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“Doctor Who”: “Closing Time” Review (SPOILERS)

by on September 26, 2011

There’s a lot to like about “Closing Time,” the twelfth episode of Series 6 of Doctor Who. There’s the return of Craig Owens (played by James Corden), a favorite from last series’ “The Lodger,” and his humorous interactions with Matt Smith’s Doctor. It also saw the return of the Cybermen, who, while not used particularly well in the new series, remain my favorite recurring villains. And it began tying things back into “The Impossible Astronaut,” and answered a number of questions regarding the Doctor’s and River’s timelines.

So many positive elements in the episode, and yet, as a whole, I found the episode strangely lacking. I can’t quite explain why.  It was enjoyable and entertaining, but after two such interesting and profound episodes as we’ve had the last couple of weeks, having an episode like this left me oddly unfulfilled. It also had an incredibly hokey and sentimental ending that is sadly becoming the standard. Series 6 is furthering the Father-Son Agenda and I don’t understand why.

The Doctor, knowing he’s reaching the end of his time, is going around visiting old friends for the last time. This sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? He ends up at the flat of Craig Owens, who is now happily living with Sophie and has a baby son named Alfie. Craig is trying to prove to everybody that he can cope with taking care of his son on his own for a weekend, but is actually pretty rubbish at it.  Luckily the Doctor is there. “You’ve redecorated… I don’t like it.” Funny line, even funnier if you know it’s a reference to the classic serials “The Three Doctors” and “The Five Doctors,” both said by the Second Doctor.  In the former, he says it to the Third Doctor regarding the TARDIS, and in the latter he says it about UNIT headquarters. The writer of “Closing Time,” Gareth Roberts, is a massive Who fan and, like Mark Gatiss before him, puts little references to the classic series for fans to squeal over. I didn’t squeal, but I may have made a slightly audible “ooh” sound. My name is Kyle; I’m a big huge nerd.

While trying not to notice things, the Doctor notices strange power surges, and eventually tracks the source of them to a department store, where he promptly gets a job in order to investigate it. Turns out that the Cybermen are behind the power surges and are teleporting people to their ship to assimilate them. You know, standard Cybermen plot.  This time, however, they’re aided by Cybermats, small Cyber critters who do the bidding of their lumbering masters.  The Cybermats first appeared in the Second Doctor story “The Tomb of the Cybermen” all the way back in 1967, and were used up until “Revenge of the Cybermen” in 1975. My name is Kyle; I’m a big huge nerd.

Using this basic framework, Roberts creates a witty narrative where the Doctor again helps Craig with a relatively small personal problem, his insecurity as a father, and Craig helps him realize that he needs people and does, in fact, help people despite seemingly putting them in danger at the same time.  Haven’t we already done that? While overall I enjoy the direction the Moffat/Smith era is going, I’m tired of it always falling back to the Doctor not being torn about putting people in danger.  And facing his own mortality also has started to wear thin, though I do appreciate that the Eleventh Doctor is being much more graceful about his end than his predecessor was (even though we obviously know he’s not regenerating any time soon).  I think Smith strikes an excellent balance between being silly and morose, but just as a whole, I’d be happy if we moved into a period where the Doctor is just an adventurer again.

Smith and Corden play off each other quite well, and while I do hope Craig doesn’t return all the time, it is nice to see that character again.  The running joke about the two characters being gay was also pretty funny. Really, any time the Eleventh Doctor interacts with humans, it’s entertaining.  I also like that the Doctor is, apparently, the most likeable person ever, as any time he meets people, they immediately find him endearing.  And he speaks baby. Pretty funny, but I feel like that joke got a bit old toward the end of the episode.  The woman who played Val, the older lady at the department store, is Lynda Baron, who sang the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon for the First Doctor serial “The Gunfighters” and appeared as space pirate Capt. Wrack in the Fifth Doctor serial “Enlightenment.” My name is Kyle, etc. I also liked the brief appearance by Rory and Amy and the realization that Amy is now a model for “Petrichor” perfume, which is a reference to “The Doctor’s Wife” when petrichor, or the smell of rain, was one of the keys to opening the lock. Kyle = nerd.

Really, everything in the episode was going along fine until the end of the Cyberman plot. Craig comes to the Doctor’s rescue in the Cybership, buried beneath the mall.  They decide to make him the Cyber Controller, given his obvious aptitude, and begin the process of converting him into a Cyberman. Then, he hears Alfie crying from inside the mall, and his love for his son brings him back from the brink of Cyberdom and his influx of emotion causes the other Cybermen’s heads to explode and the ship to blow up as well.  Hokum City.  First of all, that’s almost exactly the same ending as “The Lodger,” where Craig’s emotions save the day. Second, are we to believe that every other person who became a Cybermen could have staved off conversion by just hearing the sound of their child crying? Third, why would the Cybermen’s heads all explode just because he had emotions? Cybermen aren’t hive-minds. Even though they say things like “assimilate,” they aren’t the Borg. Fourth, why would the Cybermen exploding cause the entire Cybership to explode also? Fifth, the explosion of a ship buried deep beneath the Earth would surely affect the mall sitting on top of it. Even if you have the Doctor say at the end “Oh, the bedrock is fine,” that doesn’t mean it should be.

Really, it was just dumb. There’s a strange number of father-son relationships this series. First there was Henry and Toby Avery in “The Curse of the Black Spot,” then there was Jimmy and his son in the hologram in “The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People,” then Alex and George in “Night Terrors,” and now Craig and Alfie in “Closing Time.”  In all cases, they focus on the fathers being distant or somehow removed from their sons, either physically or emotionally, and it is the reconciliation that is the denouement of the stories.  I do not understand why so much emphasis is being put on this theme, especially considering one would assume they’d try to emphasize mother-daughter relationships to tie into the altogether unexplored Amy and Melody arc.  It doth make no sense.  I can’t imagine there’s to be some big reveal in the next episode that will make sense of all of it.

Speaking of the very end, which I wasn’t, things now start to make sense.  The Doctor gets the blue paper and envelopes as well as the Stetson from Craig and we now know that “Closing Time” takes place the day before the very beginning of “The Impossible Astronaut.”  This means that this Doctor, the Doctor in the story, is 200 years older than the Doctor from the last few weeks. Perhaps. We don’t actually know when the Doctor’s lost years began. It may well have occurred some other time.  We also see Madame Kovarian and the Silents recapture River Song, now a doctor herself, and put her into the astronaut suit and put her in Lake Silencio.  I really was hoping it would be more complicated than simply “It was River,” but it seems I was mistaken.  It’s also fairly clear now that the eye patches are used to allow people to remember the Silents all the time.  So if we solve the River Song conundrum and find out how and why the Doctor allowed himself to die, then we still need to figure out why the TARDIS exploded in “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.”  Come on, Moffat; give us an answer!

All in all, “Closing Time” had a lot going for it, but was unfortunately less than the sum of its parts. Lots to like, but I wasn’t particularly moved or thrilled by it.

Next week’s episode, the series finale, “The Wedding of River Song,” looks crazy-go-nuts.  Please enjoy the prequel and the trailer for it.

What the hell is Churchill doing there!?!?!? Tick tock goes the clock, bitches!

-Kanderson is named Kyle and is a big huge nerd who loves to be followed on TWITTER