Doctor Who, Eleven For Eleven: Closing Time

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Oh, I’m the Doctor, I work in a shop now, here to help. Look, they gave me a badge with my name on it in case I forget who I am. Very thoughtful, as that does happen.”

There are times to get all bent out of shape over problems with plot, and logic, and diminishing returns, and other niggling concerns, and then there are times where it makes a lot more sense to focus on the positives of a story, the things that do work, the things that make the story enjoyable despite all those nagging flaws. The time to get all bent out of shape over the problems is when those are the chief elements on display, such as in a story like “Let’s Kill Hitler,” one of the big continuity episodes. “Closing Time,” Gareth Roberts’s sequel of sorts to last year’s “The Lodger,” is no such beast; the plot is a secondary concern to watching Matt Smith’s extra-alien Doctor once again invading the life of James Corden’s Craig Owens, this time during an all-important weekend where Craig is supposed to prove to his family and friends that he can take care of his baby Alfie on his own. Unfortunately, this also coincides with a Cyberman invasion from beneath a department store — not their finest hour, but it’s pretty much just an excuse to keep the Doctor around and give him something to do when he’s not tormenting Craig with his ability to speak baby, quiet less developed life forms with a mere “shush,” and the fact that everyone still seems to really, really like him. Again, you’ve probably already seen it, but if you haven’t, spoilers do follow.

11) The one problem I have with moving Craig’s story along this far — him and Sophie together and having a baby — is that it means it’s extremely unlikely that we’ll ever see Craig as a proper companion, journeying through time and space with the Doctor. Maybe that would be too much of a good thing; maybe this duo works best in limited doses, and more importantly in a more domestic setting, but I can’t help thinking how much fun it would be to take Craig out into space, or into, I don’t know, ancient Egypt. Perhaps a short jaunt, like Martha’s three episodes in the Tenth Doctor’s last proper series, would do the trick. Or maybe we’ll have to wait twenty-five years for this to be realized as a Big Finish audio story arc, when Matt Smith and James Corden are middle-aged and a nineteen year-old Twentieth Doctor, an actor who still has yet to be born as of this writing, is on our TV screens. Long as the comedic timing and chemistry is still there, I’ll buy it.

10) I so love the glimpse we get of Amy and Rory; it really hammers home the fact that both the Doctor and the two of them have moved on — or rather, the Doctor’s trying to move on, and they really have. Look, Amy’s a model now! People know who she is! Poor Rory, he’s probably got some banal office job, and she probably makes more than he does. Oh well, that’s his lot in life. Still, I can’t shake the feeling — and more on this next time — that their story, the exciting bit where they run around and have adventures, is coming to a close.

9) This doesn’t, however, mean that the Doctor doesn’t need companions. Far from it, the point Craig keeps trying to make is that the Doctor needs his friends, needs someone watching his back, and seriously needs to stop beating himself up over the danger he puts people in because it’s not like anyone else is going to ward off the occasional Cyberman invasion. It’s the unfortunate push and pull of the more realistic emotions and dangers of the modern DOCTOR WHO; the Doctor worries himself into fits when the humans around him nearly get themselves killed trying to help him out, but he doesn’t take into account the fact that they’re making these decisions for themselves; it’s not like anyone’s forcing them. The point is, and has been throughout the modern series, that the Doctor makes these people stronger and braver, and yes, maybe dislodges their common sense a bit, but when the Doctor has screwed up — and boy, he kind of screws up bad here — somebody has to step in and follow his example and try to save the day. And besides all that, he REALLY needs somebody to talk to. It’s a little sad watching him try and work things out talking to Lynda Baron’s character or, worse, the ditzy shop girl in the lingerie department.

8) The Doctor we see here is, I assume, two hundred years on from the end of “The God Complex.” About that, bravo, Steven Moffat; you’ve moved the Doctor beyond the “every year we watch he’s one year older” paradigm that Russell T Davies stupidly held to. That, in and of itself, is not a problem. What I do find myself rolling my eyes at is the Doctor moping, staving off death, visiting his friends — basically, replaying the end of “The End of Time Part 2,” which was only two years ago. I think Smith plays it with more natural gravitas and less mugging and heavy-handed schmaltz, but it’s still a bit annoying to see it so soon.

7) Pity the poor Cybermen. They haven’t had a really good story since “Earthshock” in 1982, and before that their glory days were in black and white, with such stories as “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “The Invasion.” This story really does them no favors. They’re defeated, as the Doctor is forced to admit at the end, by the power of love, emotional feedback from Craig’s response to his crying son that makes their heads explode and their ship along with them. The ship exploding really doesn’t make any sense. Given that the core of the story is Craig’s journey and, to a lesser extent, the Doctor’s journey, that really gives the Cybermen the short end of the stick. In fact, I suspect we got Cybermen because Gareth Roberts wanted to play with …

6) Cybermats! Not seen since the Fourth Doctor’s first season, Cybermats are rat-like scouts and energy collectors that make the Cybermen more than just generic emotionless cyborg guys. Admittedly it makes them emotionless cyborg guys with handles on their heads, teardrops on their stylized eyes, and pet metal rats, but that still puts them above the Borg in the style and charm departments. I expect we got Cybermats because they tie in nicely with the image of the Doctor working in the toy department at the shop, which is a really cute touch. Also, they’re extremely marketable. I like how the teardrop has been incorporated into their look, and the organic-looking mouth is shockingly scary.

5) The expansion of the “I can speak baby” gag from “A Good Man Goes To War” opens up a whole new avenue for the Doctor to annoy Craig, and the half of the dialog we hear as he chats with Alfie — I’m sorry, Stormageddon — is certainly amusing, though it does sometimes seem a bit harsh on poor Craig. It’s why I think there must be something to the Doctor’s claim; he’s just not that mean.

4) I do think the gay couple gag goes on a bit too long, or at least too long before the Doctor and Craig figure out what Lynda Baron’s character thinks is going on between them. Then again, the Doctor is a bit clueless and Craig’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. It could just be me; personally, I find that sort of misunderstanding-based humor more uncomfortable than funny …

3) … though I did get a good laugh out of how completely out of his depth Craig was trying to get information out of the dim shop girl in the lingerie section. Really, that was a painful effort. And speaking of that girl, while the Doctor said his “shush” would only work once, and only on underdeveloped minds, the fact that he used it at least three times on the shop girl seems to me to be a bit of a mean gag about her state of mental development.

2) The Doctor getting his Stetson hat from Craig was a little sweet. His farewell to humanity, to those three kids, that seemed a bit weird but also totally in character, at least based on his slightly awkward characterization in this story. And might I say, as catch phrases go, the whole “I’m here to help” bit he picks up from the department store really fits the character of the Doctor, and what he’s largely been about since at least the waning days of the First Doctor. It’s nice. I like it.

1) The ending felt like such an unwelcome intrusion; Madame Kovarian, all smugness without motive, is never a welcome sight, and the fact that there’s apparently no trick to the astronaut coming out of the lake is a major letdown. The only reason it’s an astronaut is because there was an astronaut later in the opening two-parter, or because it was an astronaut in the prophesy, or because there was an astronaut in the eyewitness accounts. Broken causality, the reason that anything and everything happens in Moffat-era DOCTOR WHO. The problem is, it doesn’t actually make a damn lick of sense. And moreover, stripped of any motive, they just seem to be evil and murderous for evil and murderousness’ sake, which is just dull.

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