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Doctor Who: Closing Time (Review)

Look! They gave me a badge with my name on it, in case I forget it… Which is very thoughtful, because that does happen.

– The Doctor shows off his name badge

I have to admit, I liked Closing Time. It wasn’t quite as good as The Lodger, but it was an entertaining diversion at the end of what has been a pretty gloomy run of episodes for Doctor Who. And based on the previews for The Wedding of River Song, it isn’t going to get any lighter next week. I do have to admit, I kinda like the idea of Craig as an almost “stationary” companion – one whose life is constantly interrupted by the return of the Doctor to his relatively quiet existence, something that works quite well in contrast to the relationship between Amy and the Doctor.

It's all under (remote) control...

I remarked last year that the biggest difference between how Steven Moffat sees the Doctor and how Russell T. Davies did is that Moffat tends to view the Doctor as an imaginary friend, rather than “the Lonely God.” The relationship between Amy and the Doctor is essentially one about a girl in her twenties who rediscovers her imaginary friend and goes on wild adventures. Similarly, here the Doctor appears as the spur in Craig’s life just when he needs him the most, a last vestige of childhood (even for a manchild rather than an actual child) returning while his partner’s away.

The Doctor is the force that united the couple in the first place, so his arrival at this time of personal crisis for Craig – being left alone to “cope” with the baby – is fortuitous. Indeed, it’s telling that the opening scene juxtaposed the discovery that Craig has a bad with the massive global threat of the Cybermen – the personal and the universal challenges emerging for the characters to face. Indeed, there’s something very touching about the Doctor trying to teach Craig to assert himself and to believe in himself – to give him the coaching that he needs in order to become the loving and successful father that we all know he can be.

Don't worry, the Doctor knows how to wreck their heads...

It helps that Matt Smith and James Cordon work remarkably well together, having a genuine sense of banter. It helps that the Doctor is out of his element again (“social call, thought I’d try it”) and that Craig is reasonably comfortable in his own surroundings – it creates a wonderful dynamic between the two, where it often seems that the Doctor isn’t equipped for the day-to-day world that Craig lives in (doing stuff as mundane as locking himself out of the house and losing his screwdriver in the midst of a Cybermat attack). The Doctor, of course, is much smoother and more self-confident than Craig, resulting in the rather wonderful scene where store security accuse Craig of being a pervert while doing the routine “asking around” thing companions do. “I did exactly what you would have done and I almost got arrested,” he remarks.

I do love the retread of the stuff from The Lodger where everybody buys whatever the Doctor is selling – even giving him a name badge that says “Doctor” and treating it like it was his name. It’s a wonderful illustration of the self-confidence that Craig is so sorely lacking, and I do quite like the way that the Doctor is essentially the better part of Craig, able to do all this stuff that Craig simply isn’t assured enough to do, but teaching him that it’s possible. Call me sentimental, but I do like that sort of nonsense, and it’s the magic that really makes the show run.

CyberMatt...

I do have to confess, though, at being just a bit frustrated over the “Amy’s a celebrity” thing. I know we needed a way of making it clear quickly that she was getting along fine without the Doctor, but becoming a successful model just seems so… cliché and shallow. Surely Amy should be strong and awesome and successful because he’s strong and awesome and successful, rather than just because she looks really pretty? This wouldn’t be so bad if the show hadn’t taken the time to make a (well-deserved) jab at the shallow obsession with Britain’s Got Talent. I just feels like it’s sending a strange message, especially when the whole point of this adventure is the Doctor showing Craig his inner strength (because, let’s be honest, Craig isn’t becoming a model after the Doctor leaves).

I did like the pre-finalé optimism that Craig managed to instill in the Doctor, which feels like it’s a much-needed morale boost after the deconstructions and failures of The God Complex and The Girl Who Waited. The Doctor is genuinely touched at the idea that Craig feels safer around him, and there’s just something very touching about the way the Doctor timidly asks, “Do you still feel safe around me?”It’s clear that the Doctor is feeling a little down-in-the-dumps after everything that has happened, and Craig’s optimism in him feels like a necessary ego-boost rather than a bunch of self-indulgent ego massage.

When it comes to the Cybermen, Craig isn't exactly a convert...

I know a couple of people probably cringed, but I kinda liked the “they’re a gay couple” jokes throughout the episode, if only because it was a nice counterpoint/callback/homage to the “are they a couple/married?” gag that Russell T. Davies used to love inserting into his stories. It feels like an honest equal opportunity gag – after all, if the Doctor and Donna could be married, why not Craig and the Doctor? Surely the relationship has the same dynamics, and you’d be homophobic to assume that it wasn’t a romantic relationship based solely on the gender of the parties involved? I particularly liked the Doctor’s contemplation of the term “partner”, “I like it… Is it better than ‘companion’?”

The Doctor speaking baby was a bit much, to be entirely honest, but I can forgive it in the nature of the occasion. It was all in good fun – and, to be honest, who wouldn’t love to be called “Stormageddon”? It’s a great name. I do love that Craig had to actually clarify that they didn’t name the kid “the Doctor”, one of those great little moments where the Eleventh Doctor has had his ego rather gently deflated. I really like that Eleven, in contrast to Ten, isn’t nearly as cool as he likes to think that he is. It’s one of the endearing quirks of this regeneration.

