Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Doctor Who" Review - "Closing Time" (Series 6 Episode 12)

Once again, I’m a bit late to the party this week, having been too busy last night to write about the penultimate Doctor Who of the season.  Having gotten around to it this morning, I was very impressed – this is one of my favorite hours of the year.  And I promise that my review of the finale will be up in a prompt, timely fashion next Saturday night.  I hope...

SPOILERS for “Closing Time” coming up after the jump…

“Closing Time” is an episode that worked on every single level.  As a comedy, as a Cyberman mystery, as an emotional story about parenting, and as an integral piece of the larger story arc of series 6.  I loved all of it, and I can see myself revisiting it quite often in the future.

Let’s start with the comedy, because just like last year’s “The Lodger,” the first episode to feature James Corden as Craig Owens, this was a riotously funny hour.  Matt Smith makes me laugh very hard at least once every episode, but as “The Lodger” taught us, he can go a step further and be the funniest man on television if the script is overtly comedic and lets him run wild.  That’s exactly what we got here, as Gareth Roberts’ excellent script was filled with the sort of witty, complex dialogue Smith excels at; as in “The Lodger,” Corden provided a perfect counterpoint to Smith’s zaniness, lending the episode lots of heart and laughs.  In fact, by the end of the hour Corden’s Craig had firmly cemented himself as one of my favorite modern Who characters, and I hope we see more of him in the future. 

Yet the most brilliant comedic masterstroke of the episode was Smith speaking baby and conversing with ‘Stormageddon;’ every single interaction the Doctor had with the baby was comic gold, especially when Stormy was reviewing his father’s parenting skills.  But Stormy wasn’t just a source of laughs – he also gave the episode its emotional core, and that’s where “Closing Time” went from fun to genuinely great.  “The Lodger” focused on Craig working up the nerve to express his love to Sophie, which was a very nice, warm center to focus the episode around, but I found Craig’s struggles as a new father even more engaging.  He’s out of his depth, but not in the ridiculous way many comedies would play the scenario: Craig simply wants to be a good dad, and his desperation stems from his fear of letting his new family down.  Having an emotional arc at the center of things makes everything in the episode better; the comedy is funnier, the story has more weight, etc., and Roberts did a fantastic job tying Craig’s quest to become a better father into his adventure with the Doctor.

The Doctor himself had a very strong emotional arc as well; knowing he’ll die soon, the Doctor is on a ‘farewell tour,’ and while the Doctor got to be very funny for most of the episode, his impending demise did color the entire hour.  Smith has had an utterly fantastic year on this show, getting to play so many different sides of the character throughout the last eleven episodes, many of them new or different than what we’ve seen before.  “Closing Time” mixed together everything we’ve seen Smith do this season and then some: the funny Doctor, the badass Doctor, the wise Doctor, the old Doctor, the self-loathing Doctor, the reflective Doctor, the sad Doctor…it goes on and on, and the brilliance of Smith’s performance is that he can take all these divergent aspects of the character and mix them into one cohesive creation.  Just look at his speech to Stormageddon in the nursery near the end of the episode: this is another monologue that rivals his “Bluest Blue” speech to young Amy from “The Big Bang,” one the really summed up everything the Doctor, in any incarnation, is about. 

I said it last week and I’ll say it again this week: I watch a lot of TV and there are many small-screen performances I find remarkable, but Matt Smith is the best of the bunch. 

The Cyberman mystery was probably the weakest element of the episode, but that’s by design, rather than due to any failure within the hour.  They were really just a plot device this week, an adventure that allowed Craig to become a better father, the Doctor to come to terms with his death, etc.  But as a simple plot device, I felt the Cybermen were effectively used.  This was a nice homage to classic Cybermen stories like “The Invasion” where for much of the story we see only glimpses of the villains; they work behind the scenes, slowly executing their evil plot, until the Doctor rushes in at the end to stop them.  To me, this subtle use of the Cybermen was a nice throwback to the days of Who yore, and in the meantime, we got adventures with the Cybermat, a creature not yet seen in the revived series.

Every element of “Closing Time” came together very brilliantly, culminating in a great climax that hinged on Craig’s love of his son, and ending with a nice display of friendship from the Doctor.  I would have been happy if the episode ended right there, but instead, the ending wound up putting lots of pieces into place for next week’s finale.  The Doctor took the four blue envelopes he sends to Amy, Rory, River, and his past self from Craig’s fireplace, Craig gives the Doctor the Stetson (which is cool), and the Doctor returns to his TARDIS for one last trip.  Next, we flash-forward far into the future, where Madame Kovarian forces an adult River Song into the astronaut suit, putting her in place to kill the Doctor.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this material.  Everything with the Doctor preparing for his final voyage was gold, though I can’t help but be a little disappointed that dying in Utah isn’t part of the Doctor’s master plan; he seems to know no more about his death than we do.  As for River and Madame Kovarian, this is another moment that I felt could have had more build up.  Apart from “Let’s Kill Hitler,” none of this half of the season has focused on River, Kovarian, or the Silence, so we’re no nearer to discovering the Silence’s plot now than we were at the beginning of the year.  I’d guessed long ago that River was in the Astronaut suit, but I also assumed that we’d know a bit more about why she has to kill the Doctor by the time we reached the finale.  As it stands, we know nothing about the Silence, Madame Kovarian, why they want the Doctor dead, or what they did to young River.  I’ve greatly enjoyed these last few episodes, but from a narrative standpoint, shouldn’t that have been time spent developing these hanging plot threads?  We’re headed into the finale with a lot of loose ends, it won’t even be a 2-part closer. 

Oh well.  I trust Moffat to wrap things up satisfyingly next week, and for now, “Closing Time” stands as a fantastic penultimate episode.  It did a fine job putting the pieces into place for the finale, but more importantly, it was a hilarious, heartwarming, exciting hour in its own right, exactly what I want out of Doctor Who. 

And by the way, is there anyone out there who guessed that Amy’s career ambition was to start her own fragrance line?  For that matter, does Rory have a cologne called “Centurion?”

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