People and Cars and Concrete (The Lodger)
|In this scene, Meglos is cleverly disguised as a Silence ship.|
It’s June 12th, 2010. David Guetta is at number one with “Gettin’ Over You,” with Eminem, Alicia Keys, and a duet between Sean Kingston and Justin Bieber also charting. Chris Brown postpones a UK leg of his tour because he can’t get a visa due to the fact that he’s a domestic abuser. The trial of Rod Blagojevich begins, and the World Cup kicks off in South Africa, with England playing their first game, a frankly dismal draw with the United States most notable for goalkeeper Robert Green badly fluffing a routine save.
While on television, or, rather, slightly later in the day on television, Doctor Who offers a bit of late season levity as a calm before the storm. What’s interesting about The Lodger is, in many ways, just how influential it was. Smith’s Doctor had, from the start, been a creature of eccentricity and physical acting, but it’s not until Gareth Roberts wrote him as the funny man in a good old-fashioned comedy double act that the character became what is now the default and recognized version of the character. As with every major development in the Moffat era, this is at the moment visibly polarizing, but equally, given the sizable bloc of people who quite like the Moffat era, seems destined to eventually settle down into a consensus good thing, with the people who currently hate the Moffat era with a passion eventually fading away as its immediacy dissipates, leaving the Moffat era, like every other popularly successful era of Doctor Who, reflected upon primarily by the people who love it.
Which is to say that the question of whether the post-Lodger characterization of the Doctor is any good is ultimately just one I’m not that interested in. Nothing is loved by everyone, but Smith’s post-Lodger Doctor is loved by loads of people, which is frankly good enough. Populism is not equivalent to quality, but the particular eccentricities of a version of the Doctor are a means to an end, and populism pretty much works to determine whether or not they’re succeeding at that end.
Let’s instead, then, look at exactly what quietly changed with The Lodger and why it worked. The Lodger, of course, is itself an adaptation of a Gareth Roberts comic for Doctor Who Magazine featuring the Tenth Doctor and Mickey. “Adaptation,” in this case, is a terribly loose term. Several of the specific gags are recycled: the Doctor playing football, the sonic screwdriver/toothbrush confusion (although the subject of the gag switches), the “talk the girlfriend into doing something with her life” bit, and even the detail of the Doctor making an omelette are preserved. But “The Lodger” is basically a sequence of one-page gags based around the idea that the Doctor is good at everything, framed by a kind of sweet story about the Doctor trying to make things work between Rose and Mickey.
The Lodger is straightforwardly a comedy, but its basic joke is different. Instead of being about the Doctor’s universal hyper-competence, it’s about the idea that the Doctor is simultaneously wonderful at everything and completely and utterly maladapted to society. Where “The Lodger” made jokes about the Doctor being good at all sorts of weird stuff, The Lodger jokes about the absurdity of the way in which he is good at them. “The Lodger” plays at this occasionally, most notably when the Doctor wins a video game without firing a shot because “there’s always another way,” but this is fundamentally different from the joke of the Doctor being an astonishing football player who then misunderstands his teammate’s comment about annihilating the opposition, even though both trade on essentially the same set of character traits. The result is that The Lodger becomes a story about how the Doctor is completely and utterly mad. Where “The Lodger” is about the humor of the Doctor being good at all manner of things, The Lodger is about the absurdity of putting him in those situations in the first place.
The reason this works supremely well in The Lodger, at least, is twofold. First is that Matt Smith turns out to be very, very good at playing that sort of comedy. His broadly physical performance has always made his Doctor seem just a little madder than any of his predecessors, and it turns out that he’s absolutely magical at dropping that into sedate settings and just unleashing a bunch of impressive chaos. But this only gets proven because of how perfectly engineered the situation into which the Doctor is dropped is. First and foremost, Roberts writes a beautifully standard issue romantic comedy. This may sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s really not – the nature of Doctor Who is that the genre you drop the Doctor into has to be developed incredibly quickly. Craig and Sophie are efficient characters who nevertheless have enough detail to be engaging.
A fair portion of this is down to the fact that Roberts worked out a solid amount of background for Craig and Sophie hat didn’t make it into the episode – much of it detailed in The Brilliant Book alongside some more obviously humorous material like the Oligarch of Lammasteen, an explanation for the bizarrely unsettling portrait hanging in Craig’s front hall, others real bits of background Roberts created for the props department (who wanted to know how to decorate Craig’s apartment), and others bits created for the book. But ultimately, the particular reasons why this extra material exists is immaterial – the point is that he’s thought about the characters enough to be able to structure a gag like the observation that Melina is “Sophie’s fourth best friend, who thinks she is Sophie’s best friend,” coupled with the character of Clare, who is “Sophie’s third best friend, who thinks she is Sophie’s second best friend,” a joke which says so much about Sophie. (Notably, her second best friend is never revealed at all.) It’s not that Craig or Sophie are enormously complex characters, but they’re characters that Roberts has taken the time to develop to where he can riff on them.
