Wednesday 10 June 2020

Story 224 - Closing Time

In which the Doctor, nearing the end of his life, decides to go and visit some old friends. The TARDIS arrives in Colchester, Essex, and the Doctor turns up on the doorstep of Craig Owens. He lets himself in and complains he doesn't like the way Craig has decorated the place - but Craig explains that this is a different house. The Doctor detects the presence of another lifeform, even though Craig said he was on his own. This proves to be baby Alfie. Sophie has gone away for the weekend and left Craig babysitting, and he isn't coping very well. The Doctor claims to speak baby and says that Alfie prefers the name "Stormageddon". The Doctor keeps his visit brief and is returning to the TARDIS when he notices the lights in the street dimming. He had earlier read a newspaper report about missing people. He decides to investigate. The next day, Craig is visiting the department store of Sanderson & Grainger in town, where he finds the Doctor working in the toy department. Craig realises that the Earth is in danger, and wants to know what is going on. The Doctor takes him into a lift which is supposed to be out of order. They are transported to a wrecked spaceship, where the Doctor sees a battered Cyberman. He realises that a teleport has been installed in the lift. They jump back to the store and the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to disable the teleport. The Doctor had earlier heard from shop assistant Val that a small silver creature had been seen in the store.

The Doctor tries to reassure Craig that there is nothing to worry about, whilst he is worried about a Cyberman spaceship in a hidden orbit above the Earth. The following day, the Doctor allows Craig to accompany him on an investigation of the store. With the baby in tow, he should arouse less suspicion. Val actually comes to think that Craig and the Doctor are a couple. Craig gets into trouble, however, when he elects to ask questions in the women's lingerie department. The Doctor suddenly spots Amy and Rory in the store. He sees Amy sign an autograph for a young girl, and then notices a large advertisement on the wall, for a perfume called "Petrichor - for the girl who's tired of waiting". Amy is the model in the accompanying photograph. They leave without the Doctor letting them know he has seen them. That evening, after closing time, the Doctor and Craig remain in the store. The Doctor manages to locate and capture the small silver creature which had been seen - and his suspicions are proved correct when he sees that it is a Cybermat. This design retains organic components, such as a mouth full of sharp fangs. A security guard is attacked in the basement and the Doctor is knocked out by a Cyberman when he goes to help. On coming to, the Cyberman has vanished and he is found by Craig. The Doctor can't work out how the Cyberman got here if he had disabled the teleport. They take the Cybermat back to Craig's house.

The Doctor is left minding Alfie as Craig goes out to the shops. The Cybermat reactivates as the Doctor accidentally locks himself out of the house in the garden - just as Craig returns. The Cybermat attacks him but the Doctor leaps through the patio windows and saves him. They manage to deactivate it again, and the Doctor determines to reprogram it so that it can be used against the Cybermen. The next day the Doctor goes alone to the store with the Cybermat. Craig decides to follow, having just heard that Sophie will be back later that day. The house is a mess, including the smashed patio doors. They discover that there is a hole in the back of one of the changing room cubicles, and the Doctor realises that the Cybermen haven't been coming from above at all - they have been coming up from beneath the shop. With Val looking after Alfie, Craig joins the Doctor as they descend a tunnel to find a crashed spaceship. It must have been there for centuries - its occupants inanimate until recently reactivated by works on the electrics in the area. Craig is captured by the Cybermen, who have been crudely patched up with spare parts. The reprogrammed Cybermat is destroyed before it can attack its creators. The Cybermen plan to use Craig as their new Cyber-Controller. He is in the process of being converted when he hears his son crying on a CCTV monitor in the spaceship. His love for Alfie allows him to overcome the conversion, and the emotional feedback destroys the Cybermen and their spacecraft.
When Sophie comes home, the Doctor has managed to clean and tidy the house and fix the doors before slipping away back to the TARDIS. He has borrowed some dark blue envelopes, and Craig had lent him a stetson hat. Craig tells Sophie that it has been an uneventful few days and he has coped well with the babysitting.
At Luna University, in the 52nd Century, River Song is captured by Madame Kovarian and a pair of Silents. She is overpowered and forced into a NASA style spacesuit, then left in the waters of Lake Silencio...

Closing Time was written by Gareth Roberts, and was first broadcast on 24th September 2011. It is a sequel to the previous series' The Lodger, in that it once again pairs the Doctor with Craig Owens, who has now settled down with Sophie and has a child with her - baby Alfie. As with that earlier story, much of the humour derives from the interaction between the two characters, and the Doctor's attempts to fit in with every day living - this time holding down a job. As with The Lodger, the Doctor proves to be adept at this, in the same way that he was successful and well-liked when he spent an afternoon at Craig's call centre. We also have a repeat of the Doctor being more successful than Craig in the things that matter most to him - in this instance the Doctor has a better relationship with Alfie than his father has. It is very much a retread of The Lodger in many aspects, and the Cyberman plot seems almost tacked on just to have a monster and some jeopardy. As Cybermen stories go, it is one of the worst. The basic premise of them skulking around, damaged, and having to steal people to convert is a good one, but they are underused and the resolution is just embarrassingly bad. They're killed by Love. Even their spaceship gets blown up by Love. There have been a lot of saccharine moments in the show since it came back, but this is pure schmaltz. The Cyberman plot might have worked fine on its own, without Craig and the baby. Craig doesn't appear in a Cyberman story. The Cybermen appear in a Craig story.

