Aired 24 September 2011
Doctor Who has had many notable guest stars over the years playing a number of memorable supporting characters. While James Corden’s Craig from ‘The Lodger’ is certainly one of the quirkier and more endearing, he’s probably not the character that many were most yearning to see more of in another episode. On a farewell tour of sorts as his impending death approaches and again alone with no companions, the Doctor once more crosses paths with Craig in ‘Closing Time,’ though the end result isn’t quite as memorable as their first encounter. This majority of this series has been filled with utterly fantastic episodes, and so any misfire stands out even more than it may in previous years. Unfortunately, ‘Closing Time’ is one of those misfires, one that even the genuinely comedic and touching double act of Matt Smith and James Corden can’t save.
The basis for the story is strong enough as a small group of Cybermen is restored due to the laying of power lines. Meshed in between some shopping centre banter is a genuine building of tension as many familiar horror mainstays such as malfunctioning lifts, flickering lights, and disappearing people are employed. Regrettably, the Cybermen eventually revealed are at their weakest and- Cybermat aside- really pose no sense of tangible threat at all. Given how scary just a piece of a Cyberman was proven to be in ‘The Pandorica Opens,’ it’s genuinely disappointing that a group of functional Cybermen fail to do anything nearly as memorable. And, as they are dealt their death knell and Craig refuses his Cyber conversion due to the crying of his baby, they come across as possibly the most pathetic of any foe the Doctor has ever faced.
It’s not all bad, though, because even if the Cybermen prove to be a letdown and a distraction from the main narrative, that main narrative itself is quite suitably entertaining. As the Doctor and Craig try to survive their time alone with the baby while dealing with the alien threat, they manage to maintain a much lighter tone than in the preceding tales as their inexperience with babysitting creates some notably comedic moments. Still, though, there is an underlying sense of foreboding as the Doctor accepts that his death is imminent as the world closes in around him. The brief glimpse he gets of Amy and Rory in the shopping centre is a nostalgic reminder of the past, and the varied emotions Matt Smith is able to portray throughout these events are outstanding.
As a standalone episode, then, ‘Closing Time’ is simply fine, though its presence in such a strong overall series as well as its complete wasted exposure of the Cybermen make its average nature all the more glaring. Craig remains a very endearing character as he struggles to keep his life together, and Corden reaffirms his strong chemistry with Smith throughout as the Doctor’s alien nature again infiltrates day-to-day human life, but as a penultimate episode leading into the finale it’s just lacking in overall importance, depth, and intensity. While the coda of the piece confirms the strong suspicion that it is, indeed, River Song who is in the astronaut suit and kills the Doctor and that Madame Kovarian and the Silence are returning, even this is a more understated lead-in to the finale than expected and fails to provide a shocking revelation to keep interest piqued. Fortunately, the mystery of the Doctor’s death is strong enough that all attention will be on the upcoming ‘The Wedding of River Song’ regardless.