But this is only part of the story. A huge amount also comes from fact that Daisy Haggard and James Corden and are both very solid comic actors. Corden gets the bulk of the praise, and fair enough, as he’s got the bigger role, but Haggard, formerly of the transcendently clever Man Stroke Woman, is in many regards just as good, making Sophie compelling with less than half as many lines as Craig gets. Corden, however, is absolutely essential to the episode. For Smith’s comedic performance to really land, he needs an absolutely rock solid straight man, and Corden rises to the task. It’s fashionable to dislike Corden, who is not always great at making himself sympathetic in public, but he’s a veteran comedic actor of the sort that The Lodger needs to function. His role in the story is genuinely tricky: he has to simultaneously make Craig into a sizable enough character to serve as a one-off companion and consistently serve up a platform of beleaguered sanity for Smith to play in. Corden isn’t primarily a straight man (although he’s played the role before), and could have absolutely killed the episode stone dead by hamming up the part. Instead he manages the feat of being the big name celebrity guest star and the junior partner with aplomb. (Compare to Vincent and the Doctor, where Tony Curtis pushes Matt Smith into being the co-star of his own show. Which is wholly appropriate for that story, but would have been a nightmare here.)
That, at least, explains The Lodger itself – it works because it’s a well-structured comedy, and doubly so because it’s sandwiched between a rather intense story about suicide and mental illness and the sweepingly epic season finale, which is a good place for light comedy. But why has it had such influence? Why, after this point, does Matt Smith’s Doctor start getting written this way by everyone else? Part of the reason, certainly, is that it gets written this way by Moffat, which sets the template for everyone else. And why Moffat would embrace this characterization is straightforward. Moffat, after all, got his start as a sitcom writer, and particularly a specialist in farce. The structure of farce is essentially one of continually escalating tension followed by massive and cataclysmic release: you steadily pile on more and more misunderstandings and complexities, and then finally bring the entire structure crashing down as everybody simultaneously figures out what’s going on.
The moment right before the balloon pops in a farce is typically characterized by having a character – typically one who has made a basically reasonable if rather self-evidently ill-advised set of decisions up to this point – behaving in a completely absurd and ridiculous manner. Which explains why Roberts’s characterization of the Eleventh Doctor is so desirable for Moffat: he can jump right to that moment with essentially no buildup. Furthermore, because the Doctor is not actually behaving stupidly when he triggers the farce-climax moment, it’s something that doesn’t end the plot so much as move it forwards.
What this ends up doing is fueling a trend that develops over Series Six and Seven of narrative velocity – a tendency for individual stories to begin moving with increasing and impressive speed. There are a number of new sorts of narrative conventions Moffat adopts to pull this off, and he eventually ports the technique over to Sherlock where he has to develop yet another approach to it, but one of the earliest is essentially a straightforward derivative of The Lodger in which the degree to which the Doctor can immediately introduce massive amounts of chaos to a situation by bringing about a farce-climax is used to simply eliminate entire concepts in seconds. Another, equally important, is the degree to which “here’s a shot of Matt Smith being completely bonkers” is a straightforward and acceptable image that requires little to no exposition or setup.
But more broadly, there’s a change in the basic conception of the Doctor here in which “completely and utterly mad” becomes the default state, and, perhaps more to the point, where the sense of the Doctor as continually being too large for the narrative starts to be established. The other thing that really ramps up after The Lodger, and that seems to come from the way in which this episode is largely structured as a series of gags based on seeing Matt Smith behaving ridiculously, is the tendency to suggest that the Doctor has a nearly limitless number of extra adventures shoved in the margins of the text. This has always been a popular idea among Doctor Who writers who play with the expanded universe, since it’s what lets any given era of Doctor Who become a fractal into which more and more stories can be inserted. But the Moffat era is where the vast number of extra stories that can be inserted becomes a fundamental part of the narrative, and where mini-adventures start to be sketched out by a single televisual portrait of a particularly absurd comic beat. (This is, in fact, where Series Six starts.)
Much of that comes from The Lodger and Roberts’s discovery that you can basically just put the Doctor into any situation and have it make sense with a few lines of entertaining dialogue. This is something that raises a real and proper question about its long-term implications. So far we’ve seen it work because Matt Smith is an extremely gifted physical actor, which means that the old actorly “I can do all this dialogue with a look” argument for why they shouldn’t have to memorize so many lines becomes even more true. You can sketch out an entire story by panning across a chaotic scene to get to Matt Smith looking confused and slightly guilty. This is not intrinsically true of other Doctors – indeed, trying to copy it with Capaldi would probably be, in a variety of ways, a poor idea.
But on the other hand, the narrative techniques that have developed out of that fact are much less likely to disappear, at least while Moffat is still in charge. And, if I may risk being speculative over things outside the scope of this project, I suspect that they won’t simply because Moffat’s experimentation with just how fast you can pace a narrative is properly experimental and groundbreaking in a way that makes enduring influence seem inevitable. And while it’s not accurate to say that Roberts invented all of those approaches, he did figure out the characterization for Matt Smith’s Doctor that allowed them to develop. What we have in The Lodger, in other words, seems very much like a story much like The War Machines or The Mark of the Rani that quietly introduce a major new approach to the series, albeit in what, at the time, is such a rough draft that it doesn’t feel momentous until you’ve seen how many imitators it has. Unlike The War Machines and The Mark of the Rani, however, The Lodger stands on its own merits and is as good as it is important.
