Christopher Morley gets the hell out of Colchester before Closing Time...
Closing Time may not be the fondest-remembered Cyber-story ( 'blowing them up with love' might just be one of the hammiest methods of disposing of an enemy ever)...but it did at least provide us with a chance to welcome back the Cybermats, the ' silver rat things' first seen in Tomb Of The Cybermen.
Its also a chance for the Doctor to make a stop -over to visit Craig Owens as part of his farewell tour. Since he last saw him in The Lodger, things have got serious between Mr Owens & the lovely Sophie- they now have a baby boy, Alfie.
She's off for a weekend away, leaving him literally holding the baby. The perfect potential sitter is about to turn up. And he speaks baby. What more could you want?
But Craig is smart enough to twig that the Doctor wouldn't have parked his beloved Type 40 in suburban Essex without a good reason....people have been going missing from a local department store, Sanderson & Grainger. Including one of the employees, Shona, who's rewarded for an act of kindness in allowing colleague Kelly to put a date before her usual job of cashing up & cleaning the changing rooms by being 'deleted' by the mysterious customer who doesn't seem to be aware trading hours have ceased- its a Cyberman!
It won't surprise you to learn that this mix of the seemingly mundane & startlingly alien comes from the pen of Gareth Roberts, writer of The Shakespeare Code, The Unicorn & The Wasp & The Caretaker as well as several novels- the Ninth Doctor New Series Adventures story Only Human, Virgin Missing Adventures for the First ( The Plotters) & Fourth ( The English Way Of Death, The Romance Of Crime & The Well-Mannered War) Doctors, New Adventures for the Seventh Doctor ( Tragedy Day, Zamper & The Highest Science) & a novelization of Douglas Adams's Shada- soon to be followed by the same for City Of Death.
In a bid to get to the bottom of what's going on, the Doctor gets a job! He's working at the very store from which those people have been disappearing- & he looks to be having great fun demonstrating toys to a crowd of children, one of which is a robot dog who just isn't as much fun as the last one the man in the bow tie had.
Of course, back when he had his first & most faithful canine friend he was all teeth & curls & draped in a scarf. Happy days indeed! He's right about one thing, though. Those kids' parents probably would waste £50 they could've spent on a toy helicopter on ' boring' things like ' lamps & vegetables'.
Putting 'Yappy', as he's christened the pooch, on the floor, he notices something. Its a Cybermat! But there's another piece to the puzzle- power fluctuations are happening in the area as people are going missing. And somebody's using a teleport relay, hidden in a broken lift. Well, broken until its fixed with the help of the sonic screwdriver anyway. At which point the Doctor & his temporary companion notice something rather odd. The lift dissolves & they find themselves inside a Cyber-ship! So much for the Time Lord's attempt to distract Craig by confessing love for him.
More dilemmas await. The Doctor is forced to quickly tell Craig he loves him only in a platonic manner, as a friend, & then find a way to get them out of danger. Reversing the teleport before anything worse can happen, he tells his buddy to take the baby & get the hell out of Colchester- but Owens wants to stay & help as he knows the best place for them is anywhere with the Doctor. Pass the sickbag. Moved by this show of faith, Craig is officially accepted as a partner for the course of the investigations into what's going on. There are three conditions to the arrangement- look around, ask questions & notice everything!
Val from the perfume counter proves helpful in that she's seen one of the ' silver rat things', though she reckons its a toy & wants one for her nephew. If you think you've seen her somewhere before, you have. She was played by Lynda Baron, who also appears in Enlightenment as Captain Wrack. Hers is the voice you hear on ' The Ballad Of The Last Chance Saloon' from The Gunfighters, & you probably also know her as Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, the object of shopkeeper Arkwright's affections in Open All Hours. G...G...G..Granville!
People have finally noticed that Shona's missing, so its time to go & have a look in those changing rooms- where the Doctor deduces she was taken by the Cybermen. But what was the Cybermat doing? Harvesting power for something....& to find out what, its captured & taken back to Craig's house for examination, quickly picking up the nickname ' Bitey'- a useful tool in ascertaining what's happened/ The Cyber-ship crashed centuries ago with one survivor on board, who thinks converting five people to join him will be enough to mount an invasion of Earth. He might be right...
Craig promptly picks the worst possible moment to intervene. Luckily he's left the baby with Val! Barring a miracle he might soon become a Cyberman...until he hears his son crying. The emotions stirred within him prove enough to defeat the metal threat, & the more cynical sections of the viewing public can probably still be heard screeching 'cop-out' & setting the Internet ablaze with rants on various forums.
Just think how they'll feel when the Twelfth Doctor commandeers the UNIT jet and pops round to the Owens' house this coming Saturday. Well it makes sense really, after all he's in another spot of bother with the Cybermen and Essex is just down the road.
After the Doctor offers up Stormageddon to the Cyber-leader for conversion, Craig literally explodes with love and wipes all the metal men out. Missy sees the error of her ways, and hand in hand with the Doctor they fly off together to find Gallifrey...
We're kidding, of course. But what a finale that would be!