Doctor Who: Revisiting CLOSING TIME - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Doctor Who: Revisiting CLOSING TIME

Tony’s here to help.
Series 6 was probably the ‘Peak Moffatt’ point of the Matt Smith era – complicated, temporally convoluted, and with a sense of growing, impending darkness moving towards an impossible conclusion and any number of handy loopholes through which to crawl out of the deeper, more meaningful consequences of all the drama.

Closing Time, in that run up to the end, functions very much as the in-drawn breath before the finale, a moment of relative calm before the whole universe goes totally tonto in The Wedding Of River Song.

The Doctor has just left Amy and Rory behind on Earth, Amy’s adoration for him finally quashed and replaced with something more even-handed and realistic after the events of God Complex – to this day, one of the finest Eleventh Doctor stories.

The Doctor knows he’s going to his appointed death and destiny, and – for reasons that admittedly confuse a whole lot of Doctor Who fans – he goes to see Craig Owens, the man whose infamous lack of ambition led him to relative safety in The Lodger, played again by James Corden.

Craig and Sophie have moved on from the last time the Doctor saw them. They have a son now: Alfie, who shall be called Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All. Craig’s fine. Bit of a dipstick when it comes to being a dad, but mostly, fine. But with Sophie away for the weekend, he has to deal with the hand-grenade unpredictability of a young child on his own.

Or as much on his own as it gets when the Doctor’s around, and has his Noticing Face on.

Because, much as the Doctor wants to ignore it – and in Closing Time, there’s some enormously impressive Matt Smith acting as he really, truly TRIES to ignore it – something’s afoot… underfoot.
The local department store has Cybermen in the wainscoting. People are going mysteriously missing. And for the first time since 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen, there are Cybermats scuttling about.

The Doctor notices the reports of the missing, and he notices freak power drains, and he really, really tries not to. The Doctor has to go. Has to. Has......Fairly naturally, to get a job at the department store. Has to do one last Noticey, Investigatey thing before he heads off to Lake Silencio, to get shot and killed, as we’ve known is going to happen since The Impossible Astronaut, since the start of Series 6.
It will never be a story that people hold up as the best of the Matt Smith era, but Closing Time has a lot more to offer than most people remember. Most people remember that it stars James Corden, which annoys them, and that it’s written by persona non grata Gareth Roberts, which annoys them for a rather more logical reason, and that the line “I blew them up with love” appears in it, which to many people is the absolute nadir of the Cybermen’s existence in Doctor Who. But seriously, if that’s all you’re focusing on, you’re missing out on some diamond quality Matt Smith.

The Eleventh Doctor with Craig Owens is different to the Eleventh Doctor with Amy and Rory Pond, or with River Song, or with Clara Oswald. He’s both more grounded and more ostentatiously weird by comparison with the Really Very Ordinary Craig.

In Closing Time particularly, he’s more downbeat, from his maintained habit of kissing everyone in greeting or departure, twice, French-style, to the plateauing of his face in disappointment when he learns that Craig and Sophie didn’t name their first child “The Doctor”, to his child-like glee at demonstrating a remote-controlled helicopter to children, then getting to the heart of their experience by telling them their parents are boring. His striding authority (in, by this point, a much better striding coat than his initial Tweed) with Val (Lynda Barron) and the friends he rapidly makes at his job at the store. And his positively ‘Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes’ bandy-legged alien energy as he darts about looking for Cybermats.
Watched again after several years, Closing Time re-impresses on you just how much commitment Matt Smith put into being his very specific Doctor, with every scene, every moment containing at least a little something that enhances the quality and depth of the characterisation.

In Closing Time, we see the Eleventh Doctor in a much more sombre, reflective mood than usual, and Smith absolutely knocks those out of the park, too. He reflects on how selfish he has always been (all the way back to his escape from Gallifrey, that is), uprooting people from their lives, dancing them round the universe just because he needed them, and then letting them go, and you want to give him a hug. He talks to Stormageddon about how everything is still ahead for the child, and delivering a little Time Lord magic to show him the stars, just because he’s there, and he can, and it brings tears to your eyes. It’s all joyously rich Eleventh Doctoring, and it stands up to much more rewatching than you might imagine.

Yes, there’s a certain naffness to the Cybermen when they appear, but that’s almost the point of them in this story. These are not, right now, the galaxy-crushers of legend. These are shopworkers and people from Colchester, captured and converted by the simple mechanics of a Cyber-ship, barely reawakened by some inept Council electricians.
That they’ve become a fairly classic science-fiction terror – the things from beneath the surface, burrowing up to take revenge on humanity – is a pretty elegant conceit in itself, and although the Doctor nor Craig are exactly at full power themselves in this story, there’s a visceral power battle between the powers of good and evil inherent in the set-up.

No naffness to the new Cybermats, though. With a sensible and sensitive upgrade (yep, we went there) on their Sixties and Seventies variants, there’s an intense logic to them being there as part of the set-up of a ship that crashed centuries ago (much more logic, in fact, than the modern Cybus-style Cybermen being the pattern the ship went with when converting the missing people – oh, the lost opportunity of Closing Time with any of the Troughton-variant Cybermen!). They have a purpose in the story, and a redesign informed by the likes of Big Finish’s Spare Parts and the Tenth Doctor’s Next Doctor with its Cyber-Shades. An organic animal, Cyber-upgraded, yes please, we’ll have that – and plenty of households did when the subsequent merchandise came out, because they’re a ready-made stocking-filler.

And – for all the line is ghastly and reductive and mushy and very over-sentimental – in DEFENCE of the whole “Blew them up with love” thing, the Doctor does SAY it’s ridiculous and sentimental, and begins to reel off a Classic Who style piece of technobabble to explain what really happened. It’s only when he sees the look in Craig’s eyes, the look that beams with pride, and wonder, and love for his young son and the connection they now have, that the Doctor relents, and agrees that sure, underneath all the technicality of what REALLY happened, Craig blew them up with love.

He agrees not because it’s true, but because his friend needs it to be true, and on the last night of his life, this is not a Doctor who’s going to shatter those beautiful illusions with a technical truth. He’s kinder than that.
Most people will never put Closing Time in their list of Top Eleventh Doctor stories, and that’s fine. But give it a rewatch and you’ll find Matt Smith right up there on a roll, in control of his character and brim-full of commitment to every moment of the old Doctor with the young face.

James Corden as Craig is more engaging than James Corden as James Corden, and he gives a unique viewpoint on being the Doctor’s companion, especially wrapped up in how difficult it would be for anyone ELSE to do what the Doctor seems to do so easily.

Closing Time is a literally low-powered Cyberman story, but with some cracking Cybermat action, and the return of Lynda Barron for her third Doctor Who appearance. And above all, it fits oddly but well in the overall theme of Series 6, the Doctor acting as a kind of fairy godfather for both Alfie and Craig, sorting out the chaos, banishing the fear, and helping the two to bond in a real way. And again, as had been the case in several Series 5 stories, it’s not the Eleventh Doctor that saves the day. It’s his companion. Say what you like, but it’s Craig Owens who saves the Earth from Cyber-plans to conquer it, not the old Time Lord at the seeming end of his days.

You might not think you like Closing Time. Give it another rewatch from the perspective of the here and now though. Yes, there’s the whole Gareth Roberts thing. But the story itself is mostly impeccable, and shows off Matt Smith at one of the many peaks of his performance as the frankly dazzling Eleventh Doctor.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad