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Published on June 13th, 2010 | by Neil Clarke

The Lodger

Well, that was a bloody improvement. After the dud contributions from Messrs Gatiss, Whithouse and Chibnall, it’s heartening – albeit belatedly – to see that not all the new series writers have (quite literally) lost the plot.

Doctor Who - The Lodger stars Matt Smith and James CordenNot that the plot of this episode is anything more than a framework to drape the central concept around, but that becomes forgivable when said concept is such a corker. Like Amy’s Choice, a simple premise – the Doctor lodging in a house which, essentially, eats people – fares much better than this series’ attempts at large scale stories, whilst also avoiding the pitfalls of the two-wildly-different-stories-smashed-together approach, as modelled by Richard Curtis’ preceding Vincent and the Doctor. Personally, I haven’t read the comic this story is based on, but with such a delicious ‘why hasn’t anyone done that before?’ idea, it isn’t at all surprising that it’s the latest story from the spin-off media to make it onto the small screen.

In common with Simon Nye’s episode, there’s a sense of this story making good on this season’s promise, the bold-but-twisty, storybook-tinged style premiered in The Eleventh Hour. (So much so that it felt credible that Prisoner Zero could be making a return appearance. Albeit sans dog.) There are certainly shades of that story in the Aickman Road house and its creepy upstairs neighbours.
 
Doctor Who - The Lodger stars Matt Smith and James CordenOutside of Moffat’s own episodes, relatively little of season fnarg has lived up to the fresh stylistic approach of its earliest episodes, mainly inhabiting a more generic version of the Doctor’s universe, but, despite being set in unremarkable environs, The Lodger’s Colchester does feel something of a spiritual cousin to Leadworth. It’s surprising for a somewhat unassuming story – which it might be assumed would be filed alongside other equally low-key suburban stories like Love & Monsters and Fear Her - would be one to realign the season with the Moffat house-style most successfully. Not that it doesn’t have similarities with those season two stories, most notably the former – though James Corden, despite apparently doing his best to become an eminent hateable nonentity in real life, brings a shade more realism to the borderline-useless everyman catapulted into the Doctor’s life which both stories share.

Roberts’ effort also wins out over those episodes’ Barratt Homes soullessness by acknowledging that perhaps there should, or at least could be more to life than pizza-booze-telly. While it is perhaps unappealing for every single guest character the Doctor meets to come away with an epiphanous new outlook on life, the resolution of Craig’s unrequited love is certainly preferable to the equivalent woman in Marc Warren’s life being transformed into what I think Lawrence Miles memorably described as a ‘concrete fellatio machine’.

Doctor Who - The Lodger stars Matt Smith and James CordenIt’s easy to forget how relatively short a period it has been since Doctor Who returned to television, and despite those four and a bit years peppered with Russell T Davies’ trademark ‘realist’ settings, it’s still quite a surprise to see the Doctor placed in such a rigorously ordinary environment. Human Nature aside, we’ve never seen the Doctor so fully immersed in day to day life (in 47 years, this is, what, the third time we’ve seen him have a bath or shower? And I’m sure a lot of people will thank Roberts for that). In fact, it seems absurd to imagine (say) the Third Doctor popping round the Brigadier’s pad for cribbage and a Heineken. (Or… whatever.) Obviously, this unexpected culture clash forms the crux of the episode, and it’s perhaps the closest we’ve had to the Doctor as a Starman/Watt on Earth-style alien-baffled-by-everyday-life.

Fortunately, Roberts makes this chestnut funny rather than tedious (“Call me the rotmeister. No, I’m the Doctor, don’t call me the rotmeister”), and doesn’t seem too out of character, despite this season alone (and the new series at large) having already demonstrated his greater knowledge of the minutiae of human life than previously acknowledged (internet porn and Kylie Minogue, anyone?)

There’s a danger, arguably, that Matt Smith’s Doctor is becoming an out and out comic figure in a way perhaps only formerly true of Tom Baker, predominately during season seventeen. For a lot of people that won’t be a bad precedent, but given that the whole series was pitched at a more blatantly comic register it does give rise to the question of how appropriate it is to the ‘dark fairytale’ stylings of the Moffat administration. In fact though, the Doctor’s eccentricity may be exaggerated (the air-kisses…), but Smith is in the enviable position of making it seem perfectly natural, and in fact delivers what may prove to be one of his definitive performances as the character. Also, whereas Fourth Doctor would probably be too aloof and alien for such a domestic arrangement, the Eleventh’s enjoyment of the situation is what brings this rather glorious concept alive.

Doctor Who - The Lodger stars Matt Smith and James CordenAlready the first outing for the revived series’ second era is coming to an end, and, it has to be said, it’s been a mixed bag. For what it’s worth, on a personal level, the leads and the general timbre of the series – both richer, more whimsical, but also more traditional than the last few years – are a joy, so I’m prepared to overlook the occasional slides into mediocrity. It’s just unfortunate that these have mainly come later in the run, giving the impression of a series that’s lost its footings after a confident and original take at the get-go. The Lodger goes some way to assuage those disappointments though, and as the last one-episode story of the Eleventh Doctor’s opening run, it’s a welcome reminder of the deftness that has been displayed throughout the season, if not consistently.

