It's getting very near the end, as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band once sang. The penultimate episode of the current bisected series, Closing Time was a standalone show, but it contained a tangible atmosphere of anxiety as the final sands are sifted through the hourglass of the current run, and indeed the Doctor's very existence. Ever since we saw the Doctor killed on the banks of Lake Silencio back in series 6's opener, it's been quite obvious that he will somehow escape his seemingly inevitable death. Partly because the BBC would be slaughtering their prize cash cow, and partly because Matt Smith is filming the Christmas special as you read this, but the fact that the show has been able to keep a sense of impending dread is testament to the quality of this series' writing, and long term writer Gareth Roberts delivered one of the best episodes of Doctor Who we've seen in recent years.
In last year's The Lodger, Roberts found the perfect comic balance for Matt Smith's 11th Doctor, and the episode helped define the playful side of his portrayal that we have seen more of this year as Smith has grown into the role. Having worked on comedies like The Fast Show and Swiss Toni, his script is deftly crafted, creating a perfect balance of comic interplay, scary Cybermen and a genuinely heartwarming character arc as blokey Craig struggles to come to terms with fatherhood and take on his responsibilities. James Cordon is as likable as he was the first time round, proving again that despite being one of the most annoyingly overbearing people on television, there is an excellent actor underneath the chat shows and panel games. His performance is well judged, and his double act with the Doctor is both natural and hilarious. Their being mistaken for a same sex couple may be an obvious gag, but the cocktail of affection and bickering is a joy to watch, with the best line coming from a sulking Craig - "Don't have a go at me just 'cos I don't know the names." Naming Craig's baby Stormageddon (which means "fallen silence" in Greek. Make of that what you will), and the Doctor's previously undisclosed method for silencing those with underdeveloped brains were amongst the highlights of a richly comic script, but the episode never felt over written, encompassing enough heart and threat to meet the criteria of classic Doctor Who.
We didn't have to wait long for the inevitable return of Mr. and Mrs. Pond, but it was more heartbreaking than you could have imagined. The poster campaign was a masterstroke and must have had Gareth Roberts leaping round the writing room when he thought of it, and naming Amy's perfume Petrichor was just showing off. The Doctor's inability to interfere was reminiscent of Donna Noble's exit, and equally effective, and his internal confliction surrounding his self-imposed solitude overlapped nicely from the previous episode. It was great to have the Cybermen back, especially with the overdue return of the Cybermats, a sort of metal fish that dates back to their first appearance in Tomb of The Cybermen. The updated version is considerably more threatening than the originals however, which looked like the product of a utility room romance between a dust buster and a mop.
Closing time was well paced, funny, chilling, moving, and even the sentimental ending is knowingly played down. Roberts writes perfectly for Matt Smith's doctor and he delivered one of his best performances yet. The monologue with Stormy in the star swept bedroom was nothing short of beautiful and his physical performance is a joy to behold. The epilogue sets up next week's finale with restless anticipation as Stephen Moffat's intricately woven plot comes full circle. One thing is for sure though- Moffat's dénouement has a tough act to follow.
Next week- Winston Churchill, Silurians, Daleks, The Silence, Impossible Astronauts and the Death of The Doctor...