5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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Buy this Doctor Who DVD: UK
Buy this Doctor Who DVD on Blu-ray: UK
This is, you might say, a game of two halves.
Not the first half and the second temporal-wise, although if you slice it that way the first definitely wins by quite a bit. It’s more a case of the bits with the Doctor in and the… other bits.
To be fair, it’s not really all of the other bits, either. We really like the premise for this one: the use of the intercom to lure passers-by up the stairs is genuinely creepy, achieving maximum behind the sofa potential with nothing much but a bit of backlighting. Great stuff.
The major difficulty for us with this episode is that we’re violently allergic to James Corden, whose apparently employable charms miss us completely. The mere sight of him sandpapers our nerve endings. And The Lodger does nothing to warm us up to him: he’s still playing the same character he always does.
This makes the romcom part of the episode, in which we’re being steered towards cheering for the ordinary bloke and hoping his inamorata manages to see…whatever she does eventually see in him, an uphill struggle. Take it from us, you don’t have to be rich, famous or gorgeous to attract girls, but you do have to not be James Corden. We’ve got nothing against ordinary blokes in general, but in this particular case we would rather Soph ran away with the Doctor or, possibly, an orangutan. Which makes the heartwarming stuff more like heartlukewarming.
This isn’t helped, either, by the fact that Daisy Haggard does such a great job with Soph: the contrast is even more miserable. She’s warm, likeable and fun to watch, and at the end of their first scene, we all let out a groan of disappointment when it was her who took off and not her pizza partner.
But whoa. After an all-too-obvious scene in which we were tapping our fingers and looking at our watches as Craig practices saying “I love you” just like every other romcommer in history, the episode rockets up into the stratosphere when the Doctor’s at the door.
How does he do it? It’s that patented sparkly magic dust again, and thank God, Matt Smith’s shovelling it on by the barrowload here. We’re madly in love with the scene where he hands over a dinky paper bag full of wonga (“That’s probably quite a lot, isn’t it. Looks like a lot. Is it a lot? I can never tell”) and shoulders his way into the house. It’s so utterly, utterly, utterly Doctorly.
And the next scenes, from “No, I’m the Doctor, don’t call me the rotmeister” to the way he kicks his feet up when he sits on the bench to the unexpected but wonderful omelette thing to “People never stop blurting out their plans while I’m around” to the shopping trolley are a 24-carat delight. And we also love the Pertwee tribute singing in the shower, not to mention the Pertwee tribute towel scenes. (Although we might like those two for slightly different reasons.) And the Doctor’s completely hilarious hair. (Cockamamie hair, you might say.) They’re some of the most sheerly enjoyable scenes in the whole of the series: we get to sit back and marvel at one of the best Doctors being about as Doctorly as it’s possible to get.
Things slip a bit as the Doctor dons his football kit to the accompaniment of Murray’s “This bit’s meant to be funny” music. We’re not sure whether this part is supposed to be fantastically topical or is there to show off Matt Smith’s footballing skills or both, but whatever, it’s not doing a great deal for the plot. We presume, by the way, that Matt Smith looks like he knows what he’s doing here, but it’s no good asking us: in New Zealand rugby’s our thing, and to be honest we don’t really care about that either. (We Androzani Team, that is, not we New Zealand. Try claiming New Zealand doesn’t care about rugby and they send out the death squads.)
The point, such as it is, of the far too lengthy scenes that follow appears to be to try and compound our worry that the Doctor is going to entrance Soph right under Craig’s nose. The trouble is, in terms of plot grippiness, that this never concerned us for a second. First of all, we didn’t care if he did, because of the aforementioned Corden factor. More importantly, it was never on the cards. We’ve seen fans compare these scenes to the Tenth Doctor’s bedazzlement of Rose when she’s already in a relationship with Mickey, and they’ve also expressed relief that the Doctor doesn’t end up stealing Craig’s girlfriend as he did Mickey’s. Guys, guys. A girlfriend is not an iPod: she can only be stolen if she wants to be, and she only wants to be if the new one’s better than what’s on hand. That’s not stealing, that’s fair competition, on which our hallowed system of capitalism is based. (That last bit is sarcasm, if you didn’t realise.)
