Doctor Who The Lodger (Series 05, Episode 11) Review

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What’s It About?

Seperated from Amy and the TARDIS, The Doctor must attempt to lead an ordinary life as a lodger while determining the cause of a localised Time Disturbance …

Review It

This fun script was penned by Who veteran Gareth Roberts and is an adaptation of one of his comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine. Roberts has quite a strong back-catalog of Who tales in various media, and this is no exception in my opinion. The plot holds together nicely, with yet another time conceit providing the hook. When I say conceit, I’m not being detrimental at all – I think this is an Element of Who that has been neglected over the last few years!

James Corden provides the celebrity casting this week, playing a very similar character to that he played in his own comedy series. That aside, the character certainly fits Corden like a glove and the two-people in love but not wanting to ruin their friendship element is a nice personal touch to the episode. This does feel somewhat like celebrity casting, though.

Matt Smith’s performance as a Time Lord thrust into a “normal” human life provides humour which is a welcome touch. Again, this light hearted episode sits between the slightly heavier events and themes of the previous three episodes and the concluding two parter. What is slightly jarring (to me) is how fabulous the bumbling eleventh Doctor is at everyday human things. In the original comic strip, it was the 10th Doctor staying with Mickey – the character of the 10th Doctor suited this “waltz-in-and-be-fantastic” sub-plot far better than the current incarnation.

Overall I thought the plot held together well (despite my niggle below), with The Doctor showing great ingenuity in creating a low-tech tech scanner in a bedroom in a small flat in Colchester. The episode’s “monster” was eerily realised, particularly later on in the episode. Creepy kid. Nuff said. And was it just me, or did the ship look like a Jagaroth time-ship from the outside?

And the niggles?

I’m not a big fan of the trend of celebrity “comedy actor” castin in Who on the whole and I always cringe slightly inside when I see the trail for an episode like this. I also found the 11th Doctor to be a little too good at everything. Considering his fallibility throughout the rest of the series so far, I found this a bit incongruous.

Where exactly did The Doctor get his communicator from and when did he teach Amy how to control the distraught TARDIS after being flung from the ship? It would have been nice to have a simple bit of exposition to explain that…

In summary:

Celebrity casting and possibly a greater-than-normal 11th Doctor aside, this was a fun interlude in a series which overall has been quite heavy (for Doctor Who) on the whole.

Rate It: 3.5 / 5.
Dry Slaps: 0.
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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7 comments

  1. matt /

    I guess he had the earpeice in his pocket, just in case..

    • My other (better half) pointed that out after I posted. I guess no-one leaves the house without their mobiles these days.

  2. Spikey_p /

    I will write more on this later, but given the heritage of pre-season finale money-saving filler like Love & Monsters (almost the same premise), Fear Her and the like, added to the prospect of a one-trick pony like Cordon once more playing an unfunny, lovelorn Morcombe and Wise-style version of himself, my expectations were rock bottom. I actually was going to skip watching this one and catch it again on Iplayer midweek. It had the potential for so much to go wrong and it to totally stink.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was funny from beginning to end, the jokes were both wonderfully witty and right on the mark and MS’s delivery was spot-on and it was done with total reverence and pitch-perfect subtlety when needed. This is just the sort of thing that RTD would have totally ballsed up by abandoning all sense of restraint and no producer before would have even entertained as a script idea.

    Weighing even further against it, there was Sir Patrick Stewart’s droning Zen mantra circling round my brain constantly all week beforehand:- “If you fancy the Jonas Brothers – Cover your belly”. That should have been the deathblow.

    Alright, I shouted it at the telly once , but as soon as the line “Young and professional, that’s me; well, ancient and amateur, really…” dropped, it was gone from my mind forever.

    That alone should be testimony to this episode’s genius.

    More thoughts later.

  3. Spikey_p /

    It’s a very simple idea, but it could have gone so horribly wrong. The fact that it didn’t I think speaks to the fact that from the ground up, this thing was very clearly carefully built around Matt Smith and the Eleventh Doctor’s personality in particular.