April 23, 2014 @ 2:02 am
Wow. I was looking forward to reading your take on the Smith/Moffat years and you don't disappoint.
I love The Lodger but had never made the connection between its storytelling techniques and the wider "narrative velocity" of series 6 and 7. I think that my embracing of this episode may explain why I have no problems with Moffat's later use of the same technique (where others do). I wonder if there's a connection between those who like The Lodger and those who like the Smith years as a whole? I've often thought of A Christmas Carol as the bellwether episode of Moffat's Who (with its heightened fairy-tale style, similar narrative expediency, comedy and playful approach to time-travel) but perhaps there's a greater argument that The Lodger occupies that position.
April 23, 2014 @ 2:31 am
Tony Curtis pushed Matt Smith into a co-star role, did he? Funny, I must have missed that notable guest appearance 😉
April 23, 2014 @ 2:38 am
I suppose the point is that the kinds of narrative cut in The Lodger aren't that hard to follow once you realise that this is a light-hearted comic story. The technique of 'cut to punchline' is one that most audiences can follow. What Moffat is doing later on is to use 'cut to punchline' in dramatic or even thriller generic set ups.
My impression was that the Lodger is a bit too widely liked to count as a bellwether. I may be wrong.
(I'd be more inclined to see The Beast Below as a bellwether – it's flawed enough that enjoying The Beast Below (as I do very much) says something about one's aesthetic tastes. But I can The Christmas Carol occupying that position too.)
April 23, 2014 @ 2:49 am
I'm not quite seeing the change in Matt Smith's portrayal of the Doctor here. It seems to me much the same characterisation as the early scenes in Eleventh Hour or the escaped fish in Beast Below or bursting out of a cake. I can see the claim that what's discovered here is that you can build an entire episode on that portrayal without switching into generic Doctor. There is, now you say it, quite a lot of generic Doctor in Hungry Earth/Cold Blood and even in Flesh and Stone. And more moments in Vampires and Vincent that are written as generic Doctor but are altered by Matt's performance.
Still, if I'd been asked I would have said that the arc in Smith's characterisation started with the predominantly wacky Matt Smith of Season Five and slowly developed a darker more brooding underlayer that uses wacky Matt Smith as camouflage.
April 23, 2014 @ 3:06 am
I like this story but I struggle with it because I feel they perhaps go a little too far. "Football, that's the one with the sticks?" – "kiss kiss This is how we greet each other now, isn't it?" I know each incarnation is wildly different, but this is the same man who's been on and around Earth for hundreds of years, even being exiled there once, so why does he act so aloof? I think Matt's Doctor in a domestic setting works well – Tennant was always taking Rose and Donna and Martha home in the middle of series, but Smith's Doctor doesn't get to do that so 'home life' would probably be strange for him, but I do feel they push the comedy a little too far. Its impact on further Smith also makes me kinda wish they hadn't done it, but I will say that Matt is always very watchable.
April 23, 2014 @ 3:22 am
This was the story where I realised that the episodes in this season were matching up with surrounding events – in this case, a football theme going with the broadcast of England's game. I've forgotten almost all of them now, but there were definitely ones for both episodes of the silurian story, and on the same night as The Pandorica Opens BBC2 showed a documentary about Stonehenge presented by someone called Darvill.
I wish I could go into more detail, but the medication I was on at the time means my memory of that period is particularly bad.
Anyway, I loved The Lodger. Even though I agree with Lewis Christian that some of the comedy aspects of Matt's Doctor were taken a bit far, this isn't a problem for me here, only later when used in a non-comedic setting; and then only mildly.
April 23, 2014 @ 3:47 am
Okay, count me as someone who dislikes The Lodger but loves the Moffat/Smith era (and rejoices at the prospect of the imminent Moffat/Capaldi rebirth). Why? I dunno. Not a big fan of Corden as a performer but he turns in an engaging performance. Not delighted at the idea of the Doctor playing Sunday football in the park but I can just about take that as being not nearly as cringe-makingly diminishing as the fifth Doctor having to be a whizz at cricket because…erm…he wears a cricket jumper. Not overjoyed at the prospect of Doctor Who genre crashing domestic sitcom. It was bound to happen and it's executed well enough and is actually funny in parts. I think what I find most unlikable is the positioning of the Doctor as a comedy naif. Yes I understand that Matt Smith is a genius at physical acting and has almost uncanny comic timing and had revealed that he based some of his characterisation on Michael Crawford's portrayal of Frank Spencer but is this enough reason to turn the show into ? The Doctor has never had a problem fitting in to Earth' s culture at any point in its history or in any incarnation, including the eleventh, so I can't really buy the fact that he suddenly doesn't know what simple household implements do. I'm just glad the 'change in the basic conception of the Doctor here in which “completely and utterly mad” becomes the default state,' didn't result in the show turning into Mork and Mindy.
April 23, 2014 @ 3:55 am
Whoops the sentence above should have read
..but is this enough reason to turn the show into Some Mothers Do Have 'Em?
Also my posting timing seems to have replicated some others' comments who got there before me. Still, I'm glad I'm not alone in my problems with this story.
