THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
GRAPHIC NOVEL "THE
ONLY GOOD DALEK"
AND THE NOVEL
"THE COMING OF
'THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES' LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK BLU-RAY DVD
(BBCBD0130) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2010.
There's a house on Aickman road with
A staircase that people go up, but
To solve the mystery
of the man upstairs, the Doctor must BE ABLE TO pass himself off as a normal human being, and share a flat with Craig Owens.
12TH JUNE 2010
The season’s unreserved comic belter, The Lodger is one of Doctor Who’s most endearing offerings since it returned to our screens in 2005. Loosely based on his popular Doctor Who Magazine comic strip of the same name, Gareth Roberts’ script is warm and dry, fuelled by a convincing combination of gentle character drama and ironic mirth.
Above: The Lodger as it appeared in Doctor Who Magazine
Just as the comic strip version of The Lodger saw David Tennant’s Doctor forced into co-habiting with Mickey Smith for a week, the TARDIS having skipped forward in time with Rose trapped inside it, here the Doctor finds himself in need of a place to stay when the TARDIS is unable to materialise due to an alien influence. This time, however, the Doctor doesn’t just descend on his companion’s ex-boyfriend – he seeks out the source of the extraterrestrial power and shows up at the door of the flat below it clutching three grand in used twenties. “I’m your new lodger,” he says, thrusting a paper bag full of cash at his future flatmate.
With Karen Gillan’s Amy’s on the bench this week, the episode is carried by the dazzling performances of James Corden, Daisy Haggard and particularly Matt Smith. As an afici-onado of Corden’s award-winning sitcom, Gavin & Stacey (not to mention his sketch show, and his memorable turn alongside eighth Doctor Paul McGann in the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin box office bomb, Lesbian Vampire Killers), I was keen to see him brought into the Whoniverse, and inevitably he does an exceptional job of bringing the Doctor’s flatmate Craig Owens to life in his characteristically credible and charming way. Interestingly though, in The Lodger he’s the straight man - the laughs come from the Doctor’s inexpert attempts to fit into everyday life, rather than Corden’s Smithy-style antics. That said, Corden is gifted the best line in the episode by far, which he delivers with an appropriate whine: “Everybody loves you, and you’re better at football than me, and now Sophie’s all like ‘monkeys’, ‘mon-keys’, ‘monkeys’…”
“I’m sorry? What’s happening? Are you going to live with monkeys now?”
Haggard I’m less familiar with - though she did impress me through her supporting roles in Ashes to Ashes and Psychoville last year - but she’s every bit as dazzling here as her big-name co-star. Like Craig, Sophie is a beautifully written part – a “phone drone” whose weekend-heavy life revolves around the traditional combo of “pizza booze telly”, unrequited love, and unfulfilled fancies about mucking out monkeys. Haggard imbues the role with such heart and humour that you can’t not like her; you can’t not be feverishly rooting for her and Craig to concede their love for one another and chuff off on a monkey-chasing adventure around the globe.
And to say that Roberts’ script is kind to the show’s star would be putting it mildly. Whilst most of us have a half-talent for at least one thing, Smith is one of these infuriating people who are not only reasonably good at everything, but they’re so very good at everything that they could reasonably pursue a career in any number of elitist professions. The Doctor needs to whip an omelette up, Stacey’s Mum-style? No problem – Smith just happens to be a former Masterchef champion. The Doctor needs to outclass the opposition in a Sunday league football match? Easy – Smith’s pro career with Leicester City was only cut short thanks to a back injury. I’m surprised Roberts didn’t have him singing in the shower while Simon Cowell applauded and have done with it.
“Now football’s the one with the sticks, isn’t?”
Of course, Smith’s prevailing talent is his great acting skill, and above all else The Lodger is a superb showcase for what he does best. Whether he is using a Glasgow kiss to make telepathic contact or relishing one of Roberts’ wry one-liners, his Doctor fills almost every scene in the episode, holding the viewer rapt with his beguiling, alien allure.
