Doctor Who: The Lodger

Craig: 'Has anyone ever told you that you're a bit weird?'
Doctor: 'They never really stop.'

A brilliant beginning, an embarrassing middle, and a disappointing ending. But enough about the England game—what about Doctor Who? (Boom tish!) Tonight's episode was a serviceable, if companion-lite, story about the joys of normal life, the intricacies of making an omelette, and how not to blow up the solar system. At times, it felt a little light on plot—but it was so full of humour that I didn't give a monkey's.

We were also treated to a rare glimpse of the Doctor trying to pass himself off as a regular bloke. What a train wreck that turned out to be. Despite being around humans for almost 50 years, it's remarkable how badly he blends in. There's nothing that says 'alien' like an air kissing, anachronistically-dressed, history professor. The sad thing is, despite being constantly reminded of his freakishness, he seems remarkably non-cognisant of the reasons why. The custard and fish fingers, perhaps? The crazy gadgets? The talking to cats? His continuous insistence that bow-ties are cool? From whose perspective? Certainly not that of a 21st century human.

On the plus side, the Doctor did rack up some cool points with his mad footballing skills. Poor Craig, no wonder he felt so threatened by the Doctor—he was everything that Craig wasn't. But, whose idea was it to air this episode just minutes before the England game? To be fair, the ratings didn't suffer too badly (just 400,000 down on last week), so maybe Doctor Who fans aren't football fans, or maybe they just forfeited the build-up (like me), and then switched channels as soon as the credits started rolling. If only the Doctor played for England. I'm thinking in goal—big hands, you know?

Tonight's story revolved around new characters Craig and Sophie, and was a solid, if unoriginal, traipse through the lives of two people hopelessly in love, but too afraid to admit it. Considering the subject matter, I'm surprised Gareth Roberts got the nod over Richard Curtis. Humorous domesticity is more up Curtis' alley, but Roberts' script was fine. The spaceship on the roof story, did feel like a bit of an afterthought, but the rest was vaguely entertaining.

Unfortunately, 'vaguely entertaining' is as good as it got. The script contained some superbly funny quips, but they were draped across a distinctly average plot, and as a result, the episode never really took off. The cast was good. Daisy Haggard was especially convincing as the reticent, but sweet, Sophie, but I'm still in two minds about whether having comedy actors on the show is a good idea. They come with too much baggage, and it's just too hard to see past their comedy personas. In the past we've had some real successes—Jessica Hynes, Catherine Tate, and Simon Pegg—but we've also had some real stinkers. (Ken Dodd, Peter Kay, Hale and Pace and Alexei Sayle.) Real actors do real acting so much better. When will they ever learn?

To be fair, Corden probably rated somewhere in the middle, and with his OTT persona turned down to low, Craig came across as a genuinely likeable character. He was even funny (in a subtle, not-at-all-like-James-Corden-y kind of way). But what exactly was that metal spatula, strainer thing on Craig's desk, and why could no one see it? It was bizarrely conspicuous. And talking to cats through a psychic link? There's a conversation I'd like to hear (though, as Wittgenstein posited, it'd likely be unintelligible... or about catnip). I don't recall seeing the expositional head-butt before, either. Kids are going to love that come school, Monday morning.

The Doctor spent much of tonight's episode without his usual gadgets. No TARDIS, no sonicing, just a regular screwdriver (with no 'on' switch), and a home-made scanner made from traffic cones, a lamp shade and some rowing oars. And yet, somehow, his clumsy (some may say tactless) verbal probing managed to yield positive results. His reverse psychology certainly worked on Sophie, and he did manage to reverse Craig's enzyme decay by exciting the tannin molecules in his system (i.e. he made him a cup of tea.) Lovely Charles and Diana teapot, too. Easily as cool as the Doctor's bow-tie.

The ending was admittedly cheesy—with love saving the universe, etc.—but what annoyed me most was that we never got to find out who was building the TARDIS! That was a massive plot development, surely? They can't just let that implode—it's probably the biggest story we've had on the show in years. What a shame they didn't develop it (assuming they don't in the finale.) And, of course, Amy finding Rory's ring, and the return of the crack in the universe, set up next week's two-part finale nicely—which, judging by the trailer, looks rather exciting.

Other Thoughts:

—As with season three's 'Blink', this was another story adapted from a comic strip featuring the tenth Doctor, Rose and Mickey. (Picture included up top for your perusal.)

—Nice picture of Van Gogh on Craig's fridge. The real Van Gogh, that is. Not Tony Curran.

—Noisy bloody machine! What was all that banging? People exploding?

—There was official confirmation tonight that Matt is the Doctor's eleventh incarnation.

—The zigzag plotter looked remarkably like the gear shift on a diesel bus.

—Obviously the Doctor's not too keen on wine. Or maybe it was just that wine.

Quotes:

Doctor: 'Craig? Breakfast! It's normal.'

Sophie: 'Because life can seem so pointless, you know Doctor? Work, weekend. Work, weekend. And there's six billion people on the planet doing pretty much the same.'
Doctor: 'Six billion people. Watching you two at work I'm starting to wonder where they all come from.'

Doctor: 'Annihilate? No. No violence, do you understand me? Not while I'm around. Not today, not ever. I'm the Doctor, the Oncoming Storm - and you basically meant beat them in a football match, didn't you?'

Doctor: 'Hello, I'm Captain Troy Handsome of International Rescue, please state the nature of your emergency!'

Doctor: 'Hello My Joergonsen. Can you hold? I have to eat a biscuit.'

Doctor: 'It's art. A statement on modern society. Oh, ain't modern society awful.'
---
Also posted at The Time Meddler.

10 comments:

Eldritch said...

