Closing Time

Story No. 243 I'm the Doctor - and I was here to help
Production Code Series 6, Episode 12
Dates September 24, 2011

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Gareth Roberts Directed by Steve Hughes
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.

Synopsis: The Doctor decides to spent his last days before his death with his old friend Craig.


Retire the Cybermen, for their own good by Clement Tang 17/7/12

To those reading this, I'm gonna review two things. The first being the main story, the second being the ending which is basically the series 6 finale's prologue.

"It's time to close up shop and say goodbye to the Cybermen!" was my initial reaction after watching this horrible story. The Cybermen were bad enough since Revenge, but this is ridiculous. They're not menacing or threatening in the least. They just look like plain old robots. And don't get me started on the Cybermats.

Matt Smith acts well in this episode as before, but James Corden is only about average. He seemed to portray Craig pretty bland to me. The plot does not help them at all, either. Cybermen in a mall? Of all places? And the subplot of the saleswoman thinking the Doctor and Craig was a couple is just too stupid.

The scene involving Alfie is what I call filler. Even with 45 minutes, this scene is added just to waste time. The ending is a bad cop-out too. Love conquers all? We get it.

I'm being very critical towards most of Series 6, but this what you get with comedy writers like Gareth Roberts on the show.

4/10 (saved by Matt Smith)

Now, spoiler alert, because this scene is five minutes long and there's a lot of detail.

What a shocker! Kovarian meeting River in Luna University? With the Silence? Wow. Never expected that. Also, both River and Kovarian were played beautifully in this short scene. The atmosphere also makes this work. You get the chills seeing the interaction, especially what happened to River, which I will not give away. Thank God for this scene, or else I would've stayed bored the whole hour long.

7.5/10 is reasonable considering the length of the scene. It practically has much more going than the earlier 40+ minutes.

"Robots build robots" by Thomas Cookson 14/12/18

During the release of Terminator: Genesys, my local cinema screened a reshowing of the original 1984 Terminator. Seeing it on the big screen was an incredible, exhilarating experience. It's still one of the most perfect films of its decade (which produced over its fair share of utter dreck) and could've happily existed as a standalone.

I began pondering the film's central theme. Whether the predatory, ruthless, unfeeling machine legitimately is superior to man, or whether somehow, someway there's something about humanity's spirit that'll prevail, even against such unstoppable opposition.

This is something Doctor Who's been dealing with ever since 1963's The Daleks. Tom Baker's best moments were his eulogies to the indomitable spirit of mankind and how the Daleks' threat can only make us stronger and more united against a common foe.

It's often been suggested that the reason the JNT/Saward era failed was that, with Eric Saward calling the shots, the show no longer seemed to have the definitive answers as to why the Doctor's humanity made him better than the cold-blooded monsters he crusaded against.

In fact, it was often openly suggested that the Cybermen and Davros were right that the Doctor was weak and a failure. So there was no reward to the themes. No reason to root for the central hero anymore. Especially when Terminator clearly had the answers Doctor Who didn't.

Now I come to Closing Time. The penultimate story of an increasingly exhausting season.

I used to watch an ongoing season with a sense of adventure and promise. By now I was watching Series 6 numbly. Hoping to spot some belated reassurance that this was all meant to make sense, that the makers knew what they were doing. Or maybe I was just watching in morbid fascination at this train wreck of an arc, and how much more it could fall apart even more spectacularly.

Many fans still believed the intelligent, challenging Doctor Who for inquiring minds that enjoyed popular success from 1963 to 1982 would utterly repel today's audiences. That taking the time to tell interesting, clever stories would leave casual viewers snoring and turning over quickly. That Modern Who needed dumbing down, whilst pandering, flashing and weeping at viewers every other second to appease short attention-spans.

They hysterically insisted that, with Moffat's Series 5, the show had gotten too clever and challenging for mainstream viewers. Come the fan-service heavy finale, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, fandom seemingly started collectively dying inside of shame. Fearing it was all lost and that a second cancellation was coming, even though Classic Who wasn't cancelled for being 'too clever', but rather for turning illiterate and moronic.