The plot itself is overshadowed by the character story for much of the forty-five minutes - the alien menace lurking upstairs is simply the lure that Roberts uses to place the Doctor in this unusual scenario. Even so, the idea of the monster living at the top of the stairs remains a good, solid draw throughout, and the staircase sequences are shot beautifully by director Catherine Morshead. The dénouement is also pleasing, not just in terms of the innovative nature of the threat that lies upstairs, but also in the stunning visuals that follow. The interior of the ‘upstairs flat’ put me rather in mind of the TARDIS’ TV Movie console room, and the stunning deactivation of the perception filter is a lovely little bit of daylight CGI. Furthermore, as The Lodger builds towards its heartening crescendo, Roberts’ narrative finally draws each of the protagonists in, resolving both the crisis and the romance in one fell swoop.
“The ship has crashed. The crew is dead. A pilot is required.”
Overall, The Lodger is probably my favourite Roberts-penned episode to date, though I’d have to give The Shakespeare Code another airing to be able to say for certain. What is clear though is that this episode comprises forty-five minutes of can’t miss television. Our boys in South Africa couldn’t have asked for a better (or more fitting) lead in to their first World Cup match. I strongly suspect that the nation is about to be overrun with young, bow-tie wearing wannabe footballing Time Lords...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
As a fan of the ongoing comic series in Doctor Who Magazine, I was looking forward to seeing the first television episode to be adapted from a Who strip. We’ve so far had adaptations of a novel, an audio play and an annual short story - with varying levels of divergence from the original source - and so I was intrigued to find out just how the episode The Lodger would compare to the comic story of the same name.
The original version saw the tenth Doctor arrive in Mickey Smith’s flat, staying with the hapless chap while he waited for the TARDIS to rematerialise, it having belched forward a few days with Rose still inside it. The chance to explore Mickey’s character and his developing rivalry / friendship with the Doctor was a big part of the strip’s appeal, and I wondered how the adaptation would work with an entirely new character in his place.
Above: The Lodger as it appeared in Doctor Who Magazine
Thankfully, Craig is a greatly endearing character, and an utterly believable one. He is the epitome of the run-of-the-mill, everyman figure, some-one who we can all relate to. As in the original version, the Doctor is used to bring out the ordinary man’s insecurities and failings, or what he perceives to be his failings, consciously or not. We have all, at some time in our lives, felt jealous or inadequate, compelled to compare ourselves to someone else who outdoes in some way. The Doctor arrives in Craig’s life, and, with the best of intentions, shows him up in front of his friends, colleagues and the girl he loves, by simply being terribly interesting and good at everything (except being normal). Craig’s demand that he leave his flat after only three days is entirely believable after the Doctor’s unintentional humiliation of him. We can’t help but feel for the guy.
While a lot of this is down to Gareth Robert’s excellent writing, it is James Corden who deserves the credit for bringing the character to life. So many forum-goers cried out in dismay when learning of his casting. This is something that happens most times an actor best known for their comedy work is cast in the show (as if this show were serious), but there was some quite vehement anti-Cordenism going on. I can’t understand why. Corden is a fine actor who brought Craig’s character to life beautifully, and was a mile away from Smithy in Gavin & Stacey, as well as James Corden the face of popular football and occa-sional Patrick Stewart baiter.
“Friend who’s a girl. There’s nothing going on.”
The benefit of having a new character in the role of the accosted flatmate is that we get to see someone entirely new to the Doctor’s world react to suddenly having him in his living room. Corden and Smith are just fantastic in every scene that they share; I could almost see this spinning off into a fully-fledged sitcom. Matt Smith is, as ever, mesmerising as the Doctor, and displays some fantastic comic timing.
Surprisingly to some, it’s Corden who’s the straight man and Smith who provides the comic relief. Putting the Doctor against the most ordinary of backdrops throws him into sharp relief, making him appear even more remarkable than he does in his own environment of spaceships, historical vistas and perilous escapades. This is somewhere that the episode outdoes the comic - in it’s choice of Doctor. Put David Tennant in this episode, and yes, he’d be great, but his Doctor would fit into the everyday world far more smoothly than Matt Smith’s. Smith’s performance embodies a quirkiness and off-kilter approach that Tennant’s was never truly able to. The only version of the Doctor I can imagine struggling even more to fit in with the everyday folk is Tom Baker’s batty bohemian.
“Six billion people. Watching you two at work I’m beginning to wonder where they all come from.”
Praise also goes to Daisy Haggard, very much one to watch as she becomes ever more known in television, and comedy in particular. Her performance as Sophie is somehow even more endearing than Craig, and you’re dying for the pair of them to stop pussyfooting around and tell each other how they feel. Even the Doctor, generally rather baffled by romance, even in his more dashing incarnations, can see that they’re besotted with each other.
