I feel like I’m going to have to keep posting this preamble on stories written by this individual. If anyone missed it, this issue has reared its ugly head again in connection to a now cancelled tweet-a-long arranged by the superb Emily Cook of one of the other episodes Gareth Roberts wrote (The Unicorn and the Wasp).
Gareth Roberts is a deeply problematic individual in Doctor Who, having previously been dropped from The Target Collection, a collection of short stories in 2019 after transphobic and racist tweets came to light.
To be clear, I find the views he expressed to be abhorrent but I feel that it is important to view and evaluate his work separately, as I do with every writer who has written for Doctor Who on this blog.
A mysterious force blocks the TARDIS – with Amy inside – from landing, keeping it in a materialisation loop. It’s up to the Doctor to work out what that force is, lest Amy and the TARDIS are lost forever. In the course of his investigations, he discovers a house where people go up the stairs and never come back down and has to pass himself off as human to solve the mystery.
The Lodger fills in the traditional slot of being the calm before the storm of the series finale, and so is quite light in tone and a bit of a romp, but that’s not to do it down. I really enjoy this story and it works equally well whether ‘binge-watching’ the show or looking for a story to watch as a one-off. It benefits from quite a simple but effective and creepy central idea as well as good central performances from Smith, James Corden and Daisy Haggard.
The story plays on familiar ‘don’t go into that room’ vibes and horror tropes, but I still find the voice coming out of that intercom creepy and I don’t think I’ve ever really looked at that quite common type of intercom system the same way since. This story balances the lighter and scarier moments well for the most part, taking all the traditional sitcom tropes of ill-suited housemates combined with some good horror elements, which may be well trodden, like the little girl form the hologram takes. I think the story is pretty well written, and even the love saving the day feels quite fresh here and the set for the “upstairs” ship looks fantastic. There are also some lovely shots here – I don’t think a staircase has looked so threatening as it does in this story.
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who likes James Corden. Having first come across him in Gavin & Stacey, which would have probably been the only thing I had seen him in when this story was first broadcast and I still quite like him to this day. I know he’s an incredible divisive person but I think he plays Craig well, and he is quite a likeable character here. The relationship between him and Sophie feels very real – the plans for an evening of ‘pizza, booze, telly’ feels genuine and the two have a dynamic that feels very comfortable. When Sophie refers to him to another friend as “Just Craig”, it is another facet of a believable relationship. I feel like I say so often in these blogs that I don’t care what happens to some of the guest characters because we don’t believe in their relationships but this is one where the audience genuinely care. As a result, when Sophie is the one who is at risk upstairs from Craig’s apartment, there is a genuine sense of peril. It’s a shame we don’t get more of Haggard in Closing Time, as I really like their relationship.
Has anyone told you that you’re a bit weird?
They never really stop. Ever been to Paris, Craig?
Nah. I can’t see the point of Paris. I’m not much of a traveller.
I can tell by your sofa.
You’re starting to look like it.Craig Owens and the Eleventh Doctor
With Amy stranded in a TARDIS unable to land this week, Matt Smith really comes front and centre in this episode, and it is a performance it is difficult to picture any other Doctor before or since pulling off – perhaps Peter Capaldi could do it, but part of this episode relies on the Doctor looking young. Smith’s Eleventh Doctor is well-intentioned but completely lacking in social skills to understand how his behaviour could irritate Craig. Equally, this Doctor is uncomfortable with romance, so when Sophie is clearly infatuated with him, which would play differently with a Doctor like the Tenth, for instance, who was brimming with self-confidence in this area. The Doctor encourages Sophie to follow her dreams to go and work with monkeys because he genuinely wants people to fulfill their potential. He equally he realises that there is something holding her back from it. There is a lot of great dialogue here, which Smith delivers with aplomb, and the football scenes are always enjoyable, reminding me of the scenes of Peter Davison playing cricket in Black Orchid. With this being a companion-lite episode, there is not a lot for Karen Gillan to do until the final moments when Amy finds Rory’s engagement ring in the Doctor’s tweed jacket, which is a nice scene setting things up going into the finale. A flaw in this story is that she feels largely underutilised, but Craig and Daisy do a good job standing in as the companion of the week.
Verdict: I really like The Lodger – it has a simple but effective threat, some likeable characters and a good performance from Matt Smith. 8/10
Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), James Corden (Craig Owens), Daisy Haggard (Sophie), Owen Donovan (Steven), Babatunde Aleshe (Sean), Jem Wall (Michael), Karen Seacombe (Sandra) & Kamara Bacchus (Clubber).
Writer: Gareth Roberts
Director: Catherine Morshead
Behind the Scenes
- The story was based on a comic strip of the same name published in Doctor Who Magazine and written by Roberts. This makes it the third instance of a story being adapted for television after Dalek and Human Nature. The comic strip featured the Tenth Doctor living with Mickey Smith and focused more on the domestic side than the “something at the top of the stairs” aspect.
- Working titles included Mrs Meglos (the story was at one point to have included Meglos), Something at the Top of the Stairs and Don’t Go Up The Stairs.
- Matt Smith originally wanted to be a footballer before he suffered a back injury, causing him to focus on acting. However, the football scene was written prior to Smith’s casting as the Doctor and always intended to be carried over from the comic strip. Coincidentally, this episode’s broadcast coincided with England’s first game of the 2010 World Cup, with kick-off of the game following the story’s conclusion.
- Neil Gaiman’s story, The Doctor’s Wife, was originally meant to fill the 11th slot of Series 5, however, when this proved impossible due to both technical and budgetary reasons, it was held over to Series 6.
- Both James Corden and Daisy Haggard would reprise their roles in the Series 6 story Closing TIme.
I do quite like the scene where the Doctor goes to Craig’s office and everyone loves him.
If you ever need me out of your hair, just give me a shout.
Why would I want that?
Well, in case you want to bring someone over? Like a girlfriend or…boyfriend?
Oh! Yes, yes, I will. I will shout something like…”I was not expecting this!”Craig Owens and the Eleventh Doctor
Previous Eleventh Doctor story: Vincent and the Doctor