Monday, June 14, 2010

The Lodger (SPOILER)

12/6/10 “The Lodger
They call me the Doctor. I don’t know why. I call me the Doctor, too. –The Doctor

I was familiar with the Gareth Roberts comic of the same name from Doctor Who Magazine because I read it, but I have to admit the title (because of its Ripper association in my mind) had a sinister ring. I seem to be the only one who didn’t like “Vincent and the Doctor,” so while in general I am a Gareth Roberts fan, I was prepared to go either way on this. I don’t know how it would stand up to repeated viewings, but in the first instance it was charming, funny, very natural, and showed (I think) the spark that the producers saw in Matt Smith when they cast him and the rest of us, feeling loyal, trusted their judgment but ultimately weren’t quite sure. Production-wise, it must have been a popular episode because the settings are few (the TARDIS, the residential building, the park, the call centre), the cast list quite small (in general, this season has focused on fewer characters with intensity), and the wheeze so tremendously simple. Yet, I find it all works well.

Very little has carried over, story-wise, from the comic, other than the general premise (the Doctor sharing a flat with an ordinary bloke, trying to be ordinary but just being terrific and weird and causing the normal bloke much angst). The sci fi element is highly creepy but in the end, rather easily defeatable (and I don’t mind that). In the comic, poor, underused Mickey was the ordinary bloke, who had emotional baggage of his own; in the episode, he was intensely likeable Craig. The setting is nominally Colchester (though a street in Cardiff serves the purpose just as well). There’s a very short introduction in which Star Wars¬-like music plays, the Doctor gets dumped onto the turf, and “One day later,” the quiet block of residential houses where the Doctor landed conceals a sinister secret. A passing nerd hears from the intercom, “I need your help, there’s been an accident.” I think it’s both optimistic and depressing that people are shown to stop to help. It means the inevitable: there are still good people willing to stop and help strangers, but their concern being rewarded by death (and a mildew stain on the ceiling) is quite depressing. (Still, I suppose, dozens of people could have walked away from the plea for help, we just don’t see them onscreen because the pacing in this story is impeccable.)

Psycho music and flickering lights (all rather similar in mood to “The Eleventh Hour”) see the nerd to his doom as he goes up the flight of stairs at number 79. As he disappears, Sophie, Craig’s “friend who’s a girl,” uses her set of keys to come into his flat and greets him. “Who lives there again?” They’re in for a night of “pizza, booze, and telly” (admittedly, if you hadn’t been watching the promo material, you wouldn’t up to this point know who Sophie is). “That’s your mission in life: find me a man,” Sophie says, dispelling all confusion on that point (and letting us know that Craig is looking for a flatmate). I wonder if there’s any significance to the things on Craig’s fridge (since later the crack appears behind the fridge): there’s a flyer for a Van Gogh exhibition, a post box magnet, a donut (I think) and the old skool magnetic letters in rainbow shades. (Words, words, words.) When Sophie is reluctantly called away, the buzzer rings and Craig, seeing it as his chance to tell her how he feels about her, charges toward the door. “I love you!” he cries, to the amused Doctor who is on his doorstep. “That’s good, because I’m your new lodger.”

The Doctor, in his imitable style, barges in on Craig. He isn’t a “young professional,” he’s an “ancient amateur.” This is the first of a long string of amusing one-liners in rapid-fire fashion. He hands Craig a brown carrier bag of money (“have some rent. Don’t spend it all on sweets—unless you like sweets. I like sweets”). The Doctor gives Craig a hilariously effete pair of kisses—“that’s how we greet these days?” Craig, while not entirely agreeing, allows the Doctor to the flat including “his” room. In order to credentials, he shows his NHS and NI numbers and references (including one from the Archbishop of Canterbury). Somewhat reluctantly, Craig agrees. He starts telling the Doctor about his life working at a call centre, how he has a management plan for it but because he just mans the phones he’s not allowed any input. “Why am I telling you all this?” he sputters. “I have one of those faces,” the Doctor says. Ha! “Has anyone ever told you you’re a bit weird?” In response, the Doctor is faintly critical of Craig’s lifestyle—he doesn’t want to go on holiday, move anywhere, do much out of the ordinary. “You’re starting to look like it [the sofa].” After the Doctor has whipped up Craig an unlikely but delicious meal, the Doctor starts questioning him about the flat.

Then Craig tells him, “We have an arrangement.” The Doctor doesn’t get this (it’s wonderful to have the Doctor so delightfully obtuse in such matters, it tallies with his refusal of Amy earlier). “You know, if you want to bring a girlfriend or . . . boyfriend around . . .” The Doctor finally thinks of a way to make this plain, by shouting, “I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS!” LOL. He retreats to his room while Craig phones up Sophie. “What if he’s a dealer?” Sophie wonders, putting the Doctor’s strange lack of name together with the sack of disposable income. Meanwhile, the Doctor is talking to Amy on an earpiece. It’s very strange, but we usually get a “Doctor-lite” story round about here in the lineup, and this is actually the “companion-lite” story—Craig has become the companion, in a sense, and Amy isn’t really missed, I find (then again, I’m not lusting over her so perhaps it is worth grounding the story and giving some urgency to it by cutting back and forth with her in the TARDIS). The thing’s falling down around her, and the Doctor has gone down to Earth to try to fix whatever’s interfering with the TARDIS and causing such a bad reaction. It’s “locked in a materialization loop.” Craig, however, can’t hear any of this conversation—“anyone listening would hear absolute gibberish”—and because Craig already thinks the Doctor’s weird, he doesn’t mind. The Doctor asks Amy for advice on passing as a human being. “You’re just going to be snide,” he snaps when Amy just makes fun of him. Then there’s a “localized time loop” after the Doctor has tried to defend the bow tie. So, there are problems.

