An Ancient Amateur
By mistake, the TARDIS materializes in the English town of Colchester, rather than the intended intergalactic destination that I will not attempt to spell. (Yes, this is yet another Doctor Who adventure that will not take us beyond Earth -- present-day Earth at that.) The Doctor pokes his head out to investigate, and a force jostles the TARDIS, knocking the Doctor outside and sending Amy and the TARDIS back into materialization limbo.
One day later a passerby walks down the street and hears a cry for help from an apartment intercom. He walks inside, where a flickering light and a creepy accompanying score let us know that the menacing figure that stands at the top of the stairs and beckons him upward might seem to be a helpless elderly gentleman but is in fact not friendly.
In the flat below, good friends Craig and Sophie discuss their plans for the evening, Craig's need for a roommate, and their suffering love lives. The unresolved romantic tension is so thick that if you do not instantly realize that these two are ordained by this story to end up together, I would like to now welcome you to planet Earth from whatever intergalactic origin birthed you. They notice what appears to be a moisture stain in the corner of Craig's ceiling, accompanied by loud sounds generated via whatever ill deeds are taking place in the flat above. Sophie must leave to comfort a friend, and after she leaves Craig practices saying "I love you." The bell rings, and Craig answers the door expecting that it is Sophie who has forgotten her keys.
"I love you," he tells the Doctor.
The Doctor is happy to hear this, as he declares himself Craig's new lodger.
Having just placed the ad that morning without an exact address, Craig is confused by the Doctor's arrival. The Doctor hands Craig a paper bag full of money and invites himself in past the befuddled Craig. The Doctor is immediately curious about the noisy upstairs resident and notices the stain on Craig's ceiling. The Doctor speculates it's not dry rot, damp, or mildew. Craig shows the Doctor to his room, and the Doctor convinces Craig of his trustworthiness with the old psychic paper scam, which includes a reference from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Doctor displays extremely handy culinary skills as he fixes an omelet for Craig. Craig invites the Doctor to stay and gives him a set of keys, as his cooking skills offset the fact that he's a bit weird. The Doctor warns Craig that they probably should not touch the rot on the ceiling.
Alone in his new bedroom, the Doctor contacts Amy on the TARDIS via a scrambled signal. Endlessly attempting and failing to land, the TARDIS is caught in a materialization loop caused by the mysterious upstairs neighbor. Meanwhile, Craig tells Sophie on the phone about his new roommate. Sophie wonders if a guy carrying a paper bag full of three thousand pounds and calling himself "The Doctor" might be a drug dealer. Craig attempts to eavesdrop through the wall but hears only gibberish because of the scrambled signal. The Doctor tells Amy that he needs to blend in and asks Amy for advice on appearing like a normal bloke. Amy suggests he ditch the bowtie, watch the telly, play football, and go down to the pub. Any use of the sonic screwdriver or advanced technology might alert the being upstairs. During these two conversations, the entity upstairs lures another victim, and this directly causes more turbulence for the TARDIS.
The next day the Doctor is taking a shower when Craig goes upstairs to investigate another noise. Craig offers his neighbor help, but what appears through the cracked door to be an old man politely refuses. The Doctor rushes out into the hall in a towel aiming a toothbrush mistaken for a sonic screwdriver in an attempt to save Craig. He meets Sophie, and Craig invites the Doctor to join him in the "pub league," as his team is a man down. The Doctor misinterprets this as a drinking contest, and Craig corrects him. Eager to blend in, the Doctor agrees to play football, as he suspects that he is good at it. The Doctor watches with curiosity as Craig and Sophie share another tongue-tied moment of teasing unrequited romance, only this one is rendered more awkward by the fact that Sophie refers to the Doctor as "gorgeous" after he is out of earshot.
At the park the Doctor joins the football team. At first he displays complete ignorance of the game, but once the game begins he immediately takes to it with a rousing and successful montage, as he leads the team to victory. Craig is obviously jealous and feels upstaged as Sophie cheers for their team.
