Not With A Bang
Some assumptions ‘Closing Time’ relies upon: a man being rubbish at looking after a baby is richly hilarious; James Corden has talent of some kind; it’s still amusing when someone wrongly thinks two men are a couple. All very questionable.
And, as ever, (heteronormative) love conquers all. It kills Cybermen because emotions ‘n’ stuff, yeah? Okay, they did something like that in ‘The Invasion’, but at least there it was any emotion, and it made the Cybermen go bonkers instead of just conveniently dying of endoftheepisodeitis. Notice the utterly pedestrian, idea-free logic here. You kill the loveless things with love. That’s like saying you kill poor people with money. I know the gold thing was stupid, but at least that suggested the logic of using a magical metallic talisman against the zombies. And at least, when the Cybermen got killed by gold or gravity or radiation, they were simply defeated and chased off rather than being negated or solved. Kill a Cyberman with radiation and you simply defeat his physical presence. Kill him with love and you solve him. You explain him away. You fill the empty space that he once was… with syrup. The Cybermen are worthless now. They have been emptied out of all threat because their hollowness has been stuffed with candyfloss. Thus is the rump gothic ritually defeated by the power of comforting banalities.
By the way… remember when Gareth Roberts scathingly wrote about how silly ‘The Green Death’ was because nobody in the audience needed to be told that pollution was bad? Well… does ‘Closing Time’ mean that he now believes people need to be reminded that loving your baby son is good? Are we to understand that banal statements about political issues are a Bad Thing while banal statements about personal feelings are Inspirational Drama? I guess so, since the former is about boring stuff like public health and business ethics, while the latter is about interesting stuff like oooo i wuv my pwetty ickle baby. Why are the British public assumed to need weekly reminders that love is a good thing? Why, furthermore, must love always be reduced to a simple and unambiguously positive thing, as though it’s a kind of neurological Angel Delight? And why is it thought that they need to be constantly reassured that it can conquer absolutely anything just by being felt? What right to these fucking hacks have to inform us how we are obliged to feel in order to be normal and earn the Doctor’s gormless yawp of excited approval? And isn’t this constant emphasis on love as something overpowering and perfect just an emotional version of the media peddling of body images? Just as we are constantly told how we should look, are we not also being told that our feelings should be just as glossy and perfect and swaggeringly healthy? There is a catwalk for the feelings, and yours must be capable of poseurising their way down it, looking just right. Fuck off.
There is something repellently wholesome and healthy about garbage like ‘Closing Time’. If it were a person, it would be the jogger with a muesli bar who sneers down his nose at you as you eat your Twix. (Yes, yes, I know James Corden is fat. It’s a metaphor. Give me a fucking break.) Babies and fatherhood and duty and love, love, love… and all that stuff that, if left alone, is just normal life for most people, but which gets turned into a kind of public school P.E. lesson for the brain when turned into saturday night ideology by people like Gareth Roberts and the BBC.
On top of all this, the Doctor is allowed to notice the revolting sentimentality of saying that James Corden defeated the Cybermen with love… and instead he briefly falls back on reductionist biological determinism. Before relenting and going back to the sentimentality. These are the two permitted poles.
Still, at least it has lots of emotional beats in it. In the same way that a Barbie house has architecture, I suppose.
This is the way the show ends, not with a bang but a simper.
May 14, 2013 @ 7:02 pm
Only thing I might quibble with is your jogger analogy, as I've never actually met any athletes who live up to that particular stereotype (most of the ones I know tend to like to keep to themselves), but I obviously haven't frequented the same social circles you have.
Other than that, right on. I really wish I had more to contribute, but I think you've pretty much nailed it.
I shall now go back to complaining about a TV show I at least know gets better.
May 14, 2013 @ 7:34 pm
Yay Jack's Back!
This episode got the 'Oh f*ck off' from me fairly early on when Corden's character (And his BABY) insisted on following the Doctor even though he was repeatedly told not to. The justification being that it's safest to be right next to the Doctor-just like it's safest to be next to the guy fixing the Nuclear reactor. Such lazy lazy band-aid writing.
