Friday, January 8, 2016

One Moment Guts Steven Moffat's Most Enduring Work In "The Husbands Of River Song."

The Good: Actor chemistry, Humor, Plot progression
The Bad: Details, Guts the character of River Song
The Basics: Steven Mofatt doesn't know how to keep his own creations cool in "The Husbands Of River Song."

There are some people who become so big in their industry that no one has the heart to call truth to their power. Studios bank on these big named directors/executive producers on the idea that the successes they had have created a fan base that is so indiscriminate as to make any future works they have successful. Take, for example, J.J. Abrams. Abrams has become so big that the sycophants who surround him would not point out that the physics of Kirk kicking the engine component in Star Trek Into Darkness (reviewed here!) make no real-world sense or that Poe Dameron's jacket remaining in the TIE Fighter in The Force Awakens (reviewed here!) is a ridiculous conceit (or the lack of lighting of the star destroyer or the fact that R2-D2 wakes up when there is no factor that he is exposed to that has changed - i.e. he has met BB-8 before and Luke Skywalker's lightsaber is proximate). Abrams either becomes overwhelmed at his level that he misses understanding that which he is creating or he hopes that fans will just think it is "cool" and not notice the glaring problems in his work. Steven Moffat has become the same way with Doctor Who and nowhere is that more evident than in "The Husbands Of River Song."

"The Husbands Of River Song" is the latest Christmas episode of Doctor Who and while it is a fun episode, it is incredibly unsatisfying for anyone who has fallen in love with the character of River Song. The irony here is that writer (and now executive producer) Steven Moffat created River Song, so he established and developed the conceits of the character. In "The Husbands Of River Song," Moffat manages to utterly destroy the potential that existed for fans in the character of River Song. And I'm dealing with that up front because I generally enjoyed "The Husbands Of River Song." Alas, though, the one detail - which Moffat included! - gutted much of the episode for me.

Steven Moffat introduced River Song in "Silence In The Library" and in that episode's immediate follow-up, he concluded the journey of River Song. River Song had a diary and that diary has a prominent place in "The Husbands Of River Song." "The Husbands Of River Song" is explicitly a follow-up on "The Angels Take Manhattan" and works hard to set up "Silence In The Library." In "The Husbands Of River Song," River Song meets Peter Capaldi's Doctor for the first time and is of the firm mindset that The Doctor only has twelve faces. The reason these two interacting facts completely gut much of the power of River Song is this: virtually all of River Song's adventures have occurred and they happened with Matt Smith's incarnation of The Doctor. To make explicit: if River Song interacted with future Doctors, she would not have believed that The Doctor only had twelve faces. If River has future adventures with Peter Capaldi's Doctor - which is a possibility - they happen in chronological order (River Song's journal is written chronologically for her life). In other words, the vast bulk of River Song's adventures where she is plucked out of time and space to interact with the Doctor, which filled most of her journal, had to happen with Matt Smith's Doctor. For those of us who were excited by the potential of seeing the many adventures of The Doctor and River Song, it is somewhat frustrating to know most of them already happened and we were not privy to them.

Beyond that, "The Husbands Of River Song" is a fun adventure episode that infuses a lot of humor into a season mired by terrible and oppressive conceits.

Opening at the human clony of Mendorax Dellora on Christmas Day in 5343, Nardole finds the TARDIS and brings The Doctor to a crashed flying saucer to try to save the life of one of its passengers. Nardole mistakes The Doctor for a surgeon and he brings The Doctor to the flying saucer. There The Doctor meets River Song, who does not recognize him, and needs a surgeon to save the life of her husband. The Doctor is alarmed to learn that River Song is married to King Hydroflax, not some incarnation of himself. King Hydroflax is a cyborg and he has a diamond embedded in his head, which is slowly killing him. River Song wants to steal the diamond and to do that, she and The Doctor run off with King Hydroflax's head!

Pursued by King Hydroflax's body, The Doctor and River Song attempt to use the TARDIS to escape. With The Doctor as River's Companion, River takes the TARDIS and the head to a space vessel in the Andromeda Galaxy filled with some of the universes's worst villains to sell the diamond!

"The Husbands Of River Song" has some moments that are powerful and fun. When River Song delivers her monologue on The Doctor, it is impressive and Alex Kingston delivers the lines perfectly. Her soliloqy is beautiful and one of the best River Song moments. Sadly, it is in an episode filled with terrible conceits that make no sense. "The Husbands Of River Song" utilizes a ridiculous conceit about the TARDIS - that it cannot take off when part of a body is both inside and outside the vessel - that has already been demonstrably disproven; to accept this conceit, the TARDIS could not have left Earth after "The Christmas Invasion" (reviewed here!) because The Doctor's hand was both inside and outside the vessel! None of this is Kingston's problem. River Song is given great lines and is funny in "The Husbands Of River Song."

As many fans have hoped, Alex Kingston and Peter Capaldi have amazing on-screen chemistry in "The Husbands Of River Song." Capaldi plays The Doctor with the perfect mix of sullen and carefree. The Doctor is irked, but not vengeful in "The Husbands Of River Song," which is a nice transition for him from the last few episodes in this season of Doctor Who. Capaldi and Kingston have wonderful comic timing to make scenes like The Doctor and River Song improvising to survive encounter aboard the starliner.

"The Husbands Of River Song" climaxes sweetly, as well, reminding viewers why they wanted to see The Doctor and River Song together again. Can there be more adventures between The Doctor and River Song? Absolutely and it would be wonderful if she became the new Companion for The Doctor. But the idea that the vast majority of River Song's adventures with The Doctor are already done or would not be out of order (and still make any real sense) is disappointing.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Ninth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!

For other works with Matt Lucas, please check out my reviews of:

Alice In Wonderland


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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