Doctor Who #973: The Husbands of River Song

"When you love the Doctor, it's like loving the stars themselves. You don't expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Dec.25 2015.

IN THIS ONE... The 12th Doctor meets River Song, but she doesn't recognize him.

REVIEW: I don't have a whole lot of use of the bouncy headless robot comedy that makes up the first two acts of this, Doctor Who's 10th Christmas episode (and yet shorter than Series 9's last two episodes), as it perhaps reminded me too much of the RTD era, but the last act is something truly special. The big joke in this silly caper that co-stars River Song is that River doesn't and can't recognize the 12th Doctor. She doesn't have his face on file, and is working from the notion that Time Lords have regenerative limits, and so no matter how many times he says he's "the Doctor", she'll be too obtuse to really get it, even if you see her be charmed by this "hired surgeon"'s wry wit, and other traits that really should  remind her of him. But like a lot of the comedy here, it's all a bit panto, loud and shouty, unconvincing fast talk, body spray that changes your outfit, people not being all that alarmed that their heads have been separated from their bodies, and RTDesque "comedy happy endings" where two people are more than happy to share a robot body and work double shifts, looking terribly out of place in a high-class restaurant. Romp overdrive with forced laughs much of the time. As Graham Chapman would say "Silly, silly, silly, too silly!"

That's not to say it's terrible. The Doctor and River have chemistry and deliver a number of good zingers when they're not forced into "comedy bits". The notion that River occasionally steals the TARDIS for her own purposes without the Doctor even noticing is certainly intriguing. The luxury liner for genocidal maniacs has some fun black comedy. And Moffat unsurprisingly gives us some cool time travel tricks, like exit strategies based on foreknowledge of disasters, and the Doctor's creation of a restaurant in a prime location simply by putting things into motion and skipping ahead. And I think it does a fair job of showing the Doctor River in a different light, though the audience always knew she was this kind of person when the Doctor wasn't around. She's a con artist, and he starts to wonder if he wasn't the victim of a con as well, just another husband for her to "use". And really, though we're given a whirlwind "romance" in 11th Doctor minisodes, this has never been the be-all and end-all of marriages. That's about to change.

The episode takes a sharp turn when River believes the Doctor under threat from the information in her diary, and leaps to his defense, finally admitting that she loves him despite the fact he could never love her back, that he's a force of nature, as unappreciative as a sunset. Only then does he reveal himself. Once all the shouty bits are done, the Doctor creates a restaurant out of the ashes of this adventure and takes River there. This is Darillium, and the Singing Towers were mentioned as their last night together way back in Forest of the Dead (see Theories). The 11th Doctor postponed this date indefinitely, and so it happens here, in front of a sunset that literally sings for onlookers. And the Doctor flips it back on River, with a wet-eyed speech about the Towers' song, but really about her, River SONG. Is he crying? It's just the wind, he tells her, but the same wind that makes the Towers sing, so if he and them are "monoliths", perhaps monoliths are capable of love. Sad that this is at last their final night together, and dreading what comes next, she asks how long nights are on Darillium. 24 years. And the inference is that they spend all of it together as husband and wife. A REAL marriage, happening when the characters are most in sync, only one meeting in his memory and not hers, the final one. And with that, Moffat closes a loop he started over seven years ago when he first introduced us to River.

THEORIES: Forest of the Dead has now been recontextualized. When we thought Doc11 was HER Doctor, and they did have many dates, there was a certain irony to her thinking Doc10 was so "young" in Silence in the Library. But here's her dialog from that first episode, "the last time I saw you - the real you, the future you, I mean - you turned up on my doorstep with a new haircut and a suit. You took me to Darillium to see the Singing Towers. What a night that was. The towers sang and you cried. You wouldn't tell me why, but I suppose you knew it was time. My time. Time to come to the Library. You even gave me your screwdriver. That should have been a clue." And that's clearly this episode, not any kind of unbroadcast adventure in the Matt Smith era. The 12th Doctor doesn't just look older than the 10th, he's got a good 1100 years on him. And hey, nothing says they have to stay on Darillium continuously during that "last night", and may have had adventures around the universe that have yet to be told, especially now that Big Finish is doing River Song audio stories...

