BBC1 - 12th June 2010 - 6.45pm
Christ, you can smell the testosterone from here. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it's that new Lynx fragrance 'Monkeys, Monkeys'. Or the smell of omelettes.
Ah, I wondered when we were going to get to this point. Let's face it, when you've got Messrs Moffat, Nye and Curtis all lined up and writing for Doctor Who by the law of probability someone was bound to introduce the whole crisis of modern masculinity schtick into the series at some bloody point. All three writers have, during their careers, paraded a number of male characters across the screen with many of them desperately attempting to come to terms with the modern man's place in a rapidly changing culture.
Traditionally, scripts from all three writers have had an emphasis on the burdens of masculinity or the crisis of male identity which have been examined with humour and irony but from an essentialist point of view which presume that there was and still exists a relatively stable masculine 'essence' that defines men and distinguishes them from women. This essentialism was one that was then reconstructed as an extension of the media created New Lad or New Man. Here, we're in the post New Lad territory of the metrosexual 'caring' man struggling with his sense of self-esteem and a severe case of unrequited love. It is the centre of a script that frames the traditional tropes of male behaviour ('I'm a normal bloke. Tell me what normal blokes do.' 'They…watch telly, play football, they go down the pub.' but looks at them from a slightly different angle.
That's because the writer here is Gareth Roberts, adapting the story he presented in the comic strip of the same name where the Doctor and Mickey do the whole flat share thing. Whilst it's clear that Roberts is having immense fun exaggerating the Doctor's eccentricity within the domestic human context of a flat share, you could argue that this urgent desire to emphasise how eccentric the Doctor actually is out of his natural habitat. It somewhat contradicts his history with, and knowledge of, Earth, including his long period of exile where he was seen regularly hobnobbing with politicians and scientists, scoffing their cheese and draining dry their wine cellars. An amusing reference to Pertwee singing in the shower reminds us of that previous Doctor's vast experience with human lives that Roberts rather conveniently puts aside to raise the script's comedy stakes.
Roberts is also perhaps too busy churning out the charming sit-com romantic triangle between the Doctor, Craig and Sophie, that highlights how the alien Doctor is actually the epitome of humanism even though we already knew that, to recognise that he delays for too long the Doctor's solving of the mystery, allowing several nasty deaths to occur whilst the Doctor is cooking omelettes and building scanner devices out of bric-a-brac. This is one of the major problems with the script along with the fairly rushed ending. For all the 'fish out of water' humour, the Doctor's reasoning and behaviour is shown at its most illogical here and the script tantalises, rather infuriatingly, with the mystery of the TARDIS-like time-engine and its unknown owner or owners but then goes no further.
Despite these problems, the set up is interesting and the threat from the man upstairs is wonderfully evocative as he or it lures in his victims one by one. The disturbing thing is that he or it uses a number of disguises, all equally suspect, to lead them to the slaughter. There's a slightly unsavoury aspect to the first sequence where the ship's autopilot lures in the young Leonardo Dicaprio lookalike and as he innocently mounts the stairs his doom is clearly in the hands of an older, more mature man who awaits his arrival. Later, what looks like a prostitute dressed like Donna Summer and someone from Eastenders are given the routine from the emergency auto pilot thing and are reduced to damp patches on Craig's ceiling whilst the Doctor diddles about nattering to Amy, who seems to spend most of the episode hanging from a trapeze, or he indulges his male bonding with Craig by playing football.
'You're weird and you can cook. That's good enough for me.' admits Craig and in doing so he pretty much sums up how many heterosexual and homosexual partnerships get off the starting blocks these days. The suggestion here is then further compounded by Craig's explanation of the customary arrangement between the flat's male occupants. 'In case you want to bring someone round' says Craig. 'A girlfriend…' and then Craig looks the Doctor up and down and crucially appends 'or boyfriend' to frame the relationship between the two men as one of male homosocial bonding with the dynamic for the Doctor's inferred homosexuality framed within that. The episode surfs along with many references to these themes and ideas with Roberts using the differences between the Doctor and Craig to deconstruct some of the masculinities on display and the wider questions of change and continuity in contemporary identities.
