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Saturday, 26 December 2015

Doctor Who S35 X-Mas Special: The Husbands of River Song

Doctor Who
S35 X-Mas Special:
The Husbands of River Song.

To be honest, I would have been perfectly happy without a Christmas Special. Doctor Who's Christmas Specials are never its strongest episodes, tending to feel more like slightly rushed filler put out to fill a need, and that's been true ever since New Who has started. This one, which sees the return of River Song and a headless suit of techno-armour.

Arriving on a colony world, the Doctor is quickly grabbed by a man who believes him to be a surgeon. Taken to a ship, he discovers River, now the wife of intergalactic conqueror King Hydroflax, wants the Doctor to remove a rare diamond lodged in his brain. It quickly comes out that River is quite happy for the Doctor to simply take his head, as she wants to sell the diamond on the black market. Getting his head, which is still alive, the two flee from Hydroflax's body, a sapient suit of armour intent on getting its head back.

I'm not really sure what there is to say about this episode. If you've seen any Christmas special of Doctor Who, you will know exactly what's coming, because it is standard Christmas special fare, which is to say that it's not really fun or enjoyable or engaging. 

Long suffering sigh.

There is a single joke throughout the episode, and that is Steven Moffat elbowing you in the ribs and going "Women, am I right? Can't live with 'em, can't murder 'em without going to prison, eh? Eh? Eh?" At this point, it's a joke Moffat has made so many times across so many different shows that I can no longer be offended by it. It's just there, like a red-faced uncle telling the same offensive joke every time you see him: It was offensive, once, and now it's just like white noise.

In many ways, River is the accumulation of all of Moffat's weird views on women, as he attempts - truly, genuinely, bravely attempts - to write a strong female character but finds himself unable to write anything more than a bizarre jumbling together of 'the wife' cliches. In many ways, this has never been more true than it has been in this episode, which as mentioned before, is basically just an hour of Moffat leering at you and hissing "Women, am I right?" at regular intervals.

There's not much else to talk about. Hydroflax seems to be intended as a comedic villain, but he's never actually funny, and the head becomes a non-entity part of the way through the episode, leaving the less comedic but nonetheless extremely unintimidating armour as the main villain for the episode. The plot turns are predictable, the pacing poor, and in slower moments the episode tends to try and spice itself up with some gross-out moments, such as a man peeling off half his face - but it never really provokes any kind of audience reaction other than dull acknowledgement that it happened. 

Oh, and Matt Lucas is in this episode.

Towards the end, we have the painful 'Moffat's trying to be meaningful' sequence, which now seems to be a staple of every episode he writes and mostly involves the Doctor intoning functionally meaningless, cliche-riddled sentences while someone stares up at him, eyes shining with tears, and so on, and so forth. After about a minute of it, I just tuned it out, because honestly, what else was I meant to do at that point.

If having River back really added anything to her storyline, maybe I would have looked a little more kindly on this episode, but it didn't. Of course it didn't: Her storyline was over and done with, finished, she'd been given a passable send-off. Digging her up just so that you'd have an old face to hinge a Christmas Special around was a strange move, one that would never work out, and the justification that 'well, we needed some kind of companion' feels lackadaisical: You've created single episode companions before, guys, you could have done so again.

In the interests of something approaching balance, I will say that Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston both put on good performances. They're about the only people who did, and the best performances in the world would not have saved this episode, but nevertheless, they were both on form in this episode.


I think the biggest thing I can say about this episode is that it's not offensively terrible. This isn't the Zygon two-parter, it's just a kind of bland, filler-ish episode where Moffat sobs over how all women are terrible for the fiftieth time. It's there, to be enjoyed or not as you like, and it doesn't really warrant any particular reaction beyond mild distaste. Presumably, we'll be seeing Doctor Who back next year - dear god, please let it be Moffat's last series - with a new companion and some new storylines, so that will - be a thing, I guess.

I suppose I'll do that as an ongoing, but I'll see how I feel closer to the time.

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