If an episode like this – and its earlier fellow standout, Amy’s Choice - demonstrate anything (and really, we should know this already), it’s that small-scale stories with a solid, simple concept, small but well-chosen casts, are, frankly, the way to go. (Especially given the visible strain budget cuts have apparently placed on some of the grander FX requirements of this series – by contrast, the pseudo-TARDIS upstairs look a quite magnificent set).

Gareth Roberts has written a deceptively effective episode, and one that may perhaps be easy to dismiss given its frivolity. However, in its effortless blending of equally effective humour and creepiness, in a far more equal balance than, say, Vampires in Venice, The Lodger is in a position to become something of a high benchmark for the Smith era.

More like this for next time, please.

Neil Clarke writes the Doctor Who reviews page ‘Shall We Destroy?’: shallwedestroy.blogspot.com

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9 Responses to The Lodger

  1. avatar Paul Cavanagh says:

    “eminent hateable nonentity” – oooh get you! I like it!

  2. avatar Carn says:

    Have to say this was my least favorite episode of the season. And not just the idiot Corden giving a pretty bland performance (can he only do whiney and pathetic because he sure fails to do anything else even when ordering the Doctor to leave) I just didn’t rate the story itself that high however it is highly enjoyable when purely focusing on Matt Smith who is just massively entertaining as always.

    Have to disagree as well in that I really enjoyed both Vampires of Venice and the Silurian two-parter and to some extent Victory of the Daleks, and that while I liked Amy’s Choice I don’t rate it as something I want to watch much again like I do the majority of this season. Guess it’s a case of something for everyone and not always every episode appealing to all or something like that.

  3. avatar Rick714 says:

    As with many of the episodes this year, despite varying levels of quality of writing and directing, the one element that continues to entertain is Matt Smith.

    Even Karn Gillan ha the uneven performance here and there and I really wouldn’t mind if she were gone next year but Matt Smith’s take on the Doctor is quickly scaling my list of favorite Doctors. Tennant made it to #3 behind Tom Baker and Troughton and Smith is gaining at an alarming speed.

  4. avatar IanOTimelord says:

    I enjoyed this story very much, and find myself fancing the Dr even more. (appearing in a towel doesn’t help!)
    Good story, good pace and people saying James Cordon would be crap were wrong I think.Interesting to have a companion lite episode.
    This series has been very good, and I object to another site making out its going down hill because the ratings last night were down, err there was the world cup on ITV with England playing so hardly surprising!

  5. avatar TheDarkling says:

    I liked this episode, a lot. Fun, sad and very Sapphire & Steel-like. Personally, I liked Cordon, and his simple ways. It felt like a breezy episode, rather than a ‘light’ one.

    After big adventures, like the Silurian two-parter, it was nice to see damp patches, pizza menus and cans of warm beer. Nice tie-in with the world cup too! But, Amy Pond still annoys. What went wrong there? I dread each time she pops up, to sound stroppy and sarcastic. Shame.

  6. avatar castellanspandrell says:

    So The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood was just a ‘dud contribution?’

    I gave up on the review at that point.

  7. avatar castellanspandrell says:

    ….but having just rewatched The Lodger, came back for another bite of the cherry and found a lot to agree on in the review, not least about Victory of the Daleks and Vampires of Venice. And Amy’s Choice. Will still defend Hungry Earth to the death though; can’t help it – I just love Silurians!

    The Sapphire and Steel comparison by The Darkling is apposite; the scenario in The Lodger reminded me of ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There/The Man Without a Face’ episode.

    The thing upstairs in this one is a truly disturbing entity, even for a hologram, though the ‘sinister infant’ element has been overplayed since The Empty Child.

    This felt like a much more neatly-written piece on second viewing, with the unusual (for Who) theme of ‘staying or going,’ from the reason why the hologram was doing what it was doing to Amy’s attempts to rematerialise the TARDIS.

  8. avatar mandala says:

    ok i watched this after a few days of work and partying.. came in on saturday and unusally watched this at approx 3 in the morning, and loved it! funny, charming, scary… Smith is awesome, infact i dont even want to call him that!! the doctor thats how he should be known.. as a life long fan.. i remember planet of the spiders!! However Baker, the first, was my doctor. This has been my favourite series since the renaissance by a long shot,thanks Moffat!! we are getting closer to doctor who.. ~@Anyhoo the real reason for this post is this.. ~Amy.. im sick of all the downers.. she is fantastic.. again in my humble opinion,one of the best companions eVer.. and people i grew up with Sarah jane and Leela, oh i had the leela doll, amongst others.. the giant robot being a particular favourite.. amy, karen, has been just outstanding,and all those fools that didn’t get her performance in cold blood…… she had seen herself and rory on the hill !! she knew she would survive.. ok rory didn’t… !! awesome, are you still with me? thats why she was so cocky.. mistakenly!! she knew she would survive, hence the over the top..this is a game performance.. ack shes great, you really want Rose or martha back?? puhlease!! well done Stephen Moffat! we have a true alien doctor back and a magnificent companion!! Go Karen!! Make mine marvellous!!

  9. avatar mandala says:

    oh and William Hartnell!! Again !! fabtastic !! The original folks !! may he rest in peace our magnificent doctor!! without whom none of this would be possible!!

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