It’s interesting to read that the latest episode of “Doctor Who” is creating waves in the UK for a scene in which actor Matt Smith may or may not have been naked and whether or not you could see certain parts of his anatomy. To me, this screams of a certain segment of the viewing audience having way too much time on their hands and, more importantly, missing the forest for the trees.
The episode in question is “The Lodger,” a fascinating and captivating hour of “Doctor Who” from long-time fan and novel writer, Gareth Roberts. As with all of the series five stories, the premise is a fairly compact one.
Craig is a single guy, living in a two-room flat. He’s put up an advertisement for a roommate, who hopefully won’t notice the odd stain on the ceiling from the upstairs flat. Craig works in a tech support job, pines for his co-worker Sophie and plays soccer with his friends. He’s got his life just like he likes it until the Doctor arrives to take up residence with him.
The Doctor is there to investigate the flat upstairs. Something up there has separated him from the TARDIS and Amy due to a materializing loop. The Doctor can’t use his usual technology to figure out what’s going on for fear of tipping off whatever is upstairs that he’s on to them.
As roommates, the Doctor and Craig are a bit of an odd couple. Sophie is initially attracted to the Doctor, who encourages her to pursue her dreams of working with apes in Africa. The Doctor is a better soccer player than Craig, taking the spotlight in the game and running with it (Matt Smith was a soccer player before getting into acting). He also fills in for Craig at the office one day when Craig becomes ill after touching the encroaching stain from upstairs.
Roberts has shown a penchant for capturing both the whimsical and the serious side of “Doctor Who” in his previous novels based on the show. And he captures that here with “The Lodger”. Some of the moments are telegraphed in advance–the Doctor’s skills at soccer, for example–but Roberts manages to infuse them with such a sense of fun that you won’t find yourself minding much.
Of course, a lot of this comes down to casting the right actors in the one-off companion roles of Craig and Sophie. Once again, the new series scores a home-run with James Corden and Daisy Haggard. The story straddles a fine line between giving us Craig’s view of the Doctor and our knowledge of who the Doctor is, for comic and dramatic effect. Corden plays the frustrated roommate well and the story earns its resolution by showing just how happy Craig is with the life he has in his little flat.
But that’s not all there is to the story. Upstairs something sinister is lurking and its luring in victims one by one. The Doctor can’t let it know he’s there and as we saw in the “Eleventh Hour” he must use what’s around him to investigate. As an old school fan, it’s nice to see the Doctor forced to use his wits to solve the problem rather than just an over-reliance on the sonic screwdriver.
The ending, in which what is really upstairs is revealed, is a fascinating one, opening up some interesting doors for the season finale which begins next week. The resolution and conclusion are earned by the script and doesn’t just seem to come out of left field.
Once again, a potential one-off story becomes something more and series five is rapidly shaping up as the best “Doctor Who” has achieved since its return in 2005.
If the series finale can build on the entire season and finally give us an effective and satisfying conclusion to the year, we’re in for a real treat.