The end is in sight. The grand two-part finale of the most anticipated series since 2005 is just around the corner, but before we get the Moff’s kitchen sink thrown at us we must first sit patiently through the curtain raiser.
Episode 11, or sometimes 10, is traditionally experimental (to varying degrees of success), with deliberately humble production values and the reduced participation of one or both of the Leads. It used to be known as the ‘Doctor-less episode’, but in the case of The Lodger, the very reverse is true. More than any other episode to date, this is ‘The Doctor Show’; to the extent that this week’s ‘alien menace is very much sidelined by what would normally be the ‘B’ plot – the ‘human’ interest story. Gloriously centre-stage is the Doctor trying to live as ‘an ordinary bloke’ until he can be reunited with the two significant others in his life (both making as much noise as each other during Amy’s brief but loud scenes in the runaway TARDIS).
This is a rich seam which Gareth Roberts exploits well for its comedic value, bringing back the soccer stardom and electric toothbrush/sonic screwdriver confusion of his original comic strip. The episode itself is a refreshingly fun take on the Human Nature/Family of Blood scenario, making an episode-long gag of the Doctor’s attempts to be human. It’s a strong enough idea to have supported entire series in the past, from My Favourite Martian to Mork and Mindy and beyond, and very few tricks are missed here. I really should stop making comparisons with David Tennant, but the tenth Doctor, who fell in love at least three times and even became homo sapiens briefly, was by far the most human, whereas Matt Smith is very much continuing the legacy of Tom Baker, who felt duty-bound to constantly surprise the audience with the Doctor’s alien-ness. The Lodger is a tour-de-force for Matt Smith and his unpredictable, increasingly delightful performance.
The eleventh Doctor completely misses the minutiae of human society: air-kissing everyone he meets and un-self-consciously regurgitating wine (disgustingness is a recent trait, apparently) but he sees straight to the heart of the larger, more important issues. The Doctor immediately understands Craig’s relationship dilemma, when to let a difficult customer go and even how to inspire Sophie to follow her dream. Perhaps if Rusty was still holding the reigns he’d find a way to create another spin-off series – ‘Matt about the House’, anyone?
But being Doctor Who there is also an alien threat to be dealt with, lurking at the top of Craig’s stairs. Passers-by anxiously climbing towards that flickering, buzzing room is a nightmarish image, reminiscent of a carnivorous plant luring insects into its lethal clutches, but its power becomes a little diminished after the third or fourth repetition. This time the menace is of the non-adversarial kind, a mechanism blindly carrying out its programming in the way that Moffat often employs in his stories. Visually, it’s nice to see echoes of the TV Movie, and given Amy’s ‘contribution’ to this story it’s appropriate that another scene featuring lots of sparks and shouting should also take place on a set which looks like a TARDIS.
The Lodger is ultimately a warm, happy and extremely funny episode (wouldn’t The Three Doctors have been so much more amusing if the eleventh’s method of psychically imparting information had been used back then? I don’t doubt Troughton and Pertwee would have risen magnificently to the occasion). This script is a Godsend for Matt Smith and he seems to know it, pitching every nuance, line and gesture perfectly. And he can even talk to cats – the Doctor rocks, indeed!
Garnished with nods to the past reaching as far back as The Time Monster (I’ll resist making a list, but do have to mention ‘Jubilee Pizzas’) and topped with the third ‘past Doctors roll call’ this year, The Lodger is an extremely satisfying entrée to savour before the colossal main course and dessert arriving next.