This was a tough Christmas special for me. I’m behind on watching Doctor Who, so I’m almost done with series 8 but haven’t seen series 9 at all. The Christmas episodes usually aren’t too dependent on prior knowledge, but this one did raise basic questions for me, say, about Clara’s absence. (I think I saw a spoiler she’s dead??? I don’t really know, though.) I also never liked River Song as a character, so I wasn’t too thrilled to see an entire episode, an entire super special Christmas episode focused entirely on her. I watched this one with some reluctance, and was almost relieved to end feeling bland about it rather than frustrating or angry.
I was primarily disappointed that the episode didn’t particularly seem Christmas-y. There are some decorated houses in the opening scenes, and the show ends with the Doctor and River celebrating Christmas at a restaurant, but these were setting details and completely irrelevant to the plot and even the atmosphere. The story could have been set during Halloween or Easter or Valentine’s Day and there wouldn’t be much of a difference. I know Wilf’s Christmas spirit is hard to live up to, but I’d like to see some of the newer specials try.
Plot-wise, I think the episode was also unremarkable. I watched with some friends who were playing games at the same time and basically just checking in. When they asked me roughly twenty minutes into the special, “Is there actually a plot here?” I had to answer no. The whole thing about the cyborg king was, again, primarily background. Moffat obviously wanted to focus on the Doctor’s and River’s relationship here and seemed to throw in a monster because it was expected. The idea of the self-acting cyborg body was interesting, but I wasn’t wowed by it the way I was by villains in episodes like “The Next Doctor.” I suppose the head of the cyborg was made laughable rather than scary or awe-inspiring to break the tension of the Doctor’s and River’s sadness.
Though, when it comes to the relationship, I’ve already revealed I’m not invested. I never was, since River was introduced to the show, and this episode didn’t change my mind. I did not find River quite as annoying as usual, but I also thought Alex Kingston was playing her differently. She was trying to be pushy and bold and glamorous, but it didn’t come across the way it usually does. I haven’t made up my mind if that was intentional acting, since River was supposed to be sad in this episode, or not.
I did find it interesting to see a softer side to the Doctor (this Doctor), as well. I’m not sure if that’s something he developed throughout series 9, since in series 8 he’s still, inexplicably, walking around callously watching people die without caring. I thought that was out of character for the Doctor since Peter Capaldi’s introduction, and I’d love to see it change. For me, the Doctor is characterized by his concern for life, and it’s a shame that was thrown away in series 8.
“The Husbands of River Song” was mostly a boring experience for me, which is a disappointing reaction to a show I look forward to watching all year, but it does give me hope that the show is going in a direction I will like.
What did you think of the episode?