April 23, 2014 @ 5:13 am
I liked the mirroring of the Doctor being a lodger downstairs & the ship being a lodger upstairs. Very neat. Plus, I really appreciated the way this episode was able to swing from genuine comedy to genuine creepiness in a way that is utterly and uniquely Doctor Who.
So, there was that moment when Amy, in the TARDIS, seems to see something off-screen and begins to tell the Doctor about it, then doesn't. Most people seem to assume that there was a Silence aboard, but nothing is ever made of this very odd moment again. I wonder if that's something fans are reading into something that was really just some vagueness, or if it was another one of those little leads / clues that pass by unremarked?
My only real complaint about this episode is the "I speak baby" thing which, like the bit about speaking horse, I resolutely believe is the Doctor just taking the piss. To think otherwise pushes things from whimsical into downright twee, and that's not a line I want Doctor Who to cross.
I never read The Brilliant Book, so what was the story behind that freaky portrait? I remember when the "God Complex" clown showed up in trailers, people were convinced he was the one in the picture!
April 23, 2014 @ 5:30 am
Not delighted at the idea of the Doctor playing Sunday football in the park but I can just about take that as being not nearly as cringe-makingly diminishing as the fifth Doctor having to be a whizz at cricket because…erm…he wears a cricket jumper.
Not sure if this helps any, but perhaps the reason why the Doctor is quite good is that Matt Smith was an excellent soccer player when he was younger, playing for the youth teams of Northampton Town, Nottingham Forest, and Leicester City, and had planned on doing it professionally. It was only after he suffered a career ending back injury that he turned to acting.
April 23, 2014 @ 6:29 am
For some reason, my favorite bit is where the Doctor headbutts Craig to download all the relevant information into his head … and Craig then proceeds to deliver all the plot exposition to the audience even through the Doctor's the only person there and he already knew it. For some reason, I found that intensely amusing.
April 23, 2014 @ 6:33 am
I may be a strange case in that I really like the Eleventh Doctor in Series 5 through 6 but then in Series 7 something feels…off. Perhaps it's the lowered standard of the writing that year (in terms of aims and final results, not effort per se), but the Eleventh Doctor feels somehow more immature that year – darker and yet goofier at the same, with none of the balance that made him so extraordinary for the rest of his tenure.
By the way, Philip, I'm doing my senior paper on Talons of Weng-Chiang as a focal point for the general topic of dealing with offensive stuff in old works of popular culture that still have value today (and against forcefully brushing that stuff under the carpet in the name of "entertainment"). I'd like to thank you both for providing the best and frankly unassailable prosecution of the story (the cynicism of including the stereotypes in the first place) and, in your focus on alchemy as a recurring theme in the Doctor Who, the support structure for my ultimate defense of what is actually a scathingly anti-imperialist/anti-classist story under the surface of said cynicism 🙂
On a related note, I'd be curious to hear your take on the Jago and Litefoot audios from Big Finish as that is quite possibly one of my favorite series in any medium, ever – not to mention that it is, in fact, the positive end result of The Doctor's mercurial deconstructions in Talons, even if it came 31 years late.
April 23, 2014 @ 6:51 am
Yeah Spoilers Below I knew that and no it doesn't help any. In fact it further ruined the episode for me as all I was thinking during that scene was 'oh look it's Matt Smith demonstrating that he was an excellent soccer player when he was younger, playing for the youth teams of Northampton Town, Nottingham Forest, and Leicester City, and had planned on doing it professionally. It was only after he suffered a career ending back injury that he turned to acting.' Not, as I imagine was intended, 'oh cool! The Doctor's brilliant at football too.'
It's a bit like the embarrasing 'action man, gadgets and vehicles' scenes of the third Doctor that was just Pertwee grandstanding.
Having said that I don't blame Matt Smith. He seems like a thoroughly decent chap and probably enjoyed having a kick about during a taxingly Doctor-heavy script.
April 23, 2014 @ 6:56 am
Hmmm. Just shows how mileage varies. After the football that's my least favourite scene.
April 23, 2014 @ 7:09 am
Isn't the "I see speak baby" scene in the follow-up Closing Time? I really can't bring myself to rewatch either of them to check.
The Lodger does seem rather full of 'clues' and references most of which proved to be red herrings. That painting in the hallway, the postcard of the Van Gogh exhibition on the fridge, the design of the Time Ship echoing the Jagaroth's from City of Death, Amy seeing something in the TARDIS, the door of the room upstairs looking like Amelia' s front door in Leadworth. I wonder if Moffat happened to visit the production at the design stage and got them to add this stuff with the intention of picking up on it (or not) later?
April 23, 2014 @ 7:20 am
"Haggard, formerly of the transcendently clever Man Stroke Woman"
In which I believe it was she who delivered the line "You will attack me forever with your robot army?". Which must, in some way, signify.
April 23, 2014 @ 7:32 am
I liked the football, but thought the head-butt bit was too silly. There's no accounting for taste!
April 23, 2014 @ 8:07 am
I found it amusing that Craig is one of those few companions that know almost everything of the Doctor. Aside from Clara.
