Over the course of Series 5, we’ve watched the Doctor and his friends save the world from an alien incursion within an hour, solve a government conspiracy and save a whale in space, confront the Daleks with Winston Churchill’s help during World War II, be chased by Weeping Angels onboard a crashed spaceship, fight vampires in Venice, jump back and forth between two different realities while they work out their personal issues, broker peace between mankind and a race of lizard people, and spend a week bonding with Vincent Van Gogh. The Doctor chilling in some dude’s apartment, getting on James Corden’s nerves, for forty-five minutes was always going to seem mundane by comparison.
But even with that in mind, “The Lodger” has to be the episode with the least amount of substance to it in Series 5. It’s the only episode in this season that doesn’t develop the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond’s characters in any meaningful way: it’s basically pure fluff, and there is a reason for that. Neil Gaiman was originally meant to write an episode for Series 5, “The Doctor’s Wife”, and the story he pitched would have been very heavily focused on the Doctor, with a lot of personal development for the time lord. However, he had a ton of trouble making the premise work, and his script was eventually postponed until Series 6 when it could be overhauled, with “The Lodger” taking its place as the penultimate story of the season – and “The Lodger” is a more much comedic and light-hearted episode than “The Doctor’s Wife“.
Like “Dalek“, “Rise Of The Cybermen“, “Human Nature” and “Blink“, it’s based on a pre-existing piece of Doctor Who media: a comic strip Gareth Roberts wrote during Series 2, starring the Tenth Doctor and Mickey Smith. It had a simple premise that’s largely maintained in the television adaption (also written by Roberts): what if the Doctor came to stay in your home for a few days, and what if he had to pretend to be an ordinary person?
In “The Lodger”, the Eleventh Doctor is unexpectedly separated from Amy Pond and his TARDIS because of time anomalies surging on Aickman Road, wreaking havoc on his ship, so he decides to go undercover to find the source. A stealth mission like this wouldn’t be much of a problem for Ten, who was a pretty charismatic guy with great people skills. Eleven on the other hand, has always been written as an unapologetic oddball who does whatever he likes and worries about the social ramifications later, so he really stands out in a crowd. His characterization from “The Vampires Of Venice” as being socially inept has been retained: he’s still pretty terrible at reading a room or picking up signals that other people are sending out, which can lead to some cringeworthy moments as he commits faux pas after faux pas with Craig and Sophie.
Matt Smith is a former athlete who used to play soccer in his youth, before an unfortunate injury stopped him from going pro, so he gets a chance to really show off his skills with a soccer ball when the Doctor joins Craig’s football team for a day. The Doctor quickly picks up on Craig and Sophie’s mutual crush on each other, so he decides to play matchmaker and nudge them both to make a move. The two of them are clearly stuck in a rut, since they’re content to stay in their own safe little bubble of the world and waste their lives away, doing nothing of value. That complacent mindset is the complete opposite of the Doctor’s usual outlook, so he takes it upon himself to give them some free advice about making the most of the time they’ve got – and once his job is done, he moves right along back to his usual life of wandering through space in the TARDIS. The Doctor may not do ‘domestics’ himself like humans do, but he does touch the lives of everyone he encounters, and hopefully, he leaves them in a better state than they were in when he found them.
Craig Owens is considerably worse off than Mickey Smith was in the original comic. At least Mickey already knew the Doctor and had an idea of what to expect from him. Poor Craig is completely lost when the Doctor turns up at his doorstep, wanting to be his new roommate. Craig is portrayed by famous British comedian James Corden, who does a fine job of making him an endearing and personable bloke. Craig has a crush on his best friend Sophie, and she very clearly likes him back, but they’re both too scared to take a leap of faith and become more than just friends, because they’re worried about ruining their friendship. It’s not in Craig’s nature to rock the boat of his average, humdrum life more than he has to, which means he also doesn’t have the courage to rise through the ranks at work when he has the opportunity to.
He’s pretty open to the idea of the Doctor becoming his new roommate, until the Doctor starts to upstage him. Eleven is so good at everything he does that he seems annoyingly perfect, and Craig starts to feel inadequate in comparison to him, gradually getting jealous. I have to say, I’m not particularly invested in this conflict, since we just had a similar one with Eleven and Rory only a few episodes ago, and it’s starting to feel tired. Craig winds up third-wheeling pretty hard when the Doctor intrudes on his attempts to confess his love to Sophie, and eventually, he gets fed up with him when he feels like the Doctor is starting to take over his life. Everything comes to a head during the climax, when Craig’s alien neighbor tries to ensnare both Sophie and the Doctor in his trap, so Craig steps up as an unlikely hero. He finally takes the big plunge with Sophie and risks his life to save the world, and at end of the day, he finally gets his happy ending with the woman of his dreams, walking away from this whole experience as a changed man who knows when its time to grab life by the horns.
