter Harness was making an anti-abortion point but Harness has said that didn't even cross his mind. I don't think it is about abortion. I think it is about trust and growing up. I think it is about friendship and lines that we cross or don't cross. I think it is about the Moon being an egg and what fun you can have with that idea.
Did I like Kill The Moon? Mostly. To do so I had to ignore the bit of my brain that found this story to be so packed with ridiculousness that it might as well be Donald Trump. Then that ridiculousness isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are ridiculous stories dotted throughout Doctor Who. I like most of them. So, I liked it. And didn't.
What it is worth watching for isn't the plot though. It's worth watching for the performances. It's worth watching for that final scene, although once more Clara threatens the Doctor with violence. And even though it is a good scene you do find yourself thinking that Clara is being utterly unfair to the Doctor. Perhaps because she's got Danny's words in her head from The Caretaker she resents being pushed too far, too soon but she's angry because she's been asked to do what she expects the Doctor to do ALL THE BLOODY TIME. She's angry because the Doctor won't make a life or death decision for once. For whatever reason. And that seems unfair and childish.
Even if it is played superbly by both actors.
So, yeah that was Kill The Moon that was.Make of it what you will.
I have to say The Caretaker was - with a couple of exceptions - not a story I particularly enjoyed. If not quite a placeholder it certainly wasn't more than a blink and you'll miss it adventure with killer robots. But then I suspect the point of this story wasn't the adventure it was the Clara and Danny relationship episode.
The problem for me was there was far too much snark and not enough fun. The balance between adventure and non-adventure was unbalanced. There were too many scenes featuring people arguing and not enough scenes of the Doctor and Clara saving the world. Obviously part of this is the Twelfth Doctor's convenient dislike of soldiers just at the moment that Clara starts going out with a soldier. That's an excuse for some not very witty banter about a soldier only being capable of teaching PE.
At the time this went out I think some people felt that the Doctor's attitude to Danny had the whiff of racism about it but I don't think that's the case but you do find yourself thinking that the Doctor is being unnecessarily unpleasant to a man he barely knows. Yes, I'm aware that the lack of tact is going to be a key trait in the Twelfth Doctor but in The Caretaker it feels a little too much.
As does Danny's tirade against The Doctor as 'an officer'. That scene in the TARDIS is genuinely uncomfortable but if the Doctor hadn't ostentatiously referred to himself as a Time Lord would Danny have been able to guess that he was an aristocrat. And when did Time Lord's become aristocrats in the first place? I always saw them more as a kind of priestly cast in a scientific theocracy...which I suppose would make them aristocrats of sorts. Whatever. Danny's tirade just doesn't seem to fit the Doctor's behaviour. However, it seems to be a theme of sorts because Robin said similar things in Robot of Sherwood but with less hostility (perhaps because he too was an aristocratic hero slumming it in the name of his principles.)
Perhaps this is a purely personal dislike because I don't want to think of the Doctor as an aristocrat because I don't like aristocrats in general. It's the same discomfort I feel when reminded that the Doctor can be viewed as a sort of great, white hero coming to the rescue of whichever poor alien species can't save themselves. It's purely personal, which I think contributes to my dislike of this story.
I can't blame the actors. I think Capaldi, Coleman and Samuel Anderson are excellent. They deal with the comedy and drama equally well. Even Ellis George as Courtney Woods didn't annoy me and I have a low tolerance for child actors (and I've still not got over the two awful children from Nightmare in Silver.)
I don't blame the director, Paul Murphy. I think he does a good job with what he's given. I blame the script, which doesn't quite do it for me. It's not terrible. This isn't one of those Doctor Who episodes that I'm going to mock mercilessly for bad lines or huge plot holes. I think this is purely personal inability to get on with what the writers - Steven Moffat and Gareth Roberts - are trying to do in this story. So, actually, I don't blame the writers. I blame myself.
Sometimes a Doctor Who story is just not your bag and that's not the fault of anything or anyone involved in making it, although sometimes when writing reviews we have a tendency to make a purely personal dislike seem like it is structural. In the case of The Caretaker it just doesn't do it for me. And that's fine. The danger, of course, comes when we take our personal opinion of one story and make it a massive tirade about how Doctor Who, in general, is rubbish or that the showrunner is the personification of an evil attempt to destroy your childhood.
So, I didn't enjoy The Caretaker much but there's another Doctor Who story coming soon. And then another. And there's always all those stories from 1963 onwards that I can go and dip into if I'm feeling particularly in need of a shot of Doctor Who I like.