Transmitted 24 September, 2011
In the last days of his life, the 11th Doctor decides to revisit old friends. A weary and troubled Timelord calls upon his old friend Craig Owen to discover that the lifelong bachelor is a father overwhelmed at the responsibilities of parenting. The Doctor also catches the scent of a sinister alien presence. Rather reluctantly, he decides to take action by working in the toy department of a department store infested by weird silver rats.
I have stated this several times over, but in case you are finding my site for the first time, let me explain that I have begrudgingly accepted several conceits as being incontrovertible with new Doctor Who. Just as viewers had to sit through actual history, creeky sets and bizarre monsters with the classic program, the new Doctor Who from BBC Wales has its own peccadilloes. It is more concerned with comedy and standard TV drama than actual science fiction adventure stories. It also seems to view the monsters as a necessary evil needed to tell any number of stories that the viewer must find more interesting, such as parenting, turning 40 or the undying love a dancer has for a pig-faced mutant. Fine. I accept that.
Overall, I enjoy Gareth Roberts’ scripts for Doctor Who (though Unicorn and the Wasp was so bad that I didn’t even bother reviewing it). He catches the concept that the modern series is a sitcom with monsters and runs with it. He’s also a big fan of the classic series and enjoys playing up elements that he enjoys from the old program. It is a good thing that Roberts penned this episode as it is mainly a sitcom with James Corden and Matt Smith set in the Doctor Who-verse. For the moments that fit that description, it is quite enjoyable. When it strays into the realm of emotional drama or adventure it falls flat on its back stinking of old nappies.
Craig Owens is at a loss. He has been left on his own for a weekend to fend for himself. So unable to cope by himself is he that his girlfriend has not only labeled but numbered his food and left diagrams throughout the kitchen. That’s apparently the script trying to make sure you get the point that may be missed by the actual dialog in which Craig’s girlfriend Daisy states that she knows he is capable while insinuating that she is genuinely worried. A few more moments are spent playing up this concept that is already becoming tired when the Doctor shows up on Craig’s doorstep. Sensing strange emissions with his magic wand (well, it is), he discovers to his shock (and ours) that Craig is a Daddy.
The preceding over-blown exposition is almost excused… but we’re just getting started.
When the Doctor arrives on Earth a short time after he had previously seen Craig Owen in last year’s ‘The Lodger,’ there is a strong feeling of dread. That kind of feeling that Mark Gattis would equate with the opening episodes of Earthshock and Logopolis. The Doctor casually mentions that he is on a farewell tour and thanks to Murray Gold’s deafening score and the crying of baby Alfie, it gets missed. This is interesting because the character of the Doctor has actually been allowed to age and somewhat progress on screen for the first time in the program’s history.
One could point out that the Fourth Doctor has three distinct periods of his incarnation as he gets steadily loopier and the the Tenth Doctor becomes egocentric and power-mad, but I’m going to avoid both for different reasons. In both cases the program itself failed to support the idea (Tom himself was obviously the cause for the change in behavior and Davies had no idea of where to take the Tenth Doctor’s fall dramatically). It’s interesting also because we get to see the Doctor try and become his older self by taking up the challenge to defeat an alien menace and be the hero. Again, Smith’s performance makes this transition compelling on screen.
Obviously something has happened between his experience in ‘The God Complex’ and his death at Lake Silencio to make the Doctor so somber and self-defeatist. If there’s any time in next week’s story between moments featuring River Song, maybe we’ll find out what that’s all about.
In any case, the plot has nothing to do with the Doctor, really. It’s all about ‘regular people’ at a nearby department store who are plagued by cybermats and therefore Cybermen. While the Doctor once more exhibits his skill at ‘talking baby,’ the staff of the department store are being kidnapped and pulled away to some mysterious fate. Of course no one cares because the public at large are busy watching crap TV and eating chips. Fortunately, the Doctor is around to save the ‘sheeple’ (I cannot believe I just used that word) and all will be well. Unfortunately, the Doctor has lost faith in himself, but he has Craig around to help him there. Also fortunate for Craig, the Doctor can help him find confidence as a parent.
Essentially what we have in Closing Time is a monster story without monsters or a Cybermen story that has nothing to do with Cybermen. In case anyone’s interested in my opinion as a parent, it also has nothing to do with parenting either. I mean honestly, you don’t just hand your baby to a complete stranger and you cannot get over your fears of inadequacy as a parent in a weekend. It has everything to do with the chemistry between Smith and Corden. Honestly, this episode begins and ends with them. When they spark, the episode is great fun, but when they fail to connect it’s a shambles.