I am strangely saddened that the arch cynic of the NAs has become this hack, who doesn't seem to care about anything except a handwave towards 'the power of love'
The biggest problem for me, there is an interesting story to be written about Cybermen slowly taking over a department store, something creepy and insidious with consumerist satire. This wasn't it
Very curious to know what you thought of The God Complex. A lot of intelligent people gave it a pass because of the atheism, the atmosphere and because it didn't feel like it was written by someone who was just cranking one out (see above). But I still had massive problems with it (particularly the conclusion)
May 14, 2013 @ 7:50 pm
Wouldn't the Autons be a better choice in that case though, given Robert Holmes created them as an explicitly anti-consumerist parable? IMO the Cybermen really only work when you drag them out in titanically oversignified stories laden with alchemical and kabbalistic symbolism, which is incidentally why I actually enjoy "Silver Nemesis" in spite of everything wrong with it.
May 14, 2013 @ 9:06 pm
All you say is true, and there are more episodes to come that deal in this sort of nonsense ("The Snowmen" and "The Rings of Akhaten," to name two).
And yet I'm pretty much always prepared to watch "The Lodger" and "Closing Time," for two reasons (only one of which might be worth discussing) that have nothing to do with their (I agree, queasy) endings:
1. However awful a person James Corden must be on his native shores for everyone to despise him as much as they do, Craig has more chemistry with the Eleventh Doctor in two episodes than anyone else who's ever traveled with him. Partly it's that he gets to be a person rather than a Moffat-era Companion, I guess, and you might not agree, but me, I like him.
2. It might not be "amusing" when someone wrongly thinks two men are a couple, but it's also the gayest situation allowed in Moffat's Who so far that I can recall, and I enjoyed it on that level. (Jenny and Vastra are lesbians and played even more for laughs. Canton etc. is gay for the space of one pronoun.)
Again, neither of these points is really a defense, so much as an explanation of how I was able to enjoy the journey and ignore the destination. In both episodes, "Closing Time" even more so, Craig's (platonic, and yet) relationship with the Doctor is at the forefront for me, not his relationship with his girlfriend/wife or baby.
I thought maybe this was going to lead into some commentary on "Nightmare in Silver." What did you think?
May 14, 2013 @ 9:12 pm
"Why, furthermore, must love always be reduced to a simple and unambiguously positive thing, as though it's a kind of neurological Angel Delight?"
I guess you are aware of the 'Angel Delight'/Thatcher connection? If not, you've tapped into the Noos (or is it Nous? Seriously, I can't recall) Sphere.
Looking forward to your "Ark in Space" comment (obviously once Pluto has done his worst).
May 14, 2013 @ 9:16 pm
"The God Complex" – such a suitable title for the writer of that pish.
"Oh – here's a metaphor" – "Oh you don't know what a metaphor is?" – "This is a metaphor!" (Get's the Doctor and Nimon to explain carefully to toddlers what a fucking metaphor is) – "Ooh, that's clever!" says the 'fans'.
May 15, 2013 @ 1:30 am
So glad to see you back in the game, Jack!
I disagree almost completely about Closing Time. While I appreciate where you're coming from, and especially the values that inform your reading, I think you've got this one wrong. However, you'll be happy to know there are much better reasons to hate it, if such is your desire.
Let's deal with the gay content first. It's an attempt to make public acceptance of homosexuality normative, as evidenced through Lynda Barron's character, and through the Doctor's complete lack of self-consciousness about it.
While Craig's pretty much uncomfortable with the associations — and we're meant to mock his discomfort — there's the scene where he's actually tempted by the Doctor's kiss, suggesting a more fluid sexuality that I think is more true than society likes to think. In short, it's not laughing at being queer, but being uncomfortable with queerness. It's not perfect, and it'd be great to have a story where no one's uncomfortable with queerness at all, but in contemporary society we still have homophobic people to deal with.
Secondly, and more importantly, the ending. This isn't a story about defeating robots, unless you take it literally. As is the case with mythology, literal readings are problematic and best left to children.
The Cybermen here represent the ego's fear of death, by identification with the flesh and the conquering of it. That their lair is an Otherworld that represents a place of Death should be clear by the repeated symbolism of it being found behind a Mirror (indicated several times the last few years as a portal to said places) and down a rabbit-hole; the other way is through a transmat elevator, which is also indicated as an Otherworld portal.
