“Doctor Who” Recap (Series 6, Episode 12): Talk Baby To Me
This autumn’s run of Doctor Who has been one of the show’s strangest: epic romances distorted by time travel, surreal journeys of the mind… it’s a lot to take in. I’ve loved every moment, but a palate cleanser was in order before we dove head first into Lake Silencio. Luckily that’s how the Doctor felt, which is why before going to his death he chose to visit his old friend and flatmate Craig Owens.
When last we left Craig in “The Lodger”, he and Sophie were starting a new life together in Colchester, courtesy of the Doctor’s intervention. When the Doctor drops in on Craig it’s been a year or two (for Craig, anyway, it’s actually been centuries for the Doctor apparently) and Craig’s been left alone to look after his infant son Alfie. The Doctor, who is fluent in Baby, notes that Alfie prefers to be called “Stormagedden, Dark Lord Of All.” The Doctor is just making a social call, but regardless of his intentions he quickly finds himself working undercover in a department store, investigating an infestation of Cybermen. When Craig runs into the Doctor, entertaining children in the toy department, he decides that the best way to protect himself and Alfie from the Cyber-threat is to stick by the Doctor and help all he can. While investigating, the Doctor and Craig find a Cybermat, an innocuous-looking-but-deadly holdover from the Classic Who that’s been scouting the Department store for power.
While the Doctor and Craig make plans to catch the Cybermat, the Doctor is momentarily shaken by the chance appearance of Amy and Rory in the store. Amy, who’s now a famous model, is asked for her autograph by a little girl. The Doctor looks on and smiles. Aww. Cute, even if it is a bit out of place in the episode. Does it serve any purpose other than to remind us that these characters exist and justify their presence in the credits? Presumably they’re contracted to appear in all 13 episodes of the series anyhow. Ah well. At least it allows for a pretty amusing inside joke, where Amy is seen advertising a perfume called “Petrichor” (a reference to “The Doctor’s Wife”), the tagline of which is “For the girl who’s tired of waiting” (a reference to “The Girl Who Waited,” an epithet that’s been applied to Amy since her introduction as well as the title of a recent episode).
Anyhow, that night, the Doctor and Craig catch the Cybermat, deactivate it, and take it home for further study. The Doctor shares a lovely moment with baby Stormageddon, ruminating that while the little tyke is just starting his journey through life, the Doctor is rapidly approaching the end of his. It’s a fantastic moment, but it’s interrupted when the Doctor and Craig have to fight off the reawakened Cybermat. Afterwards, the Doctor steals away in the night to confront the Cybermen on his own. When Craig awakens in the morning, he discovers that the Doctor has left, and rushes out to help him, leaving Alfie with one of the store’s employees. The Cybermen decide that Craig is the ideal candidate for conversion to their new Cyber-Controller and strap him in for conversion.
The process is nearly complete when Craig hears Alfie’s cries, allowing him to reverse the conversion and short-circuit the emotional inhibitors of the other Cybermen. This should seem familiar to anyone who remembers the climax of 2006′s “The Age of Steel,” where the Doctor defeated an army of Cybermen by de-inhibiting their emotions and allowing them to see themselves as monster. In that case, they all committed suicide out of self-loathing. That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? Thankfully, these ones just explode.
In the aftermath of the struggle, the Doctor disappears, and Craig returns home to find that he’s traveled back a bit in the TARDIS to tidy the house before Sophie returns, using hours of his precious remaining time. The Doctor informs Craig that baby Stormageddon now prefers the name Alfie and bids farewell, leaving just in time to miss Sophie’s return home. Despite Craig’s insistence that nothing happened while she was away, Alfie betrays the secret by speaking his first word: “Doctor.”
Overall, the return of Craig Owens was a lot of fun, perfectly capturing what was great about the character without making the episode feel like a retread. It was the logical next step in Craig’s development as a character, and even while it serves as a break from the overall narrative it had some interesting resonance with Moffat’s vision of Doctor Who. Not only do we revisit the theme of parenthood, but we see Craig join the ranks of characters who, like the various Ponds, has had his life touched by the Doctor at more than one key moment. I’d love to check in again with Craig, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that James Corden will be returning to the role next year.
Since “The Lodger”, writer Gareth Roberts has refined his conception of the Doctor’s alienness, and the episode benefits a lot. In “The Lodger,” the Doctor was a buffoon, his alienness expressed through ignorance of Earth’s culture. Hilarious as it was to watch Matt Smith stumble cluelessly through normal earthbound life, it always left me a little cold because it didn’t seem like a genuine expression of the Doctor as we know him. Our Doctor is a genius, not an idiot. Here, Roberts communicates that alienness in subtler ways, and while “Closing Time” probably isn’t as funny as “The Lodger” it’s a better showcase of Matt Smith’s Doctor and a stronger overall story. Smith is given an opportunity to embody both the comedy and the drama of the Doctor, a balance that he’s clearly become quite comfortable with. Plus, he gets to speak Baby again, which guarantees this episode top marks.
Anyhow, lest you worry that “Closing Time” is too standalone for its own good, the final scenes place the episode firmly and explicitly in the context of Moffatt’s timey-wimey epic. We circle right back to the events of “The Impossible Astronaut” when Craig gives the Doctor a parting gift: the Stetson he’ll wear to Utah. Plus, the Doctor nicks the TARDIS-blue stationary that he’ll use for the invitations in that episode. And then, before the Doctor enters the TARDIS to go to his death, he says goodbye to a few children on the street. We flash forward several thousand years to the day River gets her doctorate in archaeology. She’s studying the eyewitness accounts left by these children, when Madame Kovarian (last seen in “A Good Man Goes To War”) intrudes with some Silence to take custody of River, put her in the space suit, and place her at the bottom of Lake Silencio in April 2011, priming her to kill the Doctor.
Frankly, I could have done without River Song, as her epilogue serves only to set up the next story while having little to do with this one. Still, this being the penultimate episode of the series, they have to tease the finale somehow. Given that this series violates the long-standing NuWho tradition of two-part finales, a tacked-on cliffhanger like this was probably the best answer. It’s just a shame that there was nothing in this cliffhanger to surprise us. Seeing River in that suit at the bottom of that lake only confirms what anyone who has been paying attention already knew. And for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, maybe you’ll want to sit next week’s finale out. This episode was your fun standalone adventure, but next week will surely be a head-scratcher. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Tick, tock, goes the clock.
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