Sunday, September 25, 2011

Doctor Who: Closing Time

In last week's episode "The God Complex," the only way the Doctor could save Amy (and by extension all of them) was to destroy her faith in him. Likewise, my faith in Steven Moffat is waning. At the start of the season, I ogled at the very deep hole he seemed to have written himself into but I was confident that he had a clever way to dig himself out. After watching "Closing Time," that confidence is gone.

The plot lines of River Song and the Doctor's death have become so convoluted that there is no way the season finale will bring it all to a satisfying conclusion. We will see a lot of running around and shooting and wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimeyness, but it won't be enough. I'm calling it now: Moff and Co. won't pull off the finale without it feeling forced.

But first, "Closing Time."

This was a fun standalone "two men and a baby with an overkill of gay jokes" episode. I liked Craig in "The Lodger" and I liked him here, too. The Doctor's ability to speak baby added a fun twist ("Stormageddon," ha!) Apparently a hundred to two-hundred years (I'm not clear on the time frame) have passed between when the Doctor drops off the Ponds and shows up at Craig's door. This is an older and sadder Doctor who's out for one last adventure before going to his death-by-astronaut on the shore of a lake in Utah.

This episode extends a running theme throughout the season of parent-child relationships. There was the pirate captain and his stowaway son in "The Curse of the Black Spot"; the ganger dad who takes the place of his dead human counterpart in "The Almost People." And of course there's that one big parent-child plot line that got unceremoniously dropped after "Let's Kill Hitler" and has yet to be resolved. In "Closing Time," Craig is struggling with his complete lack of fatherly instinct but comes through in the end by blowing up a bunch of Cybermen with ... love. Yeah. Go ahead, roll your eyes. I did, too. It helps that his infant son is adorable.

Then came the episode's coda.

River Song has just graduated as a doctor of archaeology and has written in her little blue book the time, date and location of the Doctor's death. Madam Kovarian shows up and abducts River. Next thing she knows, she has been stuffed in an astronaut suit and is underwater.

As far as I can tell, this creates a paradox. Older River who picnics with the Doctor, Amy and and Rory on the lakeshore does not know what's coming. She's as surprised as anyone when an astronaut walks out of the lake and shoots the Doctor dead. Before you all start pointing it out, yes, she says "Of course" and fails to shoot the astronaut even though she's a crack shot. And she also goes to prison for killing the best man she's ever known. But there is no indication whatsoever that she knows, before the Doctor is killed, that it is going to happen right then and there. Which makes no sense whatsoever if she's the one who kills him. That is not something you forget. Even if the younger version wasn't paying attention to her surroundings and didn't know where she was, she still has it all written in her book.

This is where my faith starts to erode. First off, why would she kill him? If she were brainwashed River, I could see that happening. Or River before she has met the Doctor. But neither is the case here. There are indications that all time and space is stuck at the moment of the Doctor's death until he dies (even though there's no hint of that in "The Impossible Astronaut"), so in killing him, she sets the universe to rights. She doesn't have a choice. OK. I could deal with that. If so, what idiot judge puts her in prison for saving the universe? Why is she branded as a war criminal worse than Hitler?

I'm still hoping to come out of next week's episode satisfied with the resolution, that Moffat and Co. will pull a rabbit out of their hat, that they will make the resolution feel organic and inevitable instead of oh-god-we-wrote-ourselves-into-a-box-what-the-hell-do-we-do-now. If they manage it, I will get on this blog next week and applaud their genius. But somehow, I don't think that will happen.

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