Doctor Who (6.12): Matt Smith at his most poignant and powerful

It’s a mark of how powerful the writing and performances are in Closing Time and how much I adore Matt Smith’s (and Steven Moffat’s) Doctor that this episode wrung more tears from me than almost any other this series. (The Doctor’s Wife takes the tear-stained top spot.)

There’s a great gathering together of themes here, a sense of loose ends being, if not tied off, at least being plaited neatly until we’re ready to fray them again. The lonely Doctor pops by just to say hello (and goodbye) to Craig before he treats himself to one last galactic spectacle – he has only a few hours before his date with death at Lake Silencio. Except that there are fluctuations in the electrical supply and people going missing, and try as he might, he just can not walk away.

(Spoilers from here on in.)

Typically the Doctor, who is trying his best not to get his friends in any more trouble in his last few hours, ends up with Craig at his side (and Craig’s baby Alfie – or Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All, as the baby calls himself – in tow too) dealing with a small, but potentially deadly invasion of Cybermen.

There’s a real sense of peril, despite the low-key alien threat. Not just because, as the Cyberman replies to the Doctor’s “What six of you?” with “You know that is enough”, but because you fear that Craig’s heroism is going to end really badly for him. And the Doctor’s melancholy at his impending death shouldn’t affect me (I know he’s going to be fine. I’ve seen the press release for the Christmas episode), but between the poignant dialogue and a storming, emotional performance from Matt Smith, my heart was breaking for him.

The many highlights of Closing Time:

  • Sophie leaving Alfie in Daddy’s care while she goes away for the weekend: “I’ve labelled the food and I’ve sort of numbered it… Also my mum might phone. And your mum. And my dad… And I do know you can cope on your own and I may have drawn some arrows in the fridge.”
  • The Doctor detecting another lifeform present in Craig’s house…
  • Yes, I totally buy babies giving themselves more interesting names, that they call Dad ‘Not-Mum’ and everybody else ‘peasants’. Matches with my experience, anyway…
  • Craig: “You’ve noticed something. You’ve got your noticing face on. I have nightmares about that face.”
  • Could there be a better job for the Doctor than toy salesman? And we’d end up thanking him for saving us from wasting our money on lamps and vegetables too,
  • The joke about the robot dog. As if any robot dog could be a patch on K9.
  • The numerous Britain’s Got Talent jokes. From the headline on page one (Britain’s got torment) and the talk of Nina’s ‘journey’, through to the Doctor riffing about ‘living his dream, owning the stage and giving it 110 per cent’. It takes the supremely talented Matt Smith to give those words real emotional heft though.
  • The visual cues from the get-go in the lift. ‘Someone’s being using a teleport’ says the Doctor, standing beneath a lighting arrangement that couldn’t resemble the ‘beam me up Star Trek teleport’ anymore if it tried.
  • The Doctor’s frantic efforts to stop Craig noticing they’ve been teleported.
  • Lynda Baron! It would be enough to have her appear, but to let her seed that whole Doctor and Craig as partner/companion conversation/confusion is lovely.
  • Craig lampshading the central conceit of the whole show: “It isn’t just a coincidence is it? Aliens in Colchester? Aliens twice in my life, happening to me just when you turn up?” And the Doctor’s explanation: “It is a coincidence. It’s what the universe does for…fun” And as if to prove the point, here comes Amy, clearly famous now, with Rory at her side. And the Doctor delighted to see her, but hiding from her anyway.
  • I might even buy a perfume called Petrichor, especially if it actually smelt like petrichor (the smell of rain on dry ground if you missed The Doctor’s Wife).
  • The papoose conversation: “You’re far too slow when he summons you.” Craig: “When he’s going to stop giving me marks?” The Doctor: “Never. Parenthood.” Not to mention the fact that the Doctor is using his ten per cent staff discount to buy things.
  • Alfie/Stormageddon’s preference is for a hot babysitter…
  • I’m guessing the Cybermats under many Christmas trees this year won’t come with the real, bitey mouth feature.
  • The Doctor talking to Alfie about a future of mortgage repayments, nine-to-five, a persistent nagging sense of spiritual emptiness, and apologising for his crabbiness on account of his age. And turning a run-of-the-mill nightlight projector into something gorgeous and wonderful.
  • The cybermat coming back to life sequence had both me and Hat Jr on the edge of our seats. And I love that the Doctor gets to be an action hero smashing through glass for a change. And that the Doctor has an app for getting through shielding for ‘metastatic energy’.
  • So many truths here, the Doctor is selfish, but the planet would be ruined without him, and yes the Doctor always needs someone, even if he won’t admit it.
  • The neat reversal on last week’s climax as the Doctor tells Craig how much he believes in him, as he tries to help him fight the start of the cyber-conversion – the cleansing of emotions.
  • It’s schmaltzty, that whole Daddy-baby-blowing-up-the-cybermen-with-love thing, but it rings true. The love you have for your kids is completely mind-blowing, and there’s nothing parents won’t do to protect their babies.
  • That the Doctor would use up his precious time clearing up the house before Sofie gets back moved me to tears. (And “Even with time travel, getting glaziers on a Sunday, tricky.”)
  • The mystery of the Tardis-blue envelopes is solved… as is the source of the Stetson.
  • Just how sad (and wet) I am watching the Doctor set off on one last trip with his beloved Tardis. Especially when my brain knows it’s not even really the end.
  • The shocking endย  as River’s ‘owners’ turn up to put her in the spacesuit and leave her to kill the Doctor.