One thing that the original comic version lacked was a threat, focusing as it did entirely on the relationship between the principle characters (although a good deal made the transition much unchanged. The Doctor still played football in the original version - it certainly wasn’t added in for ex-footballer Smith!) For a full episode, something antagonistic is required to up the ante. The mysterious entity at the top of the stairs provides a suitably creepy threat, without ever dominating the more personal side of the story. The concept of a prototype TARDIS disguised as a flat is marvellous, and more than a little reminiscent of Professor Chronotis and his own ship disguised as his college rooms in Shada. After all, if you’re going to pinch ideas, pinch from the best - Douglas Adams always did.
“I’m good at football, I think…”
Visually, the story isn’t particularly impressive - the proto-TARDIS set is the most sophi-sticated visual treat we get, and that’s pretty simple. Set mostly in a flat, a street, an office, a field and the standing TARDIS set, with no alien costume or CG menace, and limited cast, this is clearly a cheapie to save money before the big finale, and in a season that has clearly had a budget cut all round. However, this really doesn’t seem to matter in a story with such fine, affecting, funny writing, beautiful acting and excellent direction by Catherine Morshead that obscures the budgetary limitations. Plus, we get our fourth William Hartnell cameo of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if, next week, we get a full scene cut from a 1960s episode, à la The Five Doctors.
One further thing to contemplate is the ongoing story of the cracks in the universe. Once again a crack appears - are they following the Doctor? I’d believed that they were following Amy, but she wasn’t present in Craig’s flat. Steven Moffat warns us that everything we see could be significant. Who is that creepy-looking man in the portrait in the hallway? Is that something to do with the lost van Gogh painting that is said to have a bearing in next week’s adventure? Is the existence of a prototype TARDIS, apparently not of Time Lord origin, significant? Is the Doctor losing his telepathic abilities, no longer performing mind-melds but transferring information by violently nutting people? One thing’s for sure - it looks as though this hugely enjoyable, but relatively sedate episode will be a welcome breather before the manic-looking finale.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
I went into this episode with no preconceptions at all, which is a rare relation-ship between an episode of Doctor Who and me. This year I’ve been giddily awaiting Churchill and the Daleks, River Song and the Weeping Angels, Chibnall and the Silurians, and Curtis and Van Gogh. It might be sacrilegious to admit, but I’ve never read the Doctor Who Magazine comic as reading a story in still pictures has never appealed to me in the slightest. As a result I’ve missed out on the joys of Frobisher, Sharon, Beep the Meep, Izzy, a wealth of stories for the eighth Doctor where you can actually see McGann in the role… and, of course, Gareth Roberts’ one off strip, The Lodger. Doctor Who as a blokey sitcom doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, but then this is a show that pulled off a Western in a studio, a trip to a world of imagination, and even a foray into Tegan’s mind and made them work.
Culture clashes make for great television; they always have and they always will. When they are pulled off well we get to see the best and worst of both cultures whilst they are clashing, and then see them learning from each other at the end. Star Trek pulled it off really well by shoving many different cultures together on a spaceship or a space station and seeing how they get on. British comedy in particular thrives on culture clashes: The Good Life sees the down-to-Earth Goods and the ultra-sophisticated Leadbetters living next to each other with hilarious consequences, for instance. The Lodger has a great stab and showing us what happens when a 907 year-old Time Lord from outer space shacks up with James Corden. Cue Men Behaving Badly antics where the Doctor goes on pub binges, shags his way through Essex, and finds out that Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera can only be given justice when played from his bottom.
“And everybody loves you and you’re better at football than me,
and now Sophie’s all like ‘monkeys’, ‘monkeys’, ‘monkeys’…”
Well no, not really. Simon Nye has already had a shot at writing an episode this year and it turned out to be a surreal delight with strong characterisation and a wealth of clever ideas. Gareth Roberts is a trusted hand in the Doctor Who universe, having written a handful of wonderful Season 17 pastiches, two memorable Tennant episodes, and two hilarious Big Finish audio dramas. On top of that, he is one of the big players in the world of The Sarah Jane Adventures, where he has penned the top quality Trickster episodes that have been the highlight on each season. The Lodger feels more like his Sarah Jane work than it does his previous Who, and that’s certainly no bad thing. He approaches the CBBC show with an extremely sophisticated yet simple and compelling style of storytelling. He isn’t afraid to introduce children to massive ideas like alternative realities, time loops, fate, fear of death and adjusting to a new father. The Lodger tells a very simple story of unrequited love and wraps it up in a lovely science fiction mystery.