I'm a little confused about Rory's ring. If he's been erased by time, then he never existed. So he never bought a ring and then never hid it in the TARDIS. So how could Amy find the ring?

Paul Kelly said...

Hey, Eldritch. That's actually a pretty interesting question. I wonder if it has anything to do with the ring being, either, inside the TARDIS, or on that little round platform.

Come to think of it, if Rory had never existed, they would never have gone to Rio, never accidentally turned up in Wales, and Rory would never have died ;o)

Mark Greig said...

Despite my initially fears I ended up liking this one. Corden was surprisingly bearable for once. Smart move to have him play the straight man to Matt Smith’s cosmic oddball. Even the romance between Craig and Sophie was rather sweet, if predictable, with our bowtie wearing hero taking it upon himself to play match-maker.

Have to disagree with you on the merits of comedy actors verse real actors, Paul. I think some comedy actors, when playing it straight with conviction can sometimes be better than real actors. Two great recent examples are Ted Danson and Martin Short, both known best as comedy actors, going against type to spectacular effect in Damages.

The problem with Doctor Who is that producers like John-Nathan Turner and Russell T. Davies often hired actors with a comedy background and lazily just had them play the same characters they always played. Ken Dodd, Peter Kay, Hale and Pace, Lee Evans, Alexei Sayle even Catherine Tate and Simon Pegg were all playing parts not to far from their established personas.

Jessica Hynes is certainly an exception as she was at least given a role that was nothing like her well known roles on The Royal Family and Spaced. If they are going to hire well know comedy actors then this is what they should be doing, giving them something new and challenging to tackle that will allow them to stretch their acting muscles, something we’ve never seen them do before.

Not just Brian Potter with green skin and a Mohawk.

Paul Kelly said...

Hi Mark, I'd actually agree with that. It's not that I think comedy actors are bad across the board, I just think, generally, comedy actors are bad in Doctor Who. I didn't like Catherine Tate in "The Runaway Bride", because she was too Catherine Tate, the comedy persona. But she became something else in season four. She became less herself and more the character, Donna.

The problem is, now Doctor Who's high profile again, a lot of people want to be on the show to enhance their reputations (or even just to please their kids). So people end up on the show for the sake of kudos, business, or even for ratings. Which isn't a problem -- if you can act. Actors, no matter what their motives for being on the show, should be able to put on a good performance. Comedy actors, with entrenched comedy personas, or specific comedy stylings, however, almost always play themselves. As a result the type of comedy they bring to the show is often incongruous with the show's usual style. So it becomes more of a vehicle for them, and less about the good of the show.

I suppose, in the end, it comes down to how broad your acting talents are. Acting, but only being able to play yourself, is hopeless (as evidenced by Doddy, Kay, Sayle, etc). Acting, but being capable of playing multiple characters, is what's really needed. For me, Corden went against type and put in a reasonable performance. But I still wish they'd use proper actors. I'd sooner be watching a convincing character, than -- as you say -- Brian Potter with a Mohawk.

WhyMe said...

I have reasons to believe that Amy is River-song:
1. The zig-zag plotter thingy. When River-Song navigated the spaceship in the angles episode I think she took two steps to the left and made sure that the door was behind her. I can't get that episode to see it again to make sure.
2. When River-Song was asked how dose she know that the blue stabilizer (angels episode) she said the doctor didn't tell her how. Of course he didn't, she told herself.
3. River song knew how to read the screen.
4. She said the doctor showed her how to drive the tardies which he also showed Amy in this episode.

A contradiction to my theory will be nice since if River-Song is Amy that means that we know how she died and I really don't want Amy to die. I am so sappy.

Paul Kelly said...

An interesting theory, though, if true, what the hell happened to her accent? It's switched nationality completely.

Paul Kelly said...

And wouldn't River being Amy cause problems when the two of them came together? River touched Amy several times in "Flesh and Stone". Isn't that, like, the kiss of death? In "The Time of Angels" the Doctor warned Amy about talking to her future self. Similarly, in "Fathers Day" the Doctor warned Rose not to touch herself (so to speak). Wouldn't River going back in time and interacting with herself cause the universe to explode, or something?

WhyMe said...

Well, the universe is exploding.

But seriously, this maybe the reason that River-Song didn't tell Amy anything and refused to talk to her. Also, for the same reason maybe River-Song didn't give them any answers.

About the touching I don't know, that episode was rather confusing altogether since we have seen the doctor change the his future more then once.

Disciple of the Blue Box said...

Reading these comments, I actually feel lucky that I am a teenage American and thusly knew none of the actors in this episode -- I was saved from any pre-formed ideas.

I'm glad I read the quotes -- I actually missed the "watching you two at work, I'm starting to wonder where they come from" one ^_^

I love all the cheeziness of this episode! It was lame, but I loved it. I was really disappointed by the randomness of the upstairs part of this episode ~ it could have been amazing, but it really wasn't. However, I loved the rest, so it was ok.

CRAIG: Where'd you learn to cook?
DOCTOR: Paris, in the 18th century. No, that's not recent, is it? 17th. No. 20th. I'm not used to doing them in order.

Michael Colvin said...

I adored Matt Smith in this episode. He's so delightfully strange and purposeful - he must just be having a blast.

Paul - I know that the World Cup is extremely popular right now, but you might want to go back through the review now and decouple the world cup from this episode. Yes they both focused on football and that timing was not coincidental, but I think that so important beats of the episode were glossed over. For example, how did the Doctor happen to have his "bluetooth" scrambler with him - what led them to discovering "the note" in the first place.

I think that the theme of the crack in the wall is going to be wrap up very well. We here in the states have a few more weeks to go, and I'm excited to see how this all wraps up!