“THE LODGER” – Series 5, Episode 11, Story 211 – Written by Gareth Roberts; Directed by Catherine Morshead – The Eleventh Doctor gets bounced from the TARDIS and has to live life as a normal bloke until he figures out what’s going on upstairs from Craig’s flat. Who’s Craig? Why, he’s a sitcom schlub who doesn’t want to do anything but stay in, eat pizza, watch TV, drink beer, and occasionally drag his fat ass out to the park to play some football-slash-soccer. Despite this, he has managed to get a woman way out of his league to suspend her own dreams to hang out with him while she waits for him to man up and tell her he wants to be more than friends. Craig likes the Doctor until the Doctor becomes better than him at everything, so Craig asks the Doctor to leave. Because The Doctor Makes Spending All Your Time Staying In, Eating Pizza, Watching TV, Drinking Beer, And Occasionally Playing Football-Slash-Soccer Seem Like A Waste Of One’s Life.
THE LODGER is a perfectly enjoyable, breezy, light-hearted story that serves as a bit of a pallet-cleanser before the season ender to follow. Like VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR before it, LODGER isn’t a standard episode of DOCTOR WHO.
LODGER guest stars James Corden as Craig, which apparently means something to people in the UK. Here in the States, he’s either known as “Never Heard Of Him” or “That Guy in That Episode of DOCTOR WHO.” I suppose we’re lucky that DOCTOR WHO is a British show because if it was an American show I’m guessing the part of Craig would have been played by Kevin James or Drew Carey. Neither of them would have been as enjoyable as Corden, who manages to create some sympathy for a guy who shouldn’t create any sympathy.
The plot for LODGER has an evil upstairs neighbor of Craig’s luring people into his apartment so he can kill them. He gets them to come to him by asking random people for help as they walk past the house. Using the intercom, the neighbor gets people to come give him a hand. Luckily, even though he’s an alien he knows exactly which people won’t call the cops but instead will blunder up the creepy stairs to die.
The real joy in the episode isn’t the mystery (the neighbor is trying to find a pilot for his ship because he’s an alien fail-safe program) but rather just watching the Doctor try to fit in with Craig as he solves the mystery. There’s a whole mess of soft spots in the plot. The Doctor decides he can’t risk the sonic screwdriver because he doesn’t want the alien to detect his presence, but really the story doesn’t want the Doctor using his sonic screwdriver because it works better if he has to build a crazy contraption out of ordinary objects.
The alien device is keeping the TARDIS from landing and, yeah, that’s totally cool, but it’s either keeping the TARDIS from taking off or the Doctor decides to keep Amy local in order to … put her in danger? Seems unnecessary. Just put the TARDIS in orbit until the danger is over. If the point of this was to have a Companion-Lite episode, then better to just write Amy out of the plot for an episode rather than have her stand on the TARDIS set, yell questions, and pretend the TARDIS is shaking and bouncing all around.
With the world in danger from this alien device, the Doctor nonetheless decides to fill in for Craig for the day at Craig’s job when Craig gets sick. Why? Because it’s funny and quirky, that’s why. Oh, the plot trumps up it being an important day with some important meeting but really, it’s just done so we can see the Doctor answering the phone and charming Craig’s boss at an office.
And, you know, I’m not bringing these soft spots up to bag on the show. I’m bringing them up to illustrate that despite their presence this is still a really enjoyable episode. I love the way the Doctor attempts to interact with Craig and Sophie and Craig’s football-playing friends. I love that he’s brilliant at things like playing soccer (see what I did there – a little something for both sides of the pond) and cooking (I guess he was paying attention when he was ordering Amelia around the kitchen) but a bit daft on how to greet people or mistaking the football-lingo of “annihilating” one’s opponents to mean, literally, annihilating one’s opponent.
The episode is written by Gareth Roberts, who wrote a similar story for Doctor Who Magazine that I have never seen or read. Roberts has quietly become a very dependable writer for the relaunched WHO. Previous to LODGER, Roberts wrote the highly enjoyable SHAKESPEARE CODE and UNICORN AND THE WASP, and co-wrote the disappointing PLANET OF THE DEAD with Russell T Davies. None of these episodes are all-time greats, but his solo scripts are all highly enjoyable Alien Hiding In Plain Sight stories that put the emphasis largely on the fun instead of the seriousness.
When we get to the end of the episode Craig and Sophie are now a couple, and Amy makes a smart-alec remark about “how come you can’t find me a man” and then finds Rory’s engagement ring in the Doctor’s coat pocket.
And then the episode ends. The production team has done a really solid job all season with these little “extra” moments that help build subplots from week to week. They’re not integral to the story but they give you a sense that this is all connected beyond just a spooky shot of a crack in the wall every week.