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Published on September 27th, 2011 | by Christian Cawley

Closing Time

I laughed, I cried. I was moved, and fell in love with Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All. I admired Matt Smith throughout and was happy to see Lynda Baron – Nurse Gladys Emmanuel herself – playing her third guest role in Doctor Who’s long history.

Long term readers of Kasterborous will probably expect me to launch into an attack on one-trick Corden, but no, I enjoyed Craig again, as much as I did in The Lodger.

So what exactly was wrong with Closing Time? Why was Kasterborous’ own editor (who now talks about himself in the third person) so hacked off with the first 40 minutes of a genuinely pleasing episode of Doctor Who Series 6?

Well, I can explain it in one word. In fact, I can bring the entire episode, writer Gareth Roberts and Executive Producer/boss-man/The Grand Moff himself Steven Moffat to their collective knees with just one word.

(Beat that, Tenth Doctor)

“Cybermen.”

Now, we’ve been a little charitable at times on Kasterborous since Steven Moffat took over Doctor Who. There have been some reviews that have had to be rewritten because they were less than encouraging. We’ve made a concerted effort to be supportive throughout Series 5, and this attitude persisted throughout Series 6.

Until now. This isn’t a case of being controversial, because frankly I’ve written reviews that practically guarantee that Russell T Davies will never speak to me (and as we know some of the same people, it could happen) despite the fact that I admire him immensely.

But I admire Steven Moffat even more, and this episode, as inoffensive as it will have been to the majority of viewers, is driving me up the wall because they’ve only gone and turned the Cybermen into the same sort of stupid tin soldiers that we saw in the 1980s, thumping fists, shouting “EXCELLENT!” and having asthma attacks over gold.

It doesn’t matter that Closing Time has brilliant dialogue, and it doesn’t matter that the whole episode leads perfectly up to the events seen in the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut. I can even forgive the missed opportunity at not having the Doctor encounter the Silence as he heads down the tunnel the improbably-situated Cyber-ship, and the cheap look of an episode that isn’t a million miles from Rose.

What I cannot bring myself to accept is the fact that after the efforts Russell T Davies and the Doctor Who producers of 2006 went to in redesigning the Cybermen and making them a force to be reckoned with once again that people who consider themselves to be Doctor Who fans – namely Steven Moffat and Gareth Roberts – have so utterly castrated the Cybermen as to make them as ineffectual as eunuchs.

Doctor Who: Closing Time

It seems that every time these creatures – conceived as a version of humanity lead up a technological dark path to salvation – reappear, they’re served less well (I’ll give you the exception of The Pandorica Opens, which promised much but delivered little, as we saw this week) and while The Next Doctor‘s Cyberking was an astonishing new element of Cyber-lore, it at least demonstrated strength and a quest for dominion.

So what was wrong with the Cybermen in Closing Time? Is the editor of Kasterborous so irked that they were defeated by love?

Well actually, at first I think the answer was yes. But as I got to thinking about it, I wasn’t shouting at the screen or palming my face in embarrassment when I watched the episode. In fact, I was enjoying it.

The problem is with the weakness that now surrounds the Cybermen, who turn up as footsoldiers whenever any are required, marching like Star Wars stormtroopers (when they’re not in stealth mode) and generally looking hard. But they’ve lost the horror (again, The Pandorica Opens notwithstanding) of the original conception, and having an under-strength bunch terrorizing a branch of Debenhams with a pointless transmat, some (genuinely cool) Cybermats and a desperate urge to find a fat person to replace Michael Kilgarriff as Cybercontroller is just embarrassing (note to modern fans: Kilgarriff played the Cybercontroller in 1967′s Tomb of the Cybermen, and reprised the role with additional pounds in 1985′s Attack of the Cybermen).

Unless something is done that redresses the balance and returns the Cybermen to a position of genuine galactic strength in Doctor Who, we might as well write them off as has-beens, along with the Ice Warriors. Clearly no one involved with the series cares enough about them to do anything truly brave.

Evidence?

Doctor Who: Closing Time

Back in 2010 I was lucky enough to drop into the SUMO studios outside Sheffield where Doctor Who: The Adventure Games was being developed. This was prior to the launch of the first game, City of the Daleks, but work was proceeding apace on the second adventure, Blood of the Cybermen.

Sadly examples have not been released of the stunning concept designs for partially converted Cybermen but they were things of beauty; memorable, evocative of the original creatures without looking retro, these designs were considered unsuitable for a family audience, and were never used.

Instead, we see the indignity of Cybermen trying to break James Corden’s ribs with some ill-fitting carbon fibre, heads exploding when a baby cries and an exploding underground spaceship (not a million miles from Blood of the Cybermen).

