REVIEW: Doctor Who - "Closing Time"
Few TV shows of recent years have had such a good streak of episodes as Doctor Who. The twelfth entry of Series Six, “Closing Time” is proof that Steven Moffat is in full control of this show; he keeps the audience engaged with the current episodes, all while subtly setting events in motion for the finale.
To do that, this story combines the clanking threat of Cybermen with another look into the Doctor's tortured conscience, and even fits in some earnest Whovian banter, courtesy of a Mr. Craig Owens. Read on for my full, spoiler-free review of “Closing Time”, including my ranking out of four stars!
After several episodes that began with the Doctor finding himself in a place he didn’t expect, he shows up at his friend Craig Owens’ house quite purposefully. This immediately sets off an alarm bell: the Doctor obviously has something on his mind, and he then struggles with whether or stay and pay a proper visit to Craig, or to leave and try to protect Craig from the danger the Doctor knows is nearby.
That danger is a marooned Cyberman and its pesky little Cybermat companion. The Cyberman is trying to reinvigorate its ship and the deactivated Cybermen aboard it by sapping electrical power and human victims from a nearby shop. The Doctor must decide whether to fight the Cyberman by himself or to allow Craig (and his infant son Alfie) to help.
This is James Corden’s second appearance as Craig Owens, since his debut in Series Five’s “The Lodger”. Corden sells us right away on his friendship with the Doctor – it’s not as though we’re starting over from scratch with the character. Episode writer Gareth Roberts has written in a lot of banter between Craig and the Doctor, and it gives “Closing Time” a generally upbeat tone, seemingly to counter the traumatic climax scene and the finale episode next week.
There was some solid cinematography in “Closing Time” as well – in particular the overhead shot of Craig and the Doctor outside the shop. The shot was framed so that the overhanging roof area above their heads looked like a flying saucer hovering above the characters – a clever little visual touch.
I did notice, though, that the interior scene in the Cybership looked like it was shot in the same soundstage that the show used for the Silence’s lair in “Day of the Moon” and the interior of House in “The Doctor’s Wife”. It isn’t a major crime for a television show to re-use sets, but the set designers could have disguised it a little better – the dilapidated, industrial lair aesthetic can get a bit tired.
It was intriguing to see so little of Amy and Rory in this episode. The TARDIS Index File points out that this is the first regular-season episode since the 2005 series revival not to have a regular companion with the Doctor. When the Doctor does see Amy and Rory, the moment is charged with the same kind of emotion we saw at the end of last week’s “The God Complex". Matt Smith easily conveys how stricken the Doctor is by his decision to part ways with the Ponds, and it makes for a powerful scene.
As for the Cybermen, I’m a bit torn by how they were used in “Closing Time”. The Cybermen have always been one of the Doctor’s more threatening opponents, especially when they appear in large numbers.
Here we only see a few individuals, and while they hit the Doctor close to home during the climactic encounter, the Cybermen weren’t quite as menacing as they have been in the past. If it weren’t for what they almost accomplish at the end of the episode, I’d have found their appearance here underwhelming.
Throughout “Closing Time”, the Doctor grapples with his ultimate bête noire, his fear of losing his friends. The show has been building this theme slowly over the past few episodes, and the fear fully exposes itself here. Eleven tried to avert it in “The God Complex” by leaving the Ponds, but he can’t help himself from going on an adventure with another friend in “Closing Time”.
The Doctor’s reasoning for this is selfish, as many of his decisions have been this series. As viewers, we’re able to forgive the Doctor’s occasional human moments. Unfortunately for the Doctor, he constantly wants to be better than that. He wants the fun of exploring the universe with his companions without risking his friends’ safety. What Eleven perhaps doesn’t realize is this is likely the only outcome in the show that truly is “impossible”.
Another milestone in this episode is how it is not the first of a two-part story written by the series’ head writer. Steven Moffat evidently felt that he could wrap up the continuing arc from the beginning of Series Six in a single finale. There is, of course, a delicious cliffhanger at the end of “Closing Time” to set up next week’s “The Wedding of River Song”. With this scene, we’re definitely back in the good old “timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly” category, but I trust it will all make sense next week.
With the airing of “Closing Time”, suddenly the past three episodes make sense in the series’ timeline. Initially, they might have seemed like standalone entries that avoided a mention of River Song or Madame Kovarian. What they were really doing, I believe, is weaving a few important character threads into the narrative arc, all to make Episode 12 and the finale more involving. The writers dug into the Doctor’s psyche and explored the faiths and fears of his companions, and next week we’ll see the product of it all.
For this layered narrative approach, the humorous banter and the multifaceted performances from Matt Smith and James Corden, “Closing Time” gets three and a half stars out of four.
What did you think of “Closing Time”? Do you like how compelling the Eleventh Doctor has become over the past series? How excited are you for the finale? Are you worried that Moffat might try to cram too much into a single story? Sound off about Episode 12 in the comments below, and catch up on the rest of my Doctor Who Series Six reviews: