I went into veteran “Who” scripter Gareth Roberts’ Closing Time not expecting much, as I wasn’t a fan of 2009’s “The Lodger”, of which this is a direct sequel. But there was some surprisingly moving moments and a few good laughs as well.
James Corden is back as Craig, who’s had a child since the last time The Doctor visited, a baby boy named Alfie who The Doctor insists thinks he should be called “Stormageddon”. The Doctor speaks baby, naturally, and also has the ability to shut up lower life forms with a “Shh!” and a finger to the lips. The chicken and the egg issue is raised again this week – does trouble follow The Doctor wherever he goes, or does he just have a nose for spotting it when it’s about to break out? You can hardly blame Craig, now with a baby to think about, for being alarmed at The Doctor’s presence. This begs the question of where the safest place to be when trouble strikes is – at The Doctor’s side, or as far away from him as possible? Given the state of mind he’s been in lately, it’s a telling question indeed.
The premise of the story surrounds an old Cyberman ship that crash landed centuries earlier and now has a department store built on top of it, and has been awakened by an ill-placed Council power line. It’s the weakest part of the episode, to be honest – it feels like a necessary adjunct to the comedy and a catalyst for The Doctor’s self-analysis. Plot has never been Roberts’ strong suit as a writer for “Who”, and it’s kind of sad to see the Cybermen used as such a throwaway plot device like this. We even get the first reappearance of the cybermats (well, one of them) since the reboot. An invasion force of six cybermen isn’t much of a threat, and the resolution of their plot is rather hackneyed and obvious. And why did Craig’s wife knock at the end? Doesn’t she have the key to her own house?
There are some nice comedic moments, to be sure. Has “Star Trek” been mentioned on “Who” before? If it has I don’t recall – and the teleport pad in the
turbolift elevator really did look positively Trekian. We also had Matt Smith quoting Patrick Troughton (his spiritual predecessor as The Doctor) – “You redecorated. I don’t like it.” Smith and Corden have a very nice chemistry together, and it’s rather poignant to see the way The Doctor tries to push himself away from Craig, even as his hearts want to team up with him and have an adventure. And indeed, that’s rather the lasting impression of the episode. This is a Doctor on the rebound – alone and lonely, and getting ready to die tomorrow, and a chance meeting with a happy Amy (now a model) and Rory doesn’t help. It’s probably the low ebb for the character in 32 seasons of programming. I’ve never seen him so down on himself.
Steven Moffatt has left himself an awful lot of work to do next week. We saw The Doctor get his blue envelopes and Stetson hat, and we know he plans to go to Lake Silencio to meet his end. We saw River Song abducted by Madame Kavorian (Frances Barber), dressed in an astronaut suit and sent to Utah to do the deed. But Moffatt not only has to go through all of the what, why and how of the season premiere and manage to find a way to save The Doctor’s life, he has to find a way to salvage his spiritual state. The Doctor has gone down a very dark path this season, and the fact is that his realization that he really does put his companions – or partners, or whatever you want to call them – in harm’s way isn’t easily dismissed. It seems to me as if he’s condemned his own lifestyle, and he’s decided the universe will be a better place without him. Just how exactly do you deal with all that in 45 minutes?
Unbeknownst to me there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle in the UK over the series’ ratings, and whether the new “Who” has gotten too complicated. I’ve looked at the ratings and as far as I can see, they really haven’t gone done much if at all – and that’s not even factoring in the fast-increasing popularity of the series in the US and other foreign markets. So on that score I think this is a typical case of the UK press running with a non-story, but even a broken clock can be right twice a day if it isn’t a digital, and the “complicated” question is a valid one. As you recall I noted in my first review this season that as much as I love Moffatt, he – and the rebooted “Who” generally, even under Davies – seem to have fallen too much in love with season-long continuous storylines. I don’t mind continuity, but traditionally “Doctor Who” has consisted mostly of stand-alone stories. I think they need to become a bigger part of the series again, and though I never thought I’d say it, I think the series might be better served to lighten up a little. Focus more on the adventure and sci-fi, less on the karmic drama. Fact is, as great as episodes like last week’s “God Complex” are, the show has gotten somewhat grim and even depressing. I’d like to see a brighter emotional palette next season, with Matt Smith’s Doctor in a better mood.