REWATCHABILITY: Medium, but last sequence is a High - Just silliness until River admits she loves the Doctor, and a lot of precious moments from them on.


Anonymous said...

There are some episodes that, for my tastes, cough up only a single really good scene, but that scene justifies all the scaffolding that was built to support it. River's monologue, and then her realizing the Doctor IS standing right beside her, and the "hello sweetie" are that scene.

Dale Bagwell said...

Damn,that scene of her explaining her love for the Doctor....shit man, I was like the Doctor too, thinking she really had been playing him, especially with the sudden reveal that she's stolen the Tardis a few times. But then that scene, and him, ever so sweetly saying "hello Sweetie"....damn well written and acted out.I guess River Song's story is told, but if Moffet really wanted her,along with the required fan support, he'd find a way to bring her back again. Otherwise is this truly it? If so, damn god ending, especially finally for River, but yeah, bittersweet. Hell of a season huh?

Also, from you personally since you're a huge Dr. Who fan (I know, no shit right? What gave it away?;)
But who do you see or would like to see take up the mantle of the Doctor when Capaldi calls it quit? And is that day soon?

Siskoid said...

I think he'll do one more series, and Moffat too, and the latter's legacy will be finally turning the Doctor into a woman, which I have always fully endorsed.

Who that Time Lady could be is probably beyond my British casting abilities, but the Moff's certainly prepped us (even over-prepped us) for this eventuality.

Anonymous said...

My only concern with making a lady Doctor is that the Doctor, as is, is built on an existing trope that may not translate gender-wise. The Doctor is basically an aristocrat who enjoys traveling and slumming it, and while he's sincere in his good will, there's no escaping what he is and what he comes from. Does that work as well with a woman? Does the concept need to be tweaked at all?

I express it only as a concern, and I may be worrying about nothing. it could be that I'm making too much of the Doctor being upper-class; I may well be thinking of that scnee with Tom Baker's Doctor meeting Drax, and being very uncomfortable with Drax's lower-class informality.

Anonymous said...

... although a lower-class Doctor would amuse me, briefly. Somewhere in his first episode I would expect him to start laughing at an inappropriate time, and then saying: "I finally got it: TOMTIT! Hahahahaha!"

Siskoid said...

As there are upper class women, I don't see it as a problem. As long as she's eccentric, quick witted, scientifically minded, curious to the point of calamity, and puts others before herself, that'll just be yet another spin on the Doctor.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"That's not to say it's terrible."
Then I'll say it. :-)

But it does, as you point out in the second paragraph, have some good concepts. The idea that the Doctor would give you a journal that contains the exact number of pages you need, and never even consider he was foretelling you your death, is a perfect bit of characterization- and seeing the Doctor react to the TARDIS 'right' was fun despite the silliness.

But overall, it was awful- and to me, at least, turned River Song into a FAR less likable character. The unsavory, unethical side was always there, perhaps, but here she's an outright adulterer and murderer, not to mention a jerk. It took the 'con artist' bit and added in numerous unlikable traits that it didn't imply, and for me, it was too much. I liked her much better where Name of the Doctor left her; there was a River that I *wanted* to have a happy ending. This, for me, was character assassination.

In the miscellaneous column, Scratch opening his head... just a little more gruesome than I want to see, thanks- glad I wasn't watching this with a meal as I usually do.

And River trying to guilt the Doctor about his relationships didn't gel; okay, maybe Cleopatra- like Tasha Lem, there seemed to be a little too much flirting there (though no indication that I saw of anything more)- but Marilyn Monroe was before he married River, and Queen Elizabeth was before he even met her for a second time! In terms of 'I have an excuse for polygamy because you did too,' it doesn't even bear up to logical timey-wimey scrutiny; his marriages took place earlier in his timeline than his marriage to her, while hers clearly took place AFTER her marriage to him in her personal timeline.