April 23, 2014 @ 8:17 am
Apart from being one of my two favorite episodes of the entire Moffat era, "The Lodger" is significant for introducing a companion who has more chemistry with the Eleventh Doctor than Amy, Rory, Clara, and possibly even River.
Perhaps not coincidentally, he's also the only companion who doesn't have a Very Special Destiny of some sort, whether that's to be the Doctor's pseudo-Time-Lady wife, the mother of the Doctor's pseudo-Time-Lady wife, the Last Centurion, or the Impossible Girl who helps the Doctor throughout his lifetime. Craig is just this guy, you know, and he has his own life and his own context that I find really endearing and believable.
All of this comment is of course my opinion. It may or may not be overstated slightly in order to stir things up. 🙂
April 23, 2014 @ 8:38 am
Wow, it's funny that I'd conflate "The Lodger" with "Closing Time," since I loved one and quite disliked the other, but the point stands.
April 23, 2014 @ 8:41 am
I agree, Craig's the second-best companion of the Eleventh Doctor's run, after Brian.
April 23, 2014 @ 8:55 am
he's also the only companion who doesn't have a Very Special Destiny of some sort,
Apart from being the father of Stormageddon Dark Lord of All. A joke I fully expect Moffat to pay off by having Craig,'s baby grow up to be a major villain of the Capaldi era.
April 23, 2014 @ 8:57 am
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April 23, 2014 @ 8:59 am
In my mind "The Christmas Carol" exists in the same territory of "City of Death" — a story to show someone who's never seen a Doctor Who story that highlights everything the series can do.
I view Moffat's Doctor Who as essentially "out of balance." He has certain things he wants to do narratively and story-wise but it's the equivalent of only eating 3 of the 4 food groups — left to his own devices he wouldn't touch dairy. For his writing to really work he needs other writers to bring cheese (ha!) to the table otherwise it gets narrative vitamin deficiencies.
The Lodget was a 10th Doctor story — something that Moffat would never had written or sought out left to his own devices. Amy Pond was originally developed as a 10th Doctor companion (for a brief period when they weren't sure if Tennant would stay on for Moffat's first season) and both of these are dairy in this metaphor… they contain significant helpings of 10th Doctor narrative-style things that Moffat otherwise wouldn't be inclined to include — and their inclusion makes the show run much, much better. By series 7 these 'legacy' elements have all been replaced by things fully reflecting Moffat's tastes and the bus is now running on 3 wheels instead of 4 (to mix a metaphor) because he doesn't value the fourth.
(I make no secret that I think Moffat is a far better writer than a showrunner.)
Anyway my point is that the 11th Doctor era went out of its way to discard of disavow many, many elements and narrative choices of the previous era and part of the reason The Lodger is so important is it smuggled part of the previous era in and showed everyone "Look, this belongs here!" to the show's enormous benefit.
April 23, 2014 @ 9:01 am
Indeed and I agree. It is the Doctor taking the piss. It's Smith's equivalent of Tennant and Tate's "Tell me Noddy' s not real" conversation in The Unicorn and the Wasp<.
April 23, 2014 @ 9:02 am
"The Lodget was a 10th Doctor story — something that Moffat would never had written or sought out left to his own devices."
Except this isn't even remotely true.
Roberts was developing a different story for S5, and Moffat asked him to go back and adapt The Lodger instead because he thought it was brilliant.
Which is not a surprise, given that Moffat's background is in sitcoms, so The Lodger is squarely the sort of thing you'd expect him to enjoy.
What I have trouble imagining is Davies ever commissioning The Lodger.
April 23, 2014 @ 9:08 am
For me the things you mention here, and what Anton B says below:
"The Doctor has never had a problem fitting in to Earth' s culture at any point in its history or in any incarnation, including the eleventh, so I can't really buy the fact that he suddenly doesn't know what simple household implements do."
work for two reasons. On the one hand I read them as part of the Doctor's plan to be accepted as Craig's lodger. Knowing that he will never quite be able to fit in properly to domestic human life, but also knowing how disconcerting we tend to find people who are just a bit * too odd (and thus unwelcome housemates), the Doctor gets around this by being so over-the-top excitedly bonkers that Craig has no time to dislike him and thus turn him away for being a *bit weird. He goes beyond that and becomes too mad to even register as humanly mad – "surely this guy can't be serious?" Pretending he doesn't know loads of everday things (which of course, as you say, he must do) is part of that act.
Secondly, when considered alongside the "is this how time normally passes" bit in 'Vincent…', and then later on in Power of Three in which we see how just boring this doctor finds domesticity, the apparent lack of everyday knowledge also reads as part of a game the Doctor is playing to keep himself (and us) entertained whilst he has to wait it out at Craig's until he finds out what story he's actually in. Yes, he's taking the piss out of Craig and playing with him, because what the hell else is he supposed to do?
April 23, 2014 @ 9:30 am
Ironically, I rushed to buy the "Closing Time" variant Cyberman figures, because I thought the damaged Cybermen looked superb, especially alongside the Pandorica one with the open faceplate and skull.
April 23, 2014 @ 10:03 am
The "I speak baby thing" is indeed from "Closing Time". However, The Doctor does talk to a cat in "The Lodger", which he had recruited as a spy.