Don't toy with me...

On the other hand, the climax of the episode does seem just a little bit ridiculous. “I blew them up with love,” Craig remarks about the final confrontation with the Cybermen, and while the Doctor dismisses this as “overly sentimental and grossly simplistic” it is what happens. I don’t know, it’s one over several things I tend to dislike about Cybermen stories, but it is just a little bit too saccharine for me. Just once, I’d like a Cyberman story that didn’t feature anyone’s head exploding (metaphorically or literally) from an emotional realisation. Then again, I’m controversial like that – I don’t think we’ve had a “good” Cybermen story since The Invasion, which marks as a bit of an old fogey.

Still, the Cybermen are window-dressing here. It’s still worth noting that the Cybermen don’t appear to have the “Cybus” logo on them from Rise of the Cybermen, and that the most prominant Cyberman has actually had his chestplate removed, perhaps a statement on the insignia which has been something of a minor controversy among fans. Truth be told, I don’t really mind where these Cybermen came from. Again, I don’t think the monsters have been well-used since the Troughton era in the sixties, but I will concede that the new models (on show here all the way back to Rise of the Cybermen) look infinitely better than the silly suits from the colour serials.

Return of the Cybermen!

But enough grouchy fan whining. As I noted, it wasn’t really a Cyberman episode. It was merely meant to be a fun breath of fresh air before things really get going next week. Of course, I’m fairly sure the Doctor won’t actually die, but it was nice to get this sort of adventure that was relatively happy (if a bit short of “everybody lives”). I’m quite looking forward to next week, but I do dread Steven Moffat trying to tie everything up inside a single episode. Still, I guess we’ll see.

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6 Responses

  1. It was an okay episode, but there was no reason for having such a filler episode so late in the season.

    And they’ve somehow managed to make Amy Pond even more annoying than before, as I discuss here:

    7 Deep Thoughts on the latest episode of Doctor Who:
    http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/09/doctor-who-closing-time.html

  2. The thing with Amy having become a successful model really did feel strange. It just didn’t feel in character at all.

    Mostly I was fairly bored by the episode but I loved Matt Smith’s performance. It might well be the best he’s produced so far on the show.

    Exactly how any of next week’s episode is going to fit together is anyone’s guess. I just hope Steven Moffat isn’t as confused by now as I am.

  3. I kept waiting for the Doctor to mention that he’d been a father too, I was sure that that would arrive. In the end, it was strange that a man who had been a father and grandfather didn’t mention the fact, or anything of the experience that he’d gathered from the experience. It’s certainly hard not to see him as a man who keeps trying to rebuild the experience of having a – relatively young – family around him.

    It was another episode where the all the enjoyable little moments obscured a truly dodgy plot resolution. Killing the Cybermen with love was so sentimental and obvious that I just kept longing for an unexpected twist. Hiding such an indulgence in plain sight with the “overly sentimental” line doesn’t work, does it? Yet the script was witty and touching, although it’s hard to see why the Doctor would arrive at Craig’s doorstep after 200 years of more of traveling. Never mind, it was fun.

    It was fun to see possible plot-elements loaded into the story for next week’s finale. The presence of cyber-teleport tech is one thing that set the fan-alarms ringing, as well as River’s comment that only some of the stories say the Doctor dies when eyepatch-woman thinks he’s going to. So, we’ve got a possible body double, a Doctor who wants to remove himself from his own legend, teleport technology, ex-companions who’ll want to show that the Doctor empowered them far more than he threatened their safety; easy to jump to wrong conclusion with of all of that and see the Doctor’s death as a brilliant hoax causing his enemies to disband not because he’s defeated them openly, but because he’s convinced them they’ve won.

    Which means, SM being as he is, that THAT speculation will be entirely wrong 🙂 Roll on Saturday.

    • Yep, but what is a season of Doctor Who without a truly dodgy resolution? As you noted, trying to disarm it by drawing attention to it didn’t mitigate the damage.

      And that’s a huge missed opportunity you point to there, especially since this is a slightly reflective than usual Doctor, with his death due around the corner. That “the Doctor’s death as a brilliant hoax causing his enemies to disband not because he’s defeated them openly, but because he’s convinced them they’ve won” is actually a very clever idea. I may “borrow” it from you. That said, I think one of the better hints from A Good Man Goes to War was that the Doctor kinda deserved this, with the band assembled by mad fanatics like “General Run Away” and “Eye-Patch lady”, but composed of seemingly decent people who had lived through some of the stuff that he’s done like “the fat one” and “the thin one”. In a season based around exploring the fact the Doctor isn’t a conventional hero, it’s a shame that it was only really hinted at rather than more firmly stated – it reminded me of that great moment in Bad Wolf where the Ninth Doctor realises messing everything up and buggering off isn’t exactly the most constructive strategy of operation.

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