We start the episode with what could easily be called a super cut of Clara in distress trying to juggle her life with the Doctor and her life with Danny. Sand Piranha, Fishpeople, and laser beams intermixed with tans, sea weed, and being really tired. This seems to be a daily event with the Doctor trying to entice her away from her regular life but Clara steadfastly refusing to leave it totally in the ditch and once again we are treated to Clara the Control Freak insisting even to herself she can make it all happen. Mysteriously though one day the Doctor refuses to tell her what’s up and shoos her off while he goes in to “Deep Cover” something Clara finds a slightly preposterous proposition as the Doctor doing “Deep Cover” seems a bit unrealistic especially since he dresses like a magician and his idea of being tricky is complimenting her by asking if she’s had a wash and here we see the first theme of the episode people being “clever”.
This gives Clara a bit of time with Danny, it’s made pretty clear that Clara and Danny’s romantic entanglement has become the talk of the school with kids giggling as kids are want to do. As the teachers of Coal Hill School prepare for the day it’s raised that the regular caretaker is under the weather and a “newbie” has taken over and in walks Mister John Smith aka The Doctor aka The Caretaker (nothing like a little wordplay to set the tone) and follows it up with a conspiratorial wink… if this is his idea of deep cover a new coat and a big wink the Doctor is in trouble.
Danny immediately thinks something is weird about him (aside from his eyebrows) and Clara is in no way impressed making excuses to return to give the Doctor a talking to. We get a nice little bit of back and forth which establishes Clara’s priority being the safety of her students and the Doctor’s self-involvement and general lack of regard for the human race with a cute little aside involving River and otters (frankly I’d rather be an otter).
Here is where we cut to the “bad guy” for this episode the Skovox Blitzer which put me in mind of some of the more cartoonish enemies the Doctor has faced but this makes him no less dangerous gunning down a police officer looking for truant students. You can’t help but feel sorry for the officer and this appears to be something that’s running through this entire season and in fact going back through Moffat’s work with the most notable example being Lorna Bucket who met the Doctor on the Gamma Forests, people tend to die when the Doctor becomes involved even those on his periphery.
This leads to a cute scene where we see Clara in action as a teacher. Mr. Smith decides to peak in from a second story window and tell her how her information is wrong which sets Clara off (and understandably so). This would be like her coming in to the TARDIS and telling the Doctor what to do, he would not take it well (and seldom does) which makes for a hilarious exchange about being “bezzie mates” and meeting Buddy Holly (and for those who are Community fans a reference to a certain Inspector). This all leads to Clara being very distracted which really gives you the feeling things are starting to spin out of control for her and here we get the first interaction between Danny and the Doctor and it does not go well. To say the Doctor is disrespectful would be an understatement but the entire interaction puts me in mind of the Hartnell’s Doctor and his interaction with Ian Chesterton who’s name was seldom said twice the same way (and even more rarely said correctly at all). This is the Doctor’s way of being dismissive to those who he doesn’t respect and Danny is made the cardinal sin of having been a soldier.
This leads us to one of my favorite interaction of the show consisting almost entirely of cute interactions, the Doctor meets possibly the first person he actually likes Courtney Woods. Courtney has been popping up all season as a foil to Clara and I suspect she may be a more prominent feature in the series. The current surly Doctor and this “disruptive influence” have a distinct partners in crime vibe to them within minutes of being introduced and Courtney’s sarcastic “love to the Squaddie” shows a delicious lack of respect for Clara who never seems to quite take her seriously.
Clara, seeking out the Doctor, pushes back on his running roughshod over the school asking if his former companions would put up with his sass (which sadly many of them would unquestioningly). We see why she’s become a fun part of the show with her constant questioning and refusal to take the Doctor at his word not to mention her general lack of faith in his ability to function as a normal civilized creature. There’s a line (which I will not spoil) that basically sums it up, without her he would lack the moral compass required to function. Getting a little more exposition on the Skovox basically we find out that the Doctor is trying to lure it out before it blows up the planet due to some “military idiot” or “PE teacher” setting it off. Again, another dig at Danny and we are introduced to a new gadget, an invisibility watch which he will use to lure the Skovox Blitzer to a series of time mines to suck the Blitzer in to the far future saving the school with the Doctor telling Clara to go “kanoodle with her boyfriend”. She of course gives him too much credit thinking he has clicked it is Danny while the Doctor in his vague too clever for his own good way dances around how he thinks she’s attracted to the Smith look-a-like.