Not a lot of television shows offer the possibillity to type these kind of sentences.
April 23, 2014 @ 10:13 am
What's weird is that I didn't mind the cat thing so much. Maybe it's because of the Doctor's previously known psychic abilities, or Time Lords' previously established affinity for cats. Or maybe it's just that the joke itself was played better than just baldly stating "I speak baby." I was never amused by the Stormageddon thing either.
Sorry, Gareth! Love you!
April 23, 2014 @ 11:05 am
I don't mind the headbutt; what I do mind (and this might sound very anal) is that the brief Doctor montage skips a couple of Doctors – you can guess which.
April 23, 2014 @ 11:17 am
That's an interesting theory and I'd buy it ( the Doctor has a track record of acting bonkers to cover his arse or get out of jail free) but…there's nothing in the episode, as written, to support it. Nowhere is it revealed to us that the Doctor is putting on an act for Craig's benefit. In fact his inept slapstick manic flailing about continues even when Craig isn't there. Also, If my new housemate acted that weird I'd be reconsidering the arrangement not welcoming him with open arms and inviting him to the park to play footie.
April 23, 2014 @ 11:23 am
This isn't the only place where the Doctor's capacity and knowledge about things seems to vary over the course of regenerations, though. Pertwee's Doctor gets a visible upgrade in general knowledge of the universe, becoming able to casually identify aliens and cultures where Troughton and Hartnell would have had to sleuth it out, whereas Davison's Doctor seems to lose this body of knowledge and return to fallibility.
So it doesn't really bother me that Smith's Doctor is bonkers in this particular way – it's consistent with how Doctors have been differentiated in years past, just on a different subject matter.
April 23, 2014 @ 11:45 am
On rewatch, it's slightly less easy for me to enjoy the actual meat of the episode – the funny and charming domestic scenes with the Doctor, Craig, Sophie and radio Amy – in the knowledge that while the Doctor's busy doing hilarious shenanigans, various innocent passersby are stumbling to their horrible, hidden deaths, all because the Doctor simply has no idea what's going on until he finally decides to send the cat in to spy for him (26 minutes in).
His justification comes down to: "I can't go up there until I know what it is and how to deal with it…" Okay so far, fair enough, dangerous to just barge in – but… "And it is vital that this man upstairs doesn't realise who and what I am." Er, now how on earth does he know that's vital, if he doesn't even know what it is upstairs in the first place? It's a pretty big assumption to make because it prevents him from taking any action. Imagine if he started every episode by assuming something like that about the unidentified alien threat of the week, and proceeding to bumble around being pretending to be a normal human, until a willing spy cat turned up. Since when his is MO "send a cat in before doing anything"? (At least a dog would care somewhat.)
By the time The Power of Three rolls around, a much less alarming excuse for the Doctor to be stuck around in a house has been devised, even if the tacked on sci-fi plot at the end is still a mess.
April 23, 2014 @ 12:37 pm
Oh, yes, there was the press release for one of the series 8 actors, a famous comedian, and 'stormy' or 'storming' was really highlighted in Moffat's piece.
April 23, 2014 @ 1:27 pm
This is where "Doctor Who" becomes terribly middle class, and ceases to say anything about real life.
After the inanity of Richard "Notting Hill Has No Black People/Aren't Mad People Really Creative Deep Down Which Must Help With The Suicide Thing?" Curtis, it'd have been nice to be shown something left field, surprising.
But, no. Roberts sends in a rewrite of something he wrote before.
This is when the Moffat era becomes consciously only speaking to the middle class. There is nothing to identify with here as a member of the working poor. Nothing.
And to have someone like James (Fucking) Cordon in it? How wrong is that? And then he's brought back in another story!
This is lead, not gold.
This is 'how things are – and it's funny, eh?' but there's no mercury.
We ran out of that a while back.
April 23, 2014 @ 1:37 pm
Talking to babies is pre-empted by Moffat in A Good Man Goes to War.
April 23, 2014 @ 2:37 pm
Smith's Doctor is definitely a madman with a box.
Really, watch Smith's flailing about, and then watch him carefully when he goes still. I think he's playing at being one thing because he doesn't or can't live with himself otherwise, but at moments all that slips. "The one who forgets" is determined not to be defined by his anger or grief, and works very hard to stave those things off, except when he can't.
It isn't simple ignorance of household items, then, but part and parcel of a deliberate choice to forget and a lack of desire to remember. Like that one relative who refuses to learn how to use a new electronic device. Or like the Second Doctor, who allows his loved ones to sleep in his mind. He, too, tends to flail about. But watch for when he stops.
April 23, 2014 @ 2:40 pm
Craig works in a contact centre, which is pretty much the definition of 21st century working class.
April 23, 2014 @ 3:09 pm
I thought the specific reason he didn't want this particular baddie-du-jour to catch on to him was because of the time-loop that trapped the TARDIS. In most cases, he can go around telling people "I'm a Time Lord!" because he's not in much danger of accidentally empowering them with the TARDIS. But here, he knows there's a possibility that once the "man upstairs" discovers he's a Time Lord, the existence of the TARDIS might also be discovered, at which point the "monster" might be able to utilize it somehow.
