|Courtesy of the BBC|
And during Moffat's tenure on the series, more often then not, they have tended to be an excuse for prattling nonsense, a good chance to have a ridiculous laugh whilst the audience wears paper crowns and digests. And so it is with The Husbands of River Song, an excuse to have a robot hilarious cleave the heads off flunkies, get the flirt machine revving again between Alex Kingston and her leading man, and to give an earnest and heart felt send off to a character whose time on the show has been as inconsistent as... well, anything else during Moffat's time running things.
Hit the jump for the brief review, which contains spoilers that have only these faces, no more, no less.
River Song has earned her place in the history of Doctor Who. Even before this episode, marking her as one of the few characters (Sarah Jane and The Brig among them) to interact with more than two regenerations of the Doctor. But the... ambitiousness of her being, the very fabric of her character's narrative structure was a bold direction for Moffat to take, and nine ties out of ten, I applauded it. Writers should be ambitious, and challenge themselves. And few shows have the ability to play with the literal chronological order of two characters interactions. A character like River now seems like an inevitability, despite the fact that the show managed nearly fifty years without introducing one. Where River faltered was in, as always, the exceedingly messy backstory that Moffat kept adding to her. Rather than just have her be someone the Doctor keeps bumping into, she became Someone Special. Because in Moffat's worlds, no one can just be someone, they have to be Someone, and those Someones have to be Special.
What salvages River in comparison to other companions like Amy or especially Clara is that I never got the sense that Moffat fell in love with her. Ironic, considering her role in the Doctors life. And maybe it was a consequence of killing her from the start, he knew exactly how she ended and couldn't back away from that. Adding in some Time Lord biology might have been an attempt, but her first story was pretty definitively her last, thus limiting the amount he could invest in her. It also no doubt helped that she was recurring rather than regular. Meaning that we never had to know absolutely everything about her. Relating her to Amy seems... unnecessary, but Moffat doesn't know the meaning of the word (seriously, I don't think he understands what it means, because he clearly has no handle on how to avoid it).
River's adventure, by design, tend to be boisterous and sensational. She's a 1930's adventure serial topped up with flirtatious sexuality and a lot of frizzy hair. She and Buck Rogers would get into drinking contests together. And at the centre of each of her appearances is a nugget of cold emotional truth, usually a consequence of the distance between her and the Doctor. Her death, her final kiss, her loosing Amy. But her love story with the Doctor has always been tragic, if only because it can never be a proper love story. The few times that it ventured overtly close, like in the appalling sixth series finale, it ran less true than when she and Smith just traded overly flirtatious barbs at one another. The consequence being, she never had the emotional break down that the character deserved. That and Moffat always seemed skittish to revisit any period close to her death. Until now. Comments he made last season regarding Vastra and her ilk suggest that Moffat had run out of interest in revisiting those characters, and since Song's relationship and chemistry was entirely built on Smith's performance, it seemed unlikely that River would ever reappear. And after this, I expect that this story is River's swan song.
So, after a lot of headless dictators and angry robots and another crashing starliner (seriously, what is the obsession these writers have with crashing starliners at Christmas This is what, the fourth?) and general Christmas shenanigans, the episode's purpose and worth came in the closing moments, as River and the Doctor finally have the romance that they've been flirting about all this time. River comes to the dawning conclusion that her diary is about to end, and the Doctor finally acts his age and gives the woman he loves a synchronized piece of his time. A final (long) night together before they each return to their adventures and out of each other's lives. It was closure sorely needed, if only because Moffat seems so adverse to absolute closure. Certainly, on a show renowned for its open-endedness, absolute closure isn't always called for. But River isn't a character that will stick with the show for the next fifty years, just as Captain Jack wasn't. These are finite characters despite their dispositions because they are defined by the actors who play them. Unlike Jack though, River got her final bow. And as a fan of the ambitiousness of the design of her character, I appreciated that.
Though, that being said, and maybe this is ageist of me, but I thought Kingston and Capaldi made for much more believable and appropriate sparring partners than she and Smith ever did. Certainly, she and Smith had their rhythms, but I bought the idea of their romance considerably more with Capaldi than with Smith. Considering this was the first time they worked together, chalk that up to a win for the writing, but the chemistry was there. Part of me wishes we'd have had more time with River and the Dozenth Doctor, her brash, swashbuckling ways prickling against his harsh Scottishness. Of the fun they could have had together. Will have had. Are having. Damn tenses.