So who’s up for another Doctor Who reboot, one that leaves Matt Smith’s eleventh doctor stranded in 21st century England and forced to fit in with the earthlings? I’m only half kidding. This was a really funny outing, one that played to comic depths Smith had only been allowed to hint at in previous episodes. It, of course, ends with the Doctor flying away, but I kept thinking it wouldn’t have been so bad for him to have been stuck here. I’m glad he held onto that key.
“The Lodger” is the third solo script from Gareth Roberts. Roberts co-penned “Planet Of The Dead,” the first of the specials that finished out the Tennant/Davies era. Prior to that, he wrote “The Shakespeare Code” and “The Wasp And The Unicorn,” episodes that found the Doctor teaming up with, respectively, Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. But with this year’s the Doctor-meets-a-cultural-hero slot already taken by Richard Curtis’ “Vincent And The Doctor,” Roberts had to flex some new muscles (albeit muscles he’d previously flexed in comic strip form in Doctor Who Magazine.)
I’m glad he did. With Amy’s role mostly limited to a few shouty scenes talking to the Doctor via a Bluetooth (how primitive), “The Lodger” was essentially a solo outing in which the Doctor plays matchmaker to pair of friends-who-should-be-more-than-friends played by James Corden, who co-created and co-starred in Gavin And Stacey, and Daisy Haggard. They begin the episode in a comfortable, chaste “pizza, booze, telly” rut and end it facing the future together. But first there’s the matter of the alien upstairs that needs some attention.
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The alien itself, a shapeshifting, illusion-creating creature who lures in sympathetic passersby with pleas of help is pretty standard-issue, but I like the twist of it only victimizing those who want to leave the sleepier corners of Colchester. That leaves our guest stars’ characters, both of whom want to stay put for different reasons, immune to its attack. It’s a nice metaphor for the trap of complacency and the ways staying in a rut can lead to safety, stagnancy, and ignorance of the peril encroaching just outside one’s four walls.
I singled out Smith’s work above, but everyone here brings their best to their parts. Corden’s great as a guy whose outward, one-of-the-gang joviality masks a tender soul and Haggard is convincing as the object of his affection who wants to think of him as more than a friend but needs him to get past his own fear that she doesn’t care for him before he can feel like a viable boyfriend candidate. Theirs is a thoroughly believable dynamic. He won’t speak up about his attentions but gets jealous when she looks at other men and feels threatened by any ambition she expresses about leaving. It’s a workable chemistry that will never accelerate without a catalyst.
Fortunately, the Doctor provides just that, in the form of a lovably eccentric lodger. Again, I could watch a whole season of Matt Smith as the wacky houseguest, with his inappropriate air-kissing and general obliviousness about social niceties and the rules of soccer. He’s really funny, and funnier the straighter he plays his part. He also makes it easy to see why, beyond in-house gourmet omelets, Corden’s character would welcome him as a friend and a flatmate. He pushes him out of his comfort zone. Sure, sometimes his attempts are incredibly awkward, but he always has his roommate's best interest in mind.
The episode’s a bit out of the Doctor Who comfort zone, too, but I think it’s one of this season’s best. It’s a light, graceful comic exercise—until the end. We’ve gotten reminders all season that something terrible is on its way. The crack keeps following the Doctor and Amy everywhere and it’s exacted some terrible costs along the way (and seems on the verge of exacting more). But it’s left evidence behind in the form of an engagement ring. Amy finds it. She looks puzzled but she knows something’s wrong, even if just what won’t be clear for a while.
• I’ve never seen Gavin And Stacey. Is it good?
• “Blokes play football.”
• Bowties might be cool. But jackets over football jerseys? Definitely not cool.
• “I’ve worked it out with psychic help from the cat.”
• Comic highlight: A reprise of the chilling, “No violence” speech directed at the wrong audience.
• “Can you hold? I have to eat a biscuit.”
• Does anyone else wish they could explain themselves via head butt from time to time?