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Doctor Who XXXII.12: Closing Time

September 25th, 2011 (01:24 am)

Three weeks on from 'Night Terrors', we seem to be back in the land of homage to the early Doctor Who of Russell T Davies. Sanderson and Grainger (nothing to do, apparently, with Rory's grandmother - early speculation that this is whom Lynda Baron would be playing seems to have been proved mistaken) recalls Hendrik's from 'Rose' (not that surprising given that they share the same location) and like the Autons, the Cybermen lurk in the basement and tamper with the electricity. The business with the Cybermat recalls that with the Auton hand in 'Rose'. Together with the recall of established Cyber-motifs - hiding behind curtains being much the same as hiding behind plastic sheeting, as in 'Army of Ghosts', and of course the exploding heads first seen in 'The Age of Steel' - a sense is created that a circle begun six and a half years ago is drawing to a close. Appropriate, then, that as the Doctor speed-read The Lovely Bones in 'Rose', in 'Closing Time' he consults a manual on pregnancy.

There are further references to the past. The elation on the Doctor's face when he sees Amy and Rory in the store recalls that when he first saw Sarah for the first time in six regenerations (barring The Five Doctors which is a special case) in 'School Reunion'. The Doctor's dialogue includes lines which are almost the same as memorable quotations from The Three Doctors and Revenge of the Cybermen, which no doubt will excite the Ganger-Doctor theorists given that the last time we heard such obvious borrowings was in the early minutes of 'The Rebel Flesh'. Kelly in lingerie is a close cousin of Donna Noble. George the security guard recalled one of the more unfortunate characters (from many perspectives) from The Tomb of the Cybermen, and during the conversion scene I wondered if he was going to wander on with a converted arm. The Cyberman dialogue was delivered by Nicholas Briggs with more animation than in their appearances opposite David Tennant and so pointed a little towards their appearances in the 1980s; the Doctor's incompatibility with Cyberconversion refers the viewer out of the television canon to Big Finish's Spare Parts, and it's surely no accident that the term is deployed frequently.

"No point in being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes," the fourth Doctor told Sarah in Robot, and the Doctor's affinity with children is exhibited here with glee. Though the Doctor's performance with the model helicopter (compensating, perhaps, for his cancelled journey through the Alignment of Exidor) is benignly conspiratorial, dismissing adult priorities such as vegetables and lamps, it also reminds the Doctor himself and the audience at home of the dangers of succumbing to his charisma, and why he felt he had to banish Amy and Rory last week and has done the same to Craig, unsuccessfully. His relationship with Alfie/Stormageddon (a joke which reminds me of Andrew Marr's old 'Mr Snuffles' columns in The Daily Telegraph) directly recalls his rapport with the infant Melody Pond; it's appropriate that his final farewell is to children, his programme's target audience, whom ultimately he can't save from the potentials of mortgage repayments (a fate he toyed with in 'The Impossible Planet' back in 2006) and emptiness of the soul.

It seemed right in this story about humanity that the Cybermen should be subordinate to the Doctor's friendship with Craig. (They might look like Cybus Cybermen, but they are not, and the time factor suggests that my theory that the Mondas/Telos Cybermen took to using Cybus Cybermen they picked up as cannon-fodder is blown out of the water. Cyber-continuity is thus once more where it belongs - scrunched up, thrown over the shoulder, and not necessarily falling anywhere near the waste paper basket.) In the context of the season another tale of men without women coping with a child so soon after 'Night Terrors' and 'The Curse of the Black Spot' seems like repetition without making an obvious argument. Had more direct emphasis been placed on the loss Amy has endured, then the motif would have had more resonance. As I've observed before, if River is the child of the TARDIS then the Doctor is her father rather than or as much as her lover, and perhaps that in the end - or next week - will prove the more powerful relationship. While this episode was the second consecutive emotionally coherent story this half-season - Craig and the world are saved by his own failure to recognise his own paternal instincts which are flagged up throughout - less adroit performances could have rendered them saccharine.

The appearance of Amy and Rory was presumably meant to be poignant but uplifting, and the appearance of Amy as model for what is apparently her own perfume brand intended to indicate that despite his self-pitying moment in the TARDIS in 'Let's Kill Hitler' the Doctor doesn't necessarily ruin his companions' lives. Like the Doctor's relations with children in this story, Amy's autograph-signing aims its gun at the fourth wall, as does Amy's appearance as a model, Karen Gillan's former career. The child could easily be getting Karen Gillan's autograph on a day off. Like much of Doctor Who under Steven Moffat, the episode played with the long-term fan experience, considering friendship and loyalty and faith, and juxtaposing the Doctor's god complex with Craig's belief, and with the reality of Doctor Who as marketed commodity, Amy's face both within and without the diegesis staring down at consumers from billboards.

'Closing Time' was a well-constructed tale, unhurried, confident in its short-story form rather than trying to push in too much detail. Even its epilogue, with River Song filing away the witness statements only to be surprised by Madame Kovarian and the Silence, suggested clearer lines of character and motivation than anything in the headlong rush that was 'Let's Kill Hitler'. The greatest flaw in this series of Doctor Who has been the arc, not for its themes but for the apparent inconsistency of its execution. 'The Wedding of River Song' is being promoted as an ambitious mingling of icons, both with and without pedigrees in the series. If more than the season and more than Steven Moffat's first two years of Doctor Who are being brought to their ends, then what new universe might replace them? To what or whom is River being wed - or is she presiding over a union?

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/452872.html.


Posted by: gwydion_writes (gwydion_writes)
Posted at: September 25th, 2011 04:06 am (UTC)

Yes- I was pleasantly surprised by the epilogue- and breathed a little bit of a sigh of relief. I feel highly entertained but a bit bandied about this season intellectually and need things to make sense pronto. Hopefully next week will pay off!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: September 25th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC)

I hope so too!

Posted by: gwydion_writes (gwydion_writes)
Posted at: September 25th, 2011 04:10 am (UTC)

Oh it's worth a mention -"robot dog- not as much fun as I remember"- even I got that one!

Posted by: Alice Dryden (huskyteer)
Posted at: September 25th, 2011 07:37 am (UTC)
Pertwee bike

Oh yes, I liked that!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: September 25th, 2011 02:36 pm (UTC)

Yes, definitely!

Posted by: Ordinary Girl, Extraordinary World (ogew)
Posted at: September 25th, 2011 05:44 am (UTC)

Ok even if you accept the concept that the Doctor and the Tardis are Married, I don't mind you, but even if you do... how does that make the Doc anything like River's dad?

That would be like me saying that if a man and a woman are married and she goes off and has a baby by another man that her husband is at least partly the child's father... one just does not naturally flow from the other.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: September 25th, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
Horace Walpole

It was once the case in English law that a child born in wedlock, even if not biologically the child of the mother's husband, was legally his. (See the Wikipedia entry on the third Marquess Townshend for the problems this could bring.) This principle was gradually eroded between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, and it's what I was thinking of. I'm really just using it as a stick to prod the ambiguities in the Doctor-River relationship.

Posted by: Matthew (emperor)
Posted at: September 26th, 2011 06:28 pm (UTC)

I worry there is too much unresolved arc-plot for one final episode, and that we will either end up with an unsatisfactory deus-ex-ontological-paradox or with a lot left hanging for the next series.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: September 27th, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)

It's arc-plot which has been neglected the past few weeks, too, and which was clumsily handled in 'Let's Kill Hitler'. Given that we are going to have to wait a year for the next series, I hope not too much is left hanging, but this is Steven Moffat...