Saturday, 9 January 2016

A bit of a late review, this… When I watched the episode on Christmas Day, I’d had a drink or four, and so my opinion based on that viewing probably wouldn’t be very valuable. Then I got busy with other Christmas stuff, then my Wi-Fi broke… long story short, I’ve only just got around to a rewatch.

On my first, drunken viewing, I quite enjoyed The Husbands of River Song. On second, sober viewing… yeah. I quite enjoyed it. It’s a fun, jokey adventure romp, suitable Christmas Day viewing – probably more suitable for the festive season than last year’s better but darker Last Christmas. Some jokes land, some don’t. The enemies are there for comedy rather than serious threat. I liked the camp alien butler and his looks of disdain when the passengers couldn’t see him.

The plot, like many a Moffat script, feels like a series of ideas rather than a tightly structured piece of writing – a heist movie becomes a disaster movie becomes a festive romance. Some of the ideas are good, particularly visually – the guy with the money inside his head is nicely creepy, and the cruise full of genocidal murderers could even be a Douglas Adams idea – but none of them, the cruise in particular, feel played out to their full potential. It does feel that the passengers being killers is only there so it doesn’t matter when the ship crashes.

Let’s be clear on this, then – the purpose of the plot and the villains is purely to facilitate getting the Doctor and River in a room together, riffing off each other. That reunion is what this episode is about. And so repeat enjoyment of the episode depends on your tolerance for Steven Moffat’s trope of concentrating on the main characters’ relationships at the expense of supporting characters and plot depth.

Back in 2011, I was fed up of River Song by the end of series six – a good idea for a character ruined by messy plotting and by her personality revolving ever more around the Doctor. This was an interesting episode in terms of that last criticism, as the story, at least for the first half, allowed us to see River independent of the Doctor and doing what she does best, thus making her a little more enjoyable to watch (albeit obnoxious at times – her wiping her other husband’s memory is off-puttingly selfish). It also allows the great extended gag of her not recognising the Doctor, a clever twist on what we know about the characters which Moffat gleefully plays out to its full potential. Looks like Capaldi loved getting to do his own take on “it’s bigger on the inside”.

But the final act of the episode, once she realises who’s standing next to her, takes a very different turn. Though River’s speech about the Doctor not loving people (and its subsequent reversal) is Moffat’s fetishisation of the Doctor at its most annoying, even my River-cynical mind will admit that the final sequence, with the two of them having Christmas dinner overlooking the Singing Towers of Darillium, is a rather sweet ending. It’s nice, too, how well this fits in with both 2008's Silence in the Library and the 2011 minisode Last Night – especially given how little sense the rest of River’s storyline from 2011 made. Check out this neat fan edit of River’s two ‘endings’.

(And let’s ignore the blindingly stupid plot hole of “I know what happened to this ship, I dug it up” followed by, five minutes later, “This ship crashes on Darillium? Oh my god!”)

All in all, then, a fun adventure romp that, while nothing exceptional and falling prey to some of Moffat’s usual shortcomings, knew exactly what it needed to be, and then became an interesting and fitting addition to River Song’s timeline. One best watched after a festive tipple.

Oh, and a big tick for avoiding the Who cliché of mopey callbacks to recently departed companions – not a single Clara reference.


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