Monday, September 29, 2014

Caretaker of Coal Hill School

This week's Doctor Who episode takes us back to the beginning. We've had a few odd scenes in Coal Hill School showing Clara teaching, but this is the first time the story has centered around this location since 1988's Remembrance of the Daleks. It is, of course, the place where we first met Barbara, Ian, and Susan back on November 23, 1963.

The Doctor, trying not to disturb Clara, is working on saving the planet form some danger that he won't tell her about. To do so, he goes undercover as the school's caretaker. She doesn't think he can pull it off, but he does. But some of what Clara fears materializes when Danny Pink gets curious about the Doctor's activities and finds some devices he placed around the school.

That ends up derailing the Doctor's plans and initiates a confrontation between him and Danny. Clara has to explain each of the men in her life to the other.

This episode continued the exploration of the characters more than the alien danger that has dominated this season so far. The story is more drama about the characters than science fiction action adventure. In many ways this is a return to the older format of story telling which focused very much on the people more than the monsters. I hesitate to say that it is focusing too much on character interaction because I enjoyed watching the episode so much. Still, I have this feeling that if the season continues to go this way, without some really dangerous foes, that the ending won't be satisfying. Still, from what little I know of where the series is going, this character interaction is important to this season's arc. We are getting a short hand, as we did with River and Amy, that there are many more adventures that they have gone on than we are seeing. But so far, most of the Doctor's foes this season have been relatively easy to defeat. Robot of Sherwood was not served well with the deletion of a full minute of the climatic action sequence.

But that brings me to Courtney. She is a young student who takes an interest in the Caretaker and finds the Tardis. The Doctor gives her a brief ride, setting things up for an interesting lineup - the Doctor and a student and two teachers from Coal Hill School. Now all we need is for the Tardis navigation to get all wonky again and we'd be back at the beginning.

On its own I would rate this episode very high, but the trend to have throw away monsters that fail to pose a real threat isn't working. We need monsters with substance to go along with the strong character interplay. And deaths. We need some harsh deaths. That has been lacking since the dinosaur burst into flames. That is the main way the series has put across how dangerous being around the Doctor is.

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