Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sami on The Husbands of River Song - The 2015 Doctor Who Christmas Special


The Doctor Who Christmas Special airs every year on Christmas, even on BBCAm!

I'm...not sure how to take this year's special.

It sort of made me miss the specials of old, where they were tethered to the Earth and there was actual Christmas involved, and they'd set up some crazy hook at the end of the last episode of the season and it somehow turns out to be fine when the special comes around.

This year, the Doctor gets mistaken for a regular doctor, and finds himself in the middle of one of River's plots, and it all goes pear shaped, repeatedly. Like, all of it. She's married to a dictator who is dying and needs healing, but she really just wants the diamond that's trapped inside his head, but maybe she actually wants to liberate the jewel for the people? And she's also married to her partner in crime. And she also is still married to the Doctor, but here at almost the end of her life--the journal he gave her is almost full--she seems to honestly think that even though she's actually in love with him, she has no hope that he's in love with her, and she knows she can't actually count on him?

Like.

There were some awesome moments. River is always fun when she's talking, and Alex Kingston handles the whiplashing switches between fast-talking plan-making and deep emotional truth well, as always. The Doctor gets to be the one who "does it right" when he supposedly first sees the inside of the Tardis. We finally get the Singing Towers and River finally gets her own sonic. And that outfit-changing spray was pretty neat. The brief reversal of who's the Doctor and who's the Companion was fun. And the Tardis trying to cheer up the Doctor with holographic antlers was probably my favorite part of the whole episode*!

But...

I don't know what I'm supposed to take away from this episode? That River is a terrible person when the Doctor isn't around? That the Doctor is a terrible person for neglecting his wife? That they'll never work together but they always keep trying? That River's life started out crazy and ends sad no matter how many directions we come at it?

I don't buy that River Song, created to know everything about the Doctor, wouldn't have figured out who Twelve is when he was specifically telling her who he was. If she doesn't, she's an idiot, and she's never been an idiot. I also don't buy that late-life River is only good when the Doctor is looking at her, and his very presence changes her from a sociopathic thief to an actual archaeologist. Those were sort of important plot points, so the whole episode gets a little squishy when I can't believe those two parts.

I like that River was never really husband-shamed, and mostly they didn't seem to care that they were all her husbands so much as they were upset that she was keeping things from them. And I liked that the Doctor and River were together again for another adventure. It's nice that she got a life with him for a while before that trip to the Library when we know she dies before he knows who she is, and we know she comes back as the Doctor Who equivalent of a Force Ghost in that one Eleven episode, but knowing that sort of saddens the happiness of her last days. And it leaves the whole story sort of emotionally up in the air. Usually, River Song stories are ambiguous but cool; this one was ambiguous and a little unsettling, and did a lot of work to bring what we know of her personality and her purpose into doubt without being all that concerned with pinning anything down. If this is her last story, which it feels like it's meant to be, and especially coming after the previous drawing-out with Eleven of her story, it just feels...emotionally un-closed.

And so I keep turning it around in my head. Trying to make it fit. The airing I saw came on right after the rerun of the 50th anniversary special, which was so good and hit so many right notes, and I think that made the weird notes The Husband of River Song hit feel even weirder. What was the purpose of this story? What was the point it was trying to make?

If I figure it out, I'll write up another post on it.

What did you guys think of it? Did I miss some vital chord that made it all make sense? Share in the comments, or come talk to me on Twitter!

*Shame it was in the first three minutes of screen time.
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