Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song
December 25, 2015 10:36 AM - Season 10, Episode 1 - Subscribe

It is Christmas Day on a remote human colony, and the Doctor is hiding from Christmas carols and comedy antlers. But when a crashed spaceship calls upon the Doctor for help, he finds himself recruited into River Song's squad and hurled into a fast and frantic chase across the galaxy. King Hydroflax is furious, and his giant robot bodyguard is out of control and coming for them all! Will Nardole survive? And when will River Song work out who the Doctor is?
posted by fearfulsymmetry (53 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
And a Merry Christmas to all of you at home (on metafilter)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:37 AM on December 25, 2015

'Second wife'?!... Shipping OsSong
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:39 AM on December 25, 2015

I don't think I was drunk enough for that one.

And I was pretty drunk.
posted by sobarel at 11:11 AM on December 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I liked it. I liked it a lot. But I'm a sucker for River Song and finding a loophole in a closed-loop narrative. I liked that it turned from a wacky caper to a more serious reflective piece. Good work, Moffat.
posted by crossoverman at 5:22 PM on December 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't think I was drunk enough for that one, either.

But I was sober.

It was a mix of a few good bits and sheer stupidity.

So, River is a murderous, genocidal head thief?
posted by Mezentian at 5:58 PM on December 25, 2015

posted by FallowKing at 6:40 PM on December 25, 2015

It was nice to see Christmas be a small story, at least as small story applies to Doctor Who, and to round off some things in context of the big events of last season.
posted by immlass at 8:01 PM on December 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

It was a mix of a few good bits and sheer stupidity.

I dunno. I enjoyed it just fine. I never expect too much from the xmas specials, anyway. If I had any serious criticism, it would be that the thing had the overall manic pace (and noise) of a Tennant-era episode.

But, any excuse to see more River Song is just fine by me. It's pretty obvious Kingston enjoys playing the character and has a lot of fun with her.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:02 PM on December 25, 2015

Doctor Who's Most Controversial Character Just Got Even More Confounding

I think it's a fair review.
I remain baffled about River's character turns, but I would like to see her again.
posted by Mezentian at 8:11 PM on December 25, 2015

I thought it was cute. I'm glad they decided to wrap up River's storyline in the only way they could. On the other hand I liked her and they probably won't bring her back again.
posted by bleep at 8:45 PM on December 25, 2015

I thought it was dreadful. River Song has like 3 notes and she hit all of them in this one. I don't know why they thought "hmm, Christmas, I know what we need- it's more River Song!"

Only good bit was The Doctor's "oooh, it upends all my preconceptions of Euclidean geometry!!" schtick. That was excellent and very Capaldi.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:48 PM on December 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I thought it was fun enough. My one gripe was their escape involved hoping on the Tardis while the ship crashed. It's a lazy way out and they already did it in Sleep No More (which was my least favourite episode this year). The Doctor should come up with a clever solution, not let everyone die and hand wave it away because they were bad guys (no mention of the kitchen staff).

But it was nice to see River again, nice to see her act alongside Capaldi, and nice to see her in a fairly straight forward story compared to most of her time in the Eleventh Doctor's seasons. Plus, I remember a few people being scandalized that the Doctor would look at another woman when he was married man. (I'm exaggerating, slightly). So seeing that both time travellers have a fairly loose definition of their marital status makes no one seem like the bad guy.
posted by Gary at 12:39 AM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

(no mention of the kitchen staff) There was some guff about having to be bad to even get a job on the ship. That, plus the whole "I dug you you up" thing is supposed to persuade you to roll with it.

I loved it.
posted by hawthorne at 4:49 AM on December 26, 2015

I also loved it. It was fun and witty and heartfelt at the same time (which is pretty much my ideal combination for Who) -- and full of great little details, such as River taking a fez out of her bag to make room for the head.

One of the things I really appreciated is that the mistaken identity setup allowed for a lot of great Capaldi reaction shots. Both in the early on jealousy/grumpiness and then later when Twelve really processes how his actions have effected River. The bit where Twelve says that the guy who have given her the diary must have been awful as well as Capaldi's reactions to River's longer speech about how the Doctor wouldn't be sappy enough to be with her in danger were great.

I loved the references to The Importance of Being Earnest. It makes perfect sense, since River and later the Doctor are Bunburrying. "I always read my diary -- one must have something sensational to read on a spaceship" is a direct quote (swap train for spaceship), plus the handbag. I suspect upon a quieter rewatch (my Mom was in and out a lot last night), I would find even more.