Series 5 lacks a Doctor-lite episode for a change, since Matt Smith plays a pretty major role in all thirteen episodes, though it does have a companion-lite one. Amy Pond spends most of “The Lodger” trapped inside the TARDIS, separated from the Doctor, which allows Karen Gillan to film the small number of scenes she has on a set in quick succession and take a much-needed break. Amy is understandably stressed out, trying to keep things under control on the Doctor’s ship while she’s all alone, but she still tries to support him and give him some advice about pulling off his charade.
By now, both of our lead actors know their characters inside and out, and like in the previous episode, Eleven and Amy’s combative camaraderie is charming to watch throughout the hour, as they frequently trade jabs at each other’s expense. At this stage, Amy has apparently learned how to fly the TARDIS (though she can’t fly it particularly well), which is a rite of passage for the companions, and a sign of how much the Doctor’s confidence in her has grown. By the episode’s end, the season-long storyline about the cracks in time starts to progress again when you least expect it, in an rather eerie fashion. Amy finds Rory’s engagement ring inside the Doctor’s coat, a physical remnant of her lover that the crack couldn’t erase, which seems to awaken something deep inside of her, something she can’t quite place.
Craig’s best friend Sophie is played by Daisy Haggard, who gives her role a fair amount of warmth and likability, and she has some nice onscreen chemistry with James Corden. Sophie is a mild-mannered woman, with a very even temperament and a fair amount of restlessness in her. In contrast to Craig, Sophie wants more out of life than her usual, boring, day-to-day routine that’s leaving her feeling unfulfilled. She wants to see bigger and wider pastures, but she hasn’t left town yet, because whether she’s aware of it or not, her best friend is keeping her anchored there (and she unknowingly has the same effect on him). Like Craig, Sophie eventually learns that she shouldn’t be afraid to try new things and take her life in a different direction just because she’s afraid she might fail – she’s young, so she still has plenty of time to make new mistakes and learn from them – which leads her to finally confess her feelings to her best friend as they save the world together in the climax.
For the main conflict of this episode, people in Colchester are steadily going missing – lured inside Craig’s apartment building to their doom by his evil, enigmatic neighbor – and somehow, their deaths are connected to the out-of-control time loops that are lambasting the Doctor’s TARDIS. The shadowy villain in “The Lodger” is actually the artificial intelligence of a crashed spaceship, reeling people in to become its new pilot, at the cost of their lives. Alien technology running on autopilot, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting humans in the nearby area, has been a pretty standard plot for a Doctor Who episode ever since “The Doctor Dances” in Series 1, and “The Lodger” hardly does anything new with that formula. However, the antagonist of this episode does become a lot more interesting retroactively. In “The Impossible Astronaut“, we discover the ship from this episode was one of the Silence’s ships that they abandoned, one of their first attempts to build their own TARDIS. It has an enormous effect on the Doctor’s TARDIS – in fact, it nearly rips it apart several times – almost like it was designed to do that, which serves as a massive bit of foreshadowing for the following finale, where the Silence use their technology to blow up the TARDIS in an attempt to kill the Doctor.
The final twist of “The Lodger” is a pretty cruel one, and a haunting one: Craig and Sophie finally got the relationship upgrade that they both wanted, but they won’t get to enjoy it for long. There’s a crack in time in Craig’s kitchen that’s glowing with energy, ready to consume everything in its path, which means they’re both about to die. By now, it’s blatantly obvious that the cracks are appearing everywhere the TARDIS goes, and they’re only growing stronger and more dangerous as we get closer and closer to the event that created them. The stage has been set for the finale on several fronts, and it’s time for the big climax of the season in “The Pandorica Opens“.