A few things came to mind watching the Doctor revel in scoring goal after goal.
First, I had not seen the likes of this since Peter Davison's Doctor's all-star cricket performance in the episode "Black Orchid" over 25 years ago.
Second, as this episode did originally air four weeks ago, the only thing that this montage was missing was an official 2010 England World Cup sponsorship at the bottom of the screen.
Finally, despite my normal silly American sporting inclinations, I honor England and the grand game by refraining from using the "S" word. Football it is.
The team celebrates in the park afterward, but the fun is short-lived when the Doctor realizes that his new friends temporarily are unknowingly snared in a time loop that replays the same few seconds over and over, which coincides with the upstairs neighbor taking another victim. The Doctor contacts Amy and finds that the TARDIS is once again in upheaval. He gives her directions to remedy the situation with the hope that whatever causes this does not permanently hurl the TARDIS beyond recovery into the time-space vortex.
Back at the flat, Craig asks the Doctor to give him space that night while Sophie is visiting. The Doctor assures Craig that Craig will not know that the Doctor is even there. As Craig and Sophie sit alone on the couch with Craig about to declare his love, however, the Doctor interrupts with a question about connecting the electrics in his room. Sophie asks the Doctor to join them for a drink, and Craig is too timid to give a reason for the Doctor not to join them.
Sophie shares with the Doctor a dream of taking care of animals. In particular, she saw a television program about orangutans at a sanctuary abroad. Sophie would just as soon not make that sort of leap away from her friends, though. She points out that Craig chose to stay when he was offered a more lucrative job in London.
The Doctor responds, "Well perhaps that's you then. Perhaps you'll just have to stay here secure and a little bit miserable 'til the day you drop. Better than trying and failing, eh?"
"You think I'd fail?"
"Everybody's got dreams, Sophie. Very few are going to achieve them, so why pretend? Perhaps in the whole wide universe a call center's about where you should be."
"Why are you saying that? That's horrible."
"Is it true?"
"Of course it's not true! I'm not staying in a call center all my life. I can do anything I want!"
The Doctor grins, and Sophie realizes that the Doctor tricked her into defending her dream. Craig asks if this means that she's leaving to live with monkeys, and the Doctor suggests Sophie determine what is actually keeping her in Colchester.
Craig walks Sophie out to end the evening, and Craig asks if she will be leaving to see the world, as he stubbornly and shyly refuses to give her a reason not to stay. She is equally reluctant to commit one way or the other.
In his bedroom the Doctor has constructed a large device from various low-tech pieces that easily trumps anything the Professor ever made on Gilligan's Island. It fails to detect anything unusual upstairs. The Doctor transmits another message to Amy and asks her to track down the original layout and plans for the building.
In the living room a curious Craig touches the growing patch of rot on the ceiling and recoils in pain. The Doctor finds Craig ill and unresponsive in his bed. The Doctor nurses him to a semblance of health with tea. Craig insists that he has an important meeting at work, but the Doctor tells him not to worry about it. Craig dozes off and wakes to find that he is late for work. He dresses and dashes out the door but discovers that the Doctor is at his desk at the call center, covering for him winningly.
"Had some time to kill. I was curious. Never worked in an office. Never worked in anywhere," the Doctor tells him.
Sophie works at the same office and interrupts, asking Craig if she should leave to volunteer at a wildlife refuge she found on the web. Flummoxed, Craig tells her to go for it, and the Doctor recommends that Craig should return to bed. Back at the flat, Craig investigates the Doctor's room and finds the contraption. When the Doctor returns, he stops to have a conversation with a cat in the hallway before entering. I did not know about the Doctor's "Dolittle" powers, but the cat informs him that people have been going upstairs and not returning.
Craig's frustration finally boils over, and he demands that the Doctor should move out. The Doctor's only solution to convince Craig to let him stay is to deliver a telepathic head butt that tells Craig the Doctor's Time Lord status and the whole reason for his being there. Again, the Doctor employs a convenient (if humorous) power to which we are not usually privy.