James Corden and Daisy Haggard are perfectly cast as the couple that we long to get together but they just can’t quite take that step and admit their feelings for each other. Corden plays a surprisingly sweet and sens-itive Craig, who’s a million miles away from his bully-boy character Smithy in Gavin and Stacey, and he strikes up an instant rapport with Matt Smith. The episode touches on those feelings that build up inside each of us: the person we long to admit that we love, the joy at having someone clever and funny move into our lives and make you the centre of their world for a brief time, the feelings of jealousy as they seem to live your life better than you do, and the joy of sharing that first kiss with the person you’ve been waiting a lifetime for. Corden captures all of those feelings perfectly and for one week only we get to experience what it would be like if the Doctor had moved into our life for one week and turned it upside down.
However, the episode wouldn’t work at all if Matt Smith wasn’t so utterly irresistible as the Doctor. This is the guy who can barge his way into your life before you can even advertise for him; he gives cute air kisses to everybody you know, male or female; he’s got a crazy name but doesn’t know why; he’s on intimate terms with the Archbishop of Canterbury; he can whip up the best omelette you have ever tasted; he’s scrawny as hell but he’ll walk around naked; he’s a keen observer of humanoid behaviour, but he’ll interrupt a romantic evening; and he’ll rush to your rescue brandishing an electric toothbrush! I love the crazy time scanner that he builds from a cross trainer, a mop, and coat hangers and how he administers medicine from the spout of a teapot… everything about him is just different enough to be a barrel of fun.
“Can you hold Mr Jorgensen? I need to eat a biscuit…”
Furthermore, having worked in two call centres it’s a joy to see him sticking two fingers up at the concrete-minded idiocy of such places and putting somebody on hold so that he can eat a biscuit! Best of all is his quiet conversation with the cat on the stairs which is both alien and so human at the same time. Smith tiptoes his way through The Lodger, the dearth of science fiction elements highlighting his quirky Doctor better than any other episode this year. Mum text me afterwards and simply said: “so cute.”
Well timed, The Lodger sports a glorious football sequence that I was expecting to hate, given my particular aversion to the game, but these sequences were surprisingly uplifting and full of energy and character. It’s heartbreaking to see Craig losing out to the Doctor, but absolutely wonderful to share the Doctor’s joy at such a simple human endeavour such as footie. No universe to save, just a ball to get in a net and his giddy thrill at discovering he is so good at something so trivial is absolutely magnificent.
“Doctor! Doctor! Doctor!”
The episode is also peppered with sinister Psycho-esque sequences that prey on the fear of what it lurking up the stairs. These pieces are simply shot and scary as hell with some really chilling music. Similarly creepy is the increasing patch of mould that is spreading over the ceiling which turns your stomach when you realise it is the remains of the fallen victims to the threat upstairs. We enjoy the awkward unrequited romance between Craig and Daisy which staves off the mystery of what exactly is up the stairs, but once Daisy is lured up there we finally get to experience the wonder of a brand new TARDIS. The upstairs TARDIS is just like the episode itself: glorious, simple and a little bit gorgeous. I love its ambiguous nature; we never discover what its purpose was or who it belonged to, which is kind of nice in a season that you know is going to tie everything up.
The conclusion is pure Steven Moffat – the two storylines converge in a kiss as the TARDIS is cut free and Craig and Daisy finally get it together. Moffat loves tying up his plots neatly and could never resist a good snog.
“I love you!”
And so The Lodger may be the cheapo episode of Series 5, but it is in no way as vacuous as Fear Her or as daft as Love & Monsters. It is a simple love story that throws light on Matt Smith’s adorable eleventh Doctor, and provides the same warm feelings in your stomach as a bowl of porridge.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Though this episode is an adaptation of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip of the same name, it differs considerably from the original, leaving room for both in the canon.
For the first time since 2005, the Doctor explicitly refers to being in a certain incarnation: in this case, obviously, his eleventh (though this was heavily implied by the clip shows in both The Next Doctor and The Eleventh Hour). As if this weren’t enough, the Doctor also wears an ‘11’ shirt whilst playing football. And this in this year’s eleventh episode too…
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