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June 14, 2010

Man About the House

Doctor Who: The Lodger
Review by Neil Perryman

I like James Corden.

Lodger1No, honestly, I do. Gavin and Stacey was brilliant, his turn as the swotty student in Teachers was unforgettable and his definitive Hamlet will probably remain unsurpassed for a generation. Sure, his lesbian vampire movie was rubbish (which is quite hard to do), his sketch show was massively misjudged, his number one hit single is bloody awful and his chat show skills (not to mention his award-giving skills) are practically non-existent, but I still like him. I just can't help it.

Having said that, if you'd told me two years ago, when I saw him skulking impatiently outside a hotel in Birmingham as he waited for his girlfriend to leave a Doctor Who Convention, that he would star in an episode of our favourite show, then I would have laughed in your face. But James Corden has nothing to do with this episode's failings. Or to quote the man himself in a recent interview for Digital Spy: "I didn't write it, guv!"

I'm also an enormous fan of Daisy Haggard. Has any other actress in history been saddled with such an inappropriate surname? Somebody called Bob Gorgeous should marry her immediately. I've loved Daisy from the very first moment I saw her in Man Stroke Woman and her turn as a call girl in Saxondale continues to haunt me to this day. She's lovely and fantastic and you can't lay the blame at her door, either.

Matt Smith was wonderful too. However, I am convinced that you could ask Matt Smith to set fire to his own farts whilst wearing a tutu and he'd still be utterly brilliant.

Seriously, could you imagine anyone else playing this part these days? Forget previous Doctors trying to cohabitate in a bedsit, just try wrapping your head around Patterson Joseph or Chewitel Ejifor making small talk about call centres as they spit out their wine. Actually, don't. It's a horrifying thought.

And we can hardly pont the finger in Karen Gillan's direction, either. Admittedly, she does spend the entire episode shrieking like Victoria Waterfield in a torture dungeon, but given the fact that she probably filmed her part during a loo-break in Block 3, that's hardly her fault.

I am convinced that if you asked Matt to set fire to his own farts whilst wearing a tutu, he'd still be brilliant...

Lodger2The set-up was great as well. That concept of something nasty lurking at the top of the stairs works beautifully in the context of this show, especially for any youngsters watching who don't live in a bungalow, and some of these moments are genuinely creepy. The opening scenes between Matt and James are effortlessly charming too and there are some seriously quotable moments, like "People just can't stop telling me their plans" and "Less of a young professional, more of an ancient amateur". Everything was going just fine.

And then I simply lost interest. Maybe it was the impending England football match, maybe it was impending King's Arms football match or maybe, just maybe, it was the thoroughly predictable love match unfurling before my eyes, but suddenly I found myself caring less.

It didn't help that some of the comedy didn't translate to the screen very well. The scene with the half-naked Doctor thinking that he'd picked up the sonic screwdriver instead of an electric toothbrush probably looked good on paper but on telly it came across as forced slapstick. The gentle character moments fared better: the awkwardness as Craig dug himself a hole in front of the woman he loved was particularly sweet, although I could have done without all the comedy parping from Murray Gold; I get it, it's funny.

But the main problem I had with The Lodger was my growing impatience with the Doctor's response to the threat.

I appreciate that any climax has to be delayed for as long as possible (well, that's what the wife keeps telling me) but I found the Doctor's reluctance to investigate the room at the top of the stairs a bit absurd and completely out of character. It's not enough to simply imply that he's scared of the threat because he certainly doesn't look like he is. He's simply pissing about! This wouldn't be so bad if THREE PEOPLE DIDN'T DIE! That's right, while the Doctor is larking about making omelettes and scoring nutmegs, innocent bystanders are brutally murdered. This takes the shine off the quaint Odd Couple routine just a bit.

while the Doctor is larking about making omelettes and scoring goals innocent bystanders are murdered...

Lodger4We are also expected to go with the conceit that the Doctor can't pass himself off as a human without hilarious hi-jinks ensuing. Forget the fact that he was exiled on this planet for several years and that he hung around with beer-swilling soldiers most of the time, he also spent most of his 9th and 10th incarnations knocking around a flippin' housing estate! And now he suddenly doesn't know what football is? Seriously? This just makes his miraculous prowess at the sport come across as even more smug and silly than it already is.

And then, thanks to five minutes spent watching a pointless kick around in a park, there's no time left for the Doctor to explain to Craig know what the hell is going on and so he just head butts him instead. Right. Whatever.

I'm sure a lot of people loved that scene for a variety of complicated reasons but sadly I'm not one of them.

All of this could have been swept under the carpet if the climax hadn't been quite so ridiculous. Yeah, yeah, go on, tell me that I'm watching a show about a time travelling telephone box. But there are limits, you know!

she spends the entire episode shrieking like Victoria Waterfield in a torture dungeon...

Lodger3

The reveal is fairly exciting to begin with: someone is trying to build a TARDIS! A dark, scary TARDIS! The sort of TARDIS that Anthony Ainley wouldn't mind driving. Ohhhhh, suddenly the Doctor's reticence about going upstairs makes sense... But no, it's just a nebulous threat with a massively contrived glitch.

What is it with the superior races in this universe that they have to include such bizarre safety features in their technology? First of all we had the Daleks with their 100% pure Dalek lock (ideal for any extinct race), and now this lot (whoever the hell they are) have installed a "must be willing to travel" clause in the ignition key.

I'm sorry? WHAT?

The monkeys didn't even get a helpline!

And am I the only person who thought perception filters just made something invisible or difficult to perceive? Since when did they manage to induce mass hallucinations and impossible staircases? Did I miss a meeting? Still, when you've got psychic cats roaming around the halls, who actually cares anymore? It's just a good job the door wasn't double deadlocked. Phew.

Next week looks fabulous, though. And if you thought Daleks bitch slapping Cybermen was fangasmic, then just wait until the Drahvins show up!

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