“Closing Time”, penned by Gareth Roberts, is a direct sequel to “The Lodger” from last season, and the penultimate episode of Doctor Who’s sixth season. As you may recall, I singled out “The Lodger” as the weakest link of Series 5, since it was easily the episode that had the least amount of substance, and I would also say the same thing about “Closing Time”, though I do enjoy it more than its predecessor. While the last couple of episodes have all been really sad or really spooky in different ways, as the Doctor and his friends have been subjected to a wide variety of different horrors, “Closing Time” takes a more light-hearted and comedic approach to the usual mystery of the week. The breezier shift in tone is exactly what you would expect from a Gareth Roberts episode, since almost all of the scripts he’s written since “The Shakespeare Code” have been fluffy, absurd romps.
With that much having been said, despite “Closing Time” mostly serving as a palette cleanser for the audience – one last breather episode before Steven Moffat starts wrapping everything up in the finale – this episode does have some significance of its own, mainly in regards to the Doctor and the direction his character has been heading in for the latter half of Series 6. As Matt Smith’s introductory season, Series 5 established all of the Eleventh Doctor’s essential personality traits and his character flaws, while Series 6 has built upon them and developed his character. Throughout Series 6, his personality has been pushed to extremes by all the messed-up things that have been happening to him and his friends, he’s been consistently confronted with some of the worst parts of himself, and he’s had to make some pretty tough choices in the heat of the moment. So “Closing Time” really makes it apparent how the Eleventh Doctor has been changed by the events of this season, for better or for worse.
By “Closing Time”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) has been traveling on his own for two hundred years since the end of “The God Complex“, and he knows in his gut that he’s nearing the end of his journey, so he’s doing his best to go out with a bang and say goodbye to all his old friends with a ‘farewell tour’. By now, the Doctor has reached the same age that he was at the start of “The Impossible Astronaut“. In fact, “Closing Time” serves as a direct prequel to that two-parter. The whole story arc of Series 6 is one great big stable time loop, and the loop is about to close on the Doctor’s end of things, showing us his perspective on everything leading up to Lake Silencio. When he drops back into Craig Owens’ life once more, the Doctor only intends to say a few words of gratitude before heading out again, but he quickly gets wind of something strange going on in the area – something dangerous and alien. And despite trying his best not to get involved, he can’t help himself – it’s not in his nature to turn away from people in need – so he decides to take up one last case before facing his destiny in Utah.
Taking their genial dynamic from “The Lodger” to a whole other level, Matt Smith is once again paired up with James Corden for a bumbling double act that feels like it was lifted straight out of your classic buddy comedy movie. The Doctor’s usual sass levels seem to be dialed up a notch whenever he starts bickering with Craig, and Craig’s bewildered everyman character makes for a fine foil to the Eleventh Doctor’s overall wackiness and zaniness. The Doctor gets along exceptionally well with Craig’s newborn son, Alfie, and there’s a very cute scene mid-episode where the Doctor spends some alone time with Alfie, giving him some personal advice – a one-sided chat between a kid who still has his whole life ahead of him, and a man who seems to be nearing the end of his.
The Doctor still has plenty of regrets about his life, and he’s not ready to go yet, but truth be told, no one would ever would be in his position – least of all the Doctor (“The End Of Time” made that very apparent). However, the choice seems to be out of his hands – his fate at Lake Silencio is a fixed point in time, and after what happened in “The Waters Of Mars“, he’s learned his lesson about thinking he can break those without consequences. The Eleventh Doctor is in a more melancholy mood than usual throughout “Closing Time”, since he’s still haunted by the events of “The God Complex”: all those ugly things he learned about himself that are still weighing on his mind. By now, he blames himself for everything bad that happens to his friends, and he’s afraid that he destroys everything he touches. He doesn’t want Craig to get involved in this case of his, especially since Craig has a kid to look after now, but Craig still puts his trust in him anyway, and the Doctor still decides to let him help, because he’s feeling nostalgic for the good old days of when he kept his friends close to him.
The Doctor’s self-imposed solitude in this episode is very reminiscent of that period near the end of the Tenth Doctor’s life where he swore off companions entirely out of fear, and he’s feeling very unsure of himself at the moment. “Closing Time” asks the question of whether or not the Doctor does more harm than good, as he wanders through time in his big blue box. “A Good Man Goes To War” made it clear that, for better or for worse, the Doctor touches a lot of lives and has a lasting impact on people, so would many of those people have been better off if they never met him at all? “Closing Time” doesn’t give a definitive answer to that question, because the show is saving it up for the emotional climax of the next episode. For the time being though, the Doctor’s friends still believe in him, even if he doesn’t believe in himself anymore.
In “Closing Time”, Craig Owens (James Corden) is once again brought back into the fold as a temporary sidekick for the Doctor, and unlike his role in “The Lodger”, he’s much more involved with the main plot right from the start. I have to say, I like Craig a lot more as a character now that he’s not saddled with a subplot where he steadily grows jealous of the Doctor, because that conflict is starting to feel worn out by this point in the show. Craig is a brand new father to a bouncing baby boy named Alfie, and since his beloved girlfriend Sophie is leaving town for a few days, he’s taking his new dad duties very seriously as he tries to hold down the fort in her absence. The greatest hinderance to Craig in this episode is by far his own self-consciousness, his own self-doubt about whether or not he can really measure up as a parent and be the dad Alfie needs him to be.
