DOCTOR WHO 5.11 - The Lodger

The Lodger

Now remember what we were saying last week about putting aside prejudices… Well if anything the ability to separate an individual’s past from the episode's content seems more relevant than ever this week. James Corden has developed into a Marmite figure – you either love him with a passion or hate him with a vengeance. Certainly the early near universal goodwill he reaped from Gavin & Stacy has been somewhat tempered by a poor sketch show (Corden & Horne), a frequently reviled movie outing (Lesbian Vampire Killers), and a string of irritating personal appearances which culminated last week in a nasty spat with Sir Patrick Stewart (see here for the entire cringe inducing debacle). Hence The Lodger turns up on our doorsteps with an entire entourage of porters in tow to deliver the baggage, and a good third of the assorted trunks and cases being freshly packed additions to the freight post-Stewart.

Now personally, I have no real love for Corden. I’ve found him annoyingly hyper in his guest appearances in other shows, and been largely indifferent to the charms of Gavin & Stacy.I watched the first couple when they aired on BBC 3, thought they were ok but didn’t grab me enough to ensure further viewing. And hence I was somewhat surprised when some time later the nation seemed to take the show to its heart – in the words of the late great Bill Hicks – “Did I miss a meeting?”

However, no good deed goes unpunished in this parish, and while I personally didn’t fall in love with the show, I can appreciate the quality of the series, with Corden doing a sterling job on the writing and performing well, hitting the right notes between comedy and drama. And thankfully it was this incarnation of Corden that turned up for duty on this week’s Doctor Who, and consequently I had no problems with either his performance or ignoring my high personal bugbears with the man himself. His Craig played very well against both Matt Smith’s Doctor and Daisy Haggard’s Sophie.

Also returning to Who this week was another guaranteed fan divider, Gareth Roberts. Now Roberts writes fun Doctor Who; the likes of The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp he’s not going for heavy sci-fi or child traumatising scares but just to romp around pressing the button marked fun. While he might not be serving up the most weighty adventures, his stories have been entertaining. And The Lodger is no different, but I would say it is the most polished of his episodes so far. The romance in the story line may well have been quite predictable, but the characters were handled with warmth and charm, and the way he wove together the parallel plot threads of the mystery of upstairs and the Craig/Sophie relationship showed a greater degree of sophistication than his previous outings.

So far, so good, but I did have a major niggle with this episode – the psychic head butting. Yes, it was funny and I don’t have a problem with that in itself. What bothered me was that this was another instance of a writer suddenly inventing a new power for the Doctor. Yes, the show is within its rights to add and reveal new facets of the Doctor, but really the script editors should come down hard to on a writer that produces a new ability like a rabbit from a hat to plug a hole in the plot. Especially when these abilities are going to be a one shot deal – seen once and then never used again and leaving unnecessary clutter in the character’s continuity. And often these novelty super powers, like the ability to mentally transfer information as seen in the The Lodger, makes the viewer wonder why the Doctor hasn’t used them before in his myriad previous travels.

Now the RTD era was very bad for this, inventing powers left, right and centre. And Gareth Roberts has previous form in this field; in The Unicorn and the Wasp, he informs us that Time Lords can synthesise antidotes to toxins given the ingestion of the right ingredients. Like the head butting in The Lodger the scene was written to raise a few laughs but unlike this week’s episode, having an inbuilt toxicologist as part of your digestive system isn’t an ability that comes to the fore often. However being able to explain and impart masses of information with a quick Glasgow kiss would have been very bloody usefully in many of the Doctor’s previous adventures.

Now it has previously been well established that the Time Lords do possess psychic powers that mere mortals do not. Back on Gallifrey, all Time Lords share a mental link, and the TARDIS itself possesses telepathic circuits which allow it to meld to a certain degree with its pilot and crew, allowing the handy instant translation service as well as protecting its occupants from the physical stresses of time travel as mentioned in this episode.

So my issue here is that rather than inventing a new hitherto unbelievably handy ability, one so useful as to make the viewer question its authenticity, surely some technical lash-up involving the ear piece the Doctor uses to communicate with Amy would have better served the logic of the on-going narrative of the series. You could have still had the comedy but you wouldn’t have rankled fools like myself who probably give too much of a toss about the continuity.

That said though, it wasn’t a deal breaker for this episode. And although my inner fanboy was growling, the flashes of the previous old school Doctors did help balance the internal geek scales. I must say I do like the fact that this series is acknowledging the show’s long history a lot more and far more explicitly than its predecessors. And I do wonder whether the repeated cameos of the likes of Hartnell and Troughton are something more than just a subtle way of alerting younger viewers to the show’s illustrious past.

