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'Doctor Who' recap: Upstairs, downstairs results in downward spiral

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Image Credit: BBCIn a season of Doctor Who that’s been undeniably uneven, last night’s slight, derivative “The Lodger” represented an unfortunate dip in quality. From the cliched “roommates who can’t admit their romantic love” subplot to a main story arc that felt like it had been cobbled together from a half-dozen superior Who episodes, the hour proved to be a less-than-scintillating run-up to the season finale (part one of which airs next week). Worst of all, it wasted the copious charms of guest star James Corden (Gavin and Stacey’s uproarious “Smithy”).

Things started off rather peculiarly, with the TARDIS taking off without The Doctor, leaving only Amy on board. A mere 11 episodes in to the new companion’s adventures, it seemed unrealistic that she’d have such mastery of the time machine’s control panel, although I suppose her intermittent but unconvincing screams were supposed to signal some sort of discomfort with her solo flight. Honestly, there didn’t seem to be much need for Amy in this episode; perhaps the writers should’ve taken a cue from the riveting “Midnight” episode, which proved that it’s okay for a companion to sit on the sidelines (and off camera) every so often.

Back on the ground, we had the Doctor delaring that “anything that can stop the Tardis from landing is big.” And yet by episode’s end, the auto-pilot menace turned out to be one of the least threatening adversaries in recent Who history: Indeed, it turns out that the crashed spaceship’s hologram had been luring innocent humans to the non-existent second floor to test them out as possible replacement pilots, and burning them up in the process. (Also, how come the victims’ charred remains pouring through the ceiling had such a disastrous effect on Craig?) I didn’t feel so much as a tingle of panic when the ship selected The Doctor as its ideal candidate, perhaps because the repetition of “the correct pilot has been found” echoed so many other (and more effective) mechanical chants from the Who-verse. (One example: “Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved.”) And uff da…the fact that secretly-in-love Craig and Sophie could override the program by placing their hands on the console, kissing, and convincing the ship’s computer that they didn’t want to leave Earth? How very Fifth Element, in which a dude’s willingness to (finally!) commit saves the day.

Alas, the best parts of the episode involved the localized time distortion, which found certain moments in time skipping like broken records. The act of Craig opening and reopening an exploding beverage to the raucous laughter of his friends became a bone-chilling reminder that all was not well in the universe. Since this time-loop business didn’t seem to relate to the auto-pilot, I’m assuming it instead relates to the season-long crack-in-the-wall arc — which again reared its ugly light behind Craig and Sophie’s refrigerator. Perhaps that’s what has the TARDIS so skittish? Or maybe it was The Doctor acting like a total pillock throughout the hour. I know our protagonist can be cocky, but it didn’t sit right with me to see him hailed as a soccer champion who blithely steals another guy’s chance to kick a penalty shot. And while we’re talking out-of-character behavior, are we really supposed to believe the smartest guy in the room would ask a question like “Football’s the one with the sticks, isn’t it?” Oh, and what was the point of that makeshift wheel-device-thingie The Doctor concocted in his bedroom? I know he was determined to pass as an average human this week, but he really just passed as annoying.

But who knows? Maybe the two-part season finale will justify the means. After all, there must be some significance to what happened in “The Lodger” seeing how it’s important enough for Amy to travel ahead to the future to leave a note about which flat to rent. And I won’t lie, I was a little moved when Amy reached into the pocket for a pen and pulled out that engagement ring. Here’s hoping the fallout from this found object will lead to emotionally compelling thrills over the next two weeks.

Were you as disappointed as I was with “The Lodger”? Did anyone else find Amy and The Doctor’s behavior to be somewhat out of character? And either way, how are you feeling about the previews for the two-part finale? As always, if you’re across the pond and have already seen how things wrap up, please don’t leave spoilers in the comments section. And feel free to follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.