Gareth Roberts

Dr Who S8 E6 “The Caretaker” (BBC One)

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Contains some mild spoilers for the episode.

I confess, I really wasn’t looking forward to this episode of season eight of Doctor Who, mainly because it seemed it would be very much in the same vein as Gareth Roberts’ previous contributions to the show during Matt Smith’s tenure, “The Lodger” and “Closing Time.” Both of these had milked comedy from making the Doctor a fish of water in a contemporary urban setting – the first in a flat share, the latter by giving him a job in a department store. This weekend’s instalment seemed to offer a retread of much the same ground, with the Doctor this time having to assume the identity of a school caretaker, once again proving how incapable he is of going ‘undercover’ and remaining remotely inconspicuous in any normal setting.

caretakerAs a one-off concept in “The Lodger” this sort of thing worked perfectly well, giving Smith a chance to indulge in his most clownish comedy playing alongside James Corden and Daisy Haggard. While it avoided poking fun too directly at the show it was still too much Doctor Who: The Sitcom for my personal taste especially as the plot of the story was largely missing in action. The follow-up episode “Closing Time” tried to compensate for this by having a heavyweight threat in the form of the Cybermen, but that just resulted in the story going all over the place with lots of different influences pulling this way and that before a painfully mawkish and rushed ending. I was, therefore, resigned to “The Caretaker” continuing the downward trend and had little doubt that I would be writing a review that said “not my sort of thing, rather hated it, let’s hope for better next week.” Read the rest of this entry »

Dr Who S6 E12 – “Closing Time”

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Some spoilers ahoy!

I have to be entirely upfront about this: I’m not a fan of Dr Who: The Sitcom. I wasn’t last year when it gave us “The Lodger”, and I’m even less so this year with “Closing Time”. I appreciate this is entirely my problem and that there are doubtless legions of people out there who will have loved this episode after several weeks of feeling overwhelmed and disenchanted by too-clever oddness; it’s just that I’m not one of them. Sorry.

That’s not to say that I can’t appreciate some sharp lines and cracking dialogue in the episode: “They gave me a name badge. In case I forget. Which actually does happen”; “I have an app for that”; and for some reason the Doctor being able to “speak Baby” never gets old like it should. Matt Smith and guest star James Corden are clearly having a whale of a time: we already know Smith is a gifted comedy performer, and I for one have never had any problem with with Corden and think he’s especially good when called upon to play an essentially straight dramatic role, as he is here. There’s a nice part for Lynda Baron (who first appeared in Dr Who in voice at least back in 1966!), a really touching cameo for two former companions, and some lovely pathos added by the reminders that this is the last day for the Doctor before he dies – for good – at Lake Silencio. Most importantly, the story never strays across the line into poking fun at the show but always properly draws its humour from it.

I could carp on about some incidental flaws (such as: just why is the Doctor now so inept at living normally on Earth in the first place? He had four years of getting by just fine in the UNIT era), but really the biggest issue with the episode is the hole where the plot should be. Even the children’s TV companion show The Sarah Jane Adventures would take one look at this and demand that it must have more heft to it than this insubstantial piece of candy floss has. And that’s before the climax, which channels the very worst of US TV science fiction from the 1960s – you know, those moments where Captain Kirk would use his illogical human emotions to overwhelm the evil, all-powerful supercomputer into short-circuiting and blowing itself up. Yikes, have we really regressed back 45 years to that?! At least writer Gareth Roberts has the good grace to acknowledge how crap this case of parental-love-conquering-all is, and accordingly pokes some fun at it in the dialogue.

Roberts also delivers a nice ending to the show – the Doctor receiving the hat we knows he wears to Lake Silencio; how he caresses the Tardis before exhorting her to one last adventure. Unfortunately this sweet moment is then ambushed by a coda which crashes in from quite literally an entirely different episode. The series arc has arrived to show the preceding piece of fluff how things should be done, and in doing so kicks the legs out from under the previous 40 minutes in a quite brutal fashion. It’s like watching an annoying but sweet and harmless Labrador puppy get roughed up by a full-grown feral Doberman. The coda is a scene needed to put some pieces in place for the season finale, but I’m not sure it doesn’t tell fans anything that they hadn’t already figured out anyway and it might have been better done as an online prologue-teaser for the finale – because here the net result is like someone driving at 100mph suddenly trashing the car by throwing the gears straight into reverse. It’s that destructively jarring.

Yet for all the faults I’ve outlined here and my basic problem with Dr Who: The Sitcom that I freely acknowledge colours the rest of my reactions to it, I’ll still take “Closing Time” over a piece of leaden mediocrity like “The Curse of the Black Spot” any day of the week. At least this episode is trying to do something new and innovative, is trying to push the boundaries a little – if ultimately not successfully. And it does so with a light skip in its step and a cheerful, playful gleam in its eye that’s hard not to respond to at least a little.