Some light spoilers for the 2015 Dr. Who Christmas episode, “The Husbands of River Song” below. If you haven’t seen THoRS, it is available for a few more days on the BBC website, and it will be available on DVD on February 23 of this year.
Something I absolutely love in comics and television is the continuity of longer character arcs. When writers break (or ignore) continuity or leave gaping plot holes, it always leaves me with an unsettling sense of dis-satisfaction – as if some bit of balance is off in the universe. Or maybe I (with my moon in Libra) am just a tad too obsessed with said need for balance, but really when a show maintains solid continuity it shows excellence on the writers and show-runners. Not only do they prove they are paying attention, but they also recognize that the fans are paying attention.
I have plenty of problems with the way Dr. Who has gone under Moffat’s reign, but one thing that has honestly been breaking my heart has been a lack of closure with River Song’s arc. The emergence of her ghost/consciousness in the “Time of the Doctor” was not enough because I felt they still had so many more adventures to have together. I mean, if we are to believe the depth of their love – that the Doctor would reveal his name to her – then why don’t we actually get to see some of that romance?
Especially poignant for me was the lack of seeing their last date together, the one River speaks of right before her death in Series 4:
The last time I saw you-the real you, the future you, I mean- you turned up on my doorstep with a new haircut and a suit. You took me to Darillium to see the Singing Towers. Oh, what a night that was. The Towers sang, and you cried. You wouldn’t tell me why. But I suppose you knew it was time- my time, time to come to the library. You even gave me your screwdriver. That should have been a clue.
Ever since they brought in River as a recurring character, I wanted to see the Doctor, in a state of vulnerability and love, taking River on that tragic date knowing it would be the last time he ever saw her. I wanted to hold Moffat to his words and see the Doctor with a haircut, new suit and crying at the Singing Towers.
Well, Moffat surely delivered on this one! Not only did we get treated to their last date, we got to see what River is like when she doesn’t think the Doctor is around. We also got to experience the chemistry between Capaldi and Kingston, which was a fantastic treat! Of course the Doctor would be putting this date off, and of course he wouldn’t let it happen until they actually crash-landed on Darillium.
It was tragic and lovely all at once and had more of the drama and character development I had expected (and missed) of the Russell T. Davies era. It also featured a great deal of welcomed levity, with genuinely funny jokes written in. Some of my favs were the Doctor finding out that River often steals the T.A.R.D.I.S. and returns it without him noticing, the Doctor being jealous, and the (faked) auctioning off of Hydroflax’s head.
It also stood out from most other Xmas episodes, which usually turn out to be rather saccharine with cheesy Xmas themes. Many of these specials are also one-offs, but this was more canonical.
Aside from River story, the episode also departed from Dr. Who’s norm on another front; the climactic “save” wasn’t about saving a planet, the universe, or even that spaceship, it was about River and the Doctor saving themselves. And, for once, they let the people just die. Of course, it was the worst people in the galaxy – mass murderers and creators of genocides – that they allowed to die, but still.
The 10th Doctor probably would have died trying to save the ship full of people. But this Doctor has a clearer conscious since he knows that Gallifrey was saved.
(Yes, I am aware that the Doctor in Series 1 through the end of 7 was a person who committed genocide on his own people.)
“The Husbands of River Song” gives me hope that Doctor Who can still be a great show, after so many narrative struggles over the last few seasons. I just hope this is a sign of what is to come in series 10. Let’s hold out hope for a rock-solid new companion that actually has good chemistry with Capaldi, and some vigorous stories to come. Since this will also be Moffat’s last year as showrunner (Chris Chinball will be taking over), I am hoping he will keep it tighter, and hopefully write more episodes with the gravity of this one. Episode writing IS where Moffat shines brightest after all.
Did you see THoRS? What did you think?