The ending was really lovely and the kind of bittersweet I particularly like about Doctor Who when it's done well. Yes, they only have one more night together; but that night is twenty four years, so it does work out in a way. I really liked River's bit on time and happily ever after. (Also, it's meant that I've had "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" from Hamilton stuck in my head this morning.)

I've been really happy with this past season over all and particularly happy with this Christmas special. I think it's the strongest since Matt Smith's first year.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 5:49 AM on December 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

I liked the gag where River went straight over to a panel in the Tardis and opened a hidden bar and poured herself a drink, and the Doctor had this "I never knew that was there" look on his face.

Honestly, I'd love for River to be the next companion, if only for a couple of episodes.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:42 AM on December 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Honestly, I'd love for River to be the next companion, if only for a couple of episodes.

I would love it for the reaction of the fandom. Can you imagine the rage ?
posted by Pendragon at 10:08 AM on December 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

Hey, iTunes...if I buy the Doctor Who Christmas Special, can you guess when I'd like to watch it?
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:01 PM on December 26, 2015

Every show I've ever bought on iTunes, Christmas special or not, has come out at 3 a.m. Eastern Time after the show aired.
posted by plastic_animals at 2:40 PM on December 26, 2015

Honestly, I'd love for River to be the next companion, if only for a couple of episodes.

I feel like River only works in small doses, but then again - I didn't think Donna was going to work after her one-shot appearance and she's still my favourite Companion.
posted by crossoverman at 3:21 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

"An archaeologist is just a thief with patience." River is hilarious. Seriously the best episode of the last... dunno, 2 years? Not much to say about it though.
posted by miyabo at 4:47 PM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I liked this quite a bit and I mostly didn't like this season. I'm always surprised and befuddled at how mixed the opinion is about this show and it seems like it's more polarized lately, though maybe not.

But, for me, all the silliness worked in favor of the episode, rather than against it. I wish I could work out even in my own mind an analysis of this, and even more that I could articulate one to other people, but my experience lately seems to be that it's basically that either the silliness is integral to the charm of the episode, or it's the heart of what's gone so badly wrong with it. But people disagree about whether the episode is good or bad and, usually, they have the same basic reaction -- the silliness was charming or it was insufferable and stupid. It can't simply be about quantity; it's not that the division of opinion is all about just how much is too much. It's qualitative, I think, it's about which kinds of things are silly and nonsensical. That's my impression.

Anyway, I've mostly but not always liked River Song and for me she was at her best in this episode. Her not recognizing him for so long was very contrived -- but, again, that goes to the heart of the differences of opinion about what people are willing to suspend disbelief about and what they aren't. As well her willingness to kill the guy. Sometimes that sort of thing is a Very Big Deal on Who ... and then sometimes it's not. But River Song has always been very mercenary and pragmatic. She's a rogue.

I read that linked article of River's timeline and ... wow. As I read it I was thinking that this sounded exactly like what three ten-year-old boys would come up with some afternoon as they improvised a convoluted story. Or that it was like the impossibly complicated stories that you get in comics, as successive writers opportunistically make drastic changes to story and character in pursuit of shocking reverses and revelations. Personally, I wasn't much of a comics fan (except for a couple of years when I was about eight) and I'm not a fan of this sort of thing. But this show is ostensibly a children's show and I think that for many people this is part of its charm, although my recollection is that the old show wasn't so much this way. I found that reading through River's chronology ended up causing me to retroactively like the episode less. I enjoyed it more when I'd forgotten most of it and accepted her character based upon the very broad strokes that I've remembered and what was on the screen.

I'm less and less interested in this show every year. And it's not because of Smith or Capaldi or their versions of the Doctor, or because of Clara. I've ranted a lot about Moffat. But RTD's reign had a lot of problems, too. What I really miss are the occasional stand-out episodes that don't rely upon all this silly contrivance and nonsense. I always think about Midnight as an example. But maybe that's a version of Doctor Who that really only exists in my memory, where I've burnished its shine in retrospect.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:06 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

It felt a little insulting to River's character that she missed 15-20 clues. She has a PhD in Dr. Who! She's obsessed! We used it as a drinking game (except since we don't drink, it was a snacking-on-soybeans game). OTOH, "hi sweetie" was pretty good.

And then there's the question of how the buyer for the diamond - with practically infinite money - somehow didn't already know that their beloved king had the diamond embedded in his head.

