Something for the dads. That used to mean Wendy Padbury in a catsuit, Katy Manning in mini-skirts, Louise Jameson in skimpy leathers, even Janet Fielding in a camisole. Leggy clotheshorse Karen Gillan is their modern-day successor. But now the “something for the dads” angle instigated by producer Innes Lloyd in 1960s Who has gained an entirely new meaning.
I moaned about it here a few weeks ago – the pervading father/son dynamic that has become a sine qua non of Steven Moffat’s Who. Now Closing Time indulges it to the hilt as fumbling new dad Craig learns to connect with baby Alfie during the course of the episode. And, this time, it works just fine.
There’s much comedy value in Craig tagging along with the Doctor, with Alfie in pushchair or papoose, being mistaken for the Doctor’s civil partner, the Time Lord translating Alfie’s goo-goo language (he calls Craig “not Mum”). And how brilliant that the baby’s first word is “Doctor”.
Only the explosive resolution – “I blew them up with love,” says Craig – is emotional overload for me, but what better way to deal with the emotionally deprived Cybermen? And writer Gareth Roberts has the wit and nerve to let the Doctor admit that Craig’s claim is “grossly sentimental and over-simplistic”.
Craig has earned his stripes as a semi-companion (factoring in last year’s The Lodger) and I’ve warmed to James Corden. It’s been a slow thaw. Needy Smithy was the only aspect I didn’t love about Gavin & Stacey, and Corden’s excessive braggadocio during the World Cup was less than endearing. But I was won over a few months ago by his spontaneity and impeccable timing in One Man, Two Guvnors, the National Theatre’s sellout comedy.
I chuckled a lot during Closing Time, but there are moments of tension, too: a Cyberman lurking in a shadowy changing room, the fanged Cybermat… Almost every Doctor Who monster bears the scent of a shameless marketing opportunity; at least the revamped Cybermats (robo-rodents who last appeared in 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen) have the grace to scuttle across the floor of a toy department. They’re even eyed up as a must-buy prezzie by store employee Val.
Good to see Lynda Baron still getting work. She exudes warmth and good humour from behind her shop counter without veering into Mollie Sugden territory. Terrific last year as Violet Carson in The Road to Coronation Street and forever identified with Nurse Gladys Emmanuel in Open All Hours, Baron also has a notable Doctor Who pedigree. She sang the charmless Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon that underscored The Gunfighters (a 1966 William Hartnell story) and in Enlightenment (1983) was operatic as pirate captain Wrack, opposite Peter Davison’s Doctor.
It’s incredible to think that, since he said goodbye to Amy and Rory last week, the 11th Doctor has been travelling some 200 years without a companion. Think back to the frenzied antics we glimpsed right at the start of the season (hiding under a 17th-century lady’s skirts; escaping Nazis in a Colditz-like tunnel) – they fill in some of the gaps. Does this make him one of the longest-living incarnations?
The thrust of the episode sees him preparing – and prepares us – for his imminent demise in episode 13. I’m glad when I previewed Closing Time I hadn’t seen the printed cast list, so the sweet cameo for Amy and Rory came as a surprise and I certainly wasn’t expecting the tense coda with River Song and Madame Kovarian.
Roll on next week. We are all invited to The Wedding of River Song.