Another year, another Doctor Who Christmas special. Fortunately, this year’s special was more focused on the characters than it was the novelty of it being Christmas somewhere in the universe. This year’s Christmas special saw the return of River Song and her first encounter with the Twelfth Doctor.
The closest that this episode of Doctor Who got to Christmas was the opening scene set in a wintery town where the buildings were adorned in Christmas lights. Well, that and the TARDIS’s sign saying that carolers would be criticized. Considering that Moffat’s Christmas specials with Eleven were feel-good Christmas romps rather than meaningful stories, the lack of Christmas on this episode was not a problem.
The Husbands of River Song was focused on the first meeting between Twelve and River. There was an interesting little contrast that the titular husbands of River Song gave to The Doctors who have played alongside Alex Kingston. While Eleven played goofy and lovey-dovey with River, Twelve got to play coy and flirty. I suppose that the difference illustrated both actors strengths. Matt Smith plays manic well while Peter Capaldi plays witty and sarcastic rather than physical humour. Though I suppose if they just had different characters playing the same character each time, it would be a far less interesting show.
The premise of The Husbands of River Song is looking at what River is up to when she’s not hanging out with The Doctor. Most of the humour of the episode is based on the fact that River either hasn’t met The Doctor this late in his life prior to this. At one point, she pulls out all twelve previous faces of the Doctor so River’s fallen in love with The Doctor, just not this one. Twelve will make hints that he’s The Doctor but River is completely oblivious to the fact that he’s The Doctor until the end of the episode.
We don’t get a wibbly-wobbly plot to let us get some insight into River. However, it sure looked like the story was going that way for most of the episode. It was a nice play on when The Doctor (Ten, to be precise) first meets River at the end of her life. For most of the episode, we’re to believe that this might be the first meeting of The Doctor and River in her timeline.
It was played as a poetic send-off to River Song. There seemed to be so much potential to explore the River Song character through time in its most wibbly-wobbly sense. Instead, River and The Doctor’s relationship was almost Bootstrap Paradoxed into existence. He met her at her end when she had already been in love with him for years but we never really saw him do that with her. Most tragically, we may never see Capaldi and Kingston get any more time opposite each other and I think they would play off each other magically.
The final third of the episode seemed as though this might be the last time we see River Song. I’d have to imagine this is either Alex Kingston being too busy to make frequent enough appearances for the character or it’s Steven Moffat admitting that his time at the helm of Doctor Who is short. In the switch from Davies to Moffat, we haven’t seen many secondary characters return. If Moffat is leaving soon, this could be his way of closing her story. Hopefully that hypothesis isn’t accurate because there are plenty of good years that they can get out of Twelve.
If there was one massive miss in this episode, it was that it didn’t really address Clara’s death (again) from the season finale. After Rose’s (occasional) banishment to an alternate universe, you could see how that drove Ten’s actions in Runaway Bride. Here, Twelve was focused on River rather than Clara. I suppose that makes sense to an extent but I don’t think it did The Doctor’s character development much good when he’s going to end up dealing with that with the new companion next season.
Overall, I thought this was a pretty good episode. It certainly wasn’t as great as most of the episodes from the previous season of Doctor Who but the Christmas Special is generally lighter fare, even when it’s being used to advance the plot of the show. I suppose when you’re trying to play to a wider audience with this episode, sacrifices have to be made when comparing it to what regular watchers are looking for from an episode.
Other random points of note:
- Most people who sing Christmas carols deserve their criticism.
- I think Moffat has become self-aware. He’s seen your complaints about the Sonic Sunglasses and raised you a Sonic Trowel. I still think David Morrisey’s “Doctor” had the best screwdriver.
- Did you know that River Song hasn’t appeared in an episode in two-and-a-half years? She’s also been featured in 13 of Eleven’s 44 episodes. If you include the two episodes she was in but not as a companion, that’s more appearances with Eleven than Clara (12).
And that wraps up Doctor Who for several months. We don’t know who the new companion will be for the new season. Capaldi and Moffat are back for this year but we don’t know how long they’re still signed on for. I imagine we’ll find out a lot between now and the likely debut of the next season in September.