I’m wondering if maybe I’m not a Doctor Who fan anymore. Because this was probably Doctor Who at its least like itself, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It’s a standard television plot: two best friends are in love, they can’t quite figure out how to tell each other, dangerously cool new friend appears and threatens the budding relationship, and in the ultimate crisis, they blurt it out and live happily ever after. Then the dangerously cool new friend destroys a predatory alien spaceship and zips off in his time machine. You know, standard.
This is not a writer known for his great work on New Who either, of course. “The Shakespeare Code” was pretty embarrassing. I’ll probably lose all credibility for saying that “The Unicorn and the Wasp” and “Planet of the Dead” were not the absolute worst the series has offered; as goofy as “Unicorn” was, for instance, I enjoyed it a lot more than “The Doctor’s Daughter” and that awful Sontaran two-parter. Roberts has a light touch, and if you like your Who portentous and conscientiously plausible he’s not your guy.
But “The Lodger” is really funny, standing out even in a season of witty scripts. I loved the cold open so much I almost stopped watching right there, afraid the episode would let me down. But it kept right on with what you might at a stretch call “Human Nature”-lite: the Doctor masquerading as an average bloke. I know, it sounds stupid, and the more I think about his reasons for doing this and all the silly stuff he’s doing and building in his rented room (putting off saving people’s lives for no discernible reason), the less sense it makes. But the biggest difference these days (and maybe it was ever thus) between a good Who script and a bad one is that the former keeps me distracted from the stuff that doesn’t make sense until after it’s over, and the latter can’t hide it for an instant.
I loved jumping right in with the Doctor and Amy, how much was left implied, how well paced it all was as a result. I loved the Doctor’s trouble remembering the customs of the era he’s in — how to greet people, how much money is “a lot,” and so on (yeah, he was stuck on “present-day” Earth for years in the seventies, but that was eight hims ago). I loved the self-referential stuff, about how normal it is for him to have “girl friends with nothing going on,” and making fun of those corny melodramatic speeches about being “the Oncoming Storm.” I loved that he talks to cats again after supposedly going off them for a while (after the “Cheetah People” and those cat nuns). I loved Craig, who was utterly adorable and had more chemistry with the Doctor than Amy does. In some ways this is the gayest episode of the season, which is great because I’d just been thinking how I’d miss that aspect of the RTD era.
In the end there were only two things I really didn’t like. (Well, three, if you count the terrible incidental music.) One was that the threat turned out to be a little too innocent, and maybe a little too reminiscent of “The Girl in the Fireplace.” The other was the football sequence, which was just going too far. Maybe it was just the incidental music, but this was far more nauseating than the similar sequence in “Black Orchid.” Everyone cheers for the Doctor and I think he even says “I own this game!” but I really hope not. Ugggghhhhh. Though it wouldn’t have fit the plot, I frankly wish he’d been rubbish at it.
But yeah, sorry, apart from that I loved “The Lodger.” I almost want to avoid reading the reviews and listening to the podcasts because I know they’re going to trash this episode like bullies picking on the fat kid. In a season that was supposed to be about getting back to monsters and the apocryphal hiding behind sofas, it’s funny that my two favorite episodes might end up being this and “Amy’s Choice.”