Sunday, December 27, 2015

Doctor Who Christmas Special 2015: The Husbands Of River Song

This year's Doctor Who Christmas Special had little or nothing to do with Christmas, but it was a fun little lighthearted romp, just the thing for the holiday It was definitely much more fun than last year's downer of a Christmas Special (the one with the dream crabs). As Steven Moffat scripts go it was pretty darned good and actually made a fair amount of sense, which is nothing short of a Christmas miracle!

Best of all it was a small self-contained story, as for once the fate of the entire universe wasn't at stake. I hope Moffat learns something from this. You don't have to threaten all of reality every week.

I'm not even going to try and figure out where this episode fits in regards to River Song's twisted and convoluted timeline, or whether it's even possible. I'll leave that job to better minds than mine, armed with detailed flowcharts. 

I will say this episode gave us a very poignant sendoff to the character of River Song provided this was indeed her final appearance. I have a feeling Moffat won't be able to leave well enough alone though, and he'll eventually bring her back, completely negating everything good in this episode. 

Lastly, I watched the episode Xmas night at my sister's house. Before it started, she said, "This isn't going to be another weird episode like last year, is it?" I told her when Steven Moffat is writing, there aren't any guarantees.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
The time: Christmas Day, in the year 5354 (riiiiight). The place: Mendorax Dellora, a human colony somewhere in space. A flunky named Nardole mistakes the Doctor who just happens to be loitering on the planet for a surgeon summoned by his master. He takes the Doctor to a saucer-shaped ship parked in a forest. A hooded figure emerges from the ship, and turns out to be time traveling cat burglar/archeologist River Song.

The Doctor's delighted to see River, but his mood soon changes when he realizes she doesn't recognize this particular incarnation of him. His mood changes even more when River tells him to attend to her dying husband, King Hydroflax. The King, who's a human head atop an enormous robotic body, was recently injured when he raided a vault and the Halassi Androvar, the most valuable diamond in the universe, became lodged in his noggin. The diamond is slowly killing him, and River wants it removed. 

River takes the Doctor aside and tells him to remove Hydroflax's entire head if it would be easier, as he realizes she's not concerned with her "husband's" health, but simply wants the diamond for herself. They're interrupted by Hydroflax, who's been listening in. He detaches his head and orders his robotic body to kill them. The Doctor puts Hydroflax's head in a satchel, and he and River are teleported out of the ship by Ramon, who's River's real husband.

The Doctor is frustrated to find River has yet another spouse. He hints around at his identity, but River still doesn't recognize him. She has photos of all his known faces (including that of the War Doctor), but because of the Time Lord's regeneration limit, it doesn't occur to her that he could have a thirteenth face that she wouldn't know about.

She leads the Doctor and Ramon to the TARDIS, which she knew would be parked in the area. She uses a key to enter the TARDIS and "borrow" it, implying she's done so many times in the past without the Doctor's knowledge. The Doctor is stunned. River, still believing him to be an ordinary human, warns him that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside. When the Doctor enters, he pretends to be shocked and overwhelmed. River pilots the TARDIS, but it can't take off because it senses part of Hydroflax is inside it, while the rest is outside.

Meanwhile, Hydroflax's body decapitates Nardole and Ramon and extracts information from their minds. It locates the TARDIS and forces its way inside, which allows it to finally take off. It lands on the starship Harmony And Redemption, a luxury liner filled with the worst criminals and mass murderers in the galaxy. River plans to sell the diamond inside Hydroflax's head to a buyer named Scratch. 

Scratch arrives and gives River her payment. Just as she's about to hand over the bag containing the head, Scratch reveals that he and his race all worship King Hydroflax. Whoops! The Doctor and River are captured by Scratch and his followers. She looks over at the Doctor and finally realizes who he is. The Doctor stares back and says, "Hello, sweetie," her traditional greeting.

Hydroflax's body exits the TARDIS and enters the ballroom. It seizes Hydroflax's head and scans it. It then announces the head is beyond repair and destroys it, leaving only the diamond that was inside. As the robotic body is about to claim the Doctor's head for its own, River, who's never without an escape plan, says a meteor swarm is about to strike the ship. Right on schedule the meteors hit. River steals the diamond, while the Doctor disables the robotic body. 

They head for the bridge to keep the ship from crashing. River realizes they're about to crash into the planet Darillium, which is home to the Singing Towers the place where she's destined to spend her last night with the Doctor. When they discover they can't save the ship, they jump into the TARDIS for protection. The impact knocks River Unconscious.

The Doctor has known about the Last Night at the Singing Towers for many years, and has put off bringing River there for as long as possible. He finally gives in to the inevitable. He exits the TARDIS and finds a man surveying the wreckage. He gives him the diamond and tells him to build a restaurant overlooking the Towers. He gets in the TARDIS and travels into the future a few years, and exits into the restaurant. 

River comes to and exits the TARDIS, finding the Doctor waiting for her at a table. The Doctor gives her a present her own sonic screwdriver. She realizes this is their final night together. The Doctor tells her it's true, but that nights on Darillium last for twenty four years.