April 23, 2014 @ 3:29 pm
I fail to see why "the Doctor tries being middle class" is a premise that only members of the middle class can enjoy.
April 23, 2014 @ 5:07 pm
This is, I think, my favorite story of the Matt Smith era. Either this or A Christmas Carol, anyway. I suppose I could have done without the broader story-arc elements being dropped in at the end, just because I like an episode this good to feel self-contained, but otherwise I have no complaints about it.
April 23, 2014 @ 5:46 pm
"becomes terribly middle class, and ceases to say anything about real life."
While I share with you a real concern with Moffat's middle class (and I would add thoroughly heteronormative) leanings in terms of the characters/situations he represents, I don't think that this necessarily precludes an engagement with 'real life'.
I really wish there was much more intelligent engagement with 'the working poor' in Who, but to suggest that because the programme is generally middle class it is therefore entirely divorced from 'real life' smacks of the same rhetoric that asks me to consider myself a 'hard-working family who just wants to get on in life'.
Middle class life is 'real life' as much as any other kind of life is 'real life'. Certainly some kinds of lives are easier than others – and I appreciate that as a 'middle-class' white male I am hugely privileged – but to claim that some lives therefore have more 'authenticity' than others seems a little crass.
'Real people' and their 'real lives' are a fiction that is designed to divide us.
April 23, 2014 @ 6:19 pm
"it'd have been nice to be shown something left field, surprising.
But, no. Roberts sends in a rewrite of something he wrote before."
I'm struggling to figure out how its being very loosely based on a pre-existing short comic fits in as the evidence of creative stagnation you make it sound like. Especially when the above blog post had a section covering how fundamentally different the comic and episode are.
April 23, 2014 @ 11:35 pm
Which would really make sense of why he is suddenly able to stop fidgeting and contentedly stay still after Day of the Doctor. Like it.
April 23, 2014 @ 11:52 pm
Incidentally, I suppose Tennant's arrogance can be read in much the same way – as an overcompensating reaction to guilt and self-loathing, a different sort of sublimation of the demons that plague Ecclestone more overtly.
Which would make Tennant's Doctor rather like the Daleks, for whom constantly screaming to themselves "The Da-leks are the supreme be-ings of the un-iverse!" is the only way they can blot out the misery and horror of actually being a Dalek (the shiny warlike carapace of armour that shields the soft, vulnerable, misbegotten and abused creature inside. Er, to coin a metaphor).
April 23, 2014 @ 11:56 pm
Phil and David, I concur and that's pretty much how my head canon explains it. The disparity of knowledge, skills and interests between the various incarnations deserves an essay of its own.
April 24, 2014 @ 12:07 am
Just to clarify, my problem with this episode is that the characterisation is inconsistent with the way this incarnation had been written up to this point. I agree that arguably this is where the writers 'find' the character of this version of the Doctor, based firmly on the acting decisions that Smith had been making. It isn't quite there yet though and there are some missteps where Smith is perhaps indulged too much. (the football scene). Of course this is one of the delicious things that makes Doctor Who unique, the way the central character is constantly being redefined and recreated by both the writers and the actor playing the role.
April 24, 2014 @ 12:17 am
I adore this episode and everything about it.
April 24, 2014 @ 4:16 am
Aside from the presence of Rose during the first two Davies years (and Rose explicitly rejects being working class and ends up living as a member of the upper middle class in an alternate universe), when has Doctor Who ever not been middle class? For that matter, how many science fiction shows ever produced have failed to be middle class?
April 24, 2014 @ 4:42 am
I took the "they can't know who I am" as being about being unable to unring the bell.
Maybe it would be okay if they knew, maybe it wouldn't. But once they know, the Doctor is stuck with them knowing.
And if the Doctor seemed a bit more cautious in this episode, it is easily understood as being because the TARDIS itself was at risk, and he'd just learned that the TARDIS was going to explode. He's taking the unusual (for Eleven) step of investigating before running in.
April 24, 2014 @ 4:57 am
Curtis, it'd have been nice to be shown something left field, surprising.
But, no. Roberts sends in a rewrite of something he wrote before.
Since he was asked to expand on his earlier work, it makes little sense to blame the choice on him.
And having written a short work that is worthy of being expanded into a longer work is not a fault. The same was true for Moffat writing "Blink." It's not much different from writing an outline or story proposal before doing the whole script – get the basics of the story approved before you do the work of a full script. In this case, they simply picked a story proposal that had been published in a different format.
April 24, 2014 @ 7:22 am
The Lodger was one of my favourite episodes in a season of Doctor Who that I generally quite loved, but I think a few differences in my perspective from that of the average British viewer meant that I had an easier time with it.
I can understand at least part of JohnB's indignation at this episode, even though I don't share it: his hatred of James (fucking) Corden. Unlike pretty much everyone in the UK, I had no idea who James Corden was, though I remember the eruption of fan and media controversy his casting in this episode caused. I've never seen his show Gavin and Stacey, but it seems a depressingly popular generic British sitcom. Would I be accurate in comparing James Corden to Ray Romano in North America? In that case, I can definitely understand some viewers' inability to enjoy this episode, if all you can see is the hideously milquetoast popular image of this Pilsbury Doughboy of an actor.