Craig’s insecurities are only made worse by the fact that the Doctor can translate the language babies speak and pass on all of Alfie’s gripes about his father – so even his own newborn son is critiquing him, and Alfie is a kid with some pretty high standards. Craig’s feelings of inadequacy compared to the Doctor are touched upon again, in a different way, in this episode: the Doctor still seems to be better than him at everything as a jack-of-all-trades, including wrangling kids, and no matter how hard Craig tries, he can barely keep up with the time lord. When the Doctor assigns himself the job of tracking down Cybermen, Craig volunteers to help him out with his case – because if the Cybermen are a serious threat to everyone in the area, then they’re also a threat to Alfie. Plus, it steadily becomes apparent that the Doctor could use some advice from a friend and a helping hand at the moment.
The Doctor has only wandered in and out of Craig’s life twice for a short period of time, but he’s already had a pretty large impact on him. As a result of his encounters with extraterrestrial life, Craig has become a lot more courageous over time, and a lot more willing to throw himself into harm’s way for the sake of his kid, or for a friend. The Doctor is currently putting himself down and blaming himself for every bad turn of events that might befall his friends, as a result of the last couple of episodes confronting him with the fact that he puts people in danger. “Closing Time” shows a different side of this conflict, by reminding the viewers that at the end of the day, the Doctor’s friends still chose to take that risk because they felt it was worth it. This episode implies that he’s currently denying them their agency and personal autonomy, on account of his own self-loathing.
Craig has a hunch that the Doctor can’t deal with the Cybermen entirely on his own, and his instincts are proven correct when the Doctor gets captured inside the enemy’s lair. For much of this episode, Craig was betting his money on the Doctor being able to save everyone, but ironically, it’s Craig who winds up saving the Doctor, and Alfie who winds up saving Craig. After the danger has passed, the Doctor and Craig have a bittersweet farewell: by now Craig can tell there’s something very wrong with the Doctor, and he’s very close to figuring out what it might be, but the Doctor still insists that he needs to face this final leg of his journey alone. It’s poignant to think that this conversation is probably the last time they ever saw each other, and Craig might never have known what became of the Doctor, but he wishes him well. And as it turns out, the Doctor’s new Stetson from “The Impossible Astronaut” was a parting gift from Craig, which is a retroactively sweet little detail.
While they’ve made a few cameo appearances here and there for the last two seasons, the Cybermen haven’t really been the main antagonists of an episode since “The Next Doctor” in Series 4. In “Closing Time”, they lurk underneath a shopping mall, quietly abducting people and converting them into their ranks like the robotic parasites that they are. Unfortunately, “Closing Time” is not one of their best appearances, since they are not creepy in the slightest in this episode: they have very little screen presence, their jump scares lack a certain punch to them, and they’re defeated a bit too quickly and easily for my liking during the climax.
While the Cybermen are the main villains of “Closing Time”, this episode is not really about them – they’re primarily a vehicle to advance the plot with – and as a result, their actual motivations are handwaved pretty quickly during the last act. They’re mainly here to give Craig a chance to prove himself as a hero and a father. The Cybermen don’t understand human emotions, and they certainly don’t value them (which is ironic, since they once used to be human themselves) – so naturally, they underestimate the bond between a father and son. When the Cybermen try to forcibly convert Craig into becoming one of them, his paternal instincts allow him to overcome their programming and fight back at the most pivotal time. Once the Cybermen have been beaten, “Closing Time” makes it no secret that it was really Craig’s love for Alfie that won our heroes the day. Elsewhere, we’re given an update on how Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are faring, after they were dropped off at their home at the end of the last episode: they’ve both made an effort to move on with their lives and Amy has landed herself a fulfilling new job, which makes for a heartwarming cameo.
As for the third member of the Pond family, the story arc involving the Silence has been put on the backburner for the last couple of episodes, to focus on character development for our three leads, but it strikes back with a vengeance in “Closing Time’s” rather chilling epilogue, setting the stage for the finale to come. In the 51st century, River Song (Alex Kingston) is still studying the impact the Doctor has had on history, so she can get a full measurement of his character. But while her guard is down, filling her head with knowledge and truth, the Silence suddenly re-emerge and kidnap her, so they can force her to go through with their plan to kill the Doctor – the very last thing she would want at this point.
It’s worth noting the Silence have a fully automated space suit at their disposal that can work independently from an occupant. They really don’t need River to be a part of their plan, and the fact that they don’t need her is what makes this ending all the more disturbing and cruel. The Silence have devoted a lot of time and energy into preparing her to be their weapon, and they won’t abide by desertion and betrayal, so they’re going to see their original plan through to fruition. As far as they’re concerned, River is their property, their slave, that they can do anything to. Plus, Madam Kovarian is a very spiteful woman. Dragging River into this is the best way she can think of to hurt the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River all at once, and make them all suffer before the Doctor dies. This woman has only had around thirty minutes of screentime in this entire season, and she’s still managed to be one of the most despicable villains we’ve seen in Doctor Who in a while, from all the abuse she’s put Amy and River through. The monsters who made the early years of River’s life a living hell have returned to haunt her yet again, and they still want to keep a death grip on her freedom of choice, so it seems she will have to find a way to vanquish them, once and for all, in the season finale that’s right around the corner.
