Doctor Who is nearing the end of its sixth season with a lot of things unsettled, but even with many plot threads left to (hopefully) wind up, the writers aren’t afraid to take the time to have a little fun. “Closing Time,” the season’s penultimate episode, sees the return of both the Cybermen and Craig Owens (James Corden) from the superfun season five episode “The Lodger.” Like “The God Complex” before it, it’s an adventure story laced with implications for the season finale, but unlike “The God Complex,” this time The Doctor gets to run around a department store toy department and chat with a baby.
Warning: a few spoilers ahead
The Doctor is marching toward his own death. He knows it’s coming down to the date and time. He’s left Amy and Rory behind and he’s doing a final round of traveling before he meets his fate, looping back around to the events of the season premiere, “The Impossible Astronaut.” One of his stops is the flat of his old friend Craig, whose girlfriend Sophie has just left for the weekend. Craig is panicking because he has his infant son Alfie to look after, something he’s never been good at. The Doctor arrives with plans to just pass through and say hello, and quickly joins in the panic when he realizes that something nefarious is afoot.
Various parts of Craig’s town, mostly the local department store, are experiencing random power surges and failures with no apparent explanation. After a little bit of investigating that leads him to take a job working the toy department at the department store, The Doctor determines that Cybermen are sapping power from the city, and realizes that he must find out why. Craig, reasoning that the safest place for him and his son is at The Doctor’s side, tags along.
It’s a straight-ahead Doctor Who adventure episode: he chases monsters, tries to protect his friends and gets in a few good jokes (many of them with the baby; yes, he speaks baby). But there’s an undercurrent of despair to this episode that’s been palpable before, but now begins to reach a level of urgency. The Doctor feels his doom creeping up on him. He’s trying to make peace with it already, and he sees it as unavoidable, but he still struggles with the fate, as well as his urge to constantly fight to be a savior, even when he fears he’ll do more harm than good. Though Matt Smith is at his strongest when he’s in high energy situations, he finds the right beats in the quiet ones for “Closing Time.” As The Doctor looks toward something almost incomprehensible to him – the end – the actor seems to know what to do.
Even if you’re not buying into the whole overarching story of the season (the massive conspiracy pursuing The Doctor to his death, and all that), “Closing Time” manages to pack in enough old-fashioned Time Lord fun to be satisfying. Apart from a somewhat hokey ending (and let’s be honest, those are often more fun than the more plausible ones in their way), “Closing Time” gets it right. This season has been about the show learning how to tell one big story while still peppering in easily digested small ones, and the last two episodes have been the best examples yet of how to do that. As single serving Doctor Who stories go, it’s not the best – it’s not a “Blink” or a “Dalek” – but it’ll do.
Next week we end the season with “The Wedding of River Song,” an episode that the teasers reveal to be dense with plot. We’ll (hopefully) find out what this whole Silence thing has been about all along, and how The Doctor manages to cheat death.