Sunday, April 29, 2012

What's It All About, Alfie?

STORY 230: CLOSING TIME

Oddly, when I saw the trailer for Closing Time, the first thing to enter my mind was, of all things, Spaceballs.  I remembered the scene where the great John Hurt (a potential Kennedy Center Honoree) made a cameo in the film, spoofing his role in Alien.  When the monster burst out of Hurt's body, Hurt looked down at it and said, "Oh no, not again" before the alien burst out himself...into a hilarious version of Hello My Baby.  When I saw roly-poly Craig Owens (James Corden) from The Lodger pop up as a guest star, those were my exact words...oh no, not again!

The fact that The Lodger was one of the worst Series/Season Five episodes did not bode well for Closing Time.  Coming right after The God Complex (which was one of the worst episodes of Doctor Who I've seen) actually helped it.  Then I saw the episode, and while it wasn't terrible in the Love & Monsters vein (albeit NOTHING could be as awful as all that), it was really...nothing.  Closing Time is really a nothing episode: it doesn't stand all that well as a stand-alone episode, and it doesn't add anything to the season/series that we already didn't know or at least figure out. 

We check back in with Craig Owens and his 'companion' Sophie (Daisy Haggard).  It's been at least one year since The Lodger, and they now have a baby: Alfie.  Sophie is highly concerned about leaving Alfie with Craig for the weekend, but Craig insists he can handle his son.  Wouldn't you know it: just like in The Lodger, when Craig opens the door expecting Sophie, it's the Doctor (Matt Smith) at the door.  The Doctor is making what he calls his 'farewell tour', so decided to stop in on Craig.  He also finds he is better able to handle Alfie (who in baby-speak according to the Doctor likes to be called Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All) than dear Daddy.

The very next day, Craig is stunned to find The Doctor working in the toy department of the local department store (where his name tag reads "The Doctor").  There is something nefarious afoot: the lights in town are going in and out, and people are disappearing.  As we delve into the story, we see that the Cybermen are behind this machinations.  We also see the domestic side of the Doctor and Craig, especially as the Cybermat threatens the two men and the baby...

This is important, as the Doctor's co-worker Val (Lynda Baron) thinks the Doctor and Craig are 'partners' (which is better than the old-fashioned term 'companion').  The Doctor finally finds the Cybermen ship, but when Craig attempts to rescue the Doctor, he is captured and about to be turned into a Cyberman himself.  However, when the Cyber-Craig hears Alfie's cry, he is able to rally and defeat the Cybermen.

Oh, and we have a bit where River Song (Alex Kingston) is confronted by Madame Kevorkian...I mean Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber), where Dr. Song is given her mission...to kill the Doctor.  She IS The Impossible Astronaut...

As If We Didn't Already Know...

Sorry fellas.  It was telegraphed, televised, and texted throughout the galaxy for two seasons/series: River Song was going to "kill" the Doctor.  Anyone who didn't think she was the one who was going to pull the trigger in Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 had to not been paying attention.  Unless...well, not having seen The Wedding of River Song, perhaps Steven Moffat will have one last good twist.  Always optimistic.

In regards to Closing Time itself, contrary to popular belief I'm not opposed to having comedy in Doctor Who.  A fine example of a comedic Doctor Who is The Romans from the First Doctor era.  I laughed quite a bit, but that was the intention.  Moreover, The Romans was funny but not stupid..there was a reason for the comedy, and it kept some serious moments as well.  Closing Time by comparison, had very peculiar turns that I found more disturbing than amusing, and it also had some points that were more irritating than hilarious.   

Let's start out with the Cybermen themselves.  I think they are one of the best Doctor Who villains, but here, they really didn't do much of anything.  If you could either substitute another villain without disrupting the story or could have had an entirely new villain altogether, then the villain/monster used is irrelevant.  In Closing Time, the Cybermen weren't a major part of the story because the story was never about the Cybermen.  It was more about giving Craig a shot at full-on Companion status.

I digress to find that the "gay humor" was frankly eye-rolling.  When the Doctor attempts to stop Craig from seeing that he had been transported onto a spaceship, the Doctor does this by insinuating that he is in love with Craig, drawing him closer and even coming close to kissing him.  Another part of the "people think we're homosexuals but it's really suppose to be funny so it's OK because these silly little mix-ups happen" is whenever Val thinks that Craig and the Doctor are "partners".  The Doctor, in his perpetual cluelessness, thinks she means "Companion" as in his assistant, when really she means "lover/sex partner".  Whatever people's sexual identity is really no interest to me, but haven't we moved on past this Man About the House/Three's Company-style of humor where we're suppose to think that something is funny when people think someone is gay?

Another issue I had with Closing Time is that Gareth Roberts' script reinforces one of the oldest stereotypes in the world: that men are simply too inept to handle child-rearing.  In fact most of the humor stems from the fact that no one trust Craig to watch over Alfie.  Even worse, if anyone with a total IQ of two saw exactly what Craig did, they would see and confirm that Craig indeed IS too inept to watch his son, and even question whether he should have visitation rights altogether. 

