TARDIS File 05-11: The Lodger

TARDIS File 05-11: The Lodger

The Big Idea…Something has separated the Doctor from Amy and the TARDIS. In order to find out what’s happening, the Doctor must go undercover and rent a flat from a perfectly ordinary human being named Craig Owens. Craig doesn’t stand a chance, does he?

What’s So Great…

  • Matt Smith. His Doctor is all alien elbows and non-Euclidian angles, misinterpreting enthusiasm the football field as a call to arms, ignoring basic office etiquette and having psychic conversations with cats… and yet so aware of human nature that, without his saying a word, it’s clear that he’s nailed the relationship between Craig and Sophie within seconds of seeing them together
  • James Corden. His Craig is nothing more a sweet, ordinary bloke, absolutely the kind of friend you’d knock a few pints back with at your local, absolutely going nowhere in his life, absolutely devoted to Sophie, almost absolutely content with where he is… and when the weirdness descends on him, he proves himself more than capable of rising to the occasion
  • Daisy Haggard. Her Sophie could have been a thankless plot device, the Love Interest Imperilled, but the actress invests her with such humanity that you buy her as a fully-developed character and are rooting for her and Craig to get together from their very first scene
  • The football match; wonderfully filmed and edited, it perfectly encapsulates the Doctor’s completely inadvertent upstaging of Craig, Craig’s reaction to that, and Daisy’s reaction to that, in a beautiful little mini-movie in the middle of the episode

Some Quick Bits of Trivia: The Lodger was developed by Gareth Roberts from a comic first published in Doctor Who Magazine in March 2006, in which the Tenth Doctor has to move in with Mickey Smith for a few days after the TARDIS jumps a time track with Rose Tyler stuck inside. James Corden co-created the TV series Gavin & Stacey with Ruth Jones, who appeared in Torchwood as Nikki in the episode Adrift. And, of course, you all knew that Matt Smith was on his way to becoming a professional footballer before an injury made him consider acting instead, right?

Things to Geek Out About…

  • Once again, several of the Doctor’s past incarnations appear in flashback, making this the fourth appearance of William Hartnell in the current series
  • On Craig’s fridge is a flyer for a Van Gogh exhibition
  • Though the “non-technological technology of Lamasteen” hasn’t appeared before, Gareth Robert’s 1993 novel The Highest Science did make mention of a 22nd-century pop music festival called Ragasteen
  • The Eleventh Doctor’s borrowed football tee has the number 11 on it

Did You Notice…

  • The crack in the wall behind Craig’s fridge seems to expand when Amy finds Rory’s wedding ring in the Doctor’s pocket. Does this mean that her finding the ring is part of the sequence of events that will lead to the explosion that creates the cracks?
  • We never find out who or what created the time machine on the second storey of Craig’s flat, but the Doctor does identify it as somebody’s attempt to build a TARDIS. Will this have greater significance down the road?

Not to Complain, But… There are some minor but jarring editing continuity errors both before and after the football sequence. When Craig first introduces the Doctor to Sean, he then walks past Sean to greet another friend standing behind him, only to suddenly pop back in front of Sean just in time for his dialogue. When the motherly woman is fried by the time machine immediately after the match, the door to the upstairs flat is ajar in one shot and tightly closed in the next.

All Things Considered… Well, for a start, they’re finally pointing the camera in the right direction. The football match has been mentioned previously, but it needs to be said again: this sequence was a little masterpiece. Ninety-nine percent of the characters on the field are participating in the story of The Day The Doctor Won A Football Match, but the camera is paying much closer attention to Craig and Daisy’s reactions, and if you don’t feel for poor Craig as he stands uselessly on the field, surrounded by cheers aimed at someone else, then you, sir, have no soul.

Director Catherine Morshead demonstrates the same deftness of touch here as in Amy’s Choice. Camerawork, story, and character detail are all given equal attention, so that it’s the characters who drive the story forward and sweep us along with them. The tone turns on a dime from comedy to terror, and frequently manages to harmonise both notes simultaneously; look at how the comedy of the Doctor’s mistaken rant towards Sean morphs into the unease of the time loop kicking in, through the terror of the middle-aged woman’s death and into the tension of Amy’s predicament in the TARDIS, without ever once jarring the viewer out of the moment.

Another thing that this story has in common with Amy’s Choice is that the excellent directing smooths over what could have been some rather disturbing philosophical undercurrents. Where the previous story ended with Amy effectively choosing to kill herself after the loss of her lover, this story seems to punish the ambition to pull oneself out of a rut and reward the man who’s content with being a couch potato. It’s arguably the director who rescues the story from the fiery pits of allegory by focussing on the characters. We’re specifically watching the story Craig and Sophie, rather than Everyman and Everywoman, and Craig’s choice thus becomes something other than a triumph for laziness. The ship still burns until he admits his love for Sophie and she sticks her hand into the fire with him; it’s only at this moment that they’re both truly content with where they are. It’s sweet without being saccharine; little touches like Sophie’s “I love you too, you idiot,” and Amy rolling her eyes in disgust, both strengthen rather than undermine the emotion of the moment, again demonstrating Morshead’s mastery of the counter-harmonic.

Your reviewer’s favourite story trope is that of the perfectly ordinary human being with no skills, no special powers, no Chosen Destiny, who gets exposed to a world larger than they’d imagined, and yet rises to the occasion. This was that. It was funny, it was sweet, it was tense, it was all of the above; frankly, it was his favourite episode of the season, up to and including The Eleventh Hour.

Line of the Week: “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.”

TARDIS file prepared by Cameron Dixon

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