“Has anyone ever told you that you’re a bit weird?”
“They never really stop.”
Written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Catherine Morshead, The Lodger is a mostly lighthearted romp of an episode. And even though it just turned 10 years old, it still remains one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who episodes. Not bad for an story where the Doctor gains most of his information by talking to a cat, the companion(s) barely appear, and the main mystery just sort of fizzles out…
The show is famous for its changing lead actors, showrunners, and even budgets, but what about genres? To stay fresh and timely, we all know that Doctor Who can change genres from series to series, or even episode to episode. The Lodger is no exception. Coming between the instant-classic heartbreaking drama of Vincent and the Doctor and the timey-wimey spectacular adventure of the two-part series finale, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, The Lodger is a delightful “calm between the storms” of a sitcom episode.
Loveable nice guy Craig Owens (James Corden, yes, that James Corden) needs a roommate. His previous roomie conveniently, and suddenly, inherited a large sum of money from a distant relative (wink wink) and went on permanent holiday. Enter the Doctor (Matt Smith). Showing up at Craig’s doorstep with a bag full of money, the Time Lord takes up lodging with Craig in order to: 1. Have a home base while Amy (Karen Gillan, who appears only in a few scenes) tries to keep a strangely-acting TARDIS from crashing somewhere out in space-time; and 2. To investigate the very mysterious goings-on in the apartment above.
While living with Craig, the Doctor finally gets to experience a day-to-day human life, as Amy tells him to watch telly, play football, and go down the pub, just like any other normal bloke would do. He also gets to play matchmaker between Craig and Craig’s best pal Sophie (the pleasant Daisy Haggard), both of whom secretly love each other but can’t quite express their feelings. And it turns out that the Doctor is pretty darn good at daily life, as he seems to effortlessly master (no pun intended) everything from cooking dinner to playing football, to taking long showers, to working the phones in Craig’s office.
Much like Friends or Coupling or any other sitcom, The Lodger relies on these, um, comedic situations to fill out most of the episode. But what I love about The Lodger is just how much what happens — even though the Doctor is good at almost everything — develops the Doctor’s character. He is kind, sweet, and his usual genius self, but he is also socially awkward and blissfully unaware of some of the basics of a day-to-day human life… often to hilarious effect. The things that he is usually so good at, like solving the mystery of the upstairs apartment and bringing Amy and the TARDIS back to reality, take a back seat to learning to be an everyday human person.
As an episode, The Lodger does have some pretty cool moments that are significant in Doctor Who lore. In one scene, the Doctor decides that it would just be easier to show Craig what is actually going on than try to explain it. So, the Doctor gives him what could only be described as a Time Lord Informational Transference… Headbutt. With two quick bonking of heads, we get to see what Craig sees (and at the time, it was a fan’s dream!): flashes of all of the past Doctors except for the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh; Amy Pond floating out of the TARDIS from earlier in the series; and the rewound events of the beginning of the episode.
Also (spoilers, sweetie!), the mystery plot of the spooky apartment upstairs turns out to involve someone apparently trying to build their own TARDIS.
And it is this plot that turns out to be the main weakness of The Lodger. Who or what was trying to build a TARDIS and why exactly they were trying to find someone to pilot it for them is never satisfactorily explained. Except for a spider-like spaceship and the reveal of a perception filter, the mystery of the apartment above Craig’s flat mostly remains a mystery. It isn’t even tied up in Series 6’s follow up, Closing Time, also penned by Roberts. This is one of the rare direct sequel episodes that modern Doctor Who has done, with the Doctor meeting up some time later with Craig, Sophie (well, she doesn’t actually see the Doctor again), and their new baby son Alfie, aka Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All… not to mention a conspiracy involving the Cybermen. We see this makeshift TARDIS again, in Day of the Moon, but we don’t learn how it got to Aickman Road.
When all is said and done, The Lodger isn’t an important Doctor Who episode, or really even a classic one, but it is an entertaining one. Not only does Matt Smith’s chemistry with Corden and Haggard shine; at the same time the story gives us some insight into who this Doctor really is and what he might become. Sure, he can be awkward, “weird”, and too smart for his own good, but he can also be one of the most human of all the Doctors. And he was.
I’m still holding out hope for a second sequel, hopefully involving the Doctor talking to babies and cats and vice versa?