So what we've got here is nothing less (or more) than an attempt to fuse Love and Death together, which is par for the course when it comes to alchemical mythology — not to mention a major preoccupation of American literature. The framing of this season in American icons — the Apollo landing, the cowboy hats, the American seasons — is not accidental. And in general, I appreciate stories that conflate Love and Death — not to say that Love is something that kills us, but that Death itself (and particularly the death of ego) is not what we should be afraid of, because that fear is so easily exploited. Craig's rebirth occurs when his preoccupation with Ego is replaced by the motivation of relationship. This is a good thing, and is the very beginning (but certainly not the end) of the ethic of true collectivism, which must be concerned with all humanity.
The root of capitalism is gratification of the Ego, the individual at the expense of everyone else — so it's important that this particular trip to the Other Side is located under a department store, the place where Ego is gratified. The alchemical approach suggests Ego-death and rebirth as the way to fight the root of capitalism. It's not, therefore, a story that's poorly intended.
May 15, 2013 @ 1:31 am
It is, however, a fallacious and naive argument that it ultimately presents. Capitalism is more than a spiritual malaise, but a systematic philosophy and series of power-relations that's going to destroy the world before we ever get around to the Enlightenment of the population, and in this respect the choice to employ the Cybermen in this story is disappointing. As you've noted before, the Cybermen are not just representations of the desire to avoid death, but also a reactionary representation of Communism and collective action.
So Closing Time ends up reinforcing the fears of collective action: the complete loss of individuality, of even being stripped of a Name — note the Doctor's fear of forgetting "who he is" is mitigated by being "named" by the capitalistic department store. This rather blunts the advancement of its alchemical working — which, we should note, is something that's generally been practiced only by the middle-to-upper-middle classes in the first place. A brief review of the Rosicrucians, Masons, Golden Dawners, etc., make it pretty clear who's really being served here. The only thing that justifies alchemy — the necessary balance it must have by its own structural philosophy — is material social progress, and in this respect Closing Time certainly fails.
Finally, and most infuriatingly, with respect to the class relations in this story, what stands out is who ends up being killed. There's Shona, who's a low-level manager at the department store, and there's George, the security guard. The only two black characters in the story.
May 15, 2013 @ 4:32 am
Blimey. I vomit an angry rant into the blog and go to bed, then I get up and check the blog over my morning coffee… and look what's happened! You lot only like me for my curmudgeonly fits of bile.
Seriously, thanks for stopping by. I'll try to answer some of these points when it's no longer 9.32 in the morning and excuse for a brain is semi-operational again.
May 16, 2013 @ 7:23 pm
It's not "soppy" love that saves the day, here. It's fierce parental love, that viscious, visceral bond which even the hardest circumstance can not sunder. Craig will fight to the bitter end for Storm, just as Amy and Rory will never falter in their hunt for Melody – oh, hang on.
May 17, 2013 @ 12:20 pm
Of course, since Davies rebooted the Cybermen in '06, they've really been agents of Capitalism. And that's pretty much the case here — they operate under a department store, populated with Silver Mannequins (Craig tries to do an Auton hand-shake and gets into trouble) and in the climax, what are the Cybermen trying to do? Fit Craig for his very own Cyber-outfit.
And this relates to the emotional content of the story — for crass materialism (with Capitalism as it's most efficient and pernicious form) is a sop to cover up the loss of familial relationships, and the patriarchal demands that fathers maintain emotional distance from their wards, not to mention staying out of the domestic sphere for sake of career and "masculinity."
In this sense, the Queering of Craig comes into view, for to take care of a child and to love another man is to shed his patriarchal role, to step into the tropes of "femininity" as defined by patriarchy; such actions and relationships are not approved by the powers that be.
Finally, the clothing department works to inform the teaser at the end of the story — the Silence forcing River into her Wedding Dress.
December 22, 2013 @ 2:25 pm
But…but…STORMAGEDDON! It's just sooooo funn-ee, isn't it, dworling?…Well, no, sadly.