“Closing Time” is directed by Steve Huges, who does a decent and serviceable job of helming this story, making it feel like a sitcom episode in the same vein as Catherine Morsehead’s work on “The Lodger”. “Closing Time” was, rather appropriately, filmed inside a department store in Cardiff after dark for five days straight: which put a lot of pressure on the cast and crew to not only get as much filming done as possible in the short amount of time that they had access to the location, but to also get it done as quickly as possible, oftentimes working long hours into the night. Like the last couple of episodes (“Night Terrors“, “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex”), “Closing Time” is a pretty low budget story that doesn’t require a lot of CGI shots from the Mill – save for a few shots of the Cybermen’s ship exploding, and the Silence submerging River into Lake Silencio against her will at the end.
For the last couple of stories, Doctor Who has clearly been saving up its special effects budget for the CGI-heavy, lore-expanding finale, “The Wedding Of River Song“, and thankfully that decision hasn’t affected the quality of the show’s storytelling much, because I’ve really enjoyed the different ways Doctor Who has been relying on prosthetics and practical efforts to conjure up scares in the latter half of Series 6. Murray Gold’s score is more breezy, comical and light-hearted this week, with a childlike sense of wonder to it, reprising a lot of the main motifs Murray has written for Series 5 and 6. “Fragrance” features a beautiful new variant of “Little Amy”, while “My Time Is Running Out” is a pretty stirring combination of “I Am The Doctor” and “The Mad Man With A Box” that manages to be both sad and happy at the same time. The final scene however brings back “Melody Pond” and “Tick Tock Goes The Clock“, to mark a return to darker territory as we head into the finale.
“Closing Time” is a pretty average episode of Doctor Who and the weakest link of Series 6, but I do appreciate the bit of insight it provides into the Doctor’s character before “The Wedding Of River Song”. If “Closing Time” possesses more substance than “The Lodger” in just one area, it’s the way this episode handles the Doctor.
* “Oh, you’ve redecorated. I don’t like it”.
* “No, he’s your dad. You can’t just call him ‘Not Mum'” “Not Mum?!” “That’s you. Also ‘Not Mum’, that’s me. And everybody else is ‘peasants’. That’s a bit unfortunate” Something tells me Alfie would get along well with this kid.
* “Never mind that…” “Never mind what?” “Nothing” “No, you’ve noticed something. You’ve got your noticing face on! I have nightmares about that face!”
* “I’m the Doctor, I work in a shop now. Here to help. Look, they gave me a badge with my name on in case I forget who I am. Very thoughtful, as that does happen”.
* “You look awful” “I haven’t slept, have I? I still can’t stop him crying. I even tried singing to him last night” “Yeah, he did mention that. He thought you were crying, too. He didn’t get a wink”.
* “Why is none of this on the front page?” “Oh, page one has an exclusive on Nina, a local girl who got kicked off Britain’s Got Talent. These people are on pages seven, nineteen, twenty two. Because no one’s noticed yet. They’re far too excited about Nina’s emotional journey, which in fairness, is quite inspiring”.
* “Do I look like I’m stupid?” “Heheh” “Quiet, Stormy”.
* “Doctor, no. I can’t. I’m taken- OH, MY GOD!!!”
* “Where am I investigating?” “Well, look around, ask questions. People like it when you’re with a baby. Babies are sweet. People talk to you. That’s why I usually take a human with me” Damn, Doc.
* That scene of Craig pestering that shop worker, getting all up in her personal space, is incredibly cringe-worthy.
* “Really. Stop crying. You’ve got a lot to look forward to, you know. A normal human life on Earth. Mortgage repayments, the nine to five, a persistent nagging sense of spiritual emptiness. Save the tears for later, boy-o”.
* “Yeah. 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”.
* “Alfie, why is there a sinister beeping coming from behind me?”
* “Craig, very soon I won’t be here. My time is running out. I don’t mean Exedor. Silence will fall when the question is asked. Don’t even know what the question is. I always knew I’d die still asking. Thing is, Craig, it’s tomorrow. Can’t put it off any more. Tomorrow is the day I-”
* “When we are ready, we will emerge. We will convert this planet to Cyberform” “What, the six of you?” “You know that is enough. You know us. You are the Doctor“.
* “Craig, what are you doing? Get out!” Matt Smith’s squeaky-voiced delivery is what that line funny.
* “The Cybermen. They blew up. I blew them up with love”.
* “It’s a story, a fairy tale” “And this is where it begins”.
* “Tick tock, goes the clock, and all the years they fly. Tick tock, and all too soon, your love will surely die“.
* “Tick tock goes the clock, he cradled and he rocked her. Tick tock, goes the clock till River kills the Doctor“.