This review contains spoilers.
6.12 Closing TimeThe thing about Doctor Who series six is that it’s been really, really good. A simple statement, granted, but for me, an absolutely correct one. It’s had an abundance of quite excellent episodes, with Neil Gaiman’s still-stunning The Doctor’s Wife standing proud at the top of a very high quality list. It’s hard to find anything that can hold a torch to it at the moment.
The downside to this is that when an episode comes along that’s notably below the strength of some of those other adventures that we’ve enjoyed this year, then it’s going to get judged really quite harshly. And I suspect that’s the fate that’s going to befall Closing Time.
Because Closing Time has some problems. The biggest, and most disappointing, is that it manages to completely throw away the Cybermen. Granted, there’s only so much you can do with a classic villain that’s been beaten time and time again, but here, the iconic men of steel had not one iota of threat about them (with the very, very slight exception of the welcome return of the Cybermat). In fact, they’d been isolated in this instance, not totally unlike the small collection of Daleks back in series three of the revived Who.
Thus, you had a small collection of Cybermen, brought back to life by the laying of power lines. And they were trying to gather together enough further power and recruits to rebuild themselves
That’s not a bad basis for a story, and in the early stages, Closing Time had a lot of fun with it. We got a shopping centre, chatty characters, a dodgy lift, parenting advice, underwear, and some nice direction (some really nice direction in places), for starters.
We’ve seen flickering lights and disappearing people before, in a collection of good horror films, as well as Doctor Who, and the build up here suggested a real sense of menace. But when the Cybermen appeared, we learn that they’re weak. More than that, they appear to pose no obvious threat whatsoever.
Even at their weakest, I’d expect Cybermen to be deadly, but there was no sense of that coming across (even appreciating what they’d been up to). “You know that is enough”, they told the Doctor of the fact there were just six of them. The way they were here, thousands of them wouldn’t help them in their latest wheeze.
Also, at no stage was there a ‘how are they going to get out of that’ moment, and by the time James Corden escaped by virtue of hearing his character’s baby crying, the Cybermen were suddenly giving the impression of being one of the weakest foes the Doctor has ever faced.
Now granted, this appearance by the Cybermen might be all about saving up narrative touchpoints for later down the line. But Steven Moffat showed us that just one bit of a Cyberman could be scary in the finale last year. Here, they just got in the way of the best bits of the episode.
And the best bits, although I’d imagine this isn’t a common consensus, involved the return of James Corden’s Craig. Returning from last year’s The Lodger, Craig now has a new home and a baby, and he’s been left by himself to look after both. The Doctor, without Rory and Amy by his side, turns up at his door as part of his farewell tour before his death, and immediately starts noticing problems.
I liked this, too. That the Doctor was desperately trying to resist getting involved, but couldn’t stop himself. I liked, too, the ghosts in the fridge line (a nod to Ghostbusters, surely), and the sending up overpriced toys in the toy shop (I wanted Gizmo from Gremlins to drive by). Many parents would surely be nodding sagely at that, while eyeing up a toy Tardis for themselves.
There wasn’t any ramification of Craig being let into the Doctor’s head from last time, which was disappointing, but Smith and Corden’s double act was great fun. It made for a lighter episode, certainly, but in the light of the intensity of weeks gone by, I can understand the logic in the tonal change, ahead of the big finale.
Not that there wasn’t an undercurrent of doom about Closing Time. This is a Doctor walking to his doom, after all, and more and more it felt like his world was closing in on him. The mixed emotions, when he briefly saw Amy and Rory, was a good example of that, but also the constant nods to the fact that he only had a day to live.
Taken as a standalone episode, though, which Closing Time felt like for the most part, it was a decent, solid piece of work, albeit one that’s well down the list of this series’ finest.
But then the ending happened, which tied it into the broader series narrative. It all felt a bit tacked on this bit, for me, and how impactful it was for you depends on how much you’d guessed as to what was going to happen. It’s a bit like A Good Man Goes To War in that respect. If you’re sorted out before the ending of that episode that River Song was Amy’s baby, then none of the revelations would resonate that strongly.
I wonder, then, how many people by now hadn’t worked out that it was River Song in the astronaut suit back in The Impossible Astronaut. That it was River Song that seemingly killed the Doctor. And that Madame Kovarian would be back, with the Silence in tow.
I appreciate that there’s still room for a rug pull, and that this ending wasn’t necessarily about a massive cliffhanger, rather sliding things into place for next week. But, for a change this series, it seemed a little more obvious than we’ve been used to.
Which all makes Closing Time a bit of a mixed bag. It was good fun in places (Stormageddon is a great name for a kid), but by turns frustrating and wasteful. And while it’s not the worst we’ve seen of Doctor Who this year, it’s a slightly quieter episode to lead in to the series finale than we’ve been used to seeing.
One last thing. I don’t know about you, but even appreciating that toys need to be sold, I’d be quite happy if the Cybermen joined the Daleks in the prop cupboard for a bit of a longer rest now. Doctor Who has proven these past two years that it needs neither to generate its finest episodes, and biggest jumps. And, even though Closing Time had its moments, I can’t help but feel that the men of steel did it no favours at all.
The Wedding Of River Song next week, then. Count me as one of the many who really can’t wait to see what final treat series six of Doctor Who has in store…