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Doctor Who complete reviews: Closing Time

REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO

One last bit of frivolity before the serious finish to Matt Smith's second season as The Doctor...

Closing Time (Doctor Who)

So The Doctor's on yet another goodbye mission. Since bidding adieu to Amy and Rory at the end of The God Complex, nearly 200 years have passed. Now The Doctor's apparently facing the end of his days – note the word, apparently – by now, every man, woman, child, cat, dog, guinea pig, hamster and fly realised that The Doctor wouldn't die – you can't have a successful, long-running show and then just axe it without warning. Not even a cut-ridden BBC can kill off that indomitable Time Lord for good.

But hey – any excuse for yet another whistle-stop tour of old friends. Presumably, in the future, The Doctor will take this to the next level. He'll go out and buy himself a musty old copy of the Doctor Who A-Z Encyclopaedia by Jean-Marc Lofficier and visit every last character he's met during his many lives – yes, right down to the bumbling Louvre Guide from City Of Death , Kurster from The Androids Of Tara and Synge from The Sun Makers. As for now, he's content to re-acquaint himself with his old buddy Craig Owens, who was last seen in The Lodger.

Closing Time runs along the same lines as The Lodger. Another one from the pen of Gareth Roberts, it's virtually identical to its sleeper hit big brother from 2010. Spooky goings-on in a mundane British town. Nowhere near enough scares. But another example of the great Smith-Corden double act. Whenever Smith chooses to hang up his bow tie for good, he should seriously consider starting a modern-day Little And Large-style act with Corden. The ratings would shoot through the roof.

"The main problem of Closing Time is that the fear factor is virtually zero"

Closing Time (Doctor Who)As for the merits of Closing Time – well, after three great stories, it's a little bit of a comedown. That's not to say it's a disaster – it is what it is, a good, fun-time romp before the season arc shenanigans all come together for the following last episode. But after the oddball scares of Night Terrors and The God Complex, again, the main problem of Closing Time is that the fear factor is virtually zero. If they still had that online feature of a family of kids assessing Doctor Who for its scare rating, Closing Time would be lucky to get a One out of Five, and even then that's pushing it. What's all the more surprising is that the story features one of the most iconic monsters in the Doctor Who pantheon. Welcome back the Cybermen...

...except that the way in which they are written and shot, well, their stock's plummeted drastically. Take Rise Of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel – now that was a good example of scaring the little 'uns, with its slicing and dicing of hapless tramps and shoving their innards into blank metal suits. The threat of conversion does rear its head in Closing Time – Craig, at one point, looks set to spend the rest of his days marching around crying “Delete!” - but generally, there's no real terror to be had here. It's blatantly obvious that Craig will escape somehow, but like in The Lodger, the denouement is to defeat the object with lurve. In this case, it's love for Craig's new bawling sprog, Alfie – love is something that a Cyberman just can't comprehend. Plonk a Cyberman down in a restaurant on Valentine's Day – he'll just crush the roses to mulch and squish the pretentiously assembled food to pâté. Buy a Cyberman a copy of mullet-headed yeller Michael Bolton's Greatest Hits, and a Cyberman will just smash the stereo on which it's playing. As would any sane human being though...

But in this case, the Cybermen's emotional barricade isn't much good against an outpouring of slush, as The Doctor urges Craig to not give up and focus on the fact that he'll be a great dad. Family ties do not go hand in hand with a Cyberman, and sure enough, they self destruct. “I blew 'em up with love!” sighs Craig, in no way recalling the denouement of The Lodger, when Craig's love for Sophie saved the day. Once is bad enough, twice is unforgivable.

"While director Steve Hughes does his best, the direction's not as strong in Closing Time, and fails to big up one of the most important Doctor Who monsters"

Closing Time (Doctor Who) - James Corden and Lynda BellinghamAnd even the way in which the Cybermen are shot doesn't exactly inspire confidence. It's as if they've been relegated to the lower ranks, as they're shot in a rather dull, non-threatening way. Stick Graeme Harper behind the camera, and he'll give you low angles and unusual out-of-focus shots. That's a good way to make an impression with the Cybermen. But while director Steve Hughes does his best, the direction's not as strong in Closing Time, and fails to big up one of the most important Doctor Who monsters. Even the Cybermats are a little silly and surplus to requirements, but then they always were a bit. Thankfully, this time around, no one is required to hug a Cybermat, nor are they required to indulge in hilarious over-acting a la Kemel Rudkin in The Wheel In Space.

Altogether though, it's a shame that we haven't had a truly scary Cybermen story in what seems like yonks. The aforementioned Tennant two-parter came close with its themes of cannibalising people and the horror of a human mind trapped in the shell of a Cyberman. There could have been some similar attempt to do the same in Closing Time, but the emphasis is more on the comic timing between Smith and Corden. Which is fine in itself, but for those like me who want just a few more scares, it's a bit disappointing – the feeling that there could have been some potential with people going missing in an ordinary everyday environment. Everyday terrors have been brought to life in the last few stories, so it would have been nice to have kept up the momentum. Especially with a great baddie like the Cybermen – now there's the feeling that their glory days have passed. They're on the Subs bench when they should be centre stage on the pitch. Hopefully, someone can write a cracking good Cyberman horror story in the future to redress the balance.