The ending was pretty cliche and seemed hardcore gender stereotyped, and I also wish they hadn't handwaved the crash of a shipful of people, but I enjoyed all the little moments, the jokes, the grand entry scene, the christmas ornament planets, happy ending, etc.
posted by aniola at 5:15 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

It felt a little insulting to River's character that she missed 15-20 clues.

River's behavior throughout the episode was disappointing. OTOH I found it really enjoyable to rewatch Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead after seeing this episode (I'd forgotten that she mentioned Darillium.) This episode is a bookend to those two and River is in better form there. Check them out if you haven't seen them in awhile.
posted by homunculus at 5:46 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Of all the Doctors that River has interacted with, I feel like Capaldi's Doctor has had the best dynamic. They felt almost on equal footing. The younger Doctors seeemed to me really juvenile compared to River, particularly 11 (though I've never been much of a Matt Smith fan tbh), whereas Capaldi just worked really well for me. I think other than her first appearance this is definitely my favorite River episode, and I'm glad her story was wrapped up the way it was.
posted by olinerd at 5:49 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Know who's better than The Doctor and River Song at crashing spaceships?


(Too soon?)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:29 PM on December 26, 2015 [7 favorites]

What I really miss are the occasional stand-out episodes that don't rely upon all this silly contrivance and nonsense.

If you rewatch old Doctor Who I think you'll notice that 90% of the episodes are terrible. But there are just enough amazing ones to keep you watching, and you remember those ones.
posted by miyabo at 8:56 PM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Know who's better than The Doctor and River Song at crashing spaceships?

Adric didn't crash the ship.... he failed to stop a crashing ship from crashing.

(And, while we're at it. WTF does my Cyberwar boxed set contain Revenge of the Cybermen and skips Earthshock in favour of Silver Nemesis?)
posted by Mezentian at 9:25 PM on December 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

The only episode of the Moffat era that I've found too silly was The Lodger. That felt like one of those cute, awkward mini-episodes written by Britain's schoolchildren, except it just kept going and going. I much preferred the sequel episode with James Corden, whatever the heck that was called. That one was a bit too cute too, but it wasn't a queasy-making, choking mouthful of cute like The Lodger.

This one was cute and worked OK, although that "quaint village" set was a pretty obvious re-use of Ashildir's little monster town from Face the Raven. This episode does make we want to go back and watch River's first appearance. Someday I'll have to go back and rewatch the revived Who series... it'll be really weird to go back to the era when Davies was either brilliant or he was doing embarrass stuff like parodies of The Weakest Link, and see Amy Pond and the 13th Doctor as part of some family in Pompeii, and be reminded of how Donna Noble was so shrill and awful before she got awesome.

After a few seasons of Murray Gold controlling himself, the music does seem really loud and pushy lately. This one hit the "funny things are happening" thing hard. Hopefully they'll do better with that in 2016!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:56 PM on December 26, 2015

I found this a total mess, but I liked it quite a bit, because I just love Alex Kingston, and seeing her name in the credits did my heart good. The plot made absolutely no sense, and the "my husband" thing was just so...ugh...but I'd watch a series made up of nothing but Alex Kingston running around places and saying snappy dialogue. Make that happen, BBC, please.
posted by xingcat at 6:57 AM on December 27, 2015

I loved the whole "It's bigger on the inside" bit from the Doctor.
posted by Pendragon at 11:16 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found this entertaining enough to forgive this season for the eye boogers episode, mostly due to Capaldi being brilliant and YAY MATT LUCAS.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:46 PM on December 27, 2015

I thought this was a great Christmas special. I loved the Doctor pretending to be not-the-Doctor and his wildly exaggerated "it's bigger on the inside" dialog. I don't know if this is really a send-off for River, but I loved that she gets a last night with him before her trip to that library. I was proper wasted but not so drunk that I can't remember, and I teared up a bit when she's like "is my diary really coming to an end?" and he's like "spoilers".
posted by numaner at 5:18 PM on December 27, 2015

It did feel a little like Moffat had come up with the "there's a song" line first and written backwards from there.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:14 PM on December 27, 2015

I loved this unreservedly. It was practically panto.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:57 PM on December 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

It did feel a little like Moffat had come up with the "there's a song" line first and written backwards from there.

