Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Revolution Starts At Closing Time

'Page one has an "exclusive" on Nina, a local girl who got kicked-off Britain's Got Talent. These [missing] people are on pages seven, nineteen and twenty two. Because no one's noticed yet, they're far too excited about Nina's emotional journey. Which, in fairness, is inspiring.' The Doctor's time is running out - literally as well as metaphorically - just in case you haven't been paying attention during the last eleven episodes. But there is, it seems, still time for him to pay one last social call. His first in a while, he confesses. So, he ends up in Colchester. It could be worse. Not much worse, admittedly. Following this, he's going to see the Alignment of Exidor, so that's quite a weekend he's got planned for himself, I'm sure you'll agree dear blog reader. It's nice to get out at the weekend. See some friends. Have a laugh. Defeat the Cybermen. Someone else who has something for the weekend - allegedly - is the Time Lord's old friend Craig Owens. He's been left alone for a couple of days whilst his wife, the lovely Sophie, spends some much-needed time relaxing with friends. ('You don't have to label food.') Craig insists that he doesn't need anyone's help in caring for their new baby, Alfie, for a couple of days. He does this, just as the Doctor arrives on his doorstep for his unexpected visit. Meanwhile, at a local department store, unexplained power fluctuations keep on occurring and store supervisor Shona stumbles across something very nasty in the changing rooms. No, not a fat lass with her zip stuck up the back but, rather, a Cyberman. Bloody annoying Mondasians. If you damage that, you have to pay for it.

'Stop noticing! Just go!' Craig - inevitably, since he's played by bloody James Corden - is worried about his skills as a father. He's concerned that he can't cope on his own with Alfie (or 'Stormageddon - Dark Lord of All' as The Doctor alleges the baby prefers to be called) and, generally, that he's not much cop at pretty much anything. 'I am rubbish at this!' Which, dear blog readers may consider to be a pretty accurate little summation of James Corden's entire career. Or not, as the case may be. I'll leave the answer to that one up to you. He is also absolutely certain that the Doctor's presence is a terrible sign of oncoming shenanigans and wicked malarkey, but The Doctor himself insists that he's simply making a social call on his 'farewell tour.' Which, one might consider to be ominous enough in and of itself. There's some charmingly daft comedy dialogue (including a witty little rewrite a famous Patrick Troughton line from The Three Doctors: 'You've redecorated. I don't like it.' 'It's a different house, we've moved!') Leaving Craig's - new - house, The Doctor is determined not to notice a flickering street light close by and he also refuses to acknowledge the apparent teleport energy which is detected, big-style, by his sonic screwdriver. He's definitely not sticking around.

Of course, we wouldn't have much of an episode if he stuck to the not-sticking-around plan so, soon enough, Closing Time continues with The Doctor now working in the same department store where poor Shona earlier disappeared, having found himself a job in the toy department. Which, it would seem, he's really rather good at. We first see him gleefully demonstrating a remote control helicopter to some vastly impressed children. 'Only forty nine, ninety nine. Which I, personally, think is a bit steep. But, then again, it's your parents cash, they'd only waste it on boring stuff. Like lamps and vegetables!' Just then, a very tired Craig - who's been up all night with the baby - bumps into The Doctor again. Craig is convinced that his friend is investigating something 'dangerous and alien.' And, as if it was part of a rather fine Gareth Roberts script, just at that moment The Doctor notices something small and silver speeding by on the floor. The Doctor reluctantly tells a badgering Craig that the recent electrical fluctuations have coincided with three people going missing from the shop. And there's much more - someone has been using a 'beam-me-up Star Trek teleport' somewhere nearby. Getting into a supposedly Out Of Order lift, the Doctor and Craig find themselves (briefly) transported to somewhere else, and - despite The Doctor's (frankly rather slutty) amorous advances to take his friend's attention away from the Cyerbman looming behind him - Craig soon realises that they're on board an alien spaceship, filled with big and stompy metal creatures. The fact that he doesn't recognise them but does quote the 'beam me up' thing, of course, indicates that he's a Star Trek fan but not a Doctor Who one. Yet another reason, if any further reasons were specifically needed, to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards James Corden and all his doings. For pretty much everything. 'Do I look like I'm stupid?' Craig asks. Alfie makes a gurgling noise and The Doctor (who, of course, 'speaks baby') laughs and then admonishes the child with a petulant 'quiet, Stormy!'

