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Review: The Lodger


The Lodger is the eleventh episode of the 31st Season of Doctor Who.

Review

On the surface, “The Lodger” is a fairly light-hearted romp as Amy gets stuck in the TARDIS and the Doctor gets stuck on Earth having to pass as human to his new landlord, Craig (James Corden), so he can fix the broken time-ship stuck on the roof which is responsible. It is the perfect set-up for some fun and seeing a half-naked Doctor, but peel back the surface and this is an episode which lacks depth.

Strangely, when asked by a friend what I thought of the episode, my initial reply was “it was good.” And yet as I started to talk, I began to realize that actually there were issues. Firstly, that I never really believed James Corden was sofa-man Craig. Corden rose to fame in acclaimed British comedy Gavin and Stacey, a show I never watched. I haven't seen his performance in the film Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009) either. I only know of Corden because of the funny sketches he's put together for Sport Relief which include showing up in a bath-tub with football legend, David Beckham. It is possibly for this reason that I watched the whole episode far too aware that this was James Corden pretending to be some bloke. Corden possibly acted the role well but I couldn't get past my recognition of him personally and believe in his character.

Then, the plot -- or rather the issues with the plot started to emerge for me -- specifically, the whole perception filter explanation for why Craig couldn't remember that he lived in a one-storey building and that there was no upstairs. “Perception filter played with your mind” (or words to that effect) hand-waves the Doctor enthusiastically. Seriously? That’s supposed to explain how Craig believes that there’s always been an upstairs? Hmmm. OK, I know I buy into the idea that the Doctor lives in a TARDIS which travels through time and space so this shouldn’t be a big leap for me, right? Apparently, wrong.

What also seems wrong to me is the underlying hint of making fun of Corden (or rather Craig) throughout which has the faintest hint of bullying. From, Craig’s inability to admit he loves Sophie to the Doctor’s blunt observation the not-skinny Craig is beginning to resemble the sofa, to the Doctor running rings round him at football, to the Doctor barging in on Craig’s evening with Sophie and encouraging her to effectively get a life - there is a subtle background chant of ‘Loser! Loser!’ going on. I’m sure Craig saving the solar system later is supposed to redress the balance but the truth is that the subtle denigration of Craig throughout simply leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.

The other thing that really didn’t ring true to me was the Doctor just walking into Craig’s place of work and apparently taking over for him for the day with the boss so OK with it. Yes, the psychic paper probably gets him in the door but being rude to customers and still with the boss love? In what reality is this and can I move to it? While the work scene was probably there to add another reason why the Doctor falls out of Craig’s favor, it just doesn’t, well, work.

What works are the other attempts to show the Doctor’s eccentricity in a normal human environment. I loved the Doctor recruiting the cat as a spy and talking to it; loved the Doctor’s approach to football (effectively eschewing it as a team game) and loved the Doctor’s initial scenes with Craig as he tries to settle into his new home. Of course, I also didn’t particularly object to seeing the Doctor half-naked (and the very dodgy full-frontal shot that was captured for a millisecond when he lost his towel). Matt Smith has a great physique.

What also works for me is Daisy Haggard who puts in a great performance as Craig’s love interest and best mate, Sophie. She sells the whole thing - both Sophie’s love for Craig, and her secret desire to do something wonderful with her life. Sophie is a character who the audience can root for and so when she gets tempted up the stairs and it looks like the hologram of the crashed time machine is going to kill her too, it does mean the drama works. You worry what will happen to Sophie and if the Doctor and Craig will get to her in time.

However, I didn’t love Amy stuck in the shaking TARDIS (more Trek scenery shaking) and effectively away from the action but her predicament did add some tension to why the Doctor had to sort things out on Earth quickly. And I will admit that the creepiness factor of the hologram inviting unsuspecting humans up the stairs to kill them was high. The CGI for the time-ship disappearing was very good and the attention to detail of the set design was excellent - loved the Van Gogh leaflet stuck to the front of the refrigerator.

Ultimately, this isn’t a bad episode. There are definitely some things to enjoy but I think the emphasis was really too much on ‘what normal situation can we put the Doctor in next which will be funny’ and not enough on the actual semantics of the plot. This is candy-floss; light and fluffy complete with happy sugary ending, but insubstantial and too much thinking about it leaves me feeling slightly nauseous.

Previously published at Geek Speak Magazine.

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