I mean, that's often how I write - toward a conclusion. It's a legit way to do it. And they were always Singing Towers from River's first appearance with Tennant.
posted by crossoverman at 4:02 PM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

River Song: Oh, before you come in, you'd better prepare yourself for a shock. It's not as snug as it looks.
The Doctor: Finally.
Ramone: Finally?
The Doctor: It's my go.
The Doctor: [enters TARDIS] Oh. My, God! Oh, it's bigger!
River Song: Well, yes.
The Doctor: On the inside...
River Song: We need to concentrate.
The Doctor: Than it is...
River Song: I know where you're going with this, but I need you to calm down.
The Doctor: On the outside!
River Song: You've certainly grasped the essentials.
The Doctor: My entire understanding of physical space has been transformed! Three-dimensional Euclidean geometry has been torn up, thrown in the air and snogged to death! My grasp of the universal constants of physical reality has been changed forever.
The Doctor: [River leaves] Sorry. I've always wanted to see that done properly.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:47 PM on December 29, 2015 [9 favorites]

You know, seeing it transcribed like that, the Doctor drops a LOT of unsubtle hints as to his true identity. (If his reaction to the TARDIS wasn't taken as sarcasm, it's a pretty strange way to react!) While River admittedly wouldn't be looking for him in that context and he has a new face she's not expecting, she knows he regenerates and she's obviously pretty damn smart and good at reading people. It kind of seems like she would've figured this out a lot earlier.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:17 AM on December 30, 2015

This is why I say it's practically panto. Every seven year old watching is yelling at their screen, "He's the Doctor!"
posted by ocherdraco at 4:26 AM on December 30, 2015 [6 favorites]

I watched this last night. I haven't watched the show since the first few episodes of Capaldi's introduction (tried to put it on the other night but it has gotten WAY TOO SCARY to watch with a 2 year old around). I got into the show around River's introduction and though I enjoyed the beginning of her character, I really felt like the way she played out was overly convoluted and did a disservice to the potential there. The low point was probably Let's Kill Hitler, trying to irrevocably tie every part of her childhood to Amy and Rory. I honestly wish she hadn't been anyone's daughter.

But anyway, this episode was perfect. Perfect! I cried. River finally seemed like the dynamic, interesting, sexy, intelligent woman she always had the potential to be. It was really fun and Capaldi and Kingston were perfect together. Nicely done. Might get me to watch the show again.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:40 AM on December 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I can take River not recognising the Doctor - she obviously is constantly meeting new weird people, and also she's in the middle of a Devious Scheme/trying to escape a giant robot body. So it makes sense to me she wouldn't check every new human male with an English accent she meets is the Doctor, and is too distracted to notice the clues.

Anyway, I love River and this episode was a lot of fun. She's my favourite supporting character in the show and I love the overall arc of her timeline not lining up with the Doctor's. It would be interesting to put all the episodes she's been in in River's chronological order and see things from her perspective.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:40 AM on January 5, 2016

It was a fun episode and I'm not gonna nitpick it to death. But the Doctor wasn't just some random guy with an accent. The TARDIS was around, so River knew the Doctor was nearby. Some guy shows up, being all smart and quippy and eccentric and Doctor-y, seeming kind of jealous about other men in River's life. They supposedly have this deep connection, so you'd think she might sense a Doctor vibe going on there!

But it's true, she did have a lot going on just then... and if she did recognize him right away, the story would be a lot shorter. It's the kind of thing I can question without it ruining the episode for me.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:29 AM on January 6, 2016

My read on it is that she was glossing over the obvious evidence because it didn't fit with her preconceptions. She believes Eleven was on his last life (which he would have been without Clara advocating for him to the Time Lords) and that she knows all twelve of the faces he'll ever have. Ego this doctor is just some weird dude, not her Doctor.

We're used to adult/post-doctorate River knowing more than the audience does about everything besides her death, but she's gotten pretty out of the loop here. The River we saw in the s7 finale was post-Library, so the last time this one saw the Doctor was The Angels Take Manhattan -- three or several billion years ago, depending on how you're counting.

I'm really looking forward to Big Finish's upcoming River Song series, especially the prospect of Alex Kingston and Paul McGann working together.
posted by bettafish at 6:21 AM on January 6, 2016

I'm really looking forward to Big Finish's upcoming River Song series, especially the prospect of Alex Kingston and Paul McGann working together.

So say we all.

And that video posted by homunculus looked way better than I would have expected.
posted by Mezentian at 2:58 PM on January 6, 2016

Thinking about this a bit more, I'm coming around to the view that this is The Killing of River Song.