What moved me was the Doctor’s conviction that this is the end for him. Whatever sleight of hand (gangers, alternative timelines, Miracle Day (as Flick Filosopher blogger MaryAnn Johanson points out, the events at Lake Silencio take place while Torchwood’s Miracle is still active, so he really shouldn’t be able to die)) Steven Moffat has planned to save our hero, the Doctor is feeling those hundreds of years weighing heavy on him now, all that death, all those companions, all that loneliness and responsiblity. There’s a sense, that for all he doesn’t want to go, he’s relieved that he won’t be screwing up people’s lives anymore.

I for one can not wait to find out how this story ends. Roll on next Saturday…

Posted by Jo the Hat

9 Comments

Filed under Dr Who

9 responses to “Doctor Who (6.12): Matt Smith at his most poignant and powerful

  1. Tim

    A fantastic episode with a light touch which sets us up beautifully for the finale. Matt Smith’s performance here is astonishingly good, running the range from comedy to impending tragedy with just a flicker of his eyes. A comedy episode starring the Cybermen? Brilliant.

    Great catch with Petrichor, by the way. Remembering the origin of Torchwood, I had been busy scratching my head wondering what it could possibly be an anagram of. What a twonk I am.

    And I really, really want the Doctor to teach me how to do that shushing trick. I bet he’s got an app for that …

  2. .::Big.Bang::.

    “Just how sad (and wet) I am…” Duuuu-uuude!
    What Christmas press release?!
    There’s so many things I loved about this episode but I can’t remember anything right now – so a rewatch is in order, I think. ๐Ÿ˜€
    It can’t be the end of Rory and Amy (don’t care much for her…) – Rory didn’t get a goodbye!
    I can’t believe that it was episode 12 yesterday, I thought we had 2 more to go. Yeesh, DW is awesome! At least we’ve got Merlin back next week to fill in the DW void. :D:D

    • The BBC press office has released a few details of the Christmas episode, including the excellent news that Bill Bailey will be a guest star. It astounded me how moved I was by this episode even knowing that Dr 11 will be with us at least a little longer.
      I know that Steven Moffat, like the Doctor, lies. But I’m going to be devastated if Matt Smith does leave at the end of next week.

  3. Jen

    Matt Smith is my favourite Doctor. I’m 56 so I’ve seen them all. The writing is great. He has fabulous lines. You can see a performance so much better on today’s large colour TVs. Despite all those advantages I truly think he’ the best. My previous best were Hartnell and Troughton btw. Troughton was superb.

  4. Matt Smith is absolutely terrific, but I wasn’t so hot on the episode as a whole. It was an okay episode, but there was no reason for having such a filler episode so late in the season.

    And why the hell are the Ponds in Colchester?

    7 Deep Thoughts on the latest episode of Doctor Who:
    http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/09/doctor-who-closing-time.html

    • Tim

      Maybe Colchester is the nearest big town to Leadworth (or wherever the Ponds are now living)?

      Personally, I think this was exactly the right place for this episode (I certainly wouldn’t have it earlier in the run) – the calm before the oncoming storm, as it were. New Who is full of examples like this pre-finale which are either lighter (Boom Town, The Lodger) or more introspective (Turn Left), partly as a pause for breath and also partly as a budget-saver:

  5. Jay

    I surely hope they will not be tying Dr. Who with Torchwood! Miracle day was horrible. Btw, on TW:MD when someone was a category 1 they were incinerated. In Impossible Astronaut the Doctor was cremated.
    So I seriously doubt there will be a tie in.

    Not that I haven’t been wrong before…

  6. Paul

    I loved this episode. But amongst all the bigger things, and the arc-finale set-up stuff at the end, I just wanted to mention – “Yay! They finally got the cybermats right!” (They’ve always struck me as distinctly non-menacing and requiring huge dollops of suspension of disbelief and buying into Patrick Troughton’s facial expressions in the classic series)

  7. Simon

    Long live Stormageddon – the Dark Lord of All!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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