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Monday, 26 September 2011

Closing Time

THEY'RE BACK! No, not 'THEM'. THE OTHER THEM! And their metal pets.

And him. And her, but not for much of it. And that woman from Open All Hours. Yes, this week the Cybermen returned, with their Cybermat pal, Craig Owens returned with his girlfriend, Sophie and their new son Alfie "Stormageddon" Owens, in a jolly old beast by Gareth Roberts with a nasty sting in the tail. And Nurse Gladys Emmanuel on the make-up counter.

It's been two hundred years since the Doctor said farewell to Amy and Rory, during which time he's popped in to film with Laurel and Hardy, escaped from a prisoner of war camp and got himself imprisoned in (and subsequently escaped from) the Tower of London... But his imminent death has never felt so... imminent. He has just one more stop on his tour before he takes himself off to Utah to get shot by that mysterious Impossible Astronaut. More about just how mysterious that astronaut still is later in the week.

No, before he dies our Doctor pops in to visit his old pal Craig, again wonderfully played by James Corden.

Of course, when the Doctor is about, nothing's easy and before long he's working in a shop in order to work out what the hell is happening to a) the electrics in this place and b) all the people who are disappearing as well as doing his level best to make sure Craig and Alfie are safe. All this in an episode that is equal parts touching, funny and exciting.

Some have said that the Cybermen were wasted in this one; that since they were literally only just getting started with their invasion - due to having crash landed who-knows-how-many years ago in what would eventually become Colchester - when the Doctor and Craig blow the lot of them up with love (the only time a "Love Conquers All" resolution has actually worked properly, in my opinion). I don't think they were wasted. In fact, I think this is my favourite Cyberman story since the show returned in 2005. A battered faction using any means they can to get themselves back to full power; lovely.

But this one wasn't about the monsters - much to the obvious disappointment of many more difficult-to-please fans. This one was Doctor Who's way of doing "new father struggles to cope but realises that, with help and patience, he'll get there in the end" - and it was it doing it well. The character of Craig suits awkward new-fatherhood. And, whether you liked the episode or not, there's no denying that Matt Smith and James Corden are the best Double Act on telly at the moment. They bounce off each other in ways that fill the screen and engage you with every word. And you only had to watch Doctor Who Confidential to see just how well the two get on off-screen. I, for one, would welcome a third adventure with Craig Owens - let's have a DVD box set in fifteen years time called "The Lodger Trilogy", complete with audio commentaries with middle-aged funsters Matt Smith and James Corden. I'm smiling at the very thought... I bloody loved Closing Time. It was exciting, humourous, brilliantly performed and, most of all, a lot of fun!

But the fun can't last, kids. Because next week the Doctor dies again. And the final moments of Closing Time reveals the awful truth about just who is responsible. Many of us guessed it, but - even now - I'm not sure... Yes, Kovarian kidnaps newly qualifies Doctor River Song and positions her beneath Lake Silencio in the space suit; there to kill strike the Time Lord dead.

It all seemed too obvious, didn't it? The captain of the Tesselecta told us, back in Let's Kill Hitler, that Melody Pond is the woman who kills the Doctor. And we know from their records that the Doctor has always and will always die on the banks of Lake Silencio in Utah. 2 + 2 = 4. But could Moffat make it equal five? Is it possible that - yes - Melody kills the Doctor (and we've seen her do it, back in The Impossible Astronaut) but, through whatever mysterious means, she is replaced by someone more in control when it comes to sorting this whole mess out?

Nobody but those-in-the-know know. Luckily we don't have long to wait to find out. In a matter of days we'll see just how this is all resolved (though don't expect answers to every question we've been asking... we ain't getting them!). And, judging by the Next Time trailer (below), it may not be as simple as it seems. "502 never 503" indeed!

Also, watch the Prequel to The Wedding Of River Song on the official BBC Doctor Who site.