A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Doctor Who Christmas specials are a cornerstone of the saga, much like the more comedic tradition of the American Office. Some of them are absolute embraces of Christmas as a whole, from the setting to the story and right down to casting Nick Frost as Santa Claus (still the best casting in Who history, period). Some of them are less Christmasey and just happen to be aired on the holiday and or whose stories simply happen to occur on that day. The Husbands of River Song is an episode that largely falls into the latter camp. The opening shots certainly suggest something else entirely, but then River Song arrives in a beautifully shot sequence and the episode becomes something else. In the last fifteen minutes or so, it becomes something entirely once more and there’s an emotional wallop that is one of the most poignant moments the show has ever executed. It’s an episode that is oddly structured no matter what way is it cut, but the execution of that structure is so proficient that the structural haphazardness only serves to enhance the episode and not to diminish its returns in any way. And what returns they are. There is a line of thought that the Christmas special is the beginning of a new series and not the end of one, but without any knowledge of what series ten is really about, The Husbands of River Song is a beautiful encapsulation of the journey the Doctor has taken over series nine and in particular how his relationship with death has progressed. It would be a natural and rewarding thoroughfare of the Doctor’s character for Moffat to undertake in the next series, but within the confines of this episode alone it’s a touching capper, a maturing milestone for a character who, despite his wisdom, makes so many fallible mistakes.
It’s that fallibility that helps make the Doctor so thoroughly endearing. An alien with two hearts and stupid clothes as Doctor River Song so lovingly puts it, he is magnificent, ambitious, and imbued with a plethora of empathy. But he’s also stubborn, infuriating, and at times frustratingly confident in his omnipotence to the point of developing a God complex. Characters who become too imbued with a specific emotional reaction tend to become that much emptier, that much more weaker in their emotional impact upon the viewer. The Doctor has never reached that point, thankfully, and considering the length of time the Doctor has graced our screens, that feat is a bit surprising. What is as surprising, if not more, is how rarely the Doctor gets to become the companion. The danger in overusing that plot would put it in danger of becoming a trop is a realized one, but the emotional exploration of the Doctor not being in the lead is brilliantly done here. His best moment as the sort of companion when River so thunderingly takes the command of the TARDIS was when he rolls into his time machine with a wide-eyed wonder as if a child in a candy store, loudly proclaiming that the inside was larger than the outside. He simply wanted, after all, to do that reaction right. But as charming as that moment is, it’s negligible compared to the sexiest moment in television all year. The Doctor quietly looks towards River and says “Hello, sweetie” in the most gentle, loving voice possible and the world simply melts as his smile is reflected back in River’s widening eyes.
Doctor River Song, played brilliantly by Alex Kingston, made her first appearance in the brilliant Silence in the Library with David Tennant. Instantly she became a phenomenon, fans most intrigued by her knowing the Doctor before he had known her. That reversal in The Husbands of River Song is understandable, considering Steven Moffat had planned this as being his departure from the series before returning for what seems like one more and it’s also a brilliant move, giving a closing chapter to Moffat’s most memorable character creation. For a show runner often accused of misogyny, River Song stands out as one of the best female characters around on television and if this is indeed the last we see of her, then in that regard she will be especially missed. There’s something truly astounding about River, from her attitude to her strength to her weaknesses and her status as an antagonist. She rips apart every stereotype and doesn’t hesitate to steal your diamonds while she does so. Yet the series doesn’t take away her emotional core while crafting her strength of character and it is in that regard especially that she stands out. So often strong female characters are handed a weapon but stripped of their personality and their emotionl being, so to see River’s well-rounded character never be sacrificed for one aspect of her character for another is extremely refreshing. It only makes her impending death that much more heartbreaking. After a full season of trying to avert the consequences of death, the Doctor accepts them. The emotional gamut of River and the Doctor’s final night together (albeit a twenty-four year one) is immensely powerful, immensely significant in their respect and in their love. It’s a beautiful swan song to one of the show’s most loving, caring relationships and a fitting end to one of the Doctor’s most tumultuous journeys yet. See you all next year for series ten.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+”Carol singers will be criticized.”
+“Yeah, my back’s playing up. It simply refuses to carry the weight of an entirely pointless stratum of society who contribute nothing of worth to the world and crush the hopes and dreams of working people.”
+“I’m Professor River Song. You have an ancient artifact of great value to good people, and whatever it takes, I’m going to bring it home to them. You have stolen so much from so many, King Hydroflax, and I’m the woman who’s going to steal it all back.”
+“Do not harm her! If you know what’s good for you, do not lay a finger on that woman!”
+“Oh, zip it.”
+“I haven’t laughed in a long time.”
+“I’ve already picked out your swimwear.”
+“Does sarcasm help?”
“It would be a great universe if it did!”
+“It’s the easiest lie you can tell a man. They’ll automatically believe any story they’re the hero of.”
+“Oh, it’s my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on a spaceship.”
+“You don’t expect a sunrise to admire you back!”
+“Nothing is protected like money.”
+The Singing Towers
+“I’ve been doing it longer!”
“I do it better!”
+Giving the diamond away
+“Nothing’s ever just the wind.”
+“No, I don’t. Not always. Times end, River, because they have to. Because there’s no such thing as happy ever after. It’s just a lie we tell ourselves because the truth is so hard.”
+“No, Doctor, you’re wrong. Happy ever after doesn’t mean forever. It just means time. A little time. But that’s not the sort of thing you could ever understand, is it?
You can’t expect a monolith to love you back.”
Episode Title: The Husbands of River Song
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Douglas Mackinnon
Image Courtesy: BBC America