And for that matter, the quote you used at the top of the page, while a rather sad and well-played scene, is the whole 'lonely god' characterization of the RTD era that I loathe (wherein every other episode contained speeches about how the Doctor was a force of nature and fire and ice and larger than time and blah blah blah). It's an annoying consequence of the fanboys writing the show- and I hate it. The Doctor is just a bloke; always has been, always SHOULD be. That's why companions were able to leave him in the classic series without the whole universe having to shatter to tear them away- because he wasn't The Most Wonderful Thing In the Universe, a god or a force of nature... he was just a man. A brilliant man, a hero, a man with foibles and very alien emotions... but still just a man. A man who sure as heck COULD fall in love, and have children and grandchildren (even if he doesn't really do that sort of thing anymore). Even the Tenant Doctor was clearly capable of that- he just chose not to allow himself, unless he was human-converted (twice!). So this whole idea of the Doctor as so much bigger than being able to fall in love- which the episode itself subverts- is so ridiculous and frustrating a conception that I wish they'd never even had River rationally entertain it... because that may be the Doctor of the RTD era (kinda, because he's also the most fall-in-love-y doctor of them all), but that's not the Doctor that I've watched 50 years-worth of.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Also, they keep acting like this will be the final goodbye, like he'll never see her again- when he has, in Name of the Doctor, and can again anytime he chooses. (He just chooses not to). It may be their last night together in the flesh- but it's not the permanent ending that they (for simplicity's sake, I'm sure) keep treating it as; that's rather the whole point of 'saving' her. (Also, it'd sure be nice to establish the Silence In The Library crew as past acquaintances, since being reunited with them in the computer there seemed like a big deal, old friends, etc. As it is, this River would seem to be stuck in a purgatory with strangers where there is no one to con, kill, steal from, or roll in the hay with (barring those same strangers that she will still be stuck with, around for the consequences, if she does).)

And as for the continuity bits... Forest of the Dead is like any TV pilot, where they end up establishing one or two facts that they can never quite manage to stick with, and we're just kinda supposed to forget...
"there was a certain irony to her thinking Doc10 was so "young" in Silence in the Library." - Particularly since Big Finish has her palling around with the 8th, it seems (haven't heard yet), the video game has her meeting them all, and she has photos of every one. (So, now that John Hurt has been revealed to us, SHE knew about the War Doctor all along... ;-) ). The idea that the 10th was the youngest she'd seen him is poppycock, and surely the pre-Time War ones, not carrying that weight on their shoulders, look much younger. I suppose the only way this works is the contrast from having just spent 24 consecutive years with the much older one. (Expecting him to recognize her still makes no sense without further encounters with that incarnation, though).

"you turned up on my doorstep with a new haircut and a suit."
Not really. Even if she's TARDIS-possessive to consider it 'her' doorstep, he didn't just turn up; he'd been there all along. Basically, kind fits the letter of the law if you look sideways and squint- but clearly doesn't fit the spirit.

"You even gave me your screwdriver."
Actually, *A* screwdriver- clearly not the one he was using at the time, and never one she'd seen him with, so calling it his is a stretch (that clearly implies the one he'd been using regularly). Also, I waited, when he was waving it over her... but he NEVER demonstrates the 'red mode,' and hasn't used it before, so how can she call it out in Forest as if it's a standard feature. (Likewise, deadlocks should no longer be an issue, as we've reached the point in his timeline where he has the technology for a Red Mode Override.) (Anyone want to claim that as a band name?)

And lastly, Silence/Forest just really don't work with any kind of characterization that she knows/has heard legends that this might be their last time together. That is clearly not in the back of her character's mind- and was just something they threw in this ep to drive the significance home for forgetful people. :-)

All told, he tries- but just like the Star Wars prequels, while he matches up the broad strokes, fitting them into the story he wanted to tell instead of taking his cues from the info given us in the previous installments results in a skewed account that doesn't really link up. I would cue up my rant on the moral responsibility of prequels to adhere to their source material... but I believe I have ranted enough for one day. To sum up...

"A REAL marriage, happening when the characters are most in sync, only one meeting in his memory and not hers, the final one. And with that, Moffat closes a loop he started over seven years ago when he first introduced us to River."
That's the bit I do appreciate, and I like the symmetry- I'd just rather have not had it, than to have it alongside the mess of character retconning and nonsense that accompanied it here.


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