Is Murray Gold chanelling the Star Wars
score at times this week? Anyway, the last two weeks on Doctor Who
have been a bit of a swap-round in what you'd expect from the two writers: Richard Curtis taking on the Celebrity Historical that's been Gareth Roberts' specialty in recent years, while the latter gives us a sitcom/romcom this week with "The Lodger."
Everyone, myself included, seems to have been dreading this episode since it guest-stars the ubiquitous James Corden, who didn't help things by reminding the world how obnoxious he can be
only a few days ago¹. Fortunately this week's episode reminded everyone of why James Corden became a star in the first place, as when he's acting he can be incredibly loveable. I was at least encouraged when I saw Daisy Haggard in the trailer as I like her, and indeed the two of them have good chemistry and make for a nice guest couple.
But despite the focus on the guest stars this week it's still Matt Smith's episode, and in trying to pretend he's a regular human he confirms what I've been saying about how he's the most explicitly alien Doctor since Tom Baker. Of the 21st-Century Doctors, if Nine was the one who didn't do domestic, while Ten was having Christmas dinner with the Tylers within hours of regenerating, Eleven is more than happy to do domestic, but entirely on his own terms. I'm not going to use "Human Nature" as a comparison because the Doctor actually was
human there so it's an unfair one, but even as himself you can imagine the Tenth fitting in with humans a lot more easily than this. Loads of great moments where Eleven's just slightly off with 2010 Earth habits, like the air-kissing, putting a customer on hold to eat a biscuit, paying the rent with far too much money, but my absolute favourite has to be his hugely inappropriate "Oncoming Storm" speech about the football team "annihilating" their opponents. There's also several little callbacks to scenes in both the "classic" series and the revived one; the Doctor singing in the shower like Jon Pertwee, tea as a miracle cure like in "The Christmas Invasion," (I love the Charles'n'Di teapot) and the Doctor being instantly good at sports (Davison's cricket being replaced by football, understandably since Matt Smith was nearly a pro before being injured and turning to acting.) And yet again we have an episode this series that features the image of at least one former Doctor ("The Eleventh Hour," "Vampires of Venice," "Vincent and the Doctor" and now this, am I missing any?) I wonder if this is just an ongoing attempt to tie everything together in viewers' minds or if it's building up to something in the finale? Since the past Doctor who's appeared most often in these flashbacks is Hartnell, I'm guessing we shouldn't
expect him to make a surprise reappearance, what with the whole been-dead-for-decades thing. There's also a fair share of in-jokes, like the 11 on the back of his football shirt, and apparently the rude customer Mr Lang is a shout-out to the owner of lowculture
(whose day-job is Doctor Who
As for the story it's probably best not to go into it too much, although the implication that someone's trying to build a TARDIS could once again be relevant to the finale. Given that this is a series that makes kids dream of going to magical faraway places, it's a bit weird that the only people safe are those who have very limited ambitions in that regard, but it's interesting (in the ongoing theme of this being a Doctor who puts people into danger) that it's the Doctor widening Sophie's horizons that makes her a candidate for the spaceship to almost destroy. Basically though this is
the sitcom episode, and Roberts more than delivers on that score, softening us up before the big epic ending that's hopefully on its way in the next fortnight.
Oh, and the Doctor being able to talk to cats: I imagine there'll be people who find that twee but considering how TARDIS travellers' linguistic abilities have been explained in the past, I'd find it wrong if the Doctor (and, strictly speaking, every companion plus anyone who's made even one TARDIS trip in time²) couldn't communicate with animals - the TARDIS gives them the ability to telepathically communicate with any species on any planet, I don't see why that should be restricted to a planet's dominant species.
One final thing on a production note, since there was so little of Amy Pond this week I'm surprised that this episode was done this year, when the Christmas Special had been produced by an entirely separate production team, and not put back to next year. It seems to me like an ideal candidate for the usual "double-banking" shoot, if they did it in the style of Series 4, with one "Doctor-lite" and one "companion-lite" episode. But maybe in terms of tone they felt this needed to go here in the sequence. Oh and one final, final, final thing: Like "Blink" and the "Human Nature" episodes, this is another successful episode that was adapted from a story the writer had originally done in a different format (in this case a comic strip starring the Tenth Doctor and Mickey Smith.)
¹it's not like Sir Patrick Stewart came across well there either, but Corden still
managed to be worse
²although I can also see the argument for why former companions might lose that ability after they've stopped travelling, provided the TARDIS isn't currently in their space/time zone