As a light-hearted interlude though, Closing Time works. I guess, in Gareth Roberts' world, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'. Just like The Lodger, the dramatic elements of Closing Time leave a lot to be desired, but there's still a lot of fun to be had. The advantage of hiring a Who fan to write one of the stories is that they come along with a head-full of knowledge about past episodes. So in this case we get The Doctor echoing his Second self as he enters Craig's new home, he says “You've redecorated! I don't like it!” as he did in The Five Doctors. And evidently Roberts has been flicking through his dog-eared copy of Revenge Of The Cybermen, given that The Doctor at one point says “Not a rat – a Cybermat”. It's a neat tip of the hat to the classic era of Doctor Who, and hopefully will inspire more of today's kids to pick up some bargain priced DVDs.

"This is another good showcase for Matt Smith, who's proving, as ever, that he knows how to do great comedy."

Closing Time (Doctor Who) - Matt SmithThe script is also brimming with plenty of witty one-liners, which is a relief after Roberts' earlier efforts such as The Shakespeare Code (all of which were too busy peddling the same unfunny joke). Roberts evidently seems more comfortable in present-day surroundings with wry commentaries on the lesser aspects of modern day life. There's a nod to the Cowell-esque domination in the media “Page one has an exclusive on Nina, a local girl who got kicked off Britain's Got Talent,” muses The Doctor when looking for stories of mysterious activity in the papers. “These people are on pages seven, nineteen and twenty-two. Because no one's noticed yet. They're far too excited about Nina's emotional journey, which—in fairness—is quite inspiring.” There's also nods to the steep prices of useless gizmos, which The Doctor acknowledges with one silly gadget – “It goes up, tiddly up! It goes down, diddly down. For only £49.99, which I personally think is a bit steep.” Even the sight of The Doctor working in a shop provides the chance for great comedy (“I'm The Doctor, I work in a shop now. I am here to help. Look, they gave me a badge with my name on it in case I forget who I am!”).

This is another good showcase for Matt Smith, who's proving, as ever, that he knows how to do great comedy. Luckily he's a bit more chipper after his last couple of darker adventures. As with The Lodger, there's still this sense that the Eleventh Doctor just cannot blend in with the crowd, despite his best attempts to do so. He still thinks that OTT Gallic air kissing is how we greet each other. He goes barging into an occupied cubicle in the shop. He also has this penchant for taking sarcastic comments at face value, such as Craig's pithy remark that there are aliens in the fridge (to which he literally looks in the fridge for any unwanted specimens). Whereas recent stories have shown the dark side of The Doctor's alien eccentricity, it's still a welcome change to go back to the comedy value that this affords. Matt Smith rises to the challenge as usual, and gives a solid comedy performance that's right up there with Hartnell's turn in The Romans or some of Big Tom's japes in the 17th season.

But at the same time, Smith brings out the more melancholic side of his Doctor, and this is also something that he does very well. The scene in which he catches sight of Amy and Rory across the shop floor is very well done, and the sense of his impending 'doom' is also conveyed well by Smith. “Well then old girl,” he says sadly to his beloved TARDIS. “One last trip, eh?” It's an effective contrast, and it's moments like these that you can believe that The Doctor is much, much older than his youthful features would have you think. That's a tribute to Smith's acting, and if there's anything that compensates for the lack of scares in Closing Time, then it's the main man's excellent performance.

Closing Time (Doctor Who) - James CordenJames Corden's still not too bad either – it's an interesting tack to have him play the feed for The Doctor's gags, given that he has a history for playing the main funny-man (e.g., in Gavin And Stacey). He makes Craig a likeable chap – I guess it's all those flaws that Craig has that make him work well as a character. He's constantly doubting himself, whether it's his worry that his love for Sophie won't be reciprocated or whether he's unsure whether he'll make a good parent. It's those everyday self-doubts that most people have, and I guess that's why a good number of people have taken to the character of Craig. He's the everyday everyman, chock full of insecurities and worries.

Not too many other notables in the cast – Daisy Haggard's hardly in it, which is a shame, given that she was fabulous in The Lodger. Luckily Lynda Baron improves on her panto villainy from Enlightenment as Val – she also has great, down-to-earth comic timing, and as a bonus, there's no sign of Leeeeeeeee John mumbling camply in the background either.

Closing Time doesn't exactly attain classic status, but it is what it is. It's a light-hearted breather before the real trials begin. Although it fails to produce anything that's remotely scary and passes the Cybermen off as ineffectual stooges, it does make up for these problems with some amusing comedy, well-written lines and yet another top-drawer performance from Matt Smith.

But as The Doctor takes what he thinks is one last trip, plots are brewing. Silly old Madame Kovarian is still over-acting like there's no tomorrow, while boring old River Song makes yet another appearance as she's placed in the astronaut suit and submerged in Lake Silencio. “Tick tock goes the clock, and all the years they fly. Tick tock and all too soon, your love will surely die...”

Oooooh... things are warming up. Tune in for the last gripping instalment next time...

 

John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work here.

Check out John's previous Doctor Who review, The God Complex

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Doctor Who reviews: Closing Time

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