If you thought the Cybermen were in a bad state during the episode, their biorhythms are now at an all-time low. As if the Doctor’s destruction of them in A Good Man Goes to War wasn’t bad enough, they’re now reduced to skulking around in caves wishing that Matthew Horne had turned up instead.

So: kudos to Gareth Roberts for a witty script and building up the “Doctor speaks baby” aspect of the show, and excellent work to all involved on the final, thrilling five minutes featuring River Song, Madame Kovarian and the Silents.

But come on: Closing Time? Nothing to do with a shop or the Doctor’s impending doom/survival; this episode was named after the final nail was hammered into a coffin labelled “The Cybermen”.

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About the Author

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A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.




9 Responses to Closing Time

  1. avatar James McLean says:

    “..– namely Steven Moffat and Gareth Roberts – have so utterly castrated the Cybermen as to make them as ineffectual as eunuchs.”

    Which is kind of funny, as quite likely – and quite hopefully – Cybermen are eunuchs. :)


  2. Our views clearly differ on the Doctor speaking Baby – I felt that it’s something that doesn’t work at all. The main problem is it feels like the Doctor’s just making it up, what with the baby apparently preferring Alfie at the end, apparently intended to be a happy ending and the whole “Stormageddon” thing.

  3. avatar Mark Stockley says:

    I just wished that the cybermen had been in it a bit more to be honest.

  4. avatar Lloyd Jason Phillips says:

    The cybermats were more menacing than the cybermen!

  5. avatar Solonor says:

    Sorry, I liked it. Cybermen have never been scary. Ever. The Cybermen can be summed up in this one, brilliant conversation from Doomsday:

    “You would destory the Cybermen with four Daleks?”
    “We would destroy the Cybermen with ONE Dalek! You are superior in only one respect!”
    “What is that?”
    “You are better at dying.”

    Amen.

  6. avatar Alex says:

    I have to agree with Solonor, the Cybermen have not been castrated because they never had cyber-whatsits to begin with. My evidence on that is to simply compare them with the Borg (who the first time I laid eyes on them were compared with the Cybermen). There have been good stories told with Cybermen, but as a monster they never really held a candle to the Daleks, and they never satisfied as a race the way the Silurians and Draconians (long overdue for revisiting) and Sontarans have. It’s interesting that when RTD and Tom McRae redesigned the Cybermen by introducing their Pete’s World counterparts, people complained that they were made too sterile, and “Delete Delete Delete” really never had the same ring as “Exterminate!” What Moffat has done is reintroduce the original Cybermen, the ones that were indeed vulnerable to things like human emotion and gold dust, and who didn’t necessarily chop their human hosts into pieces like the Pete’s World version did (which is why Craig survived).

    I frankly found the “defeated by love” very refreshing and different? Why? Because we’ve had 48 years of the Doctor defeating baddies by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. If the Doctor had simply pushed a big red button again, or designed some doohickey, or even blew gold dust at the lot of them, it would be same-old, same-old. Instead, it stands out. And it continues the theme of this second half of the season in which emotions are the main characters – fear in Night Terrors, kindness in Girl Who Waited, faith in God Complex, and now love in Closing Time. I’m looking forward to what emotion is highlighted for the finale.

  7. avatar gavinio says:

    Given the patchy nature of series five and six the two episodes featuring James Corden from the pen of Gareth Roberts have actually been among the highlights purely because they have been so much fun to watch and so witty. I’m not a fan of James Corden at all but he’s been wonderful in the two episodes and really works well alongside the always excellent Matt Smith.

    I can take or leave Cybermen and while I would agree they haven’t been served well in modern Who, they weren’t always served well in classic Who either. As a parent I enjoyed all the baby talk stuff and all the same feelings as Corden’s character had about being a dad when my kids were that age. For me Who is always at its best when humour works alongside the action in tandem and Gareth Roberts has it down to a tee.

  8. avatar Lee says:

    Can I just point out that the Cybermen where not actually defeated literally by “love”. The Doctor was about to give the actual explanation, but stopped so he could give Craig his moment.

  9. avatar DavidF says:

    Moffat seems intent on making brand new threats for the Doctor. Which is admirable, but that means he is happy to toss away old enemies very cheaply at the same time.

    There’s an opportunity to reinvent the Cybermen. Moffat himself has even talked about it. The original Cyberpeople were spooky, ghostly and more human. They had creepy little singsong voices. They weren’t just stomping rent-a-robots.

    As much as I love the current style of storytelling, it isn’t conducive to the show’s longevity. When Sontarans, Angels, Silurians, Daleks and everything else can be brought back for cameos, it takes away one of the best things about Doctor Who: the drama of a returning villain. The “Did you hear? They’re bringing back the Cybermen next year” feeling. Waiting to see the look on the Doctor’s face when he realises an old enemy is back. Now, he sees them all every five minutes, and has little reason to ever show surprise.

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