Monday, July 25, 2016

Christmas in July: Doctor Who Christmas Special 2015: "The Husbands of River Song"

“I think I’m going to need a bigger flow chart.”
-The Doctor

Since we won’t be getting new episodes of “Doctor Who” until 2017 (as well as the end of Moffat’s time at the helm), we thought we would cover the 2015 Christmas Special for “Christmas in July”. Overall, this was a really fun episode and ranks in the top two for “Docor Who” Christmas specials, the number one still being “The Christmas Invasion”. But given how the rest of series 9 played out, this little gem was quite the surprise come Christmas Day. It was refreshing to have a Christmas special with a more upbeat tone.

Much like “Christmas Invasion”, “The Husbands of River Song” started out and on Christmas but had little to do with the holiday other than seeing some holiday decorations around. The Doctor lands on a planet and is immediately accosted by a little alien, wanting to know if he’s the surgeon. There’s some confusion as to who the Doctor is, but he goes along with it. And whom should he run into but the ever snarky Professor River Song. She’s undercover (sort of), and she has no idea that he’s the Doctor. Apparently she only knew his original eleven (twelve if you count the War Doctor) regenerations. River has “married” a dying tyrant king, King Hydroflax, and she needs a surgeon to help her remove a very expensive diamond from his head. Definitely not what the Doctor signed up for.

In a series of great physical comedy bits, River and the Doctor take off with the king’s head and make a beeline for the TARDIS. The Doctor, playing along that River doesn’t recognize him, gets to have great fun acting out the “it’s bigger on the inside” moment most companions have when they first meet him. It also appears River has married some adorable little hunk, Ramon, as well. So she’s got three husbands at this point. The robot body that King Hydroflax’s head was attached to is independent of the head and ends up collecting people’s heads who know River and where she might have gone. Our duo ends up on a cruise ship that is run by and only for mass murderers and other such criminals. Unfortunately, things get really dicey when the robot shows up demanding to have the diamond back. It takes nearly dying and a really impassioned speech for River to realize that the man she loves has been standing in the thick of it with her this whole time. They make a quick escape, and then the TARDIS lands just beyond the wreckage by the Singing Towers of Darillium. As any good Whovian knows, this is the last place and time River sees the Doctor before she goes to the Library (and her death). The Doctor plans to make the most of this time together but it shouldn’t be that bad seeing as a single night on Darillium is 24 years.

The best thing about this episode was the chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston as the Twelfth Doctor and River. They are two very experienced actors who are having fun working together and giving the material all they’ve got. Their comic timing is a delight to watch. It’s an interesting contrast to River and the Eleventh Doctor, who appeared much more frequently together. River always clearly seemed to have the upper hand in that relationship, immediately moving in and taking over in her episodes. The Doctor should always be the smartest person in the room (otherwise the episode isn’t quite as fun), and when River was around, he wasn’t. River and Twelve are much more evenly matched. They both participate in getting each other out of the many predicaments in which they find themselves throughout the episode. It probably has something to do with the more evenly matched experience between the actors.

That being said, it seemed that whenever we saw River with the Eleventh Doctor, she did in fact have the upper hand in their relationship. She knew where he was headed and what they’d already shared so she could just take control, knowing he would get to a place eventually where they might be equals.She was always confident in who she was and how she fit into the Doctor’s life. But in this episode, we see her lay her feelings bare for the robot body, proclaiming that she loves the Doctor with all she is but she can’t possibly conceive that he would be able to love her back. It was such a painfully emotional moment for her, and maybe it came out because she didn’t realize the Doctor was there with her. No matter the reason, it was very intriguing to see River in such a different light, in a bit of a role reversal from how we’d seen her previously.

Really, in this episode, the plot itself was secondary. King Hydroflax was a rather generic villain, although his penchant for absorbing people’s heads did lead to some awkwardly humorous moments. There wasn’t much nuance to him - he basically just wanted your standard-issue power and wealth. He served as a vehicle to greater explore the relationship between River and the Doctor. This episode was really about the Doctor and River and their history. Especially because this episode takes place near the end of River’s timeline. We’ve known since she first met the Tenth Doctor in Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead that viewing the Singing Towers of Darillium would be the last adventure she would share with the Doctor before her fateful trip to the Library. It was nice (albeit somewhat bittersweet) to see this episode bring that history full circle, letting us see that event actually play out. Now if we could have seen those 24 years they spent together, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, as long as they kept up the great chemistry we saw in this episode.

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