I have a theory that there are no truly bad Doctor Who stories there are just bad Doctors. This story supports that theory as Smith is just wonderful. The script feels like it was written by a schitzophrenic as it is equal parts brilliance and shite. For every moment as touching as the Doctor talking to baby Alfie there’s the ‘clever nods to the fans’
I know he’s not to everyone’s taste, but Smith really is the ideal actor for this program right now. He sells some of the worst dialogue ever and also makes a contrived plot watchable. It is very nice that he got a relatively clutter-free episode in as the series to date has all but forgotten he is the star of the show. I’m happy to learn that he has signed on until the 50th anniversary (man, I feel old).
Despite the strengths of the two lead actors, ‘Closing Time’ has a lot of flaws. The direction is inconsistent, the supporting cast as a whole couldn’t be bothered and wade their way through lines adopting the ‘BBC commoner accent.’ As the Doctor and Craig ‘investigate’ the strange disappearances, it becomes clear that there is some very real danger at the department store. The Doctor wisely advises that Craig get out of town but despite the fact he is so thick that the woman who loves him has labeled his food and he has a child to take care of he insists on helping out. Craig is so dim that he straps his baby to his chest to take the brunt of the danger and then hands his child to a stranger to jump down a dark pit to fight robots with a pricing gun.
I fear for baby Alfie.
It’s no surprise that the Cybermen catch Craig but I’m still trying to work out why they decide that he is ideal stock for their Cyber Controller. Haven’t the Cybermen been watching? The man is a mess! Even so they erase his emotions (even though the Doctor insists that if you just emote hard enough you can beat that… just like flexing a muscle can apparently repel bullets) and encase him in a Cyberman suit. The big problem there is that the new Cybermen are rubbish. Almost anything causes them to explode.
In addition to these problems, the plot resolution is painful. The concept that love can defeat the Cybermen. Why didn’t Jamie just admit that he loved the Doctor back in Tomb of the Cybermen and he could have saved all of us the grief?? It’s not a corny concept it’s a poorly written plot that reveals two ideas have been crammed together that don’t work. There are two stories here; the reunion of Craig and the Doctor and the Cyber-invasion. Roberts couldn’t be bothered with Cybermen apparently so he not only offers no real tangible reason for their presence but he also cannot figure out a resolution without also making it the resolution to his story about Craig and the Doctor. It’s dreadful.
On the plus side, I was rather shocked to read online that Lynda Baron (who played the strangely recurring character of the shop worker Val) had also appeared in Enlightenment as the wonderfully over-the-top (and humorously named) Captain Rack and even sang the ‘Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’ from the Bill Hartnell adventure ‘The Gunfighters.’ I’d actually rather re-watch either, but it’s nice to see that she’s still working.
Along with being a magical monster killer and friend to all children, the Doctor is also apparently a Mary Poppins-type as shown by the fact that he not only saved the Earth but also cleaned up Craig’s flat. Because, lest we forget, Craig is hopeless. The closing moments of Closing Time are so awful that I thought I had traveled back three years and was watching an RTD episode. Inexplicably, the Doctor addresses three random kids and tells them who he is and we then hear older versions of the three kids retelling this no-doubt iconic moment.
I despise the program telling the viewers through narration and then every single character on screen (aside from the poor doomed folks working in a shop over an exploding alien space ship full of organ-stealing cyborgs from the future) that the Doctor is the single most important person ever. Does this imply that if he weren’t so important and powerful, we wouldn’t watch? If so, why were the viewing figures for the Davison era so high while his companions and supporting cast members joined the steadily building pile of corpses outside the TARDIS? Why can’t the Doctor just be a time traveling adventurer and detective rather than the hero of all time and space?
The action cuts to River Song (oh, thank goodness) who is then assaulted by the Silence and evil eye-patch lady who shouts some exposition at her then puts her in an astronaut uniform to kill the Doctor. Once again a sing-song prophecy is used in Doctor Who in place of any real dread or menace. The program has already shown that the Doctor can get out of any situation and if pressed, the script can then completely un-write reality. Cliffhanger? What cliffhanger?
The entire closing sequence felt like bad fan fiction, putting events and characters in place with the methodical care of someone with no reason to put them there. Ugh. This single sequence is enough justification to anyone who despises the Moffat regime and its two year-long story that has lasted to this point. I have held off completely judging the body of work until it is finished, but given the ‘revelation’ of River Song’s identity and then this week’s revelation of the ‘impossible astronaut,’ I fear for the finale.
Next week: ‘The Wedding of River Song’