DOCTOR WHO (2005) series 8, episode 6
WRITERS: GARETH ROBERTS and STEVEN MOFFAT
DIRECTOR: PAUL MURPHY
AIR DATE: September 27 2014
Clara (Jenna Coleman) is struggling to cope with her increasingly complicated life as time traveller, school teacher, and girlfriend of fellow teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Alexander). Meanwhile, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), preparing for his next mission, tells Clara that he is going deep undercover on his own. Next morning in the Coalhill school staffroom, the assembled teachers are told by the head teacher that they have a new temporary caretaker, John Smith. In wide-eyed disbelief, Clara watches the Doctor enter the room as the new caretaker. She later discovers that the Doctor has detected the nearby presence of a killer robot, the Skovox Blitzer. Clara does not want the Doctor around the school, but he tells her that he must deal with the robot to save the Earth from destruction. He intends to lure the robot to the school one night when no-one else is around and use a time displacement vortex to banish it far into the future where it can cause no harm. He sets about planting devices around the school to generate the vortex. He demonstrates an invisibility watch to Clara, explaining that he will use it to avoid detection by the robot.
While at the school, the Doctor meets Danny and learns that he was a soldier, leading him to conclude that Danny is a PE teacher. When Danny tries to correct this wrong impression, declaring that he is a Maths teacher, the Doctor brusquely dismisses him. Later, the Doctor wrongly assumes that Clara has a romantic interest in another teacher, Adrian (Edward Harrison), because he looks like his previous incarnation, the Eleventh Doctor. As the Doctor continues with his secret mission at the school, Danny grows increasingly suspicious of him, finding his demeanour to be strange. One of the pupils, Courtney Woods (Ellis George), also becomes suspicious, and begins snooping around the caretaker’s work area where she finds the Doctor and the TARDIS. The Doctor admires her cheekiness and initiative, and lets her see inside the TARDIS much to her amazement.
The Skovox Blitzer
Working late one evening, Danny spots one of the Doctor's time vortex devices. When he touches it out of curiosity, he accidentally alters its settings. Later that night, the Doctor lures the Skovox Blitzer to the deserted school, but Danny’s interference with the Doctor’s device results in the murderous machine only being shunted a few days into the future. Danny is shocked to learn about Clara’s secret life, and mistakes the Doctor as her father. Clara tells him the truth and gives him the invisibility watch to allow him to observe her interactions with the Doctor so that he can believe her. The Doctor anticipates Clara’s scheme and, knowing that Danny is present in the TARDIS, demands that he remove the watch. The Doctor and Danny argue before Clara blurts out that she loves Danny.
During a parents' evening at the school, the Skovox re-materialises sooner than the Doctor had expected. With Clara acting as bait, the robot is drawn to the Doctor. Using a makeshift communication device, the Doctor imitates the robot’s commander. The deception goes horribly wrong when a self-destruct protocol is accidentally set off and the robot begins unleashing terror. Danny assists the Doctor and Clara, using his athleticism to help defeat the Skovox. Finally, they manage to get the robot to stand down. Afterwards, the Doctor casts the Skovox out of the TARDIS into deep space. Courtney who has come along as a passenger becomes sick, overwhelmed at what she witnesses. Later, Danny tells Clara that he is impressed that the Doctor helps her to act courageously, but asks her to let him know if the Doctor pushes her too far. He tells her that he needs to trust her or their relationship will be over.
Meanwhile, a community support officer, killed by the Skovox a few days previously, awakens from death to find himself in the Promised Land. He sits in bewilderment in front of an interviewer, Seb (Chris Addison). When he demands some answers, Seb tells him that his superior, Missy, is too busy to deal with him.
Danny salutes the Doctor
Up until this episode, we had one average episode (episode 3), two very solid ones (episodes 1 and 5), and two outstanding ones (episodes 2 and 4). Well, I can safely say that episode 6 of Season 8 levels out the balance sheet and offers us another average affair. If I had to define what I mean by average, then I would draw out two key qualities: first, an ability to entertain but not thrill; second, a tendency to satisfy at the time of watching while being unmemorable in the long run. The fact is, I find it difficult to recall much of this episode at all, such was its infuriating ‘meh-ness’. I remember laughing a few times, which was one of the episode’s better qualities, but otherwise there is a troubling gap in my recollection of it only a short time later.
On the plus side, I laughed at the Doctor’s brusqueness once or twice, especially the scene involving pupil Courtney Woods when he abruptly dismisses her just for being human. I equally enjoyed her sassiness and her dismissal of the Doctor as a strange, cranky old man. The interaction was well done and was one of two main highlights in this episode. The other was an impressive sequence of scenes, starting with Danny’s discovery at night of the Doctor’s secret plan to save the world, then his shock at finding out about Clara’s double life, and finally a tense exchange between Danny and the Doctor in the TARDIS which only stops when Clara declares her love for Danny. The secrets emerged in an enjoyable fashion, and Danny’s bewilderment and hurt at the various disclosures was well done. An angry exchange between himself and the Doctor, where the Doctor keeps provoking Danny about his history as a soldier and Danny in turn mockingly salutes him, played out very well.
Despite these highlights, much else was run-of-the-mill, especially the villainous robot, a clumsy and clunky contraption whose reputation as a destroyer of worlds was somewhat undermined by its portly appearance, its sluggish movements, and its uncanny inability to hit any target other than a parked bus or a crawling tortoise. Something more menacing and world shattering would have been more plausible and worthy of the reputation. Another weak point was the anti-climactic battle scene between the assembled heroes and the Skovox Blitzer. The slow motion effects were frankly lame. And when Danny somersaults over the robot’s head like an Olympian athlete executing his cornerstone floor exercise, my eyes nearly rolled with dismay into the back of my skull – there’s credible escapism, and then there’s just plain ludicrous. Sigh! (Not to say, lest I get angry knocks on my door, that PE teachers can’t outwit obese killer robots, but even the fantastical has to feel relatively real.)
Anyway, a very average episode with some good performances from the three lead actors and Ellis George (who played teenager Courtney Woods), but a sentient dishwasher whose shooting skills suggested urgent need of an optician did not make for great viewing.