Anyway, back to the plot. 'Doctor, are you going to kiss me?' 'Yes, I am. I'm a bit out of practice but I've had some wonderful feedback!' The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to fuse the teleport relay shut and the pair (and, we have to presume, Stormaggedon) are then safely returned to the lift from whence they came. The Doctor and Craig decide to investigate further. Never a wise move. The Doctor appears to be very popular with his new colleague. 'They gave me a badge with my name on it in case I forget who I am. Very thoughtful as that does happen.' He stops to have a chat with Val on the perfume counter (the great Lynda Baron), who gives him plenty of in-store gossip about who's been seen secretly snogging whom outside The Conservative Club on their 'so-called day off golfing.' The Doctor soon gets rather bored with such title-tattle and starts to leave until Val adds, helpfully, 'And then there's the silver rat thing.' Tragically, Craig's own attempts at undercover covert investigations in the ladies underwear section is more Father Ted than Columbo and sees him branded 'a pervert' and facing the fury of the shop's big hard security guard George. With his nice uniform. The Doctor, fortunately, is able to charm George and salesgirl Kelly, but the latter is still annoyed - she's had to work a double shift since Shona failed to turn up for work. 'Where did you last see her?' asks the Doctor casually. As you do.

The Doctor and Craig are soon exploring the changing rooms like a right pair of wannabe Sherlock and John's. One wonders if Craig's a fan of that or whether he consider's Moffat and Gatiss's gay agenda to be off-putting like half-a-dozen shit-for-brains glakes on an Internet forum somewhere near you, dear blog reader? Perhaps we'll never care. 'Right here, last night, a Cyberman took Shona,' The Doctor notes, as much for Craig's sake as for the audience who had already kind of figured that out. He goes on to explain that the Cybermen use the Cybermats as 'infiltrators' to collect power - explaining the power fluctuations which have been occurring. The Doctor wants to wait until the shop is closed to try and capture one of the creatures. And, it's around this point, when The Doctor and Craig have a rather serious little talk about universal truths ('I know where is safest for me, and Alfie. Right next to you. You always win', 'Those were the days') that Closing Time threatens, for the first time, to turn from a mildly-diverting (and, pretty amusing, let's be fair) little piece of comedy hokum into something just a shade more serious. More concerned. 'All right. Maybe those days aren't quite over yet.'
For instance, we get a cunning explanation of why - apart, obviously, for companionship - The Doctor takes humans with him on his travels. (And, as it turns out, it's actually rather self-serving.) And, then there's the gay agenda! 'There's no need to be coy these days.' Annoyed at nearly getting arrested for his Are You Being Served?-style messing around in ladies undies, Craig doesn't believe that his second encounter with aliens in Colchester is unrelated to the Doctor's return. As he flounces off in a strop with Alfie, The Doctor insists that it's all 'just a coincidence.' And, speaking of unexpected coincidences, just at this point The Doctor is gobsmacked like a good'un when he spots his recently-departed companions Amy and Rory in the store. (Thus explaining exactly why Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are on the title credits this week.) In the episode's most genuinely beautiful and touching scene, he is about to call out to them when he thinks better of it and he watches, hidden in the shadows, as a young girl asks for Amy's autograph. Since leaving the TARDIS, it appears, Mrs Williams-Pond has become a famous model, advertising a perfume 'for the girl who's tired of waiting.' The look on The Doctor's face as they depart, never even knowing he was there, is a combination of great pride and terrible sadness. It's one of Matt Smith's finest moments in the role as he, wordlessly, gives the audience an inkling into both the good things in The Doctor's life and the heartbreak that goes along with his longevity.
Later that evening, Craig and the Doctor return the shop and, eventually, capture the Cybermat. Which Craig considers 'cute' until it opens its mouth. Meanwhile, deep in the bowels of the store, security guard George is captured and killed by a Cyberman. Followed, soon afterwards, by The Doctor getting himself chopped during an aborted - and pretty rubbish - rescue attempt. A woozy Doctor is eventually brought back to consciousness by Craig - he notes that he survived the Cyberman's attack because the creature was 'imperfect', built from spare parts. 'Everything I find out makes less sense,' laments The Doctor woefully. Craig suggests heading back to base ('you've got a base? When did you get a base?!'). And then, after revealing that he actually meant his house, he has to go out for milk, leaving the Doctor along with Alfie. 'Stop crying, you've got a lot to look forward to, you know. A normal human life on earth. Mortgage repayments. The nine-to-five. A persistent nagging sense of spiritual emptiness. Save the tears for later!' But, they are not alone. The Cybermat has come to life. 'Alfie. Why is there a sinister beeping coming from behind me?' The Doctor tries to disable it with his sonic screwdriver - the Cybermat, that is, not Alfie - but doesn't succeed. Running out of the house with Alfie, locking the glass door behind him, The Doctor carelessly drops his screwdriver. Meanwhile, an oblivious Craig returns home with the milk. Craig is attacked by the Cybermat, so the Doctor makes a dramatic leap though the glass door to save him - just as Murray Gold's music gets all dramatic and discombobulating - and, using an ingenious combination of a saucepan, a baking tray and the sonic screwdriver he destroys the nasty alien rat.

