Monday, 26 September 2011

Retail Therapy

Doctor Who
Closing Time
Series Six, Episode Twelve

We weren’t exactly jumping for joy when we saw the Closing Time trailer.  Both of us liked The Lodger, but we had no desire for a sequel.  The idea of an episode sans Amy and Rory wasn’t entirely welcome, as the Doctor’s been getting increasingly gloomy and mean lately.  And, Cybermen?  Stompy, humourless, ridiculous Cybermen?  Surely not.

We might as well end the suspense.  We liked it.  Turns out it was much needed alone time with the Doctor, and thank God, we still love him.  In general we haven’t had this much fun with Doctor Who since Melody Pond was just a couple of silly unrelated words.

Russell T Davies and Toby Whithouse have copped plenty of flak for this, but Gareth Roberts’ episodes in particular are often outright dismissed as ‘fun’.  We think that’s unfair.  Fun is underrated, and not as easy as it looks.  With Series Six getting increasingly complicated and melodramatic, we’ll take all the fun we can get.

Some of the jokes are a bit obvious, not to mention overdone – the old ‘We’re not a couple’ gag is neatly inverted, but then dragged to a slow death, along with the interminably cute ‘I speak baby’ routine and the Doctor’s funny-at-first ‘Shh’ powers – but we really don’t mind.  This year has been so heavy and (dare we say it) disappointing that a so-called ‘fun’ episode makes all the difference, especially just before the inevitably headscratching finale.  Frankly, we needed it.

It’s refreshing to have the Doctor do some actual investigating for once.  (Although his initial determination not to do anything is all gold.  ‘What is it?’  ‘Nnnnnothing.  Didn’t even notice that, for example.’)  Going undercover in a shop is a great idea – and a gentle borrow from School Reunion – but Roberts thankfully doesn’t over-do it.  It’s an excuse to put the Doctor among kids, where he’s in his element, and it’s great to see him effortlessly win the trust of his colleagues while poor Craig flounders.  (Also, we have to mention the bit where he strokes that plastic dog.  No particular reason, it’s just great.)

Despite the zany premise, Closing Time isn’t all nonstop comedy.  This is the Doctor’s last adventure before the (supposed) end, and it’s full of superb Doctorly contemplation and conflict.  That stuff’s riveting, despite the fact that the Doctor obviously isn’t going to snuff it next week.  (Sorry, Steven.)  And this being Matt Smith, even the funny bits are tinged with complex, seemingly subconscious emotions that frankly we could watch all day.

He hasn’t got much to work with – wacky James Corden, a sleeping baby, Amy and Rory at a distance – but he still turns in a beautiful performance bubbling with all the best his Doctor has to offer.  The fact that he’s done this more than once this year makes us absolutely certain this is our favourite Doctor.  We could not love this guy more.

As for Craig, we weren’t desperate to see him again but he makes a good double act with Matt Smith.  The Doctor’s more comfortable with him than he is with Amy or Rory because there’s less baggage, and that’s fun to watch.  (And thank you, Craig, for pointing out that generally it’s the extras who get killed off, not the companions.)

Also fun to watch, in a sharp break with tradition, the Cybermen.  Neither of us likes the metal morons much, as let’s face it, they’re less interesting Daleks on legs.  But Closing Time puts them in the shadows, broken and a bit desperate, and we like them a lot better that way.  At least, we did once we dislodged the mental image of what that Cyberman was doing in the dressing room.

Plus we finally get to see Cybermats.  This is great news for the nerds/loyal fans, and for everyone else there’s Craig’s line, ‘Don’t have a go at me just because I don’t know the names’.  What do we think of the angry little paperweights?  They’re a bit creepy, a bit funny.  We like them.  (The Doctor calls his one Bitey.)

Alas, as much fun as we’re having, there must be an actual plot, and this one’s not going to trouble the Hugo committee.  Still, we love the smallness of a bunch of ratty Cybermen trying to rebuild from nothing, and we don’t really comprehend the fanboy rage about the Cybermen being reduced to appearing in a small-scale comic episode.  (To this we say, in our best Danny John-Jules voice, ‘Reduced?’)  You can have an episode with one Dalek, and you can have an episode with a small bunch of Cybermen.  We’ve seen more than enough Invasion Of Earth stories for the time being.

There are logical holes, because it’s the Cybermen and virtually nothing they do ever makes sense.  They do at least partially explain why Craig would make a good Cyber-Controller (hey, they’re desperate), and they’ve completely changed how they convert people into Cybermen before now, so it’s no particular shock that they’ve suddenly taken to gluing them together over people’s bodies.  We do object to the ‘emotional influx’ being enough to blow them up on the spot, but it’s happened before.  Blame Tom McRae for setting that dipstick precedent.

As for Craig’s heroic Daddy moment at the end… well, it’s a direct repeat of Night Terrors.  It’s cheesy, and it’s downright stupid to blatantly rehash a plot from three episodes ago, and it makes no sense, but what can we say?  It’s a lot better than Night Terrors, and for all we know it’s part of some over-arcing parent theme that’ll tie up nicely next week.  (No pressure, Steven.)  We’re tempted to forgive all just because of Matt Smith’s hilarious epilogue, blurting info-dump at clueless Kelly for demonstrably no reason.  It’s cheeky, but we laughed.

Then the Doctor leaves, and all the fun we’re having not wading through the arc comes to an abrupt end, as the arc crashes in and shouts, ‘DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME!  ME ME ME!’  Thanks, because we really needed that.

Actually, hard as we try, we can’t forget about the stupid arc.  (It’s like the Doctor says: everything we find out makes less sense.)  We don’t object to it poking its nose in – it worked fantastically well in The Almost People – but it has to intrigue us, not bash us over our heads.  This scene is rushed, extremely silly, and about as subtle as Monty Python’s foot.  What were they thinking with those ‘witness statements’?  Why is River surprised by any of this?  What have the Silence been doing all this time, besides laughing evilly?

With only two minutes of screen-time, Alex Kingston and Frances Barber have to ramp up their performances; they come across as a total simpleton and a panto villain respectively.  Add the ridiculously on-the-nose sing-song from (urgh) Night Terrors and we’re already dizzy from rolling our eyes.

But you know what?  None of that’s Closing Time’s fault.  Steven Moffat almost certainly wrote this bit, so blame him.

We like Closing Time.  It’s intended as fun, and fun was had.  It has a handful of really effective moments, like the Doctor nearly bumping into Amy and Rory, and the self-contained story makes us nostalgic for Series Five.  We had a great time.  Alas, our time has run out, we can’t put it off any longer: we must watch the finale.


  1. It stands out when all around is dark. Like a stream of bat's piss, to quote Monty Python.

    In a bad series, which this is, an ordinary episode, which this is, is, by comparison, good enough.

    Also that was an awful lot of "is" for one sentence. :)

  2. The pictures on this reviews are wonderful. :)

    I think this is the only episode I like from this series. Remind me never to watch series 6 again.

  3. I don't think there's much danger of that. But yes, I really liked this one. And I'm happy with the review, too!

    May have ruined Cybermen for myself forever with that picture, though. CORRUPT MENTAL IMAGE. DELEEEETE.