Look, we’d better talk about Danny Pink.
Danny, as played by Samuel Anderson, is a committed teacher, an emotionally damaged war veteran and lover of Clara (Jenna Coleman). We meet him over the course of Into the Dalek and Listen, as he and Clara engage in an awkward but ultimately successful courtship. But in The Caretaker he meets the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and everything changes. As it tends to.
The Doctor doesn’t like Danny; no surprises there. He’s never liked his companions’ boyfriends. But with Mickey and Rory, those tensions quickly subsided into grudging respect before developing into comfortable friendships. There’s little hope of that here. The Doctor is sneeringly dismissive of Danny, refusing to acknowledge that he’s a maths teacher, just because he was once a soldier (the irritating myth that the Doctor hates soldiers, again. Does he not remember his old friend Lethbridge-Stewart was a soldier turned maths teacher?). Danny can’t stand the Doctor’s automatic assumption of superiority, labelling him as an officer. The subtext is clear. They’re fighting over Clara’s affections.
So the two men in Clara’s life finally meet and they can’t stand each other. A level of rapprochement is achieved though when Danny helps defeat the robotic Skovox Blitzer. Still, Danny doesn’t appreciate Clara’s deception and he’s highly suspicious of what happens when she periodically absconds in the TARDIS for adventures. And it’s from this point that Danny’s behaviour shifts… in a way which hit a bum note with some of the show’s audience.
Mrs Spandrell summed it up. “He’s become quite controlling of her, hasn’t he?” she noted during a sideways glance at this episode. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard before. Danny’s controlling, manipulative, creepy. He wants to dictate what Clara can and can’t do. Is this reading justified?
If it is, he shows us this side of himself in record time. It starts here in The Caretaker and is ended when he gets hit by that car in the opening scene of Dark Water. That leaves only three episodes in which to cement this reputation as a possessive control freak, and in two of those, he makes only fleeting appearances.
So how does he manage to make such a bad impression with such minimal screen time? Let’s look at what he actually does to gain this reputation.
Moment 1: In The Caretaker, Danny discovers the truth about Clara and the Doctor and is upset that she hasn’t told him about it. He and the Doctor have a row, but then their combined efforts deactivate the Blitzer. When it’s all done, he gives Clara an ultimatum:
DANNY: If he ever pushes you too far, I want you to tell me, because I know what that’s like. You’ll tell me if that happens, yeah?
CLARA: Yeah, it’s a deal.
DANNY: No. It’s a promise.
CLARA: Okay. I promise.
DANNY: And if you break that promise, Clara, we’re finished.
Look, if Mrs Spandrell had been secretly moonlighting, even in a platonic sense, with some dashing adventurer, I think I’d have something to say about it too. But I think the problem here is the ultimatum; it seems like Danny’s way or the highway. And it sets up a threat – that Danny will leave her if he disobeys her – which clearly scares Clara.
What she doesn’t say here is, “Look, I’ll see whoever I like, thanks and if you can’t deal with that, too bad.” Whether that would be fair for her to say, I don’t know. But the absence of such a statement is part of the problem.
Moment 2: In Kill the Moon, the predicted boundary pushing happens and Clara returns to Earth distraught. It’s actually her who says it first:
CLARA: I’m done. It’s over. I’m finished with him, and I told him that. What is that face for? Why don’t you believe me?
DANNY: Because you’re still angry. You can never finish with anyone while they can still make you angry. Tell him when you’re calm, and then tell me.
So it’s Clara’s choice to leave. Or is it? Danny seems even handed here, but has he manipulated her, by predicting the Doctor’s behaviour and putting the seed of doubt in her mind?
Moments 3 & 4: In Mummy on the Orient Express, Danny is actually tempering Clara’s intentions.
CLARA: So, what are you saying? Just because he brought me somewhere cool, I shouldn’t dump him?
DANNY: Well, one, you can’t dump him because he’s not your boyfriend. And two, dumping him sounds a little scorched earth. You still basically get on. I think you should just enjoy your space train.
But then later in the episode, he rings her up, expecting her to have dumped him (“so is it done?” he asks). And at that point, Clara decides to lie to both Danny (by saying yes to that question) and the Doctor by saying:
CLARA: Danny. He’s fine with the idea of me and you knocking about. It was his idea that we stop but, he’s decided he doesn’t mind and neither do I.
She claims it was Danny’s idea but all indications are that it was her idea, although he did little to dissuade her. But the worrying thing is that she’s kept quiet about her decision to stay on board the TARDIS. She’s clearly at least concerned, and at worst, worried, about telling Danny. What would he do if she told him the truth?
Moment 5: In In the Forest of the Night, he notices a pile of unmarked homework in the TARDIS and realises she’s been on board.
DANNY: I just want to know the truth. I don’t care what it is. I just want to know it. Like Maebh said. Like the forest. Fear a little bit less, trust a bit more.
CLARA: Okay. Well…
DANNY: No, not now. Go home and do your marking. Think about it, then tell me. I saved you from a tiger today. I deserve at least that.
See, it’s interesting this. On one hand, Danny seems to have a valid gripe. He’s concerned about Clara’s safety while in the company of the Doctor and she keeps lying to him about it.
But if any of the blame for this situation is his, it’s never acknowledged. His lines often position him as a victim – I know what that’s like, I just want to know the truth – but then end with an instruction, tell him when you’re calm, think about it, then tell me. He’s reasonable and reassuring in one breath, but issuing orders in the next. And Clara always seems to be in the wrong.
It’s hard to pinpoint, but I think on balance, Danny Pink the controlling boyfriend is definitely there. It’s hinted at in the writing and gently reinforced by Anderson’s performance. Perhaps unintentionally in both instances. And although it might all be an unhappy accident, maybe instances of male characters trying to influence female characters who they can/can’t see and what they can/can’t do, should just be avoided.
LINK TO The Christmas Invasion. Both set in modern day London.
NEXT TIME: We’ve come (to) Full Circle.