Doctor Who and the Lodger
Posted by dailypop on August 1, 2010
Doctor Who – The Lodger
12 June 2010
Warning – this review contains spoilers
Craig Owens’ life is at a standstill. He is deeply in love with his best friend but unable to say or do anything about it. In the flat above him, something strange is happening. An alluring voice is attracting passers like a spider drawing flies and no one knows why. When an odd man with a bag full of money decides to move in, Craig cannot predict how much his life will change… despite his best efforts to resist.
In the 2005 debut series of Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who (I have to view it that way so I can sleep better at night), there were some issues with the script for the penultimate story. The work around was for RTD to draft up ‘Boom Town’ at the last minute. In the following 2006 series, the episode ‘Love & Monsters’ gave the main cast a breather by filling in the slot with a ‘Doctor-lite’ adventure. I always felt that the two events were linked somehow, but I’m not sure that they are. Someone wiser than I is welcome ti chime in on that one. In any case, this resulted in a traditional episode each series in which the Doctor was featured less… until now. ‘The Lodger’ is in comparison an ‘Amy-lite’ episode and focusing moreso than usual on the Doctor. This was perhaps a conscious decision to strengthen the portrayal of the character by Matt Smith and not lose a chance to impress viewers with his depiction of the Doctor (there’s a lot of theory in this paragraph). If that is the case, it was a worthwhile decision.
As anyone who has been reading my reviews of the 2010 series can see, I have adored Matt Smith as the Doctor. A genuine eccentric, he brings a colorful personality to the role that has been lacking for nearly a generation and hearkens back to the glory days of Tom Baker when the actor lived the part. A script that is essentially a sitcom with minimal science fiction elements would spell disaster in any other instance, but Smith bubbles with potential in each scene. Co-starring with Gavin and Stacey co-creator James Corden and Man Stroke Woman’s Daisy Haggard, Smith has good company for a comedic episode. All three play off of each other spectacularly, making what is admittedly a comedic story a damned funny one.
That said… there are problems.
Roberts’ previous offerings (2007′s The Shakespeare Code; The Unicorn and the Wasp in 2008; and the diabolically co-written offering Planet of the Dead in 2009 ) have been dubious at best. The Lodger is the best story that I’ve seen from him to date (I’m not familiar with Being Human or his Sarah Jane Smith material) and in comparison it is a marked improvement that may stem from Moffat’s role as head writer as compared to RTD getting his hands into Roberts’ previous scripts. In any case, while it is a much better script than the others, it also stars two accomplished comedic actors and the new talent Smith as the central cast to smooth over anything lacking.
My short-form negative criticism of the story is that anything that does not involve science fiction elements is top notch. The rest… needs work.
Smith’s Doctor arrives in a flurry of confusion as he falls from the TARDIS, leaving Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) alone in a malfunctioning time machine, tossed in and out of the time vortex under some unknown influence. Following a clue left by Amy, the Doctor rents a flat owned by the homebody Craig Owens, whose comfort zone has become definitively comfy. There is something going on in the flat upstairs that holds the answers to the TARDIS’ predicament, but the Doctor feels the need to tread lightly to discover what it could be rather than go charging in. Constructing a strange devise made from found objects, he tries to analyze the upstairs flat from below and coordinates matters with Amy via a kind of souped up Blue Tooth.
The current incarnation of the Doctor is by far the most alien personality we have seen in some time. Fans have been split on what to make of this and as there is bound to be some backlash from the previous incarnation played by David Tennant, that is understandable. Whereas the 10th Doctor was an emotional character prone to pining over lost loves like a schoolgirl, the 11th looks at the possibility as absurd. That being the case, placing the 11th Doctor in a domestic situation is ideal as it shows just how out of place he is. He cannot understand anything from the concept of money to interpersonal relationships. This makes the unrequited love between Craig and his best mate Sophie a bit of a quandary for the Doctor.
The Doctor is so out of touch with human behavior that he has no idea that he appears attractive to others (another major difference from the previous incarnation) As such, a handsome and charming young man suddenly popping into the picture gains Sophie the opportunity to draw Craig out by making him jealous… with disastrous results. Craig is far too comfortable in the ways things are, even though they must change. He sees the Doctor not so much as a challenge to his pursuit of Sophie but a potential cause for drastic change.
All of these pieces of puzzle are put in their place when it is at last discovered that atop Craig’s flat is a malfunctioning alien time/space machine. It has been drawing passers by into its workings to find a suitable pilot so that it can go on its way, but there have been no suitable candidates. The Doctor is an obviously ideal pilot, but for some reason that would result in complete destruction for the planet. The only way that the ship can move on is for Craig to move on as well. It’s an incredibly ham-fisted solution that unusually solves both the science fiction and sitcom plot in one fell swoop. It’s an extraordinarily silly conceit and an unfortunate one as well as the domestic plot was so well portrayed by the actors.
Despite its misgivings. The Lodger is intended as a bit of fluff before the two-part finale. That being said, it serves the purpose wonderfully. As a fill-in, it is by far the best one to date but the concept still needs work. I hope that next year’s filler episode proves better, however, and learns from this year’s mistakes.
Next time: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang