In a sequel to last years ‘The Lodger’, the Doctor revisits Craig and has one last adventure with the Cybermen before going to face his appointment with death in ‘Closing Time.’ This was supposed to be a light, fun story before the finale but suffered by trying to do too many things at the same time.
First and foremost this was a comedy, reuniting Matt Smith and James Corden. They work well off each other, bringing a new dynamic to the Doctor’s relationship with his companions. They communicate well that the Doctor and Craig are mates, with a clear affection for each other.
The interplay between the characters, along with the commentary from baby Alfie (or Stormageddon as he likes to be known), was genuinely amusing. It never strayed too far into being a sitcom, never letting us forget the real peril that the characters faced.
Alongside this we had the Doctor reaching his end. Nearly 200 years have passed since we last saw him and saving the world is something which seems to be in his past. Here he really struggles with himself before deciding to get involved.
This more sombre mood sat uneasy with the light-heartedness that was found elsewhere. Certainly the senses in which the Doctor confides in the baby about the wonders that life holds and his sad farewell to the children outside the TARDIS are excellent but their mood is at odds with the story.
The central threat of the story, the Cybermen, are almost an afterthought. They are kept in the shadows until the climax in the story, giving us little time to appreciate them as characters rather than just a menace.
Finally the episode needs to add a 5 minute epilogue with River Song, setting up the conclusion of this seasons plot arc. It did its job, building excitement, but only served to illustrate how slight the plot of ‘Closing Time’ was.
The reason that ‘The Lodger’ works so well is that the Doctor is out of his depth when he has to pretend to be normal. Craig was the straight-man, increasingly bemused by the Doctor’s behaviour and then frustrated that things worked out so well for him, winning over Craig’s friends and work colleagues.
Craig’s problem in that story was he was stuck in a rut, unable to move forward and achieve what he wanted. Here his problem is that he doesn’t feel he can be a father, finding that despite his denials he can’t cope alone.
By contrast the Doctor seems perfectly in control throughout. He is able to quieten Alfie with a single gesture and quickly wins everyone’s confidence at the department store. Here it is Craig getting laughs by ineptly trying to copy the Doctor.
In focusing on the comedy element there are several ‘jokes’ but they are repeated so frequently they begin to loose their humour. The prime example is the Doctor’s ability to speak to babies.
In small measures this is amusing, such as in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, but by using it throughout the story it suggests some rather unpleasant things about the Doctor Who universe.
If we take this at face value it means that Alfie has delusions of grandeur, holds little love for his father and only confirms Craig’s fears that he isn’t doing a good job. If the Doctor is just pretending that he is translating messages from the infant then it seems equally cruel.
The silencing of others with a gesture is funny the first time but again is used so often that it looses its power. This recycling of material suggests that there just wasn’t enough to fill the running time.
It was nice to see the cybermats reintroduced to the series but the Cybermen are rapidly becoming a stand-in monster. Their aims and modus operandi are so simplistic you can just drop them into a story without explaining who they are or how they got there.
I recently wrote several articles about the Cybermen and how they are being used. This story just reinforces the current problems with them. The fact that new audiences were reintroduced to them via alternative dimension doppelgangers just makes having to explain the true origin of the race even more confusing.
Maybe one day we’ll get a story with them which doesn’t consist of them just converting people, talking in robotic phrases or being overwhelmed by emotions but this certainly wasn’t that story.
The older Cybermen stories might not be the best of Classic Who but they did show us Cybermen who used cunning to poison people, who could work with humans to set the stage for invasion or who would turn prisoners into human bombs.
The audio adventures from Big Finish have given many fine stories that illustrate there is plenty that you can do with the Cybermen and still keep it fresh and original. It is a pity that most modern audiences won’t be exposed to them.
For most casual viewers the unanswered questions don’t matter. For a long term fan it is maddening that we don’t know how their ship crashed long enough ago that the department store could be built over it when Mondas should still have been hurtling out of the solar system.
Sure these might be time travelling Cybermen, perhaps part of the force sent back to guard the Pandorica, but the fact that we didn’t get any explanation suggests the current creative team don’t care.
Story wise it was a nice twist that rather than their hidden teleporter beaming people ‘up’ to a spaceship in orbit it was sending them ‘down’. Just a shame that once we got there we were subjected to another ‘Power of Love’ ending. Even the Doctor was embarrassed that this was the conclusion we got.
Thematically it did make sense, allowing Craig to realise that he did have it within himself to be a good father, that his desire to protect his child was strong enough to overcome the Cyberman programming.
There are two problems with this. Firstly ‘Night Terrors’ had a a similar ending which I feel was superior, and secondly it goes against the plot of the series. ‘The God Complex’ established the Doctor had realised that he can’t protect his companions and in this episode he is delaying his demise.
If Craig had been fully converted and the Doctor had been forced to destroy him along with the rest of the Cybermen then it would have reinforced the idea that the good old days were far behind him and there was nothing left but to face the final curtain.
As it is the Doctor has a moment of triumph, a reason to live, but still has to return to the same emotional place, saying goodbye. Craig’s survival gives us a happy conclusion but doesn’t feel natural to the story.
It was nice as well to see Amy and Rory again, living normal lives. It was initially confusing why the little girl was approaching Amy for an autograph, not least of all because doubtlessly this very scenario will occur to Karen Gillian, if it hasn’t already.
It makes sense that Amy would be a model but doesn’t suggests that she has matured as a person since meeting the Doctor. She is still using her looks as a means to make money and Rory is still carrying her bags.
For all these negative points this is by no means a terrible story. It is funny, moves quickly, the redesign of the Cybermat with its organic mouth is frightening and the friendly relationship the Doctor has not only with Craig but the other people at the department store all make this watchable.
There is just the nagging feeling that what should have been the Doctor’s swansong was just a brisk romp before we get back to business.