PLEASE NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. OUR SPOILER-FREE REVIEW IS HERE.
Not for the first time in this series of Doctor Who, The Lodger has a feel of two different episodes about it. Arguably the most interesting was found in the last scene or two, an unrelated epilogue to the 40 or so minutes that had gone before.
For this is when Amy discovered, through a slight contrivance, the engagement ring in the Doctor’s pocket. And that’s where you also got a glimpse that she might not have entirely forgotten about Rory after all. Throw in the recurrence of the crack in the wall, and with two episodes left now, the darker themes appear to be closing in.
It’s perhaps with that in mind that The Lodger took its foot off the accelerator slightly, delivering a less ambitious episode of Who than we’ve seen these past few weeks (and arguably the least ambitious of the series – no criticism, more an observation). The calm before the storm, if you will.
Thus, Gareth Roberts’ script took more of a comedic turn, and we’re not just talking the snappy one-liners of some of the earlier Steven Moffat-penned episodes (mind you, nobody writes Doctor Who gags as well as The Moff). Here, he gets the job of getting Matt Smith’s Doctor to let his hair down, and to leave the grumpiness of the Doctor aside for an episode. So, the Doctor’s quickly moved in with James Corden’s Craig to be his new flatmate, and has the job of getting to be an everyday man.
Which meant that if you’d tuned in to Doctor Who hoping to avoid the football, it was hard cheese. As it happened, we had the Doctor turning out to be a bit of a football genius, as well as him drinking (and then spitting out, to be fair) a glass of wine, working in an office, and going for the air kiss when a hand shake would have sufficed. It wasn’t the most convincing attempt to be one of the lads, but that was entirely the point.
Roberts played the fish-out-of-water comedy card quite well, although it did seem to take up a greater proportion of the episode than we were expecting. Meanwhile, while all this was going on, Amy was stuck in a Tardis that couldn’t land, taking a back seat for much of the episode.
Instead, the rest of the onus was on the fairly obvious tale of friends who fancy each other (which, in all truth, we wouldn’t have missed had it not been there) between the characters of Craig and Sophie, and the antics on the top floor of the house.
It’s the latter that was the most interesting, and Roberts visited it sparingly, particularly in the early parts of the episode. There was a throwback to horror movie conventions as people were lured up the staircase to the upstairs flat, only to never return. Cue dim lighting, flashing lights behind doors, and a mixture of different faces at the top of the stairs beckoning people upwards. It wasn’t too creepy, but it was still quite well done.
Meanwhile, in the downstairs flat, there’s the growing dry rot that briefly nearly kills James Corden when he touches it. There’s his headbutt with the Doctor that allows us another welcome slideshow of past actors (has William Hartnell appeared so many times in a series of Doctor Who since he left the role?), and for a moment, Corden’s character gets a look inside the Doctor’s head. And in the Tardis, the continued attempts to land are frustrated every time another person is lured up the stairs.
Which makes it all the more surprising that it takes the Doctor so long to address the actual problem facing him in the episode.
Granted, we get a brilliant looking contraption in the Doctor’s room, made of umbrellas, oars and rakes, but he seems more interested in scoring a winning goal than fighting the particular foe of the week. In fact, somebody dies by being lured to the upstairs flat while the Doctor is gallivanting around.
When he does finally make it up the stairs, we don’t actually get to see said foe directly: instead, once more, it’s someone lurking in the shadows, and we do wonder if this continuing theme of the series will be continued for the final two episodes.
What really made us sit up, though, was the fact that someone, with some degree of success, was trying to build their own Tardis. Who’s that, then? Is this the Dream Lord again? Is it someone we’ve not yet considered? Are the time lines getting more and more messed up to the point where the Valeyard/other iterations of the Doctor are going to come into play after all? Heck, have they dug the Meddling Monk back out?
Given that the top floor of the house containing the owner of the DIY Tardis flew off at the end, we can’t help but feel it’s something we’re likely to see again. And it’s yet another thread left behind that may or may not be picked up over the next two weeks. But then we do love little things left unresolved such as that, and the fact is that there’s plenty for Steven Moffat to choose from in wrapping up the series over his next two episodes.
As for The Lodger itself? Well, it felt more like a holding episode than anything else. Some will warm to the humour of it more than others (we weren’t cackling loudly at the telly ourselves, but it was decent enough), and Matt Smith continues to show a range in the role that it’s hard not to admire. But after the far more interesting Vincent And The Doctor, and ahead of that upcoming finale, it’s hard to call it much more than a solid Doctor Who story that has a bit of fun, one that isn’t likely to stick in the mind for very long. It hangs together well enough, it’s just not a story that’s keen to actually do too much.
Still, laid back episodes aren’t a problem in principle, and we’d happily take The Lodger over a million Love & Monsters. And, let’s face it, the real action is going to kick in next week with the penultimate episode of the series. Its title? The Pandorica Opens. And it’s that we’ve been waiting to see since it was very first mentioned, aided by that terrific extended next time promo…
Read our review of episode 10, Vincent And The Doctor here.