27 December 2015

The Husbands of River Song

People have often asked why nobody has made a spin off series about River Song, the answer of course being it would be just like Doctor Who. No story has underlined that quite as much as this latest Christmas special in which Alex Kingston adventures about just like a certain Time Lord would. There may be an archeological theme but just like Indiana Jones this is just an excuse for adventure. Also anyone harbouring doubts as to whether a female Doctor could work can put them away as `The Husbands of River Song` proves it could. In what is her best performance in the role since her initial two stories, Alex Kingston constantly threatens to steal the show from the Doctor with a strong, sassy and knowing performance that encompasses broad comedy, heroics and at the end a lot of emotion. This Doctor’s rapport with River is more believable than Matt Smith’s was, their closer ages make them better suited to reel off Steven Moffat’s flirty dialogue convincingly. 
From the off the mood is far more frivolous than last year’s more serious Christmas adventure. There is plenty of lighter stuff as Steven Moffat plays Cupid yet again with these two most slippery characters. The script is a good balance of different types of comedy so we don’t just get the usual cool reposts to interrogations but some more basic comic moments. Peter Capaldi has some real fun with the conceit that River doesn’t recognise the Doctor- the gag where he get to feign shock at the Tardis’ internal dimensions is priceless. There’s also much amusement to be had by us and them as Hydroflax’s head bellows threats from inside a bag. Enjoyable too are some amusing seasonal references; the sign on the Tardis door declaring Carols singers will be criticised and the Doctor’s initial appearance sporting unwelcome antlers definitely set the tone.
A pity though that Matt Lucas is used so sparingly when he is a comedic performer. Greg Davies gets more to do and proves to be a master at yelling. I wonder if the role is a sort of joke on the fact that normally he is the tallest person in a cast. Nice to see some new aliens as well as `all of time and space` has been looking a bit underpopulated of late.

For anyone worn out by the recent season’s story arc this story does trade on more user friendly notes and for a change a great big dangerous threat. Visually the experienced Douglas McKinnon navigates through the story’s shifting moods so well; whenever he does the series he seems able to make the narrative more involving to the viewer. The body of the Hydroflax robot is impressive and stomps about with glee, Sound effects are one of the most overlooked elements of the show rarely mentioned by reviewers but they are exceptional here conveying enough to convince.
If I were to criticise it would be that the adventure doesn’t have quite the push of something like `Voyage of the Damned` which was relentlessly exciting. About half way through `Husbands` starts to expand into longer, talkier scenes which was something this year’s season also favoured. While they are good- especially the restaurant conversation- they do slow down what should be a romp. I’m sure as a writer Steven Moffat is proud of these long scenes but he may be forgetting that golden writers rule about killing your darlings. He also sometimes seems to overlook the fact that characters can have quite significant exchanges while moving about or running! If you are showing something at 5.15 on Christmas Day it really does need to keep moving.
The ending is quite touching, largely because both characters speak as directly as they ever will and both actors delivering exceptionally well. If the ongoing River Song story confuses at times then it is clear here the relationship between her and the Doctor is deep.  If it is to be the last River Song appearance Alex Kingston has definitely gone out on a high in a story that is quite a Christmas cracker!

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