Furthermore, the Eleventh and Tenth Doctors are two very different kinds of critters indeed. The Tenth Doctor’s not above sniping at, nay mocking, Mickey, not to mention making a dead set at winning Rose over even though Mickey’s in situ. In contrast, we know the Eleventh Doctor fancies Amy, because his Dream Lord version kindly informed us, but he backs away from Amy when she makes a pass at him and after that, when not under the influence of his darker side, does everything possible to throw Amy at Rory. After Rory’s disappearance from Amy’s memory, the Doctor has a clear field, but it’s obvious he hasn’t grabbed the opportunity. Unlike the charming but slippery Tenth Doctor, he’s honourable to a fault.
So he’s too busy being emotionally involved with Amy to worry about hypnotising Soph. (And he definitely still is: just listen to him repeating “Amy…Amy…” as the TARDIS vanishes. “I’d be more worried about my TARDIS”, one pragmatist amongst us commented.) What’s more, it’s clear his role in this story when it comes to Craig and Soph is not beguiling threat but relationship counsellor. After he gets past being oblivious, he’s pretty perceptive (“Six billion people - watching you two at work, I’m starting to wonder where they all come from.” “Work out what’s really keeping you here, eh”). Add it all up, and there isn’t a chance in hell that he’s going to lure Soph into the TARDIS, leaving Craig a sad and broken man. Which kinds of rips up the suspense of the “Will he lure Soph into the TARDIS, leaving Craig a sad and broken man?” plot.
Did we mention that they play football for a long time? A really, really long time? After some absolutely excellent stuff (and James Corden), it’s here that the episode begins to slowly unravel. At this point, we’ve basically had all the plot we’re going to get except for the denouement, and yet there’s still half the running time to go. What to do? Trot out more of the bits we’ve already had. More Amy being flung hither and yon in the TARDIS and shrieking. (Not her finest hour.) More victims for the mysterious lodger, presented in exactly the same way. More of the Doctor adorably trying to look human. Don’t get us wrong, there’s undeniably some great material in here still, like the yet-another-Pertwee-tribute device, the Doctor’s brilliantly executed lying to Amy about the numbers, all the stuff with the Doctor, Craig and Soph… But the narrative drive’s slackened right off. Plot’s supposed to build as you go, not stop in the middle and start turning in circles.
It doesn’t help that we’re transitioning from disliking Corden to disliking his character here, either. Snooping in the Doctor’s room? Hating Sophie’s plan to make her life better just because it’s inconvenient for him? What a prince.
Things look up when we get the Glasgow mindmeld. Colour us impressed: it’s a deft reworking of one of the hoariest clichés in SF, and a neat way of getting past all the explainy bit, too. Not that the Doctor normally needs this to convince anyone, but we think they make a perfectly acceptable case that time is the key factor here. Nicely done. And then we find out there’s a TARDIS in the loft.
This, on its own, isn’t a bad idea. It looks nice. We’re not, however, fans of the details. We’ve seen monsters who turn out to be just going through pre-programmed routines too often for comfort from Moffat already. (And if it’s just a hologram running the show, why is there a cat door upstairs? Who the hell is the cat? Now that’s the story we’d like to have seen.) And not only is the idea of a technology which can be derailed by people thinking about not wanting to travel idiotic beyond belief, we’ve seen the same idea before too in Victory Of The Daleks. We didn’t like it then, and we’re not about to change our minds now.
Like we said, game of two halves. When it’s good, it’s very, very, good, and when it’s bad, it’s horrid.
MORAL: Good perception filters make good neighbours.
YOU AIN’T SEEN ME, RIGHT?
It’s nice the way the 79b is handwritten on the label of the intercom.
BUT WOULDN’T CRAIG HAVE HAD TO GET OFF THE SOFA?
There’s a Van Gogh exhibition poster on the fridge.
Two couples who fancy each other but haven’t said so talking on the phone at the same time. See what they did there?
SENSE OF DIRECTION
We love the wonderfully sinister shot that pans along behind the picket fence. Never has a fence slat looked so threatening.
Buy this Doctor Who DVD: UK
Buy this Doctor Who DVD on Blu-ray: UK