Tuesday, December 29, 2015
My Review of Doctor Who's 9x13: "The Husbands Of River Song"
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
The Doctor: "Hello sweetie."
River: "You are so doing those roots."
On a list of unexpected things to happen in Peter Capaldi's era of Doctor Who, I actually thought that River Song showing up in a Christmas episode was one of them. It felt like her story had naturally wrapped up during the events of The Name Of The Doctor but between Clara finally exiting the show and the new companion yet to be revealed, a stopgap was needed and this was certainly a fun enough one to be had.
Let's get the immediate negatives out of the way first though - the story itself is thin. Painfully thin. It revolved largely around River marrying an annoying robotic dictator named King Hydroflax (Greg Davies putting in an okay but hardly memorable performance) just so she could retrieve some diamond (called a Halassi Androvar) that she'd later sell to the highest bidder all while spending most of the episode not realising the surgeon she hired for one husband was actually her other husband with a totally new regeneration cycle and so on.
It's amusing enough and allowed for some decent comedy, though it's a little over half the episode before River actually realises that she's in fact travelling with the Doctor but before then he's getting a crash course into how much of a bad girl his wife can be when she doesn't realise that he's right by her side.
Moffat seems like the idea of some of his female characters being bad and while River's attitude towards murdering Hydroflax is pretty cavalier at times, it's still not quite as dark as it could've been. Hydroflax isn't sympathetic or threatening enough to really care about as a character or antagonist and his eventual death is literally down to his own body betraying him than River actually committing the deed.
On the villain scale, it's actually the rather odd looking Flemming that had more potency as a baddie but even he wasn't given too much screen time to truly engage with. Keeping with the limited screen time, both Matt Lucas and Phillip Rhys are similarly underused as the predictably comic assistant Nardole and River's other spouse, Ramone. It's a shame but in some ways, perhaps the underuse of the guest actors was intentional for the overall excellent dynamic between this particular Doctor and his wife.
The episode's biggest strength is the chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston and the pair of them have it in spades. In some ways it's almost a shame that this might be the only time that River will appear in Capaldi's era but as a final look into the character, despite the iffy main threat, this kind of works as a swansong.
There's enough flirting to satisfy Moffat's writing prose, fun banter between the Doctor and River but more importantly, after so much talk about it, their trip to Darillium is finally realised onscreen and it's rather beautiful to watch. There's a slight contradiction to a minisode on the Series 6 DVD but overall, I really do like that we finally got to see this moment as it's pretty perfect and overall ended the episode on a lovely note.
Also in "The Husbands Of River Song"
Alex Kingston finally got her name in the opening credits and they were given the Christmassy treatment as well.
The Doctor: "Do I know you?"
River: "You most certainly do not."
River's sonic trowel looked utterly ridiculous on screen, especially compared to the sonic she was later given by the Doctor.
The Doctor (re Hydroflax): "You're talking about murdering someone."
River: "No, I'm not. I'm actually murdering someone. Cheer up, get a saw."
River: "It's a little bit bit sexy."
The Doctor: "Why is everything sexy now?"
Keeping with spouses, River has also had two wives and was married to Stephen Fry as well as the Doctor being married to Cleopatra.
The Doctor (to River, re TARDIS): "My entire understanding of physical space has been transformed."
Flemming (to River): "Is the gentleman here for dinner?"
The Doctor: "Yes, he is."
The Doctor's reaction to the TARDIS - well, Peter Capaldi certainly gave that moment the right amount of welly it needed, didn't he?
The Doctor (re himself): "He sounds awful."
River: "I suppose he is. I never really thought about it."
River (to Flemming): "You should know, I have a significant history of escaping."
I liked the references to past Doctors in this episode and I even liked that Clara's exit had no real focus here too, which made sense.
River: "He's the Doctor. He doesn't go around falling in love with people and if you think he's anything that small, or that ordinary, then you haven't the first idea of what you're dealing with."
River: "That's Darillium."
The Doctor: "Always good to know where we're going."
No news about Series 10 has been revealed. Come on, BBC - tell us something now. I think audiences have waited long enough at this rate.
The Doctor: "Those are the singing towers, aren't they?"
Alphonse: "Yes sir, but it's just the wind."
Standout music: The use of "Hark, The Angels Sing" at the start of the episode and some older music from Murray Gold used throughout.
The Doctor: "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."
River: "No, Doctor, you're wrong. Happy ever after doesn't mean forever... it just means time. Little time. But that's not the sort of thing you could ever understand, is it?"
Chronology: 5343 in Mendorax Dellora for most of this episode, then Darillium towards the end. Notice the use of Trap Street during a certain moment too?
For a Christmas episode, we've had stronger ones than The Husbands Of River Song and we've had worse ones too. I do think that maybe the Hydroflax plot could've been scrapped with more focus on Darillium but the lighter tone was welcomed after the predominantly darker ninth series and both Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston played off each other so well.
Rating: 7 out of 10