Lightning doesn’t strike twice apparently, as Closing Time shaped up as an underwhelming sequel to Series 5’s successful low-key episode, The Lodger. Although, as light, pre-finale fluff it was enjoyable enough, I can’t help but cringe over all the very visible faults of this episode. For one, the plot was just a bit stupid. Although I liked the idea of the Doctor visiting his old mate Craig as a stop on his “farewell” tour before he goes to his predestined death at Lake Silencio, fighting Cybermen in the women’s section of a department store in Colchester is taking the mickey. There are two elements in conflict in this story: the comedy of “the Doctor and Craig” (and Stormageddon), and the menace of the Cybermen. Trying to recreate the tone and the charm of The Lodger while also involving the Cybermen just doesn’t work. The script might have worked better if they’d discarded the Cybermen and perhaps employed a throwaway monster instead while focussing on the character comedy between the Doctor and Craig, but, as it stands, Closing Time tries to be two things at once and fails by making a mockery of the Cybermen.
That said, there’s also much to like in this episode. Where it did succeed, of course, was the comedy. Matt Smith and James Corden, and their onscreen characters, have delightful, funny chemistry that makes them a terrific joy to watch together. The mediocre script was almost worth the ecstatic onscreen humour between the Doctor and Craig, and there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. To pick a few of my favourites, there was the Doctor’s idea of a “social call” apparently being to turn up unannounced on someone’s doorstep, inquire as to how they are, and promptly walk away. There was the Doctor inquiring, without a hint of irony, “Will I blush?” when asking about Craig’s baby’s name. There was the Doctor, trying to draw Craig’s attention away from the fact they’d just materialised in a Cyberman base, confessing his undying love for Craig… by which Craig actually didn’t seem totally repulsed (“Doctor, are you going to kiss me?”). And so on. The humour around “Stormageddon” and his power complex was a bit cringeworthy, though; it was a bit too hard to believe that Alfie was saying all the Doctor said he was, and I’d have assumed he was making it all up except it’s even harder to believe the Doctor has such a great wit. My other explanation is that the Doctor just thinks he speaks baby…
We have to talk about that resolution, though. Like many others who watched that sequence with their faces in their palms, I want to sit down Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat and have a long, hard talk about not making the Cybermen into complete jokes. Okay, I’ll admit that that scene, where a seemingly converted Craig defies his cyber-programming when he’s overpoweringly affected by the sound of his baby crying, was quite emotively affecting, and, as far as “feel-good” resolutions go, it was pretty effective. But I can’t reconcile my appreciation for the scene’s emotive quality with the inane idea that the Cybermen can be defeated “by love”. The Cybermen are supposed to be the second most malignant, terrible race in the universe… and they were defeated by Craig thinking about his baby. That simply begs the question of why all the people who were converted by the Cybermen in the past who thought about their loved ones, as they inevitably would at the point of what was effectively death, did not escape and defy the Cybermen? The Cybermen were used as a throwaway plot device in this story to reinforce a point about Craig’s love for Alfie, and little more. They really deserved better.
To draw myself back from being overly negative again, there were other good aspects of this episode (that didn’t involve comedy). There was a very poignant scene in which the Doctor, left alone to take care of Alfie, recounts his advice and philosophy on life to the bawling little bub. “You know, when I was little like you, I dreamt of the stars. I think it’s fair to say in the language of your age, that I lived my dream, I owned the stage, gave it a hundred and ten percent. I hope you have as much fun as I did, Alfie.” The scene really profoundly contrasts the 1,100 year-old Time Lord with the budding slip of a child. And Matt Smith, as ever, really convincingly exudes the age and weariness of the Doctor, a remarkable feat for an actor of Matt’s age. Another poignant scene was the Doctor in Craig’s sitting room vocalising the creeping guilt he’s being feeling of late, a theme picked up in earnest in the previous episode (although that was 200 years ago, but I suppose the Doctor’s guilt never leaves him).
Hanging over this episode was the Doctor’s impending death, which was, for the Doctor, to be the very next day. The Doctor had been travelling around alone, on a 200-year “farewell tour” of sorts, before facing up to his inevitable fate. I liked this idea (plenty of space for Big Finish to insert Eleventh Doctor stories if they ever get the rights to the New Who Doctors), but it was a bit of a surprise to find the Doctor had aged 200 years since the previous episode. It was a bit hard to believe. It might have been a better idea to have shown 2-3 stories featuring the Doctor travelling alone, like David Tennant’s “specials year”, successively spaced over that period, before the finale, to better convey the time gap. In any case, was it just me, or did the Doctor seem more weary and as though he was feeling more keenly the weight of his years, than before? If it was intended, it was very well done, and reflected well the Doctor’s sense of resignation about his fate. Finally, I thought the revelation of River Song as the “impossible astronaut” (although not exactly the most unexpected of revelations) set up the finale brilliantly.