If you cast your mind back to the start of this series of Doctor Who, it broke convention for the modern day show by opening with a two parter. Convention has dictated, too, that each series should end on a two parter as well. But this series doesn’t look like it’s going to do that. While storylines have been intertwined throughout the series, Closing Time – the penultimate episode – feels as though it could equally work as a standalone episode. In fact, that’s what it arguably does.
It’s a standalone episode in the right place in the series, though, with the Doctor facing up to the fact that his demise is creeping up on him, even if we’re basically getting more of what we already know. In the pre-credits sequence, we find him on something of a farewell tour, as he arrives at Craig’s front door.
You probably remember Craig. He first arrived in last series’ The Lodger, also written by Gareth Roberts, and he’s played by James Corden. This time, though, there’s no football. Rather, Craig’s juggling a new home (with humans either side, he assures us) and a baby.
Inevitably, when the Doctor turns up, trouble isn’t too far away (flickering lights are always a good sign), and if you’ve seen the trailers for Closing Time, you’ll already have a fair idea just what form this trouble takes. If you haven’t, we’re not spoiling the returning foe by identifying it here. If you don’t hear who or what it is by the time the credits start on Saturday, though, we’d be amazed.
In places, Closing Time does still feel like a two parter. Its opening half hour feels quite leisurely, in fact, taking time and space to set things up. It’s also a little lighter than we’ve had for the past couple of weeks. In fact, compared to the emotional wallops of The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex, Closing Time feels just a little like the show is breathing out a little.
Not for long, though, as ultimately, this is an episode that becomes more and more centred on where the Doctor finds himself. Corden’s Craig is alongside him for a good chunk of it, and isn’t played quite so overtly for comedy as in The Lodger. But then, the character has moved on, and Corden once more gently restrains his performance. His return is both welcome and successful, and he and Smith make a good double act.
The episode does find space for a bit of fun, with a nod of the head to Ghostbusters, another tip of the hat to Star Trek, and even spending a bit of time with some overpriced toys. But there is serious business at work here, and as you might expect, it folds things into place for what looks like an explosive finale, in the shape of The Wedding Of River Song.
Closing Time might not be the episode you’re expecting at this stage in a series of Doctor Who, but I think that’s one of the reasons I warmed to it. It obviously follows two very strong episodes, and, in truth, it’s not able to match them. As it turns out, it’s the moments with the Doctor and Craig, rather than the battling against certain foes, that give it the most enjoyable moments. The foes, for my money, are pretty much thrown away.
But Closing Time is still funny, entertaining, and worth sparing 45 minutes for. It just won’t be one of the episodes that we’re likely to be chatting about some time down the road. It does set things up, nice and ready, for the week after, mind…