Why I Love… Closing Time
Guest contributor Will Atkinson takes another look at Gareth Roberts’ last episode.
Gareth Roberts is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers. He’s written favourites of mine across all kinds of media. Just last weekend I’ve read Only Human, listened to The One Doctor and I’m planning on watching The Unicorn and the Wasp with my tea. I love Robert’s sense of humour and the joy and silliness he brings to the Whoniverse. I for one cannot wait until Big Finish release their adaptations of The Highest Science, The Romance of Crime and the English Way of Death this winter. But before that, we’ve got Saturday’s The Caretaker, which seems to be playing to all Robert’s strengths – a contemporary set tale full of the Doctor clashing with societal norms. All this and Coal Hill School too. So, I think I’ve made it clear to see that I’m a big fan of Gareth Roberts.
And it seems that many other people are too. His New and Missing Adventures for Virgin Books had, and have, a good following, and his stories for the show’s return have also been popular, especially with younger viewers. He is very much the master of the comedy romp, and Moffat himself has often waxed lyrically about his like for The Lodger. However I find there’s one story of his that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in the eyes of fandom…no, not Planet of the Dead, the other one. Yes, I’m talking about Closing Time.
I adore Closing Time. I’ve watched it more times that I can remember, and I know it inside out. In fact I was once even caught on live TV watching it on my iPod, at Lord’s Cricket Ground, while the RE teacher sitting next to me got hit by a cricket ball*. Despite having seen it so many times, it still brings a big smile to my face every time I watch it. I’m rather surprised then by the more lukewarm reception it got from Doctor Who fans, who wrote it off for being a bit derivative, or for not using the Cybermen properly, or for it not living up to The Lodger. I wholeheartedly disagree with those three points, and I’m going to tell you why.
First of all, Matt Smith and James Corden make a great duo as the Doctor and Craig. Smith is as mercurial as ever in the role, shushing humanity and managing to say a very emotional speech with a baby cradled in his arms. Corden ups his game from The Lodger, making Craig a very enjoyable and amusing character, especially with his baby son Stormaggedon Dark Lord of All Alfie. I always wished that we could have seen another story with the Eleventh Doctor and Craig, as they work very well together. My favourite scene with them both in has to be when, after being teleported to the Cyber-Ship, the Doctor grabs Craig and starts confessing his love for him as a distraction so that Craig doesn’t notice where they are, or the Silver Giant coming up behind him.
Talking of Silver Giants, I’ve never really understood the argument that this story somehow “ruins” the Cybermen. In a series lacking of returning monsters, I though Closing Time really gave us a chance to see the first simple Cyberman story we’ve had in a while. Though their screen time may be limited, their presence hangs over the entire story, pushing it along from the pre-title sequence onwards. Despite the Cybermen in this story looking rather worse for wear, they’re still a menacing force, converting innocents and plotting to take over the world, even though there are only six of them. The reintroduction of the Cybermats is another plus, with their almost cute face facing hiding an array of chomping fleshy teeth being one of the best 21st century redesigns of any Doctor Who monster. And yes the men from Mondas may be “blown up with love”, but for me at least that doesn’t detract from their effectiveness in the rest of the episode.
Another factor in this story’s mixed reception from fandom is that it’s all a bit silly for the penultimate episode of the series, especially as it’s a sequel to one of the best received episodes of the previous year. Okay, it is a bit silly. There are lots of jokes in it and it’s played for laughs most of time. Yes, it is episode 12 of an arc-heavy series and it could be said that the bits relating to the arc do jar a bit. Yes, it is a sequel to The Lodger, and yes it had a lot to live up to. But do you know what? I don’t care. Closing Time is the calm before the storm. Instead of being part one of a two part finale it instead acts a fun final story for the Doctor before he goes to meet his death. It ties in with the arc quite well in my opinion, introducing lots of important set up for The Wedding River Song but never spending too long on them, using them more as a spring-board to tell its own adventure. And for me this is The Empire Strikes Back to The Lodger’s A New Hope. It improves on the original, and does the thing any good sequel does – takes a bunch of characters the audience already knows and runs with them, and has a hell of a lot of fun in the meantime.
Finally, it features the Doctor in his long green jacket. That isn’t a very substantial point, but it is a jolly nice jacket.
In conclusion (love that phrase) I think Closing Time is much more of a success than people take it for, and I think it deserves a lot more respect than it gets. So, if you’re thinking of watching it again before this Saturday, maybe give a bit more love for the only Doctor Who story where the Doctor is mistaken for being in a gay relationship with James Corden.
*It was one of those kind of days.