“The Lodger” is helmed by Catherine Morshead, the same director from “Amy’s Choice” (since the two stories were grouped together as part of the same production block), and it was one of the last episodes to be filmed in Series 5. Her direction is a lot less engaging here than it was before, though I suspect that has less to do with her level of skill and more to do with this episode not giving her a lot of meaty material to work with. “The Lodger” is a bit of a throwback to a previous era in Doctor Who, since this episode looks and feels a lot like an RTD era story. It’s about as domestic as you can get, being set entirely inside someone’s cushy, lived-in apartment building and their little suburban neighborhood, and like a lot of modern day episodes, it was filmed in Cardiff. By now, it’s traditional that the penultimate episode of each season is deliberately designed to be a low-budget story, which allows the show to save up as much money as possible for the finale, and “The Lodger” continues that trend.
CGI from the Mill is once again used sparingly, and the small amount that is implemented (to enhance the lair of the Silence ship that the set designers meticulously crafted for the climax) is rendered well, to creepy effect. Murray Gold’s score is written in the style of a sitcom this week, while still maintaining the musical identity he’s established for Doctor Who so far, constantly walking the line between being genial and light-hearted and being ominous and tense. “A Useful Striker” bursts out the gate with rambunctiousness and unbridled energy, as a rugged, jubilant riff on “I Am The Doctor”. Likewise, “Adrift In The TARDIS“, “A Painful Exchange” and “Kiss The Girl” put a tense spin on familiar melodies from the past, to underline the stakes of this adventure. The climatic track, “Kiss The Girl”, is surprisingly built entirely around the melody of “Smith’s Choice” from Series 3, with a few variations of “The Mad Man With A Box” spliced in, as the Doctor and Craig rescue Sophie in the last act.
As Doctor Who’s take on a slice-of-life romantic comedy, “The Lodger” has its share of cute moments and funny gags, but it’s pretty comfortably the most average episode of Series 5, which means it will get easily overshadowed by all the other strong material within this season – including the two-part finale that’s right around the corner.
* “No, Amy, it’s definitely not the fifth moon of Cinda Colista. I think I can see a Ryman’s”.
* “I’ve kind of got plans. No, it’s nothing important, it’s just Craig” “Oh, thanks, Soph”.
* Should we question where the Doctor got that bag full of money he gives Craig? Keep in mind, “The Runaway Bride” already made it clear the Doctor is not above stealing himself some cash when he needs it.
* Craig has a picture of Vincent Van Gogh sitting on his fridge, which makes for a nice little Easter Egg.
* “I’m not much of a traveler” “I can tell from your sofa” “My sofa?” “You’re starting to look like it” Damn, Doc. That was pretty savage.
* “I’ll shout if that happens. Something like… I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS!”
* “Craig, what if he’s a dealer?” You don’t have to worry about anything nefarious like that, though I would not advise Craig spending any of that money the Doctor gave him.
* That girl who’s been clubbing looks like she had a really bad night. Then she decides to stop and help Craig’s neighbor, and she winds up having a really, really bad night.
* Eleven’s overly-poofy hair when he runs out of the shower is hilarious. That is the very definition of a bad hair day.
* “I thought you might be in trouble” “Thanks. Well, if I ever am, you can come and save me with my toothbrush”.
* “You’ve got two sets of keys to someone else’s house? I see. You must like it here too”.
* I’m just gonna say it: the Doctor’s choice of soccer shorts are cropped almost as high as Amy’s skirts.
* “I love this game!” Doctor, no one likes a ballhog.
* “Six billion people. Watching you two at work, I’m starting to wonder where they all come from”.
* “It’s a big old world, Sophie. Work out what’s really keeping you here, eh?”
* Man, that is a really, really ugly painting sitting in the hallway outside Craig’s apartment.
* “Hello, Craig. How are you feeling? Had some time to kill. I was curious. I’ve never worked in an office before. I’ve never worked anywhere” “You’re insane”.
* “And everybody loves you, and you’re better at football than me, and my job, and now Sophie’s all oh, monkeys, monkeys!”
* “It’s art: a statement on modern society, Ooo, ain’t modern society awful”
* “That’s a scanner. You used non-technological technology of Lammasteen!” “SHUT UP!”
* “But you can’t be upstairs!” “Of course I can be upstairs!” “No, I’ve got the plans. You cannot be upstairs, it’s a one-story building. There is no upstairs!”
* “Will it work?! Are you sure?!” “Yes!” “Is that a lie?!” “Of course it’s a lie!” “It’s good enough for me. Geronimo!”
* “Oh, not now, not again. Craig, the planet’s about to burn! For God’s sake, kiss the girl!”