A rare dud among this year’s Doctor Who gems, Closing Time for the most part is a by-numbers episode, not just the poorest of this year’s crop but not as good as many of last year’s episodes either.
This is the first appearance of a recurring monster this year (besides minor appearances of sontarans, silurians, cybermen and even weeping angels in minor roles). That’s evidence of the originality of this year’s of stories. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome the occasional appearance of a classic villain if it’s well done. And generally, I love a cybermat. But neither they nor the cybermen were well-served by this episode (and the more we see of cyberconversion the less scary it is). The crashed ship plot was rather pedestrian (and, to me, having new cybermen on Earth in 1986 feels wrong) and insufficient to sustain a story in its own right. Perhaps that’s why we have the other recurring element, the reappearance of Craig from The Lodger to which this is a direct (if inferior) sequel.
I enjoyed James Corden’s performance as Matt Smith’s house-mate a great deal. But with less opportunity to play off the Doctor, he is shriller and more erratic. The baby storyline is a nice progression from when we last met him (“You’ve redecorated. I don’t like it.” “We’ve moved!”) but without the culture-clash elements, the story feels a bit rudderless.
Additionally, the (obviously Moffat-penned) ending also feels bolted on, in the way that the final sequence in The Cold Earth did. Elements of the story arc through this year’s episodes have typically been well-integrated but this stuck out starkly with the kids in the street providing the clunkiest of links.
The real strength of the episode is Matt Smith’s well-judge melancholy performance of the Doctor on the eve of his death. This must be around 200 years, in the Doctor’s timeline, since The God Complex. The moment when he sees Amy and Rory walking through the shop is very affecting; the success Amy has enjoyed modelling conveying effectively the time that has passed for her. There’s a sense, as he chastises himself for being a selfish old man, of how much further he’s fallen since he rose so high. That was there in the performance, but it felt like the writing shied away from it: for Craig to have been converted would have illustrated just how irredeemably toxic the Doctor has become. I can see how that would have been unpalatable for the family audience, but it would have given a mediocre episode meaning. Even revealing the Doctor’s cutesy “I can talk baby” as being a sham (a careful line has been trodden to avoid confirming this) would have exposed how sad and pathetic the Doctor is with no companions.
Instead, this one plays it safe. When Doctor Who is at its best I don’t even notice that I’m watching scenes filmed in the corridors at work. So it can’t be a good sign if, during airing, I’m wondering whether the episode was filmed in Debenhams.