Outside, Sophie is lured into the flat just as the others were before. The Doctor realizes that whatever is up there is luring people to power a time engine. The sound of a crash and another time loop let the Doctor and Craig know that there is another potential victim upstairs. Amy communicates from the TARDIS that there is in fact no upstairs, and the Doctor and Craig enter the flat to find the interior of a TARDIS-like spaceship under construction and concealed by a perception filter.
A force draws Sophie toward the ship's console, but Craig pulls her away. We discover that the ship uses an automated hologram to trap people in the hope that their brains can be used to power the ship so that it can escape Earth. No candidate has met the criteria, though, and the previous victims burned up. The ship would continue futilely using the population of the world, but it instead realizes that the Doctor's brain will be suitable. It draws him near, but the Doctor states that he is too powerful for this ship to use and that the resulting contact would destroy the solar system.
The Doctor tells Craig that the ship must only now have lured Sophie upstairs because of her desire to venture away from Colchester. Consequently, if Craig touches the console and mentally focuses on his reason to stay, he should be able to stymie the ship. Craig grips the console and finally declares his love for Sophie. Sophie responds, "I love you too, Craig, you idiot." Craig and Sophie kiss, and the three of them barely escape as the ship undergoes an emergency implosion.
Craig and Sophie enjoy their newfound coupling on the couch. "Let's destroy our friendship completely," Sophie suggests. The Doctor attempts to sneak out, but Craig and Sophie stop him. Craig gives the Doctor the keys to the flat as a souvenir. Our last view of the flat is behind Craig's refrigerator, where Amy's old bedroom's time-space crack once again makes an appearance.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor asks Amy to write him the note that they will leave back in time for the Doctor that tells him about Craig's flat. Before Amy finds a pen and out of the Doctor's view, though, she stumbles across Rory's engagement ring. There's a glimmer of familiarity as she ponders it.
Next week: "The Pandorica Opens!"
At first "The Lodger" slightly disappointed me. It has the brilliant premise of placing the Doctor in the mundane setting of apartment and paycheck living, and I wanted to see more of that. It reminded me of The X-Files episode "Arcadia" that placed Mulder and Scully in an undercover scenario as a suburban married couple. Viewers gave "Arcadia" credit for the premise alone, and while "The Lodger" had fun moments, I wished that it had strayed more from the obligatory plot and further explored the comedy potential of those characters in that situation.
However, if the worst thing that I can say about "The Lodger" is that I wish there had been more of it, I think that's the sign of a good episode. The humor on the football field, in the kitchen, and at Craig's office is well executed. As usual Doctor Who gives us dialogue that comes so fast that we barely have time to fully appreciate it on initial listen.
The romance between Craig and Sophie is very predictable as mentioned, but James Corden and Daisy Haggard lend their characters more than enough charm to keep us invested and put smiles on our faces when they finally surrender to their attraction.
Corden is on the record as saying that he would like Craig to one day return to the Doctor Who universe, and if that means letting the Doctor engage in more of the little moments of culture clash that "The Lodger" gives us, then I would not mind that at all. Given how frequently I wish that Doctor Who would branch out in the universe these days and leave the confines of Earth, that speaks well of this episode indeed.
C. Robert Dimitri spent many of the prime Saturday nights of his youth staying home to watch syndicated episodes of Doctor Who on PBS, and his social skills might be beyond repair as a result. He's not the most hardcore Whovian, but he's a respectable representative. The first episode he remembers watching was Tom Baker's "The Creature From The Pit." At one point he obsessively watched all the Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee episodes that were available to him, and sometime around the age of 14 he dragged his mother to a Doctor Who convention. All he truly has ever wanted for Christmas is Perpugilliam Brown, but he would be almost as content with K-9.
Lately he is feeling like it might be time to start all over and watch the show from the very beginning.