Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song Review
So, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas/holiday season. I certainly did; I’m currently basking in the warm, hungover afterglow of a day well spent, eyeing my Christmas bottles of wine and wondering how long it’s going to be before I can stomach putting them anywhere near my face.
Speaking of Christmas, I’m finally getting round to reviewing a Doctor Who Christmas special, something I’ve never found the time for before. Well, the time, or the inclination, thanks to a couple of Christmas specials that left me pretty cold (appropriately, I suppose, given the season). But this year’s episode, The Husbands of River Song, certainly left me with plenty to think about.
I should say right off the bat that I am almost obliged to like this episode thanks to the pervading air of B-movie nonsense it displayed. If you’re not a fan of goofy, wacky Doctor Who, then I can’t imagine this episode would work for you. There was some thin plot in there- about River trying to acquire the head of her evil cyborg husband-but you’d have to go in there with a magnifying glass to identify anything significant, at least in the first half of the episode. It’s packed with stupidly overwrought one-liners, Greg Davies’ pulling faces like someone just dropped their trousers and shat on his breakfast, and a paper-thin plot that lifts heavily from other, probably better episodes (Trap Street in Face the Raven, the opulent-ship-in-space thing from whatever the Titanic monstrosity was called). Murray Gold’s score pranced around the episode tinkling impishly (and irritatingly) over the top of every supposedly-funny line. But sometimes, Doctor Who works better when it’s not bending over backwards to be explosively clever or nuanced, and I though this episode was an example of that. Remember also that Christmas specials are meant to be watched through a warm haze of alcohol and food, so anything too melodramatic falls flat (see also: Matt Smith’s final episode).
This episode also brought together Alex Kingston and Peter Capaldi, a pair of prestige fucking performers who looked like they were having the greatest time bouncing around various wobbly sci-fi sets and jauntily declaring every other line. Their chemistry was impeccable, and seeing Capaldi have someone who really matches his energy was a proper treat after Saint Clara’s last season and a half.
In all honesty, it took me a good few seasons to warm up to River Song, despite the fact the many of her older episodes are, in retrospect, fucking brilliant. For maybe the first time since her first appearance, I was genuinely looking forward to seeing her on the show, and I wasn’t disappointed. Well, I was, a bit, thanks to Moffat once again making reference to a gay relationship that happened off-screen (seriously now) and having River drop a couple of anti-man comments that make me wonder if people really believe that a strong female character is one who openly holds men in contempt. But still, Alex Kingston is undoubtedly one of Moffat’s finest additions to the show, and damn, can that woman act. She made me laugh at lines that would usually have had me writing in angry letters, and she nailed the emotional stuff, too. In this episode, River takes a while to realize that the Doctor is, you know, that Doctor, and the moment she realizes is simply a gorgeous bit of acting between the two. Capaldi’s whispered “hello, sweetie” was honestly a highlight of the last year of the show for me (which isn’t saying a lot, but still).
Because-so it would seem- this is River’s last episode, as she goes to travel to the library where she met Tennant’s Doctor all those years ago so she can sacrifice herself for him. While the episode did take a pretty huge tonal left-turn in it’s last quarter, as the Doctor and River said their goodbyes and leave most of the goofy stuff behind, it really worked, mainly because the episode’s stakes had been so low that this mellow, dignified ending actually fit pretty well. Shot gorgeously, scored well, and with Alex Kingston draped in black feathers (as she presumably…faced the raven? Oh, go on, give me this one), I found this parting-or not, as the case may be- one of the most affecting parts of the show in the last few years. They hadn’t had a whole season to overblow it, so giving it a whole fifteen minutes didn’t feel over the top.
So yeah, as Christmas episodes go, I would say this one is by far and away one of the better ones of the last few years. It’s got obvious laughs, sexy innuendo, and a little bit of heartache right at the end- essentially, it bore the essence of Christmas, and I can get behind that.
That’s far too soppy a note to leave things on, so consider this: Doctor Who recaps for series one onwards will start back (actually, really this time) in the new year, so you’ll have something to tide you through 2016. See you then!