Monday, 25 June 2018

The Lodger written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Catherine Morshead

This story in a nutshell: Doctor Who enters sitcom land...

Whacky Wanderer: Possibly Matt Smith's finest hour in his impressive first season as the Doctor, and certainly his cutest. My own dear mother was extremely resistant to Smith because she was so desperately in love with David Tennant (and who can blame her for that?) but come The Lodger she had finally been worn down by just how adorable this new incarnation of the Doctor is. One part Troughton, one part Tennant (his ruthlessness) and two parts Matt Smith's brilliantly quirky and intelligent self, the eleventh Doctor has well and truly flourished come the end of his first year. Matt Smith himself admits that his work in his first season was his finest, and that the writing was at its best then and who am I to argue with the main man? He is an ancient amateur and an absolute dream! I love how he doesn't have a clue about currency and turns up on Craig's doorstep with three grand in a paper bag telling him not to spend it all on sweeties. His gentle air kissing, continental style, is so sweet you just want to hug him. Don't call him the Rotneister. I like the suggestion that he has set up events in this story - very 7th Doctor. He learnt to cook in Paris. He looks a little hurt when he admits people never stop telling him he's weird, but then this is before the 11th Doctor went mainstream. Craig looks the Doctor up and down and assumes that he is gay. A common misconception, I'm sure. His singing in the shower is very reminiscent of the 3rd Doctor in Spearhead from Space. Seeing the Doctor in the buff is a real eye opener...he's even more of a skinny rake than I imagined. I love how he walks around totally unselfconsciously in the nude. The gentle bromance between the Doctor and Craig is lovely and there is a lot of subtle touching that makes it feel very convincing. The Doctor is the only person in the universe (aside from possibly Graham Norton) who would walk up to a bunch of solid looking footballers and start air kissing them. It is wonderful to see the Doctor enjoying himself so much in something as frivolous as football, Matt Smith was clearly having a ball (groan) and it is quite infectious. Like me he cannot bear wine and spits it back into his glass. Good man. I love the delicious visual of forcing Craig to drink from a teapot spout. Having worked in a call centre on the phones for over a year I was cheering when he blew raspberries at Craig's nastiest customer. This Doctor really is like me, he sits and has a conversation with the cat. Sometimes they are the only ones who understand. 

Surrogate Companions: Since Amy Pond contributes absolutely nothing to the story until the final scene lets instead focus on Craig and Sophie, the Doctor's one time companions for this story. I loved it when Sophie said 'It's just Craig', that feels so real because I think we all have friends who say that when they are comfortable with us. I also think we have all had a friend who has phoned up and ruined your plans with their latest drama. Who has ever had feelings so strong that the thought of telling the person that you love them makes you feel physically sick? The Doctor is the unwanted third person in this romance and let's be honest a lot of us have been that person too. Craig's jealousy of the Doctor feels so real, I think we would all feel that way if somebody crashed into our lives who was funnier, more confident and more talented than ourselves. Somebody who impresses all of your mates is never wanted. I am not the hugest fan of Amy Pond at this point and frankly I think I would have preferred to have had Craig and Sophie throughout this season as they are far more likeable. And more relatable. And funnier. And sexier. Okay, maybe not the last one. 

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Six billion people. Watching you two at work I'm starting to wonder where they came from.'
'Is that a lie?' 'Of course its a lie!'
'For Godsake kiss the girl!'
'That's a number to beat.' 

The Good Stuff: I love the echoes to Psycho with the nature of the threat up the stairs. It's a very simple menace but it works extremely well as a mystery and to provide some creepy atmosphere to a simple character tale. The spreading mould and electric flashes through the window causes your mind to reel at what on Earth is going on up there. I love the scrambler that makes you talk total gibberish. I think perhaps the Doctor has that on quite a lot - especially when he is played by Tom Baker and David Tennant. The footie scenes are utterly unrepresentative of Doctor Who they should be cherished for that fact alone but they are also gloriously uplifting to watch. Why can't the Doctor be seen enjoying something this frivolous more often (like Davison playing Cricket in Black Orchid). The weird contraption the Doctor builds out of bits and bobs is the modern day Time Flow Analogue from The Time Monster. It still looks like a work of desperate domestic application. In The Lodger the way the Doctor makes contact with Craig is to head butt him. It's really nasty and it amusingly makes me think of an alternative version of The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors where they go around, Bottom style, headbutting each other to pass information along. Peter Moffatt would not approve. How fabulously eerie is the Silence spaceship up the stairs? You can see when they were revealed next season why they wanted to return to that design. The love conquers all theme hadn't been battered to death by this point so the way that the two plots dovetail with something as simple as a kiss is rather lovely. By that point you are so desperate for Craig to make a move that it is a very satisfying moment. Amy is back come the conclusion (boo hiss) but at least the appetite whetting twist of her discovering the ring gets us going for the next instalment. 