Around the 46 minute mark where the Doctor regains consciousness after the crash he decides to set in train the events that will send River to the Library (OK, there's a little loop there). He causes a restaurant to be built where he knows she went with him immediately before she goes to her death. And he makes the screwdriver. She's depraved now and she's got to die. You can see him make up his mind while she's unconscious.

Why now? This is straight after his meddling with Ishilda and with Clara. You think we're in the same street set only for for budgetary reasons? River is beyond dodgy. She's fucked up because of the Doctor and she's dangerous to the world around because she can use the TARDIS. Her actions are influencing hordes and in different times. All the panto stuff about River not recognising the Doctor is also about the Doctor seeing her as she is: damaged by her relationship with him, alone, dangerous to metric shitloads of others, unapologetic and powerful. He should have let Clara go. Ishilda was dead. River can't be allowed to go on living just because the Doctor feels responsible. It's OK, she'll be dead but not quite gone behind Dr Moon's firewall.
posted by hawthorne at 7:25 AM on January 7, 2016 [12 favorites]

That's an interesting (if dark) take hawthorne, but I doubt that was Moffat's intention. I think the Doctor felt that these events were inevitable and he was playing his part. If he really thought River had gone beyond the pale and needed to be sentenced to eternity in the Library, I don't know that he would have been ready to spend 24 years with her. (And I wonder how that works. Do they have to spend the whole 24 years on that planet, or it will mess up the timeline somehow? If so, between spending decades on that planet with River, a lifetime on Trenzalore and a few billion years in the Confession Disk, lately the Doctor has been spending a LOT of time stuck in one place! It's quite a change for a character who has previously been defined by his travels.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:15 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I dig it, hawthorne! The Doctor knew giving River the screwdriver was signing her death warrant. He could have put it off a little longer. The idea that he now saw River as yet another out-of-control woman he created, who he had the opportunity to stop, adds an intriguing dimension. Maybe he'll go find Jenny next.

posted by bleep at 6:22 PM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, this could easily swerve into a derail. I think there are some instances where an author has gross intentions and if you want to enjoy what they've created you kind of have to ignore the gross stuff and pretend the story is saying something else or just enjoy the pretty scenery or something. There are some bad things we love so much, we have to lie to ourselves. But OF COURSE authorial intent matters! Otherwise you're just kind of pretending that creative work falls from the sky and it means whatever you want it to mean.

Knowing an author's history and intentions can sometimes ruin it, but more often it can make a work a lot richer. Even if you disagree with the author's take, it's interesting to wrestle with that instead of handwaving it away. Authors matter. They created the damn thing.

(I make a special exception for authors who are clearly misleading us about their original intentions though, like if they write some lefty book when they're young and then when they're old they go conservative and claim their old book was actually supposed to be a critique of liberalism or some shit. That happens too often, and when it does I treat the author like a senile relation who says crazy and offensive things now but was great once. I'll also let things slide if an author seems to be in deep, embarrassing denial about something, like if he writes a book that is full of loving descriptions of dongs but he insists it's NOT GAY YOU GUYS. In that case I can enjoy the work while also kind of wishing the author would just talk to a shrink already.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:16 PM on January 8, 2016

Authorial intent matters... a bit. I don't know how much of a derail it really is, Ursula Hitler. It's a question that's part of the package. I'm not quite an "every decoding is another encoding" person, but I don't think an author's intent is decisive. Nor do I think that Moffat is the author of The Husbands of River Song.

Moffat as scriptwriter and as showrunner should count in considering what an episode means. But he reveals things about himself too. And others in the process bring something. Collaborative art is mysterious (as many singers from bands find when they go solo). Particularly in a long-running programme like Doctor Who the extent to which it inadvertently reveals presumptions about what we know, what's right, social mobility, gender, just war etc is often as interesting as when there is deliberate commentary.

My take is dark and does tie in with the perception that Moffat's had (revealing) problems with how he's written for women. I'm still chewing that over, FWIW. But it's also to do with the time loop element we've seen a few times (and highlighted in the "who wrote Beethoven?" bit). Part of what I find a little creepy about my take is that nothing's different: either way the Doctor knows River is off to the Library straight after the Singing Towers.
posted by hawthorne at 6:22 AM on January 9, 2016

Do they sit at the same dinner table for 24 years?
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:38 PM on January 30, 2023

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