When I found out that James Cordon was going to be in Doctor Who, I wasn’t looking forward to it. I can’t stand the character of Smithy in Gavin and Stacey and every time I see James Cordon as himself I want to stick my fingers in my eyes and swirl them around to distract myself.
So I was pleasantly surprised at what a good episode The Lodger was, and how well he played Craig Owens. And when I heard he was coming back for this episode, Closing Time, I was actually looking forward to it.
Craig has had a baby since we last saw him; a little boy called Alfie (who, according to the Doctor, prefers to be called Stormageddon. I shouldn’t find this as amusing as I do). He’s been left alone with the baby for the weekend and feels a bit worried about it; what he doesn’t need is the Doctor turning up and discovering that Cybermen are stealing people to convert into Cyber-Units in their base underneath the local shopping centre. Which is, of course, exactly what happens.
After lots of scurrying around being funny with Craig, The Doctor goes after the Cybermen alone, not wanting to put any more companions in danger. But Craig rightly guesses that the Doctor needs someone, even though he pretends he doesn’t, and goes to help. Craig gets turned into a Cyber King, but upon hearing his son crying he experiences a burst of paternal love that short circuits the Cybermen’s emotional inhibitors and destroys them.
I summed up the plot in two paragraphs without even trying to be succinct; this isn’t a particularly plot driven episode. But you know what? I don’t care. I really liked this episode. Not much happened but it pootled along being nice and entertaining with a good old-fashioned exciting rompy bit at the end. And I think that with the heart-wrenching, scary episodes we’ve had so far this series, we needed something this uncomplicated. Especially since next week’s episode looks to be all dramatic, scary and heart-wrenching again.
Craig was once again a very nice character. He’s a typical bit-useless-but-heart-of-gold bloke that makes sentimental ladies like me go “Awww”. Last time we liked him because he thought he was rubbish and fancied the pants off his best friend but was too shy to say anything. This time we like him because he thinks he’s a bit rubbish which makes him a bit rubbish even though he’s actually quite good, because he loves his girlfriend and his son and because of how much he helps the Doctor. He’s a very sweet man. James Cordon makes me grimace, but Craig Owens makes me smile.
Craig was also there to remind us of what a decent bloke the Doctor is. Since Tennant’s Doctor we’ve had the message flung at us that the Doctor is a very dark character who ruins lives; when the Doctor himself said this Craig responded with an easy “Don’t beat yourself up” and reminded him of how many times he’s saved the planet.
I think the audience tends to see Doctor Who through the companion’s eyes and, apart from Donna, we have never been able to see him through such a clear filter. Rose, Martha, Amy and River all see the Doctor as something magnificent, either because they have some kind of romantic attachment or because they see him as a saviour. Donna and Craig both see the Doctor as a mate — a great guy, but just a mate. So the writers don’t have to push that the Doctor is a dark force as well as amazing and wonderful, because they don’t need to balance this hero worship from the companion. You just see the Doctor as a person. It’s a nice change.
And Matt Smith was nice to watch in this episode. He plays off James Cordon very well. I don’t want Craig Owens to be the companion (he’s got a family life and a baby, what he’s always wanted — let him be) but I do hope we visit him a bit more. I also love the one-way banter between the Doctor and Alfie/Stormageddon. I know, I know, they rode that joke for the entire episode, but it worked well so I'm not complaining.
I also want to see the Cybermen a bit more, but as proper baddies again. The Cybermen have only had one really scary outing since the reboot, and that was their first appearance. They have potential to be brilliant bad guys. So, if any writers are reading, Cybermen for next series with some actual threat to the Doctor? Please?
We also need to discuss that bit with Rory and Amy in the shopping centre. I can’t decide whether it was always intended to be there or if there was a weird contractual thing with Karen and Arthur that they had to be in every episode. I know people have been a bit sniffy about it, but I actually thought it worked well. It certainly fitted in with the theme of the episode and the series, of the Doctor and his effect on his companions. I also liked that Amy became a model. Let’s face it, what else could that woman do for a job? Can you see her working in a shop, or as a secretary, or anything at all where she wasn’t allowed to be her stroppy, headstrong self?
But anyway. It was a good episode. Not brilliant, not jaw droppingly amazing, not heart breaking or terrifying or mind blowing. But good. Entertainingly well done nonsense. I approve.