The Bad Stuff: This is such a strong showing for Matt Smith's Doctor that I feel The Lodger is extremely poorly placed in the season - I would have put this much earlier at a point where we needed to get to know the Doctor in this much depth. Probably instead of Victory of the Daleks. I'd rather lose an episode altogether if it meant scrapping that one. With the Silurian two part, Van Gogh and The Lodger there are too many small scale character tales in a row and the season lacks the dramatic impetus of a really strong Davies season. Compare to series three (Human Nature, Blink, Utopia) and four (the Library two parter, Midnight, Turn Left...) at the same point in their respective seasons. There's more punch and momentum in those seasons that is lacking here. Who on Earth is that drunken old soak who shuffled past Craig's place? Would anybody in their right mind actually go up the creepiest set of stairs since Norman Bates house? Even if a little girl in pigtails was asking for help from the shadows I would give it a pass. Did Amy have to be so badly sidelined in this story? There is some really gooey squelchy kissing in Craig and Sophie's last scene. It's the worst kind of kissing, you know.

Result: Who ever thought Doctor Who could work as a blokey sitcom? The Lodger is basically a three way character drama between the Dcotor, Craig and Sophie but it's far cuter and more amiable than you could ever imagine. It's Matt Smith's sweetest performance in his first season and there is a lot of comic potential in the Doctor trying to fit in in suburban Britain. You wouldn't want to see this sort of thing too often but as an amusing one off it is a perfectly charming production, filmed with a delicate touch and featuring two warming performances from James Corden and Daisy Haggard. Is this the only Doctor Who episode to be inspired by a DWM comic strip? If so lets let Gareth Roberts plunder his own work more often, this is as feelgood as a night night of pizza/booze/telly with good friends: 8/10


Anonymous said...

Superb episode showcasing Matt Smith's brilliance and a cherrytopper for series 5, until series 10, easily the pinnacle of new Who. Funny and fab and an utter delight. Part of the freshness of early Matt Smith which sets it apart from the increasingly gloomy and self indulgent mess that was late Tennant. It also, like series 5 holds up well to this day. 10/10.

Great review which brought a smile to my face.

Christopher Brown said...

Given the incredibly bigoted views Roberts has expressed during the last few years, I don't think he'll be plundering *any* of his work for Doctor Who or coming up with new stuff, thankfully :P a shame, though...I do really like The Lodger, and would consider it on par with The Man Who Wasn't There as his best work. Series 5 as a whole is still "my" era of NuWho, though Series 9 - really, everything from The Night of the Doctor on - comes close. Here's hoping the Chibnall era can continue the quality streak for Smith/Capaldi era fans like myself and provide something people like you have felt was missing!

Will Rigby said...

I think this season was the best of those with Moffat as showrunner.

Anonymous said...

Everybody waxes lyrical about series 5 but my absolute favorite is still series 4.
My dislike for the character of Amy, the abysmal awfulness of the love triangle between Amy, Rory and the Doctor taints that season for me. On the other hand I love Donna so much that I can forget any season 4 faults just because I love the dynamic between her and the Doctor so much

Anonymous said...

One reason series 5, 9 and 10 continue to vy with audiences and critics as being the best season of the revived show is that they all hold up so well on repeat viewings. I recently rewatched Eccles, Tennant and Smith and was shocked at how badly all of the RTD stuff had aged, how weak the writing and especially the direction was and how cringey a lot of the acting (Doctor's Daughter or Daleks in Manhattan - shudder). The Eleventh Hour and all that followed through to midway through series 6 is still fresh, fun and gorgeous to look at. The writing, plot development and intelligence of early Moffat Who also shines through. The Lodger is just great and and Smith is utterly magnificent. No other doctor could have made this sing.

Really it is Roberts only good writing for the show. The rest are pretty weak TBH, although The Caretaker is kind of sweet and funny, but lacks the magic of The Lodger.

Joe Ford said...

I respectfully disagree. I find the RTD stuff holds up extremely well, whereas series 9 in particular struggles to find a tone, momentum of it's arc, wastes it's companion and throws away what should have been the most momentous event of the new series - the return to Gallifrey. I find much of Matt Smith's tenure pretty unwatchable now.

Tango said...

Really Doc? I find Clara Who painful unwatchable, the poor Capaldi never had the chance to be the Doctor until he meet River Song. The Ponds, Bill and Nardole episodes are for me the Golden age of Moffat.

Christopher Brown said...

I strongly suspect one's opinion of the Capaldi era rests on their feelings about Hell Bent. Personally, I absolutely loved it, far more than Heaven Sent if I'm being honest :D

Rassilon was a bit shit in it, admittedly.