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Posts Tagged ‘Closing Time’

(Before we get started: funnily enough, over twenty years ago I wrote a Doctor Who story called Trouble in Store. At the time I had just started working for a major UK chain and was feeling somewhat raw at the contempt with which they treated their staff. So I vented my spleen with a story in which the Doctor arrived in a thinly-disguised version of one of my employer’s shops to discover a workforce being horribly mistreated. Perhaps more interestingly, and to make the thing actually interesting for the target audience of Who Nutters, I stuck the Cybermen in it, lurking around in the capacious shadows of the store and using Cybermats to bring about the disappearance of anyone they found wandering the aisles after dark. I don’t have a copy any more but I do recall I got very good notices from the Who Nutters who read it – rather better, I recall, than the guy who’s now writing CD scripts for Tom Baker’s Doctor – we appeared in the same publications together back in those days. As I say, the original Trouble in Store was back in 1990. Wow, right? Isn’t that freaky? But it’s true: my instinct for a really dreadful pun was well-developed even back then.)

Two hundred years later… You can look at Closing Time in a couple of different ways. There’s the episode as a fairly standy-aloney piece of good-natured rompy Doctor Who (I don’t care what the writer says, this didn’t feel like a dark story to me), and then there’s the episode as something building up to the conclusion of the season with all that implies (which, this year, feels like masses more than usual).

The first thing I am inclined to say is that this story does naught but add to my ongoing thesis that The Cybermen Are A Bit Rubbish (full thesis to the end of Season 31 can be found here). Not only do we see from the beginning of A Good Man Goes To War that the Doctor appears to barely even consider them sentient (compare the extraordinary lengths he goes to to avoid bloodshed amongst the Silents at Demon’s Run with the nonchalant way he blows away an entire Legion as part of what’s essentially a data retrieval request), we now see that while the Cybermen have revised the scale of their ambitions downwards, it’s still not nearly enough. Some races struggle to conquer the galaxy, which seems fair enough. Others have a battle on their hands subjugating a single solar system, which is almost understandable. Conquering a planet? There may be mitigating circumstances to this kind of failure. But being unable to establish dominion over C&A? Come on, guys, you’re not really trying.

I think part of the problem the latterday Cybermen are having can be traced back to their recruitment strategy. The old school Cybes, you may recall, were at least keen on bringing on-side successful Captains of Industry, hulking bodyguards, elite space mercenaries and other persons of that ilk. Recent targets for Cyber-headhunting are slightly less impressive, consisting of fat blokes from call centres, pissed-off ex-prostitutes and someone who looks suspiciously like Trigger off Only Fools and Horses. It wouldn’t be quite so bad but all three were in the frame for senior management jobs.

Even before the episode aired I cracked wise online to the effect that the Cybermen would need a damned big conversion chamber if they wanted to fit James Corden in it. But they went ahead and tried anyway. I thought for a moment this would be not only a brave downer ending, but also an audacious retcon to explain the size of the Controller’s gut in Attack of the Cybermen, but no. Instead we got a rather predictable climax with the power of paternal feelings routing the advanced technology of a terrifying alien menace: now there’s a metaphor earning its keep.

Let’s face it, this story was never really about the Cybermen but another chance to have scenes with Matt Smith and James Corden being amusing together. As such it worked rather well, although the fun was inevitably tainted by the mournful atmosphere of misery and doom pervading the show these days (mustn’t complain too much: Strictly Come Dancing‘s probably taking over the same slot so they need some kind of continuity of tone). In the wake of Moffat burps like Day of the Moon and arguably the Christmas show last year, Old Roberts is quite possibly the most consistently accomplished writer currently working on the show so there is a limit to how much I feel I can stick the boot into him. So I won’t.

Nevertheless, a few oddities – I’m so used to expanded materials saying otherwise that actually hearing it said that Time Lords can’t be converted into Cybermen was a bit of a shock (one CD story even reveals that the basic Cyberman systems design is derived from an examination of the Doctor’s own nervous system). And the origin and background of the Cybermen really does seem to have come totally unravelled – what was a Cybership doing crashing into southern England hundreds (possibly more like thousands) of years ago? Did they get lost on the way to the Pandoricum? (Wouldn’t put it past them.) Hmmm, my geek buffers are glowing a nice cherry red, so we’d best move on…

The whole (apparent) two hundred year jump is part of my problem with this current storyline – that’s a huge (though not wholly unprecedented) gap in the Doctor’s personal history and on this occasion it’s kind of being waved in our face. Did nothing interesting whatsoever happen in those two hundred years? Plus, it’s such an arbitrary figure – why not fifty years? Or six hundred? Nevertheless, the ongoing story-arc must have its way…

Naturally, I impatiently await the end of the series, partly because I want to see what happens but mostly because I really, really want this River Song/Silence/death of the Doctor storyline to finish and go away. It seems to have been dragging on forever and sucking other, much more innocent stories into the range of its fun-draining aura.

So how’s it going to play out? As some of us figured out very early on (I mean, last season early), it looks very much as if River’s going to top (or appear to top) the Doctor and do time for it. Given that one of the threads of this series has been the Doctor’s increasing discomfort with the size of his profile currently, faking his own death does not seem completely unlikely. There is also the prospect of a Ganger Doctor in circulation who could potentially take the bullet for him.

The big unaddressed issue for me is from right at the beginning of the year, with Pond commenting that the Doctor seemed to be waving out of history at her. This has yet to be addressed on-screen (though Old Roberts has stated he thinks the Doctor does it prior to this story). Why should he be trying to draw attention to himself this way? I suspect that a tale lies in the answering of this question.

As to the Question the Silence are so interested in and the true circumstances of Dr Song’s wedding, I have no idea and look forward to discovering the answers. I just hope there are definite answers come Saturday night and that next year Doctor Who can return to resembling its standard modus operandi a little more closely.

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