What truly amazes me about Closing Time is the casual disregard Craig and the Doctor (and by extension, Roberts and director Steve Hughes) have towards Alfie.  Here the Doctor and Craig are, chasing a Silver Rat (which we should know is a Cybermat) and what do they do?  They bring Alfie with them!  One wonders how no one ever thought to bring a baby with them earlier?  Later on, when Craig goes to save the Doctor, he easily hands Alfie over to Val with not even a how'do.  I was thoroughly astonished that Craig could pass off his son to someone he may have met once.  How would he know that Val wasn't part of the Cyber-plot for world domination? 

I'm With Stupid....

I simply couldn't help think that it was bad enough that Closing Time was making the case that men were too incompetent to be good parents (especially with babies), but that it showed Craig to truly be both irresponsible and stupid by exposing Alfie to a myriad of dangers.  I know I may be accused of taking all this much too seriously, but I still find it shocking that even on a television show, people can be so cavalier about the decisions made in regards to children. 

Now, the reason little Alfie HAD to be at the store was because it is Craig's love for his son that will allow him to break off from Cybercontrol and defeat the Cybermen.  I read somewhere that recent Doctor Whos have become so Companion-centered that the resolution didn't come from anything the Doctor did, but instead by the actions of his Companions.  There certainly is merit to this charge, but in Closing Time, we may have reached the nadir...

"I blew them up with love", Craig says, marveling at how easy it was to defeat the small Cyberman army.  Besides being one of the dumbest lines ever spoken on Doctor Who (certainly among the cheesiest),  it makes one wonder just how pathetic the Cybermen can be if they can be brought down with a crying baby.  Well, in this case, I suppose these Cybermen really are stupid...seriously, to think they'd conquer the Earth with CRAIG as their leader?!?

I will digress to wonder about a plot point.  When Val inquires whether Craig is "married", he tells her that they've talked about it but decided no, giving that tired line of "it's just a paper, isn't it?".  Here I will get a touch reactionary and say that this is a ridiculous argument against the idea of marriage.

Marriage is not "just a piece of paper"; it is a legal agreement and public declaration that you will 'forsake all others' and you will make your children legitimate.  I know that times have changed to where bearing bastards is no longer something to be ashamed of (it's now a point of pride to be illegitimate) but not for me.  Moreover, I think that by just "shacking up" it signals that one or both people simply don't want to burden of acknowledging that they want to stay together for the rest of their lives. 

Yes, sadly marriages now are easy to get out of (to where getting a divorce is easier than getting a bank loan) but when people say "it's just a piece of paper", I instinctly roll my eyes and want to whack'em.  It's not just a piece of paper.  It's saying publicly that you intend to have no other person share your bed or your life.  It's making a legal declaration that you wish to spend the rest of your life with someone.  It's recognizing publicly a child as your own and no one else's.  I personally detest this 'it's just a piece of paper' business, because to me, it says, 'I like having sex with you, but I don't love you enough to make it legal'. 

Well, now that you've had my sermon, back to Closing Time.

The cameos by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as Amelia Pond and her husband What's His Name were gratuitous (and for a moment, confusing).  Corden to me came off as rather whiny, stupid, and tending to shout and go into hysterics a lot.  Smith becomes goofier by the episode, and Closing Time appears to be nothing but filler for the epic finale.  Hence, the reappearance of our hated River Song.  I thought Barber as Madame Kevorkian...or Kovarian...or the Eye-Patch Lady was delighting is being so over-the-top in the "evil" department, but in fairness the final shot of River in the spacesuit, waiting to emerge for her Big Moment in Lake Silencio (which in case you didn't know, is "Silence" in Spanish...funny thing, that) was beautifully rendered. 

I couldn't help but think two things at this denouement.  One, given how River does not want to kill the Doctor, wouldn't it be better to think of her as The Manchurian Astronaut?  Two, given how Closing Time really had very little to do with those last three to five minutes (apart from setting up to the first episode in Series/Season Five), wouldn't we have put some better use to our time in setting up THAT story and had Craig and baby be the last few minutes sans Cybermen?  Just a thought. 

Finally, is it just me, or does Closing Time (with its aliens in a department store storyline) seem to echo Rose to where it almost plays like a remake (down to where the Companion is the one who saves the day)?  Also, is it just me, or does when Craig menaces the Cybermen with a scanner in Closing Time echo or mirror when the Doctor menaced the Beast Above with his electric toothbrush in The Lodger?

Closing Time, in the end, is perhaps even worse than merely a bad episode.  Closing Time is a useless one.

On account that Rory Williams did not appear in Closing Time (apart from a pointless and unnecessary cameo), we alas cannot have a Rory Williams Death Count (although it still stands at 4.1).  However, given that Craig Owens took Rory's place as the bumbling human male (following in the footsteps of Mickey Smith and the illustrious Mr. Pond...I mean, Williams), we'll have to improvise:

Craig Owens Death Count
In Episode: One
Overall: One

1/10

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