The next morning, the Doctor is merrily in the shower, recalling Pertwee in “Spearhead from Space” for all intents and purposes. “How long are you going to be in there?” asks a perturbed Craig. In his wonderment, Craig starts up the stairs to the sinister flat above. The Doctor catches him after falling down in the bathroom and grabbing the curtain, throwing a towel around himself, and clutching Craig’s electric toothbrush instead of the sonic screwdriver, but Craig is all right and more than a little embarrassed by the Doctor’s behavior. It’s compounded when a confused Sophie shows up. This is a very funny sequence (for me it would have been distracting had it been Tennant, but it’s just slapstick and silly and yay!). “You didn’t tell me he was gorgeous,” Sophie mutters.

Craig is inviting the Doctor to come along with him and Sophie to a “pub league,” ie where pub friends play football. It suddenly dawned on me why this episode was in the running at the time it was: it’s the World Cup, stupid. But as an idea, it works wonderfully. I was just thinking, in the midst of British World Cup mania, you wouldn’t catch Hartnell playing football. Yet with Matt Smith, who as we all know used to play football, the Doctor completely solidifies his place as a football-obsessed child’s hero, and loses no credibility for the Rest of Us, because it’s perfectly in keeping with the story (from what I recall of the comic, the Doctor played football in that as well). The idea, of course, is that poor Craig gets shown up because the lackadaisical Doctor is brilliant at “footie,” has captured the accolades of Craig’s friends and sympathy of Sophie, and Craig now feels bits of his life being stolen away by the Doctor who, despite himself, he likes. Rough.

There’s a wonderful moment as one of Craig’s friends wants the Doctor to “annihilate” the other team next time, which the Doctor misinterprets and refuses with towering anti-violent zeal! As the Doctor works with Amy to secure the TARDIS, Craig asks for some alone time with Sophie. They are too British and too polite to insist the Doctor leaves them be. So the Doctor makes conversation with Sophie and finds out her secret dream is to work with animals at an orangutan sanctuary. “You’re going to stay secure and a little bit miserable for the rest of your life?” The Doctor may be sincere in this, but they interpret it as reverse psychology. “Are you going to live with monkeys now?” Sophie has renewed direction, qualifications or not, but Craig is sad about losing his friend (and love of his life). He makes the mistake of touching the mildew stain from upstairs and gets very sick. The Doctor brings him breakfast—“that’s . . . normal”—and saves his life the next morning, with a combination of tea and compost! “Got to excite the tannin molecules . . .!” (Tannin does have astringent properties, just one of the many reasons tea is good for you!) There’s a nice tender moment as the Doctor cares for Craig—“you’re important . . .”

Later Craig realizes he’s been in bed ‘til midday, he has an important meeting at work, so he struggles in to the call centre, where the Doctor is doing his job! This is very funny because I read a great Short Trips short story where the Fifth Doctor had an inspired conversation with a call centre telemarketer, and now he’s on the other end of it! He makes a client hold so he can eat a biscuit. “I’ve never worked in a place like this . . . well, I’ve never worked anywhere!” Craig is very upset and takes a peek into the Doctor’s room, which of course is not a room but a homemade . . . well, something like a wibbly wobbly timey wimey detector. Craig tells the Doctor to pack his bags. “What have I done?” “Everybody loves you!” But they’re both missing the point; Sophie, following the sinister plea for help, has gone upstairs and vanished. The Doctor cracks his head on Craig’s, initiating some kind of mind meld (Tennant had a much less comic and more sensual way of doing this!), which gets Craig up to speed but also gives us yet another peek of the previous ten actors to play the part! Where is all this going? The Doctor has gotten “psychic help from a cat” to spy on above stairs. “There is no upstairs,” he tells Craig, who’s been blinded by a perception filter all these months. “The time engine is the flat!”

They race up to save Sophie, see the rather awe-inspiring set for this time/space ship (again, where is this going?), and meet the “emergency crash program,” drawing in human pilots until it finds the right one. It’s the kind of appalling behavior without malice that reminds one of the Clockwork Robots of “The Girl in the Fireplace.” The Doctor quickly sums up for Sophie’s benefit—“I have questions”—and then asks Craig to overcome his fears and try to become the ship’s next candidate. “Concentrate on why you want to stay!” Craig shouts out his love for Sophie, who immediately responds, “I love you, too, you idiot!” “For God’s sake, kiss the girl!” shouts the Doctor, who is echoed by Amy. It works, the ship goes away, they run downstairs, there is no upstairs flat, Craig is amazed that the perception filter caused passersby not to see.

It’s interesting that this story makes being a homebody an acceptable and rightful life-path, while caricatured in people like Mickey and Rory, it’s always seemed the less impressive option (well, because the Doctor ran away from home, for better or worse). Sophie and Craig have well and truly “spoiled their friendship.” There is bittersweetness to the Doctor’s departure after Craig tells him to keep his set of keys, rather like Paul Cornell’s “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years.” And speaking of bittersweet, with the last flourish of time travel, Amy finds in the Doctor’s pocket Rory’s ring, without knowing what it is. I sense we’re on a collision course!

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