I don’t like football.
It was tempting to end the review there, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair. Let’s just say my opinions might be slightly affected by that so I am probably a bit less tolerant than most people of a Doctor Who episode that throws in the Doctor playing a sport that the actor just happens to love. It didn’t add a huge amount when it was Peter Davison and cricket, so there wasn’t much point repeating the exercise.
Along with much of this episode, the football scene is an attempt to show the Doctor as somebody who is good at just about everything, apart from the basics of domestic life and social interactions. This feeds well into the Doctor-Who-does-romantic-comedy theme, by showing how it’s not all about impressing the girl. Sophie is in love with Craig because he’s Craig. It has nothing to do with football skills.
The longer Doctor Who goes on for, and the older the Doctor gets, the more difficult it is to be convinced by efforts to portray him as in any way naive. I like the moments in Doctor Who that show his alien side and remind us that he is not human, but he spends the vast majority of his time on Earth or Earth colonies or spaceships etc, and has a human companion nearly all the time. So it is hard to understand the way he behaves for much of this episode. Having said that, his eccentricity and ineptitude with domestic life is a lot of fun, so it’s easier to forgive for that reason.
If the behaviour of the Doctor is hard to understand, the episode can be interpreted in a slightly less obvious way. The Doctor is simply bored at the idea of living a normal human life, and deals with that by spending his time larking about and going off the scale with his eccentricity, just to amuse himself until he works out how to deal with the threat. Or maybe he’s banking on his weirdness knocking Craig back so much that he can’t catch his breath for long enough to kick out the madman who has invaded his home, and by the time he does he has warmed to him. So it is possible to rationalise it, but to do so you have to go beyond anything that is communicated clearly by the narrative.
Whether or not you consider all this to be out of character for the Doctor, it is hard to deny that the entire setup for the story is far, far worse in this respect. It was obviously going to be a difficult task to find a logical reason for the Doctor to be randomly living with somebody as a flat mate, and as reasons go this is a very bad one. Since when is the Doctor the kind of person who bides his time gathering information (or waiting for a cat to do it for him) just on the off-chance that it might not be a good idea for the unknown enemy he is facing to know who he is? Earlier in the series we were shown a man who hits a “protest” button before he knows what he is protesting about, just because that’s the kind of person he is. It’s hard to square that with ultra-caution. The Doctor we are familiar with would surely just burst straight in and make things up as he goes along. And after all that caution he comes within an inch of destroying the universe (quite literally).
So we have an episode with an off-kilter characterisation of the Doctor, but one that is tremendous fun nonetheless. We also have James Corden and Daisy Haggard making all the right acting choices. Craig is a great temporary companion. I have mentioned before how much untapped potential there is with the Doctor/male companion lineup, which has nearly always worked brilliantly, and here is yet another example. We are lucky to have a couple of episodes with Craig before Corden went off to be a big star in the USA, because he was a perfect fit for Doctor Who. Just look at that moment where Craig has to save the world by becoming the pilot of the ship. The scene is intercut with Karen Gillan making all the wrong acting choices, overselling every line presumably because she hasn’t got much to do. At the same time we have the moment the romantic comedy storyline has been building to, and Corden shows us the point at which everything changes and comes together for Craig with a subtle but effective change in his expression and the delivery of his lines. You can work out to the second the point at which he finds the courage within himself to risk his life, be the hero and finally confess to his feelings.
Saving the world becomes an afterthought within the process, and that shows the script’s priorities. For the second episode in a row this is Doctor Who being used as a springboard format to tell a particular kind of story from a completely different genre, with the alien threat tacked on as an excuse to fit the Doctor within the kind of story the writer wants to explore. And if you want to keep Doctor Who fresh and exciting after nearly 50 years, that’s a very good way to do it. RP
The view from across the pond:
Since the reboot of our site, I’ve been talking about how personal Doctor Who was for me growing up. This was mostly because I was the only one of my friends and family to watch it so I probably internalized a lot of it. Now that it’s become more mainstream, it feels it is a major victory for my younger self, but it also means that my focus on some episodes will be of a more personal nature.
Take The Lodger for example. Craig is played by James Corden. James Corden is now very popular in the US with his Late Late Show on CBS (one of only a handful of good things CBS has; but that’s another story). For me, I was introduced to Corden through Doctor Who in this companion-lite episode about a house that lures people in and doesn’t let them leave… It’s a bit more complicated than that, but really the story is an introduction to Craig and his love interest, Sophie. (They come back in Closing Time, complete with new baby “Stormaggedon” in Smith’s final season). I can’t say enough good things about the character of Craig. He’s an easy guy to like. (Come on, who doesn’t like James Corden?) He’s funny, charismatic and has simple desires in life. He has a good job and an open mind. And he’s willing to be friends with an alien! He also has a crush on a girl and doesn’t know how to tell her, and his alien friend keeps popping up in ridiculous ways, making it harder for him to have a moment alone with her. The Lodger is a sweet little love story with only a hint of science fiction secreted away within its holographic walls.
Craig is one of the best companions to never fly in the TARDIS. And best of all, he completely reminds me of a friend of mine! I’m semi-convinced that Gareth Roberts knew my own longtime friend (and all around great guy) Paul! To make it even more fun, when my kids viewed the episode, they agreed! Beyond my own personal affinity for the character, the episode itself is funny and light-hearted. It’s the Doctor Who equivalent of an episode of Friends, complete with sitting on a couch and chatting! Among other things, the Doctor builds another of those contraptions we saw in The Time Monster but unlike its predecessor, this episode doesn’t try to be serious. It knows it’s being silly and plays it all for fun. Smith and Corden are marvelous together. Watch the outtakes from the season; it’s evident they had perfect chemistry; as a double act, they could not be beat.
The resolution has Craig tell Sophie how he feels and that leads to saving the day – why does this work? Who knows! Why would the Doctor decide to do a mind-meld by butting heads? Again, who knows! It’s not important to enjoying the story. I’ve said before, Doctor Who is a show with heart – 2 hearts in fact. This story’s charm is that it offers us a few laughs and a lot of heart. Yes, I agree, it’s nice when there’s a logical reason things work, but sometimes, it’s just the fun and the happy feelings we get from watching it that matter most. And this episode is another happy victory for the show!
And with that I have to let someone else take over. Back in 2009, a band called Chameleon Circuit turned up, performing some Doctor Who themed music, as one might have surmised. Like the show itself, the band aimed at a fun interpretation of our series. Two albums were released (Chameleon Circuit and Still Got Legs) and they were both, to quote the ninth Doctor, fantastic! Giving a far more enjoyable synopsis than I could, I present… Chameleon Circuit.
And to Paul, if you’re reading, you’re an outstanding “Craig”!! I couldn’t hope for better and we should all be so lucky! ML