DOCTOR WHO: Return to Coal Hill School

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Before Caretaker John Smith starts his new job, Christopher Morley looks back at the times Coal Hill School has played a part in Doctor Who.


You wouldn't think, being a Time Lord & all, that the Doctor would need to give even a second thought to the idea of getting a proper job. But in The Caretaker, that's exactly what we'll see him do! Returning to Coal Hill School, from whose teaching staff he first plucked Ian & Barbara & then later Clara, his Twelfth incarnation is about to take up an offer first made to him six selves ago- remember the Seventh Doctor's meeting with the Headmaster in Remembrance Of The Daleks?

It went a little something like this- as he tried to finish off what he'd started as far back as his First incarnation. Coal Hill found itself dragged into a war between the Imperial & Renegade Daleks, & the Headmaster- one Mr H.Parson- was an agent for the Imperial faction, led by an all too familiar Emperor. A handy guide can be found here...



...along with Ben Aaronovitch's novelisation of his own original television story, which is also available as the seventh entry in the eleven-strong series of 50th anniversary reprints.

While the Doctor isn't the slightest bit interested in actually becoming the school's janitor, he does have a good reason for keeping an eye on the place. And it would seem he's about to return once again.....


Thusly the scene could be set for an exchange similar to this-

DOCTOR: Good afternoon.
HEADMASTER: And you would be?
DOCTOR: The Doctor. And you?
HEADMASTER: I'm the Headmaster here. Doctor, eh? Well, you're a bit over-qualified for the position, but if you would like to leave your particulars and references.
DOCTOR: References?
HEADMASTER: You are here for the job of school caretaker?
DOCTOR: Oh, no. We're here for a completely different reason.
HEADMASTER: Oh. What can I do for you, then?
DOCTOR: Well, we would like to look round your school, if you don't mind?
HEADMASTER: I'm afraid that's out of the question.
DOCTOR: We've got reason to believe there is a great evil at work somewhere in this school.
HEADMASTER: You'll have to be a bit more specific, Doctor.

Only this time the Doctor is definitely there for janitorial duties!



A new menace stalks the school- the robot Skovox Blitzer- & there's only one man who can stop it, right? Which means the TARDIS will have to be parked in a cupboard, & a handy broom, mop & bucket just might be about to join the sonic screwdriver as handy weapons in the armoury...



This being a Gareth Roberts story, co-written with Steven Moffatt, it's not at all unlikely that we'll see the Doctor attempting to fit in with humanity once more & live a relatively ' normal' life. Now then, that's been tackled before, hasn't it?

Both The Lodger & Closing Time work along similar lines, & its become something of a trademark of his. We're also shown the effect that the Doctor has on the personal lives of his companions, & this could be taken to a new extreme in The Caretaker! As if she didn't have enough on her plate having to juggle her TARDIS travels with a teaching career & blossoming romance with Danny Pink, the two are about to meet in just about the most bizarre circumstances she could have dreamed up just when she needed it least.


What of the school itself? Its been a part of the Doctor's life since he made that first fateful trip off Gallifrey, & his granddaughter Susan was a pupil there. Author & Who fan Kim Newman paid tribute to it, saying
"With a dress code progressive for its day and teachers committed enough to spot an alien in class, Coal Hill was nevertheless uniquely like the schools the bulk of Doctor Who's young audience actually attended. These sequences anchor "An Unearthly Child" in a reality from which the show could take off."
It won't surprise you to learn then that his first & so far only contribution to Doctor Who, as part of the Telos novella series ( Time & Relative, published in 2001) is set there, at least in part- Totters Lane also having a part to play.


For the Doctor, the events of the novel occur before An Unearthly Child- he & Susan are trapped on Earth during what came to be known as the ' Big Freeze', the harsh winter of 1963. Both have rather big gaps in their memories ( the TARDIS is called ' The Box', the Time Lords known as ' The Masters' etc) & find themselves caught up in the nefarious plans of The Cold. As the name might suggest, its been on Earth since the first recorded Ice Age, & plans to rid the planet of all life by simply freezing it to death. The Doctor is initially reluctant to stop it from doing so, having never broken the strict non-intervention policy of the Time Lords...luckily Susan is able to talk him into it, & so he freezes the Cold into a snowflake.

In doing so the scene is set for An Unearthly Child, & his eventual meeting with Ian & Barbara. It also forms the backdrop for the first installment of the Destiny Of The Doctor audio series, Hunters Of Earth.


Again set before An Unearthly Child, this story finds the Doctor & Susan once more in the early days of adjusting to life on Earth. Something is amplifying a dangerous tribal instinct in the younger minds of the area, & they're quickly thrust into the thick of things. And of course he'll later return during his Seventh incarnation with Ace in tow in Remembrance to take care of the Hand of Omega, refusing the chance to become caretaker first time around, albeit for a very good reason!



In a sense, then, it's a return to the site of an old job offer as well as the only part of Shoreditch other than Totters Lane to have a place in his hearts. Any parallels with that Scottish Simpsons character, Groundskeeper Willie, are of course purely a coincidence...

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