Of course she doesn’t listen lurking around and asking to help, unfortunately Danny has also done the same noticing the time mines and disrupting the devices. The Doctor not realizing his trap has been tampered with leads the Skovox Blitzer back to the school when the Chronodyne Generators fail to work he finds himself in a pickle only to be saved (sort of) by Danny storming the room demanding answers only to be shot at by a rampaging alien robot. Clara joins them and a very intense few moments with Clara showing she’s a TERRIBLE liar and things slip further out of her control and despite her best efforts Danny knows there’s something between the Doctor and her at first thinking she’s an alien, then the Doctor is her Space Dad before she tries to disarm the situation by saying she loves him and it all comes to a head. The Doctor is not pleased with the idea of her being in love with a soldier, even a former one, and the hurt in his eyes is shattering and it’s all out on the table with Danny being introduced to the TARDIS and to the very judgemental glower the Doctor. Danny’s first thought is the safety of the children which is very telling as the Doctor’s first thought is how to defeat the enemy. It’s very telling that the soldier is more interested in protecting people and the caretaker is more interested in the battle but one thing is for sure, he wants answers from Clara.
Danny is not impressed, she’s been lying to him and he’s tired of it but when she explains that “it’s amazing” and she “see’s wonders” he understands or at least appears to but it’s pretty clear he’s feeling betrayed saying how the wonderful things she’s seen are kept secret from him. This causes him to start questioning what she thinks of him and she insists that she’s the same person with Danny as she is with the Doctor. In order to prove it Clara sets in motion a plan to show him the “other her” by stealing the invisibility watch, giving it to Danny she leads him in to the TARDIS where the Doctor pretty quickly figures out what is going on trying to get her goat.
Once again we see more about the Doctor in how he treats others, he continues to act “clever” trying to mess with people’s heads but Danny reads him right away, and he also reads something that the Doctor has tried very hard to hide for a very long time. He’s a Time Lord and Danny could smell the attitude which sets off an interaction which does not go well. Danny was a sergeant and had to deal with many a man like him, officers, pushing and bossing and treating people as tools lighting the fires and expecting people like Danny to put them out. This does not sit well with the Doctor especially since, in essence, he’s the one who started the Time War. Capaldi channels more rage and disdain in this one scene than the last 7 seasons of Doctor Who combined and here we see the ugly side of the Doctor the madness that comes with the box and Clara is very disappointed.
Thankfully we have another Doctor/Courtney interaction that follows this rather upsetting scene. This episode does a good job of balancing the drama and soap opera elements with some light moments to keep it pleasant. As the Parent/Teacher meeting starts unfortunately the Doctor’s calculations are off and the Blitzer makes an early return. The Doctor drags Clara out of the meeting Danny following sending her on a dangerous mission to lure the Blitzer back to the TARDIS. Danny is not pleased that Clara is being used as a decoy and chases her down using the cloaking watch to follow.
Posing as a Skovox officer the Doctor tries convince the Blitzer to disengage failing and setting off its self-destruct sequence. Danny buys them some time and the Doctor is able to deactivate the robot but this is all secondary. The Blitzer was simply there to drive the dialogue forward. We are six episodes in and Clara has been juggling two people she loves but in very different ways and this had to come to a head. The Doctor’s loathing for soldiers (which I insist is self-loathing) is difficult for him to overcome but mainly he is being paternal with Clara insisting her real concern being that Danny be good enough for her. Saving the world, it turns out, is a “good start”. They aren’t “good” but they’re on the way there and once again Danny reads the room better than the Time Lord and the control freak.
Clara and Danny later have a discussion and we can see why Danny’s concerned. He’s served with men like the Doctor, he’s had officers that could inspire people to do impossible things but sometimes they could push people too far and he doesn’t say it but it’s left hanging there, when that happens people die. He makes her promise that if he ever pushes her that she tell him because if she lies there’s no way he can protect her. This is where Danny and the Doctor find a common ground; they both want to protect her.
Meanwhile the Doctor dumps the Blitzer in the depths of space with a little tag along Courtney lending a hand. I’m really hopping Moffat doesn’t leave this on the table; the first season of the series was the Doctor, a young girl (his granddaughter Susan) and two Coal Hill teachers. The opportunity for some adventures with a kid and two teachers is amazing.
This entire episode is about setting up the end game, the pieces are all on the board with the addition of one new one Seb. Saint Peter to Missy’s God we have Seb (played by Capaldi’s Thick of It colleague Chris Addison channeling smarmy prig deliciously) processing the recently deceased police officer and welcoming him to the “Nethersphere” as he likes to call it. Where is this going? It’s hard to tell and next week will probably not be much help as it looks like another monster of the week episode but time will tell but this may be the beginning of the end of the Doctor and Clara as companions (or the start of a very interesting new chapter).