And yet another one from DWM #423. All of this, combined with my DVD review, meant there were pages and pages of Kibble-White in this one issue. Even I was sick of me…
“He just turned up one day. Then everything was different…” That’s how Mickey Smith summed it up in 2006 when the Tenth Doctor moved in to his flat. It was a temporary arrangement, played out over nine comic-strip pages in issue #368 of this very magazine.
Four years on the Eleventh Doctor is taking up another transitory tenancy Chez Earth in writer Gareth Roberts’ screen adaptation of his own story. For Mickey’s counterpart, Craig Owen, nothing will be the same again. But for us viewers? Not so life-changing.
If that sounds like an implied criticism, it’s not. One of the joys of modern day Doctor Who is, despite the high pressure to deliver high audience figures via high-stakes stories, it’s remained unafraid to occasionally open the windows and let a little light in. Levity is one of the keynotes of The Lodger as landlord and Time Lord turn chalk’n’cheese sitcom odd-couple. It’s a little cracker of a tale that makes mileage out of the fact that, as someone to hang out with, the Doctor rocks.
So there are plenty of laughs – our hero describing himself as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “special favourite” is a stand-out for me – but topping even that is the story’s strong characterisation. A few pages back I mentioned how much I like Chris Chibnall’s Doctor. But I like the Gareth Roberts incarnation even more. This is a Time Lord who walks in eternity… where he sometimes comes across a Ryman’s. An inveterate enthusiast, he easily wheedles excitement out of a corner of the universe which has bred the dullest things known to creation – dry rot, pub football and nights of pizza-booze-telly. However, for the Doctor that’s precisely where the adventure is. Being a “normal bloke” is the biggest wheeze yet.
It’s a storytelling stalwart to have a stranger arrive in town and, through his eccentricities, highlight our own. The Doctor’s air-kissing attempts at modern-day etiquette reveal its very absurdity, he reacts to the toxic properties of red wine by sensibly spewing it straight back into the glass, and his simple, “Can you hold, I have to eat a biscuit?” while manning the phone in Craig’s day job is a tiny moment of liberation, subverting a customer service culture that enslaves call centre drones across the planet. These are all small reversals, revelations and victories but they’re being played out right here, in our world. Our hero is actually participating in, and having fun with, our day-to-day. That’s a little bit thrilling.
The casting of James Corden prompted a touch of consternation from us fans. Well, those of us who get a bit insecure when the world of Light Ent stages an invasion. We shouldn’t worry, though. As present day DW has proved time and again, it’s bigger than any guest turn – even those with the heft of the Gavin and Stacey star. Corden does just fine in the role of Craig, a guileless and likeable everyman who may lack in ambition but, with the encouragement of the Doctor, steps up to not only save humanity, but – much more frighteningly – kiss the girl. Daisy Haggard’s Sophie is also easy to warm to. She’s more of a dreamer than Craig, but without a wake-up call, she’s never going anywhere.
Sorry, quick digression. But didn’t you just adore the Doctor pep-talking Soph’? Up to his eyes in wiring and rattling out nonsensical platitudinal puff: “So then. Of course then. That’s no good then.”
So then. Back to the story then, and The Lodger isn’t all sitcom travails on Aickman Road. Oh no! Because there’s someone strange living on the top floor of this one-storey building, and whoever this person is, they’ve been knocking up a prototype version of the Eighth Doctor’s console room. “Someone’s attempt to build a TARDIS” is the Time Lord’s only line of explanation. It’s a big, sweeping moment, although I genuinely cannot decide if there’s wit in the brevity afforded to this plot point, or if it’s seriously underdeveloped. The resolution of the menace, though, is much more satisfying, having been carefully woven in from the very beginning.
In another time, a story like this would hinge on the Doctor galvanising Craig to see beyond his small-town horizons and move on. Here, though, the journey has been about discovering the adventure inherent in everyday life. The thrills of pub league football, “a Dylan crisis on top of the Claire crisis” and the huge jeopardy in telling your best friend that you’re in love with her. Granted, it’s not the kind of Doctor Who I want every week, but if the TARDIS can stop off nearby a Ryman’s at least once a series, I’ll be quite happy.