When “The Lodger,” the penultimate episode of Doctor Who’s fifth season aired last June I wrote that I would gladly watch a whole series in which The Doctor played the part of a wacky roommate to James Corden. I didn’t necessarily expect to see them together again, however. But here, as the penultimate episode of the sixth season, the Doctor returns again to hang out with James Corden’s Craig. He’s moved to new digs and settled in with Sophie, the girl of his dreams whom the Doctor helped him win in “The Lodger.” She’s now the mother of his child and while Sophie doesn’t figure much into this story—the kid is another matter—this is very much a sequel to “The Lodger,” using a small, focused Gareth Roberts-penned story, and a lot of humor, to emphasize The Doctor’s human side.
Apart from a pronounced haplessness when it comes to parenting, it looks like Craig is doing all right. He’s harried but basically happy, even if he doesn’t always realize it. The same can’t be said of The Doctor. On Earth we’re now a few years in the future from the last episode, “The God Complex.” But for The Doctor even more time has passed. More specifically, about 200 years. I didn’t catch that precise number in the episode itself, but Roberts used it a BBC interview and I would assume that the math works out with the date of The Doctor’s upcoming death. And even if it’s not 200 years precisely, the time between “The God Complex” and now has clearly weighed heavily on The Doctor. He’s sprightly and clever as always, but he knows he’s on the last leg of what he calls his “farewell tour.” He’s even taken to talking to himself more, or at least more intently, than usual. Part of what I love about Smith’s performance is the way he makes the two sides of The Doctor’s personality credibly part of the same character. My favorite edit in the episode comes when a near-despondent Doctor swears off rescuing others as he walks to the TARDIS… Cut to: The Doctor entertaining a bunch of kids as he works in a department store’s toy department.
The episode’s much more about those moments than a thrillingly complex plot. The Cybermen are among The Doctor’s most iconic enemies, but here they’re reduced to villain-of-the-week status. Not that they don’t fill the role well. Hiding in the shadows, they look pretty terrifying and the episode sells them as a real threat. But it’s not really about the threat of the Cybermen. There are a couple of plots at work here. In one, a new dad learns to grow comfortable with his infant son (and vice versa). In the end, love saves the day. It’s corny but the episode sells it. (And, with “Night Terrors” and “A Good Man Goes To War,” the bond between parents and children is something of a theme this year.) In the other plot The Doctor resigns himself to his imminent death.
The episode’s best scene brings the plots together as The Doctor talks to Alfie about, well, life. And what he has to look forward to even though the Doctor won’t be around to see it. It’s a lovely moment, in an episode not short on them. And like much of “Closing Time,” it starts as comedy and then deepens as it goes on. A later scene, however, is pure pathos: The Doctor watches Rory and Amy—now apparently a model or actress of some renown—shop. He wants to talk to them but ultimately thinks better of it. You can almost see his hearts breaking.
I liked this episode quite a bit. On its own, it’s not as strong “The Lodger,” but as a postscript to that episode that provides a pause before the—I’m guessing here but I don’t think I’m wrong—high drama and frenetic action of the season finale, it’s quite satisfying. In fact, I kind of like the idea of a penultimate-episode check-in with James becoming a Doctor Who tradition of the Moffat era. He brings out the softer qualities in The Doctor, and those can sometimes get lost in all the universe-traversing action that tends to take over the ends of seasons.
Speaking of endings, what do you make of the end of this one? The Doctor gets the cowboy hat we saw him sporting at the beginning of the season and then we see River researching an oral history that includes testimonies from the kids who witnessed his departure. And then… it’s her again. The eyepatch lady. And then The Silence, whom she refers to as River’s “owner.” Shivers. And then we head into the end: The Doctor’s death, River/Melody in an moon landing-era spacesuit, and something dreadful just over the horizon. Meet you there next week.
• One thing I appreciated this week: Roberts’ fresh spin on gay panic humor. A shop clerk mistakes The Doctor and James for a couple and seems delighted by the idea. And, when they almost kiss as part of a misunderstanding, neither are disgusted by the idea. Just really, really confused by what’s going on.
• Stormageddon: There are worse names for a kid.