The Cybermat has, it turns out, been transmitting power to the Cyberman ship, but the Doctor plans to reprogramme it. However, the weary Time Lord has a genuine crisis of confidence, tiring of putting people in danger. Just as he'd earlier expressed his anger at the ageing process to Alfie, so The Doctor makes a confession to Craig - that his time is running out and that tomorrow is the day when he will die. 'I don't even know what The Question is. I always knew I'd die still asking.' It's yet another great, world-weary moment from Smith who is, genuinely, touching and brilliant in this episode. But, of course, Craig isn't listening - he's exhausted and has fallen asleep. Reactivating the Cybermat in 'safe mode,' the Doctor returns to the shop one his own to defeat the Cybermen, but Craig soon wakes and goes after him, Leaving Alfie with Val up on the perfume counter. Realising that the Cybermen have a back entrance to the store, the Doctor discovers a tunnel leading from the changing rooms to their lair. 'You have come to us.' 'Took me a while. Had a lot on my mind!' Confronting the Cyber-Leader, the Doctor comes to a sudden, and enlightening, realisation - the Cybermen's ship crashed on Earth centuries ago, lying dormant until humanity put in new electricity cables on top of it. The Cybermat began draining the power, but his silver nemesises still don't have enough power or parts to launch a full invasion. The Cybermen capture the Doctor, but Craig arrives in the nick of time, attempting to confuse the monsters with a price-scanner. Of course, his plan utterly fails - he's James Corden, what the hell did you expect? And the Doctor's own scheme to have the reprogrammed Cybermat drain the Cybermen's power also comes a cropper - the creature is crushed under a steel boot.

Closing Time's denouement is fast, furious, witty, lush and contains a fantastic central conceit that's just about as funny as anything the programme has ever come up with in nearly forty eight years of trying. The Cybermen plan to convert Craig into their new Cyber-Controller. I know, it's hilarious. The Doctor can only watch, helplessly, as his friend's humanity drains away - although anybody who's ever watched A League Of Their Own might, charitably, question exactly how much 'humanity' James Corden actually possesses in the first place. But just then, Alfie starts to cry and the moment Craig hears his son sobbing, in an echo of Night Terrors two weeks ago, his emotions dramatically return. The conversion process is reversed and The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to overload the Cybermen with emotion. Just like he did in The Next Doctor. The monsters explode and their base is destroyed around them. Again, a message that Doctor Who has explored hugely over the last few years - that family ties are the ties that truly bind and can defeat the plans of the worst space monsters one can imagine - is brought out for an encore lap of the track. It could've been dreadful. But, actually, it isn't. It's really rather sweet and honest. It feels right. Cynics won't like it, of course, and there are plenty of those around these days. But, ultimately, this is a TV show which has a single underlying message. Trust in other people and you'll be all right. It's the polar opposite of Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor both of which, for better or worse, are about me, me, me, me, me. It's a necessary difference. A proper difference. And, it's probably the reason - habit aside - why this blogger will still be watching Doctor Who the Saturday before I die.

So, The Doctor and Craig are reunited with Alfie. Craig is convinced that he blew up the Cybermen with 'love,' and though the Doctor tries to explain that this is 'impossible, and also grossly sentimental and over-simplistic,' he eventually gives in halfway through his proper scientific explanation. 'Yeah, love,' he tells his friend. The Doctor soon vanishes. Craig returns home, but the Time Lord hasn't quite gone yet - he's used the last few hours to tidy up Craig's house, a final favour for his friend. But then it really is time to depart - The Doctor announces that he's got an unmissable appointment in America and takes some of Sophie's blue envelopes with him. Before he leaves, Craig gives the Doctor a leaving present - a stetson hat. Moments later, Sophie returns home, blissfully ignorant of what has occurred, until Alfie says his first word. 'Doctor.' Hands up who'd like to see Gareth Roberts write all of James Corden's dialogue? I mean, in life not just on TV.

And then, in the last three minutes, the story changes completely. The Doctor heads back to the TARDIS, ready for one last trip, and is spotted by three children. 'I'm the Doctor,' he tells them. 'I was here to help. And you are very, very welcome.' A very long time later and in a galaxy far, far away River Song is reading the children's grown-up recollections of the strange man in the stetson. River's research is interrupted by Madame Kovarian, who appears flanked by The Silence. River has a date in her diary - The Doctor's death at Lake Silencio - but she is convinced that the Time Lord's death at the hands of The Impossible Astronaut is 'just a story.' However, River is kidnapped by Kovarian and forced into the space suit. 'Tick tock goes the clock, 'til River kills the Doctor.'
Twelve out of thirteen. All that's left, dear blog reader, as so often in life is a wedding. And a funeral.

For yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 33 of the Day, the reason this review is later than From The North's Doctor Who episode reviews usually get posted is because yer actual Keith Telly Topping was enjoying a very civilised family-get-together-type-affair thing on Saturday evening. Was Serious Drinking involved, I hear you bellow? No. Not really. But they are now.