    The Ninth or Tenth Doctors really couldn’t have done an episode like this and made it work; the Tenth Doctor could pretty much pass as normal, if a little bipolar, putting him in the same bracket as half of Camden – no-one ever said “He’s really strange, that bloke” before they said “He’s a bit good-looking!” (Yes, Russell, we know – we know you think everyone wants to get off with The Doctor (even straight blokes, aliens and tree-people), give it a rest…). And as for the Ninth Doctor, he reads Heat for goodness sake… He dresses from Top Shop or Burtons and he looks like probably knows who Man United are playing next Saturday. He even goes on dates and watches Big Brother.

    There’s something here that taps deep into the psyche of geeks in general, but in particular all Doctor Who fans who came up through the wilderness years of the 90s and beyond. It’s something that taps into the very British notion of eccentricity in a way that the series hasn’t since it came back really. If you grow up with a copy of Blood Heat or Goth Opera in your school blazer pocket and a question-mark sweater top that even fewer people have seen than have seen your Pamela Anderson scrapbook, you realise that while everyone around appreciates people who are older and seasoned as charmingly eccentric, if you’re young and eccentric, you must be really weird and it probably means you must be a poof.

    It usually happens around the time that half of your class begins chatting endlessly about the drama and excitement in last nights’s Eastenders due to the twists and turns in the suspected paternity of various characters’ babies, whilst mocking anything you might prefer to watch at the same time on BBC2 at the same time as either “shit”, “badly acted” or “boring”. It’s around the time you realise that half the cast of the episode of DS9 you are watching are classically trained Shakesperian actors (albeit with spoons on their heads, yes), whilst Mee-shell and Sharon are Londoners with accents who can memorise a page of script and speak when prompted.

    And so The Doctor is not part of everyday life, he is high-concept, not kitchen sink. No-one needs to use the toilet whilst inside the TARDIS as it exists in a state of temporal grace and that’s why he has a swimming pool in there but no shower and no kitchen. Definitely no sink.

    So, potentially taboo topics that arise here:
    The Doctor has to pass himself off as a normal;
    The Doctor has to acquire money and carry out cash transactions;
    The Doctor has to prepare meals;
    The Doctor has to parse the social nicities of living in a flat where “BeerPizzaTelly” is the norm for a night’s entertainment;
    The Doctor has to humour the small-world, low aspirations of those around him that do not extend to seeing the “point” of Paris or indeed London 30 miles down the road;
    The Doctor must politely accept and drink cheap supermarket Rose wine (he fails – can’t blame him);
    The Doctor must have a shower and appear naked in a manner where it is clearly not just for the ladies – if Tennant had done this, there would have been a riot – and avoid any suggestion or questioning of his anatomical differences or sexuality.

    *At this point, we should note – always defer to precedent in these cases. Here, we recreate Pertwee’s shower scene from Spearhead from Space, right down to the over-the-top singing. That MS does NOT wear a plastic shower cap or sport a tattoo actually makes this scene less awkward than it might have been! In any case,

    The Doctor has to deflect serious and sustained questionning about why he won’t reveal his name;
    The Doctor has to consider going down the pub and actually plays Sunday league football…

    This is the point at which it could all have gone completely wrong… Cricket is one thing, it suggests the Edwardian in him and the marquees and cucumber sandwich crowd are always keen to buy into an eccentric. But football? Association Football? For a pub team? Can you see Colin Baker, hands on hips, arguing with a linesman? Can you imagine Jon Pertwee sprinting down the left wing with frilly cuffs sticking out from his shirt sleeves? Can you imagine Peter Davison celbrating with his team by pouring warm Stella all over one another or Bill Hartnell sat on a sofa, swearing at Emil Hesky through his SkyPlus box?