It seems hysterical that after five years of consistent audience goodwill, that mainstream viewers might suddenly become utterly repelled and desert the show in droves. But by Closing Time, those fannish fears of deserting viewers didn't seem so hysterically far-fetched anymore. The show wasn't just becoming slightly less populist fluff under Moffat, it was becoming downright incoherent.

Even any hope that the specially filmed Series 6 DVD extras might fill the gaps proved in vain. They were largely just tacky, chauvinistic comedy skits about the game-playing Doctor essentially cheating on River with herself.

I don't think Closing Time could've saved this season even were it any good. As a standalone, The Girl Who Waited was probably Matt Smith's best episode, but enjoying it required mentally squinting hard and pretending none of the preceding arc with Amy's baby happened. Frustratingly, it proved beyond a shadow of doubt that Karen Gillan can give a phenomenally powerful emotional performance, acting her heart out as older Amy at the end when begging Rory not to save her.

It's perhaps why reviewers like E. John Winner have suspected maybe Moffat would deliberately wreck his own show just to cast himself as its saviour. Nothing after Let's Kill Hitler was ever going to make sense until we got through all the guest writers' stories and Moffat finally came back.

When I think back to how that felt, I really do sympathise with Winner's words.

In truth it probably was nothing so deliberate or organised. Moffat probably had the story arc idea, whilst his guest writers weren't on the same page as him and were writing episodes that assumed the usual status quo between our leads. There's rumours that many scripts were rejected for budgetary reasons, essentially leaving us with the scraps, without time to rework them or turn back from the arc. Consequently, the show was pulled separate ways between Moffat and his guest writers.

Frustratingly, a few reshoots could've fixed this. Add in a line in Night Terrors' opening to suggest Amy thinks the child's psychic message is a lead in their hunt for younger River.

Series 6 reeked of an incompetence that we'd previously believed was simply beyond Moffat. But again this was only his second year as head writer, running a team. And despite the tremendous blow to my faith, I had to hold out hope Moffat was worth a second chance. That he'd been a mastermind showrunner before, and, given time, he could be again. That is, as soon as this crap was over.

There's much that's wrong with the New Series Cybermen, and fans who complain that they've been changed too much are not colossally missing the point.

In Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, their chunky redesign seemed right and robust, and the siege of the Tyler mansion was genuinely thrilling. But the problem became clear once the Cybernized Jackie was revealed and we were supposed to be moved by the tragedy. It had no impact because her Cyberman was so indistinct from the rest it wasn't at all recognisable as Jackie.

The old Cybermen were clearly men in suits, which was the point. It gave you an instinctive impression of their former humanity, the organic flesh trapped within. The proportions of what were once people. The redesign completely lost that sense and made the Cybermen more generic and bland than ever, despite the heavy-handed emotional pretences.

I think why fans demanded the Cybermen of 'our' universe back is that the classic Cybermen felt like they came from a technology unimaginably greater than our own. RTD's Cybermen lack that mythology in every way, given his obsession with making everything modern day and unimaginative. We are, by design, on technological equal footing with those Cybermen, and, given Cybus industries' limited diminishing stock of them, we always will be. It ruins everything intriguing about the Cybermen. It also reduces them to a merchandising gimmick and cheap action cannon fodder.

Nightmare in Silver at least tried rectifying this by positing a future where the original Cybermen have even doubled up on their past development with frightening efficiency. But here we're stuck with the weaker models.

Perhaps Age of Steel should've gone the route of having Tennant refuse to prevent the Cybermen from winning on Pete's world, because being a parallel Earth, who's to say he has any right to interfere with its future timeline. Maybe those Cybermen are supposed to win. From there, we could encounter more of their dimension-crossing descendants, more advanced and powerful than ever.

But Closing Time really begs the question why a writer with this much contempt for the Cybermen is writing them at all.

As Stuart Hardy pointed out, whatever Moffat's plans for Series 6, he ultimately had to make room for a rehash of The Lodger because that was apparently a popular one. This meant Moffat had to somehow contrive reasons for the Doctor to be travelling solo to recreate that buddy dynamic.

That's why The God Complex left me baffled at how after all this, it took a Curse of Fenric rehash to decide now was time for Amy to give up travelling with the Doctor and become disillusioned in him. Ideally, A Good Man Goes To War is where the Ponds should've left (before returning in the season finale).

Hell, Let's Kill Hitler should've rightly ended with Amy and Rory kneeing the Doctor in the nuts and walking out on him right then.

It was something of a dent to the New Who makers' conceit of their show being supposedly so much more emotionally in touch with its characters than the Classic Series ever was. And maybe in some ways I was wanting this bubble to burst just so the myth could die.

Suffice it to say, I'd love to see the version of the show RTD's sycophants keep raving about where the show's more in touch with the spirit of humanity and what separates us from unfeeling monsters like the Cybermen and Daleks, and what a fight against them would really feel like.

As I see it, the only version of this modern Who that exists is in the Dalek Empire and Cyberman spin-off audios.

Our enthusiasm for a revival was always based around the sense that even the poorer Classic Who eras always had the raw elements for what could've been a great show. That's what we expected of a revival, but instead there was the sickly feeling of seeing the show transformed into something it's not, which made fandom's more sycophantic cultish praise of it all the more suspect in its sincerity.

This is set up as a comedy about modern men having to cope with their more feminized role in today's society. For 45 minutes we have to endure some ropey contrived setups for comical gags at their most dated and crass, usually at the expense of seeing Craig mistaken for being either gay or a pervert. All the while, I just failed to understand what's keeping the Doctor here and why he didn't just leave at the start before the streetlamp started flickering. It seems he, like the story, is desperately looking for a plot whilst intermittently fannying around.

My issue with this story is the obvious one. The 'love conquers all' resolution.

It's seen as a success that Doctor Who has moved on with modern times of obscene Dianification, by being a more feminized, emotional show, in contrast to the often more chauvinistic Classic Series, and very quickly this has been allowed to run out of control.

We congratulate ourselves on having a more empathising, compassionate, feminized modern post-Diana society. But that's the same society that's continually voted the Tory government back in, despite their merciless, lethal victimization of the poor and sick. So, are we really more empathising today or only to those exclusively sharing our affluent lifestyle, our mindset and our first-world problems, and do we just switch off to the feelings of those outside that bubble? Or are emotional sentiments something we've just grown desensitized to or sick of, to the point of backlash? I'd hate to think modern Doctor Who had something to do with that.

As for this story's resolution, it gets back to how New Who has nothing to say on human emotions other than 'Aren't they so wonderful?' and 'We order you to emote!'

This is the problem. This isn't a proper reckoning of the conflict between man and machine. It's just the show being sycophantic about the fact we have emotions and they apparently make for great TV and 'better' Doctor Who if you're part of the demographic that enjoys a good cry. That rampant emotional imbalances are awesome because 'Oh, the feels!'

And because the show's so sycophantic to that, it seems again the show is disinterested in the Doctor Who elements that actually matter, like the threat of the Cybermen. So it's a transparently unfair fight stacked in favour of emotions, which completely belittles the Cybermen and all that made them scary.

The insulting implication being the only reason no one's beaten the Cybermen like this before is because no single character in Classic Who at the Cybermen's mercy has ever had emotions like this that could've apparently always shut them all down.

It doesn't say anything truly validating about the human spirit, it just patronizes us at what special snowflakes our feelings make us.

I've never excreted any weird alien gases at you! by Evan Weston 25/5/19

Closing Time is an absolutely beautiful thing. I find that descriptor to wrap up so much of what makes this story so special: it's the funniest episode of Doctor Who ever made (by a long stretch), it contains arguably Matt Smith's finest performance as the Doctor, it has a cute baby in it and, most importantly, it shows Gareth Roberts finally fulfilling his considerable potential as a Doctor Who writer. Roberts has turned in three pretty good stories and a dreadful one, but Closing Time confirms him as a name to look forward to if he returns to the show in the future.

There are very few, if any, Doctor Who writers with a better ear for comedy than Roberts, and Closing Time is first and foremost a big-budget sitcom. The Lodger is pretty damn funny, but its reliance on a cheap horror narrative led its focus astray. Its sequel, however, had me grinning ear to ear throughout. The Doctor is once again used as the comic relief, and the result is fascinating and hilarious. Roberts gives him gut-busting non-sequiturs and generally writes him as a well-intentioned yet dramatically antisocial weirdo, and it's a perfect characterization for the Eleventh Doctor. Craig is once again the straight man in Closing Time, but he gets to goof around a bit more than he did in The Lodger, specifically when he creeps out the poor shop girl.

Also unlike The Lodger, Craig isn't entirely the main focus of the narrative. If Closing Time had to have a protagonist, I would probably still name Craig, but his evolution seems similar to that in his last appearance, and his "becoming a better father" arc isn't enough to hold up the episode; in fact, it's a bit tiresome even in the space it's given. Roberts knows this, so he does what all of the best Doctor Who writers do: he makes time to develop and examine the Doctor's character, and it's these moments that carry Closing Time.

Moffat's Series 6 arc forces the Doctor to experience nearly 200 years of solitude. This is, of course, ridiculous, so Roberts does away with all that and uses it to simply portray the Doctor as a tired, depressed old man, terrified of what lies ahead but still unable to separate himself from what makes him so extraordinary. In the end, Closing Time becomes far more satisfying than The Wedding of River Song or any Series 6 finale could ever hope to be. Simply by cutting out the convoluted story arc and focusing directly on how the events affect the Doctor's character, Closing Time feels completely authentic and leads us into the last episode with a safety net; we don't need The Wedding of River Song to resolve any character issues that have come up, because this story already did it.

Matt Smith aids the endeavor with what qualifies as his best performance in the role to date. You can easily point to the best Eccleston turns - Dalek, Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways - and the best Tennants - The Girl in the Fireplace, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, Midnight - but Smith's shining moments aren't quite so obvious across his tenure. You'd never think a light episode like Closing Time would feature this kind of performance, but Smith brings everything he has to this story. There has never been a better Doctor in terms of seeming young and old simultaneously, and I can't think of a better story that showcases this quality in Smith. His quiet moments, particularly when he speaks to little Alfie, are exquisite and subtle, lending him both credibility and our sympathy. He can also do something that certainly Eccleston could never do and Tennant could only achieve in spurts: he makes the Doctor absolutely hysterical. Smith is perhaps the best comic actor to take the part since Tom Baker, and, in my opinion, the Eleventh is the funniest Doctor of them all.

James Corden, back after a lovely performance in The Lodger, does nearly as well in his second go, though he's outshined by Smith's meatier role in the sequel. Still, Corden is a delight, and his Craig gets to be funny, sweet and serious in the course of 45 minutes. His best moments come when he's playing off the Doctor (or rather when the Doctor plays off him), and his chemistry with Smith is positively electric in their second appearance together. He also nails the physical comedy, never better than in the kitchen scene when the Cybermat knocks him to the floor. It's not the first great kitchen scene Roberts has written - check out The Unicorn and the Wasp - but it's probably the best, and it shows off what these two can do together.

Unfortunately, for all Closing Time does right - and I haven't even mentioned the inventive set-up, the supporting cast members at the mall or the lovely Amy and Rory cameo - its choice of villain holds it back from classic status, because I just can't stand what this episode does to the Cybermen. Not that they weren't in decline before; The Next Doctor certainly didn't do them any favors. But Closing Time turns the Cybermen into comic, lightweight villains, a threat so telegraphed not to be taken seriously that you barely even notice the deaths of four people throughout the story. There's nothing wrong with a lighter monster in a story like this, but using the Cybermen in such a capacity is insulting to their legacy. Think back to how brutal they were even in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, to say nothing of the classics, and then watch them in Closing Time. The difference is stark, and not a little upsetting.

But despite how poorly it treats its heavies, Closing Time treats its lights better than almost any episode in the show's history. It's good because it's hilarious and entertaining, but it's great because it manages to balance terrific comedy with a compelling personal narrative for both the Doctor and his companion, built on a landmark performance by Matt Smith. Had Series 6 simply gone the way of The Girl Who Waited, The God Complex and Closing Time, we'd be looking at the greatest series of Doctor Who ever produced. While the arc plot mucked it up severely, episodes like the last three prove that the show still has plenty left in the tank.