But because Craig Owens was my first exposure to James Corden, I had no problem with him. Granted, I can understand how his whining voice whenever he plays 'exasperated' can become grating if you had to put up with it for more than one episode per season.
I also had no problem with revealing the full extent of the Matt Smith Doctor's social awkwardness. I always considered fundamental to Doctor Who that the Doctor's personality gets remixed with every regeneration. The same core elements are present in the character, but their being jumbled and expressed differently with each incarnation means that the Doctor doesn't develop as a character in the linear way that we're used to. Phil, Lewis, and a few others have discussed how the Doctor's knowledge and skills change from incarnation to incarnation. While Smith's own take on the Doctor involves his being a manic madman to contain a cold heart, the basic non-linear nature of the character can also account for these changes. After all, no one really takes seriously the question of where the Doctor's Venusian Aikido knowledge disappeared when he was no longer Pertwee. And while we may lament Colin Baker having lost Davison's kind demeanor or reasonable dress sense, how that knowledge was lost isn't really a plot point. The Doctor regenerates. When he does so, his personality changes such that he loses and gains various social and practical skills. Making the character entirely consistent across incarnations would ruin the variety and flexibility of Doctor Who.
April 24, 2014 @ 10:31 am
I quite like the way James Cordon exercises his "whining voice" on this little clip!
April 24, 2014 @ 12:04 pm
That wasn't what I was saying, but I expressed it badly.
(I still think Series 7 is running on 3 wheels.)
April 24, 2014 @ 2:28 pm
Gavin and Stacey is a clever and well-written comedy series. The Corden-hate seems to come mainly from the period shortly after that show, when success and (entirely deserved) praise rather went to Corden's head, and he behaved like a bit of a tit for a while, annoying a great many people and doing neither his public image nor his career many favours.
In fairness, he has expressed regret for this period of tittishness, and appears to have grown out of it, or at least decided that he'd rather have a career.
These days he's the sort of of talented and hardworking writer/performer who nonetheless arouses a degree of unease at the way his career plan so obviously involves an OBE by 40 and a K before retirement. See also Barlow, Gary.
April 25, 2014 @ 2:30 am
I'd never considered how far the 11th Doctor's accepted personality had been shaped by this story, but in hindsight it appears obvious. The most interesting thing is that if one then considers stories from before the establishment of the default, one tends to overlook how different the Doctor's persona is, and in the mind "overlay" the default. The 3rd Doctor for example has a selfish edge in Season 7 that disappears by the time the default "Pertwee era" UNIT Family mode appears. When rewatching Spearhead and Silurians I'm often surprised at how un-3rd Doctorish Pertwee actually is. Tennant of course has one of the most recognisable default modes of all, and during Series 2 is possibly a lot more fun than he is towards the end of his run, probably because he hasn't yet been straight-jacketed into his personality.
April 26, 2014 @ 11:19 am
If anything, he's incredibly Troughton-esque in "Spearhead", don't you think?
April 27, 2014 @ 1:31 pm
How do you go watching the whole Family of Blood story then?
April 27, 2014 @ 2:37 pm
I have to agree with encyclops (again), without a much sarcasm. I loved this episode, and could easily look past the gratuitous "funny bits". I'm in Australia, and don't follow much popular culture, so have no problem with James Cordon, either.
In fact, I think encyclops and I have been coming off quite hasrhly in recent weeks. The out of order River stories have led to a lot of people ranting and railing against what ee obviosly consider Moffat's weaker points much earlier than we would. I wonder if that is a deliberate ploy of Phil's, to get the bad blood let early.
For mine, at this point in the series, I was at worst nonplussed with Moffat's tenure, and quite willing to put that down to teething problems. Especially when a clever and Smithcasing episode like this (or 11th Hour) showed up.
April 27, 2014 @ 4:20 pm
I'm also in Australia (hello!) and was completely unaware of James Cordon until The Lodger. However, I hated his performance to the point where the whole episode grates really badly for me (Closing Time also). I can imagine quite enjoying The Lodger with a different actor, or a different delivery from Cordon (I've not seen him in anything but Doctor Who, so I don't know what else he can do).
April 27, 2014 @ 4:27 pm
@John – the recent Battlestar Galactica, possibly. There's a whole lot of soldiers and technicians who are working class and working hard, as well as the middle class represented in the citizens (with critique on how they seem to freeload or fail to contribute), and the upper class represented in the presidency and the senior officers (with plenty of critique of how they hold power).
April 29, 2014 @ 5:49 am
It's not the Doctor hopelessly effing up and letting people die that I mind; rather, I think it's irresponsible for a story to do that and then just forget about it/slide it under the rug as if the victims didn't matter. Of course in the case of The Lodger, any even minor acknowledgement of that horribly saddening aspect would totally undermine the heart-warming tone of the conclusion and episode overall…meaning the thing to do would have been to not write that aspect in to begin with, and do something a bit different instead, frankly.
Family of Blood extracts at least one line's worth of drama from the notion ("If the Doctor had never visited us, if he'd never chosen this place on a whim, would anybody here have died?"), in a story that's free to openly make real moral jabs at the Doctor. It adds to the episode rather than floating uneasily within it.