Season 31, Episode 11 – The Lodger, by Gareth Roberts

June 13, 2010

Review by Martin Odoni

You’ll have to bear with me while I write this, I’m just ticking items off my ‘By-the-numbers formula for writing modern Dr. Who stories’ checklist. Let’s see…

1. Nondescript townhouse with a mysterious figure living in the room upstairs. Check.

2. Silly over-the-top music score designed to dull the senses and deafen the thought-processes of the audience. Check.

3. Twee, mushy, romantic sub-plot to provoke approving sighs of, “Awwwwwwwwww…!” from the soap opera-loving editorial staff of the Radio Times. Check.

4. Smattering of technobabble and post-modern self-digs in the dialogue to demonstrate the series’ ‘willingness to laugh at itself’. Check.

5. Surfeit of smug, unnatural-sounding, snappy quips like a script from a Spider-Man cartoon. Check.

6. Lots of loud shouts and screams during the conclusion of the story to convince the audience that something really exciting and scary is going on. Check.

7. Superfluous, scarcely-relevant visual references to all the previous incarnations of the Doctor. Check.

Oh, you get the idea.

Actually, this is probably a little unfair, as The Lodger had its share of redeeming qualities. But as has been the case quite a bit in recent weeks, original ideas were not among them. Even the Doctor playing football was clearly just a pastiche of the Fifth Doctor playing cricket in Black Orchid (shamelessly confirmed by the BBC website).

It was helped somewhat by the decision to separate off the Doctor from Amy. As Amy was the one who spent the whole episode trapped aboard the TARDIS, and the Doctor was the one who was stranded, the dynamic was at least somewhat new, so that at least can give the impression, however misleading, that we were watching something different. Sadly, the unrequited love story has been done absolutely everywhere, while the ‘evil-secret-upstairs’ scenario mentioned above was done twice in David Tennant’s first season alone (The Idiot’s Lantern and Fear Her).

Craig and Sophie were both rather dull guest characters that could just as easily have been slotted into an episode of EastEnders. Craig’s a couch potato, Sophie’s the girl who has a couple of keys to his flat. The only vaguely interesting aspect about them was Craig’s fast-cultivated resentment of the Doctor, which at least gave the episode a sorely-needed edge. As for Sophie, well, what can I say? Sophie wants an adventure! Sophie wants to get out there and live! Sophie wants to see far-off places! That wouldn’t remind you of one or two or three former companions of the Doctor would it? (Or indeed the present one?) It’s like every woman in the Dr. Who universe since Rose’s alarm clock went off is a bored chav who’s on the lookout for exotic travel (or the irascible mum of a bored chav who’s on the lookout for exotic travel).

The computerised hologram on the nonexistent top floor seemed very derivative as well. Not really much to distinguish its programmed nature from that of the robots in The Girl In The Fireplace. Still, that wasn’t a completely terrible aspect, as the robots were rather cleverly-written in that. If you must steal, you might as well steal from the best.

Once the spacecraft disappeared, the single-storey house suddenly looked ridiculously out of place against the two double-decker houses around it. Also, there’s clearly no way up from the house to where the spacecraft had landed, so how exactly did all those people who climbed the pseudo-stairs manage to board it? And by the way, the ‘perception-filter’ (TM & © of Deus Ex Machina Enterprises: ‘Emergency-Meaningless-Technobabble-For-Helping-A-Stuck-Writer-To-Contrive-A-Convenient-Way-To-Climb-Out-Of-The-Plothole-He’s-Dug-Himself-Into’ Division) was like those preposterous keys in Last Of The Time Lords; another cheap rip-off of the Somebody Else’s Problem field in Life, The Universe And Everything.

In defence of the episode, the acting was generally better than usual. Matt Smith is now looking triumphantly in command of the role, and making it his own rather than just a hand-me-down from David Tennant; Smith really is a natural for this part in a way no one has quite been since Tom Baker’s time and is developing into one of my all-time favourites now. Karen Gillan is back to good form as well, though more by circumstances than design; with Amy put in such a protracted, sustained position of panic, she never got the chance to resume her strutting-cockiness motif, which meant that, for the first time in about a month, she ceased to annoy. And given that they were playing a pair of dreary ciphers, James Corden and Daisy Haggard were commendably good as Craig and Sophie.

Production standards were reasonable, although if you think about it, that was hardly difficult seeing almost all the story is set in a shabby urban townhouse. But the set for the spacecraft is quite well done – if a little sparse – and the hologram effects did all that was asked of them. Pity that Murray Gold was profoundly reverting to type in the later scenes.

So, unoriginal but inoffensive again. The season is still stagnating in one-tone mediocrity, but rarely drops to worse than that, and seeing the mighty Moffat’s return to the writer’s saddle is imminent, there’s a good chance things will improve soon. The Lodger gets 6/10, which is becoming a very familiar scoreline this year.

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