Published on September 27th, 2011 | by Christian Cawley
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)
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.
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.
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.