However while still on matters of plot logic and exposition, some reviewers have been a little irritated that there wasn’t more explanation of the origins of the time ship. However personally, I thought it was a refreshing change not to have the Doctor instantly recognise it; it’s good to have a mystery now and again that isn’t just explained away in a causal ‘oh it’s a MacGuffin class warp vessel from the Basil Nebula in the Exposition galaxy’ fashion. And while this rogue time craft offers all possibilities for future stories to reveal its ancestry, I can happily live with it remaining an enigma, with the questions of why it appears so TARDIS-like in appearance hanging tantalizingly up in the air. Of course, the two part finale may shed some further light on the matter… but I wouldn’t bet on it. And if the television series never alludes to the mystery craft again, eventually some book, comic or audio will come along and explain a little more.

The mystery timeship

In the meantime though, many long-time Who fans have remarked on the ship’s similarity to the Jagaroth vessel seen in the Tom Baker outing City of Death. And if you have a look at the picture reproduced below, they are not a million miles away design wise, I’m sure you’ll agree. Now for those of you who haven’t seen this story, or can only remember Lalla Ward dressed up as a school girl, the relevant facts are as follows…

Jagaroth ship

The Jagaroth although familiar with the concepts, were not a time travelling species. However during a civil war in the distant past when the Earth was still young, their ship (as seen above) exploded due to a warp engine failure. This resulted in the engines operator Scaroth, being thrust into the Time Vortex and splintered into twelve different sub selves that were scattered throughout Earth’s history. Now as these events took place some 4 billion years ago, it is not unlikely to assume that in later ages, that having noted the effects of this warp malfunction, the Jagaroth have come closer to mastering time travel technology. And hence the ship seen in The Lodger could be an early lost prototype.

It’s not much of an explanation and ultimately will probably proved wrong, but if you really need one it’s as good as you’re going to get for now! So back to the episode in hand…

The Lodger started life as a comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine #368. This was a one-off story centred on the Tenth Doctor staying with Mickey Smith and naturally changed a great deal when it evolved into the current episode. The basic concept, exploring the Doctor flat sharing with an ordinary bloke remained the same, but the dynamics changed considerably with a different Doctor. Now some commentators have questioned why living normally among humans was such as challenge for the Eleventh Doctor, pointing out that previous Doctors – most notably the Third who was exiled to Earth – had no such problems. But the key thing here is that different Doctors have different personalities – and some are better tuned to playing along with our social mores than others. While the Pertwee Doctor was quite assured in human company, the Fourth would struggle to play along if forced into a domestic situation; and Matt Smith’s Doctor is very much in the same eccentric alien mould as the Fourth. But also he demonstrates a Troughton-like twist of calculatedly acting the clown to mask his real activities and nature in this episode, as well as Seventh Doctor secret eye of the bigger picture – all of which suggests to me that he wasn’t struggling as much as it may first appear.

However what I would perhaps question is the placement of this story in the series. As it was such a showcase for Matt Smith to explore his Doctor’s personality maybe it would have made more sense to schedule this story earlier in the season. However you could see this story as just a palate cleanser before the big two part ending; certainly that would fit with this episode’s light tone - making it a sorbet story if you will.

But that said, we’ve not seen the finale yet. This series has had a far greater sense of continuity than previous seasons and while it may seem that The Lodger, bar its coda, is not advancing the Cracks story arc, there is still a lot of thematic threads been added to here. For example, we have perceptions filters name checked again, and the theme of how we see things featuring heavily once more. Plus we have more references to early Doctors and a story that underlines how well the Doctor really actually does understand human relationships. And this last point is perhaps more crucial than it first appears, especially considering how the episode ends with Amy discovering Rory’s ring. Hence while it may not be adding to the details of the plot arc, it would seem that The Lodger is establishing character points that will make more sense once we see the finale - which would explain why its placement here.

But sorbet or not, and niggles aside, I enjoyed this episode; its sense of delight was quite infectious and the performances from our main trio was spot on. It was nice to see Matt Smith get a chance to really revel in the role, Corden was genuinely likeable here, and Daisy Haggard (daughter of Blood On Satan’s Claw director Piers Haggard fact fans) was wonderful as ever. This comic actress has always impressed me, she has great range and it’s high time she got a star vehicle of her own.

While The Lodger may be froth, it was a romp done right. So far this series has been an incredible run of stories, and while not all have been definite classics, equally there have no real dogs either. On the whole, with Moffat at the reins standards have been raised across the board and now all we need to make it the best series so far of new Who is a satisfying finale that ties up all the threads…

15th June JIM MOON, 2010