    Instinctively, The Doctor shouldn’t even know what football *is*, let alone know the first thing about how to play it or any of the rules. As Amy points out, it’s far TOO normal for him to even be aware of. He should either be terrible at it or get sent off almost immediately for pulling a William Webb Ellis and shunend by his team mates. Instinctively, that’s what you feel should happen.

    And then actually, you realise that even if he doesn’t know the first thing about what he’s doing, the ediatic memory, parahuman reflexes that verge on the clairvoyant and 8th dimensional perception of the world immediately around him means that of course he is going to be brilliant at it – if he can rewire, repair and then pilot a Vinvocci salvage ship within minutes of boarding one for the first time, then of course he can play football expertly the first time out… Although, we should note, he is pretty far away from being any kind of a proper team player. Sobering also to note that concepts like teamwork seem to go straight out the window as soon as someone with prodigeous talent makes the team.

    I haven’t even mentioned the actual plot yet, but it’s almost totally irrelevant to the episode, and no bad thing. It’s Moffat Stock Plot Template A: advanced technology suffers catastrophic systems failure and kills everyone trying to effect repairs. The fact that someone was trying to build a TARDIS and failed seems to have exercised quite a few people on the net, but I see it as no big thing. Whoever built clearly it killed the entire crew on it’s maiden flight but we know from The Two Doctors that attempting such things without Time Lord consent is harzardous in the extreme, so their fate seems pretty clear. It was certainly causing enough of an issue with the local timestream to prevent the TARDIS materialising fully, so I don’t think we’re looking at the development of a major new threat here, as some have suggested. Although was it just me, or did it look quite like a Jagaroth ship? And they had a limited understanding of time technology.

    What we got here in the end was a proper demonstration of the strength of the Doctor’s characterisation in the Moffat era, both by pushing it out to the extreme limits and anchoring it solidly back to the past. “I must not use the sonic” has been my rallying cry this season and to hear him say it was music to my ears; at the same time, there was intelligent usage of the TARDIS and it’s resources, if Amy can access the building plans for the house via the TARDIS databank, it makes you wonder why he so often ignores the opportunity it for no good reason. We see that he can actually talk to cats, so long as they can be bothered to say anything worthwhile. The slightly stupid psychic kiss from Girl in the Fireplace is updated to a psychic Glasgow kiss here… with sufficent explanation therefore given as to why he hardly even bothers to attempt such an awkward maneuvre with humans… We get the wonderful notion that the controls in the TARDIS do different things depending on where you happen to be standing in relation to them. We see the Doctor totally unaffected by localised time distortion.

    And best of all, we get to see a giant-sized version of the time flow analogue device from the Time Monster built from a washing line, bits of string and his wristwatch. His half-arsed explanation for having built the thing in his room is priceless.

    I just hope that somewhere in the middle of all that lot is a couple of Morrocan burgandy bottles and some tea leaves.

    Onwards to the Pandorica…

    • Again, some really nice thoughts there. I still think that the comic version of this story worked better somehow, but I take your points about Matt Smith’s Doctor being more “eccentric” than the last two and so the “fitting in” element being more difficult for him.

      I still think that the eleventh Doctor’s character is less “great” than the tenth, and so his being good at everything from cooking to football seemed out of place to me. I get your reasoning, but if that were true then he’d be good at EVERYTHING in every incarnation, which doesn’t sit right with me.

      I was watching School Reunion last night which has Tennant being a teacher and as you point out, he fits in quite rightly – coming over as a cover teacher with a couple of quirks rather than a true alien. The episode certainly had more humour because of Smith’s presence but again seeing everyone warm to him instantly seemed more of a Tennantism to me.

  4. bob /

    American audiences don’t know who this guy is– to us, he’s just another pudgy character actor, so his presence doesn’t pull us out of the story.

    • I do try and disassociate from actors I know when they’re in a different show, but with Who, I sometimes fail. I think it’s because of Peter Kay’s appearance in Love and Monsters.

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