REVIEW: Doctor Who – Closing Time

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I enjoy when the Doctor interacts with regular people and James Corden’s appearances on Doctor Who have really highlighted those moments. Closing Time makes for a fun episode, but it’s not one I’m likely to go back to often even though I truly enjoy Cordon’s portrayal of Craig Owens. There’s a looming sense of dread about what lies in the Doctor’s immediate future and his true reasons for visiting his friend at this time, but I’m more than ready for some resolution to this season’s mysteries surrounding the Doctor’s death.

Spoilers for what lurks in department store changing rooms, out of service elevators, and baby talk will follow.

The action in Closing Time centers on the Doctor’s investigation of a string of disappearances in Colchester that leads to him taking a job in a local department store. His scenes working in the toy section entertaining local children are fantastic and a small part of a great performance from Matt Smith. The Doctor even wears a nametag at his new job that he states is there “in case I forget who I am.” The line epitomizes the longer arc we’re seeing from Matt Smith’s Doctor (and even the later episodes with David Tennant). He’s been overstepping boundaries and breaking his own rules more and more frequently, but after trying to force himself not to get involved here he can’t help but embrace the words written under his name on the badge, “here to help.”

The returning Cybermen are the cause of the disappearances and it was nice to see another instance distancing them from their Earthbound reintroduction in Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel. Their plan, as usual, is to convert humans and expand their numbers, in this case starting from a skeleton crew and spare parts. The Doctor states that their ship had been underground for centuries before reactivating and I would have liked its presence tied to a previous episode like The Next Doctor or even Earthshock (although that certainly goes back more than “hundreds of years”). There’s a chance a reference was made and I just missed it, as there were a number of nods to previous episodes here including the Doctor’s charmingly awkward way of greeting people by kissing them on each cheek as seen in Corden’s last appearance, The Lodger. The highlight is seeing the Doctor once again speaking “baby” as first seen in A Good Man Goes to War and it’s used to tremendous effect here with Craig and Sophie’s son Alfie (who prefers to go by the name Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All).

With the Williams’ exit last week, I watched with a sense that Craig was really in danger and it fit perfectly with the ongoing suggestion that the Doctor puts his friends in harm’s way. Craig is a critical figure in stopping the returning Cybermen, and while I’m not crazy about seeing Cyber-heads and ships explode by introducing love into their systems, it’s a nice thought. Emotions have been used to defeat them in the past even if this is a bit over the top. These were among a handful of visual choices that irked me in the episode, as I was neither a fan of the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver firing beams of light nor the CGI uses of the redesigned Cybermat. The puppet version of the creature was used nicely throughout most of the episode though. Unfortunately, I was given a Doctor Who “Monster File” as part of my iTunes subscription to Season Six Part 2 (I hate that it’s split) weeks ago and had it spoiled a bit that the creature and Craig were returning. It’s not a big deal, but I do normally try to avoid this kind of stuff.

The Doctor’s “Farewell Tour” brings him to visit Craig in the days just before his death, although I don’t really understand how he’d have any real worry of when that day falls as a time traveller. He’s agonizing over what tomorrow will bring, and after seeing Amy’s recap to start the show on BBC America (I was really hoping it would be Craig instead) and Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill’s names still in the opening titles I was glad to see them actually appear in the episode. It was a nicely handled acknowledgment of a part of the world that the Doctor is leaving behind, but the timing and some of the details are confusing. It’s easy to initially assume that these are the Williams we last saw in The God Complex, but it makes more sense that this is Amy and Rory from the time they were waiting for the Doctor to return at the start of this season. Otherwise it means the Doctor left them in their own past causing them to overlap their own timeline. It’s never stated that the episode takes place on April 21st, but the Doctor does hand Craig a copy of the Colchester Evening News dated April 19th, 2011.

19 April 2011 Click to Enlarge

The Doctor hasn’t yet sent the invitations seen in The Impossible Astronaut by the episode’s end, and I’m left wondering how Amy and Rory would get to Utah for the 22nd. I’m not a seasoned international traveller, but I don’t think that works. More confusing is the fact that their scene at the store also reveals that Amy was apparently a fragrance model appearing in print advertising. If this is the Amy and Rory that were at the lake, that means she had this modeling career all along and we just didn’t know. Further confusing the issue is the fragrance being called Petrichor. That word was prominently mentioned in this season’s The Doctor’s Wife, and it seemed like a new term to everyone involved (of course as I type that it comes to mind that Neil Gaiman originally wrote that episode for last season). Looking past that, the ad would go right along with their crop circle in Let’s Kill Hitler as an attempt to get the Doctor’s attention and bring him back to Earth.

It’s a shame to spend so much time discussing Amy and Rory’s brief appearance here when Craig’s struggles to cope with being a father are what I felt more connected to. Corden’s return as Craig is excellent and his actions reaffirm the Doctor’s belief in both humanity and himself that we can assume were shaken right along with everyone else’s faith (except Rory of course) last week. The Doctor seemed to have come to terms with going to his death, but perhaps his encounter with Craig will set him on a different course as things wrap up next week. This episode ended with a teaser scene that revealed River Song hasn’t truly been free as she pursued her study of archaeology at the Lunar University since we last saw her. The Silence has returned to use, the now “doctor,” River Song as their impossible astronaut assassin at Lake Silencio. It was somewhat satisfying to see that it is indeed a younger version of River in the spacesuit (although not a child as I had initially presumed), and while I’m sure we’ll get a lot of answers in this season’s finale, The Wedding of River Song, I honestly don’t expect everything to be resolved.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=iv&annotation_id=annotation_325887&v=VLiJHDnE5oY&src_vid=fcukGKj-nsY]

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The God Complex / The Wedding of River Song (coming next week)

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