When we first see Craig and Sophie and they discuss the flat share advert, Sophie offers Craig a 'mission in life. Find me a man!' which he inadvertently does in the form of the Doctor and, whilst initially too reluctant to share his feelings with her, he increasingly feels his chance has gone simply because the Doctor has opened her eyes to how she can widen her horizons and escape her suburban rut. It's interesting that, even though it is done as a humorous contradiction, Craig bursts out of the front door yelling 'I love you!' at the Doctor, a mock declaration of the love that dare not speak its name.
At first rather taken aback by the Doctor's rather unmanly behaviour (the double air kisses and the Doctor's compliments on Craig's taste in decoralso connote the episode's witty view of metrosexual, suburban mores) Craig's initial discomfort switches to a sense of defeat when the Doctor demonstrates that he is better at the things Craig does - the things that define him as a man. The Doctor might be weird and wear a bow tie but in the end Craig feels inadequate as the Doctor presents his abilities as a footballer and as a temp where Craig works and even as a man who can seemingly relate to women better when he convinces Sophie of her potential.
The whole issue of men and work is explored with Craig's job. In a culture of recession, downsizing and market driven policies, he represents the rising occupational insecurity and sense of precariousness in the male workforce, especially when he finds the Doctor sitting in the office. There is a sense that when Craig turns up for work after the Doctor's gentle, almost feminising, administrations to his sickness, that he is immediately emasculated by the Doctor's further interruption into his working life. He has seemingly usurped Craig, is clearly using his intellect and charm to influence company policy, tell awkward customers the way things will be from here on in and is generally being praised by Craig's boss. Perhaps doing all the things that Craig himself secretly desires.
The episode also explores further notions about men, fear and weakness. Craig puts a brave face on the world, disowning his fear of rejection and yet he's weak enough to capitulate to it when faced with his relationship with Sophie. He regresses from intimacy as much as she does and this is only resolved at the end of the episode when their survival relies completely on the expression of their desire for each other. The regression and repression that Craig is acting out is also the very thing that protects him from the time-engine's search for a pilot.
His seeming contentment with the status quo is at first challenged by the 'man' upstairs when the noise of what he does to his victims disturbs the male flat share but he is again rejected ('Thank you, Craig. But I don't need your help') by the threat. The time engine and its pilot emphasise his entanglement in the roots of suburbia and his lack of ambition beyond 'beer, pizza and telly'. Is he man enough to become the pilot? The only way he can do that is to want to move on, to embrace change, to be the 'man' upstairs. This can only come about when Sophie herself begins her journey to self-fulfilment under the Doctor's influence and finally when she is threatened by the 'man' upstairs too.
The episode succeeds through the three lead performances of Matt Smith, James Corden and Daisy Haggard. When he and the Doctor literally knock heads and Craig instantly discovers the Doctor's real identity and history, Corden's playing of Craig's reactions is amusing and well judged. I had my doubts about Corden but he confirms here that he's very much at home in drama and that frankly he should leave sketch shows, horror film pastiche and football punditry behind him.
Where the episode falls down is in its conclusion. The 'love conquers all' solution to the threat from the time engine teeters over into tweeness and the threat is resolved in such as way that we are left with no real explanation of where it came from in the first place, reducing it to simply a device for articulating all of the character's inner desires. However, there is that interesting coda - about relationships found and lost - as Craig and Sophie are finally brought to their senses by the Doctor in contrast to Amy's discovery of the engagement ring and a relationship that has been wiped from time that leaves Amy and the audience asking any number of questions.
A completely revised and much fuller version of this review is now available in my book Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens - Exploring the Worlds of the Eleventh Doctor published by Classic TV Press and also available on Amazon.