Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Lodger: Live With Me

'I love this game!'

Doctor Who has tried many different genres and styles over the years. From horror to fantasy and costume drama to overt comedy. They've never tried a blokey flat-share sitcom before, though. Which, on the strength of Gareth's Roberts' The Lodger is rather a pity. I'm not sure what I expected from this episode before watching it (sandwiched between an all day orgy of World Cup matches) but, whatever it was, this wasn't it. This was different. And better. And ... sweet. Not an emotion unique to Doctor Who by any stretch of the imagination but, again, not what I thought I'd be getting from this. So, couple of major bonus points there for the author and the production for challenging at least one viewers' expectations.

Which is not to say that The Lodger was perfect. It had some flaws - some obvious, some less so. But, it also had a real heart to it which, try as one may to dislike anything with James Corden in it, made the episode utterly impossible to feel too cynical and uppity about. Even a broken clock can be right twice a day, after all. Corden, just about all of whose other work I, generally, cannot stand, was really rather decent in this, in a charming little double act with the under-rated Daisy Haggard. The Colchester setting and some of the visual trappings might have suggested suburban banality, but you won't find many Men Behaving Badly clones with a line of dialogue like 'There is no upstairs!' in it.

'Whatever you do, don't go upstairs' was the BBC continuity announcers advice before The Lodger started, a witty summation of episode's sinister undertones. The other themes - unrequited love, male bonding, fear of the unknown (literal and metaphorical) - were equally well handled in an episode that mixed in some clever continuity references (loved the Inferno allusion), a deadpan delivery of some corkingly funny lines ('football's the one with the sticks, isn't it?'), the series first gay-gag of the year and a climax that, via Amy's discovery of Rory's engagement ring, promises towering potential for the series finale over the next two weeks.

Matt Smith's ability with dry and sharp pithy one-liners, already a feature of the current series, was demonstrated, ably, again. 'I'm the Doctor. Don't call me the Rotmiester!' Whether it was casually tossing in a reference to International Rescue, speaking 'scrambled' gibberish ('Descartes Lombardy spiral!') or asking Amy 'what do normal blokes do?' Smithy was on tremendous form throughout. He has a wonderfully expressive face even when he is, in theory, trying to be expressionless. It was possibly best demonstrated in the sequence where Craig bursts into the Doctor's room to find his new flatmate has built a curious construction in there out of all sort of rubbish. 'It's art,' flusters the Doctor, quickly. 'A statement on modern life!' Almost the best line of the episode. It would have been, but for 'I have one of those faces. People see it and can't stop blurting out all of their plans!'

In essence, The Lodger was designed as a piece of format-expansion. Such conceits are seldom popular with some fans (see the way in which Love and Monsters divided fandom down the middle, for example) but, the general public tend to see them as a bit of a laugh and don't seem too concerned about how the overall tone of the episode fits in with last years, or last weeks or next weeks for that matter. I have a feeling the general public will have really rather warmed to this. An episode in which the Doctor gets to tell someone 'just kiss the girl!' An episode in which it's revealed that Doctor Who's version of a Vulcan mind-meld involves the Doctor sticking the nut on James Corden (and, who in all honesty, hasn't wanted to do that at least once in their lives?) An episode in which the Doctor does some little things, saves just a couple of lives, one by punching someone, really hard, in the chest. And, again, who hasn't idly wanted to do that to James Corden as well? An episode in which we discover that 'blokes play football' and in which the Doctor ask questions about personal motivations rather than universal ambitions ('what's keeping you here?')

I really liked The Lodger. It was different. It was daft in places, yes, but a bit of daftness never hurt anyone. It was funny when it needed to be ('don't spend it all one sweets. Unless you like sweets. I like sweets!') It had a purpose in its loose structure, and not just to give Matt Smith the opportunity to display his footballing skills either. Fautless finishing, however. Fabio Capello's just be on the phone, Matt, they need you over in South Africa, apparently. 'People call me the Doctor. Don't know why. I call me the Doctor too!' Gareth delivered something a bit out there, a bit risky. As different from last week's episode as that was from the week's before. 'Can I put you on hold, I want to eat biscuit?!' A necessary reminder that not every Doctor Who episode needs to be about space monsters and invasions and bases under siege. It's a big universe out there and, sometimes, it's the small things that give the most pleasure. Not the best episode of the series, perhaps, but a long way from being the worst.

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