At least we get the return of the Cybermats - their first appearance in the show since The Revenge of the Cybermen. The design seems sympathetic to the Troughton era ones, although their animal origins are alluded to by them having proper teeth.
The sentimentality aside, the story does have its funny moments - especially from Matt Smith as this most childlike of Doctors. Demonstrating toys to children in a department store seems to be a natural habitat for him, and some of the interplay with James Corden does work. Perhaps it's just the baby that tips it over the edge.
This is the story which Smith was working on whilst Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan were making The Girl Who Waited, so it's the companion-lite story. They were left to set up home away from the TARDIS at the end of the last episode, but do manage a cameo appearance here as the Doctor sees them on a visit to the store. It's not explained how much time has elapsed since he last saw them, though we can work it out from the opening episode of the series. here we see the Doctor obtain the stetson he was wearing in The Impossible Astronaut, as well as the TARDIS blue envelopes he used to send the invites to meet him in Utah. We know from him comparing diaries with River Song that this is a version of the Doctor who is 200 years older, so he's been doing a lot since he dropped Amy and Rory off. Basically, he has been prolonging the inevitable but now feels it is time to face his destiny at Lake Silencio, where he is doomed to die.

Corden is obviously the main guest star, but also featuring prominently is Lynda Baron playing Val. She had previously appeared as the pirate captain Wrack in Enlightenment, and before that had been heard but not seen in The Gunfighters, as she sang The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon throughout that story. There's a cameo appearance from Radio 1 DJ Greg James, as the man lurking in the background who watches as Craig is questioned by the store staff after loitering in the lingerie department (and you do have to wonder what he was doing there). Daisy Haggard reprises Sophie from The Lodger, but this is little more than a cameo as well, as she leaves to visit a friend at the beginning and only turns up again at the end. The actress was in the middle of a West End theatre run at the time and her availability was limited.
The epilogue at the conclusion sees the return of River Song and Frances Barber's Madame Kovarian, as well as some Silents and Clerics. For some, this epilogue is the best part of this story.

Overall, a disappointing story. It's a sequel to a story that didn't really need a sequel, and a dreadful misuse of the Cybermen. Funny in places. 165th place in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, though you'll find it is often bottom or second from bottom if you look at on-line polls of Cyberman stories.
Fans at the time were concerned to note that this was the penultimate episode of the season, when you would normally expect the first half of the finale. It means that the final episode will have an awful lot to cram in if it's going to resolve the series satisfactorily.
(Spoilers - it doesn't).
Things you might like to know:
  • The perfume which Amy is advertising is called "Petrichor" which is the word for the smell of earth after rain. We learned this in The Doctor's Wife, when Idris gave it as part of the password to Rory to access the saved TARDIS console room. 
  • The advert's tag-line - "For the girl who's tired of waiting" refers back to Amy as The Girl Who Waited (as in the last but one episode and the story of young Amelia Pond).
  • Apparently working titles included 'Three Cybermen and a Baby', 'The Last Adventure', 'Everything Must Go', and 'Carry On Lodging'. These titles came from The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2012, which did have a lot of red herrings and downright fibs scattered amongst its pages.
  • The baby was originally gong to be girl, named Grace.
  • There's a possible Mork and Mindy reference as the Doctor tells Craig he is due to visit the Alignment of Exidor. There was a character named Exidor in the Robin Williams TV series.
  • The department store interiors were recorded at Howell's in Cardiff, which had previously doubled as Henrik's, where Rose Tyler used to work.
  • The store's name might possibly include an Are You Being Served? reference, as one of the main characters in that was a Mr Grainger, head of the Men's Department.
  • The episode had a prequel filmed, which only featured Craig and Sophie. It wasn't released on-line prior to the episode, however, but did appear later as one of the Night and the Doctor extras on the Series 6 box set.
  • This is the only episode of Doctor Who to feature River Song that wasn't written by Steven Moffat. However, we all know that showrunners contribute a lot to every episode, so don't know how much of the epilogue is Roberts' and how much came from Moffat, since it had to set up the finale. One suspects that it is pretty much all Moffat.
  • Cybermen have now featured in half of the penultimate episodes of a series since the programme returned, having previously featured in Army of Ghosts and The Pandorica Opens. They will continue to make a habit of this as they will later feature in Nightmare in Silver, Dark Water, World Enough and Time, and Ascension of the Cybermen - meaning they've appeared in 7 out of 12 penultimate episodes, as of the time of writing. 

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