Thoughts:
 Of all the preposterous events and dodgy science presented in this episode, the most unbelievable was the idea that Christmas will survive as a holiday well into the 55th Century. And on a colony world, yet. I can't imagine it surviving another five hundred years, much less 3,400. 

 The streets of Mendorax Dellora looked amazingly like the Diagon Alley set from Face The Raven a few weeks ago. 

All TV shows reuse sets from time to time in an effort to stretch the budget, but this was pretty blatant. It looks for all the world like they took the exact same Raven sets, gave 'em  a few spritzes of artificial snow and called it a day.

 In addition to reusing sets, this year's Special also recycles plot elements from previous episodes as well. The concept the space-faring luxury liner, along with a villain who's a head atop a robotic body were seen back in 2007's Voyage Of The Damned.

Moffat's also used the decapitation theme quite a few times before. 2011's A Good Man Goes To War featured the Headless Monks, as well as the Doctor's friend Dorium Maldovar literally losing his head.

Moffat's also quite fond of the "Characters suddenly realize they're in a restaurant full of enemies" trope. He used it last season in Deep Breath. And Scratch, with his flip-top, segmented head, is very reminiscent of Colony Sarfe, from this season's The Magician's Apprentice.

 When the Doctor first sees River, he says he needs a flowchart to figure out River's timeline (which many people have attempted to create online). A bit later when she says her husband is dying, he says, "I think I'm going to need a bigger flowchart," that's almost certainly a Jaws reference.

 River describes King Hydroflax as "The Butcher Of The Bone Meadows." In The Time Of The Angels, when the Doctor and River meet, they try to figure out where they are on each other's timelines and she says, "Have we done the Bone Meadows?"

 River doesn't recognize the Doctor at first because she believes she's seen all of his possible incarnations. Due to the old twelve regeneration limit, it never occurs to her he could have a face she's not seen before.

 British comedian Matt Lucas plays Nardole. Lucas is probably best known for the TV series Little Britain. He also played Tweedledee and Tweedeldum in Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland.

 Is this the first we've heard of River's augmented lifespan?

 This episode gives us our first good look at the Doctor's new sonic screwdriver in action, but he also inexplicably still has the detestable sonic sunglasses. 

• Most of the "Headless Hydroflax" effects were downright awful, and were obviously accomplished by having the actor stick his head through a hole in a table.

By the way, how does King Hydroflax turn his head when he's sitting on a table? He doesn't have any neck muscles, or even a neck. And how's he talking? And breathing?
 The Hydroflax robot is a pretty cool design, even if it if does look a bit like the armored version of Baymax from Big Hero 6.
 
In fact it's so similar to Baymax that it even sprouts wings and flies at one point! Maybe they shouldn't have made it red.

 The idea that River has "borrowed" the TARDIS many times over the years without the Doctor's knowledge will surely open up the possibility that she can return to the show at some point. If nothing else it'll give the writers of the Big Finish audio books some wiggle room in which to set further adventures.

 The best moment of the episode and maybe even the season was when the Doctor entered the TARDIS and pretended to be amazed by the size of its interior. 

He says, "Oh. My GOD! Is it bigger...than it is...on the inside? 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 constant of reality has been changed forever. Sorry. I've always wanted to see that done properly."

He almost sounds a bit like Doc Brown from the Back To The Future movies when he's hamming it up here. Coincidence, or homage?

 In The Time Of The Angels, River flies the TARDIS for the first time (from the audience's point of view at least). As she flies it, the TARDIS doesn't make is traditional wheezing and groaning sound. River explains that the sound is the result of the Doctor always leaving the parking brake on.

Apparently she forgot about that line (or more likely Moffat did), because when she flies it in this episode, it's back to wheezing and groaning again.

 At one point River mentions "That time there were two of you" to the Doctor. She's referencing the mini-episodes First Night and Last Night here, in which, due to time travel shenanigans, the Doctor and River's first date is interrupted by various past and future versions of themselves. 

 When River changes her outfit, the Doctor says she looks amazing. She tells him he has no idea if she is or not.

That's a reference to the fact that the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors seem to have difficulty recognizing beauty in humans. The Fourth Doctor even had this problem way back in City Of Death, when he told the Countess, "You're a beautiful woman, probably." 

 On the space liner, River holds a book. When the Doctor asks about it, she says, "It's my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on a spaceship."

This is a reference to Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest. In that play, the character of Gwendolyn Fairfax says, "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on a train."

River worries that her diary is almost full, saying it was given to her by a man who'd know just how big a book she'd need. The Doctor gave River he diary in Let's Kill Hitler.

 The Doctor says both, "Hello, sweetie" and "Spoilers!" to River. Up to now both have been her catchphrases..

 When the Doctor and River quarrel, he begins listing the large number of husbands she's seemingly had. He claims she was once married to actor/comedian Stephen Fry, which would be quite a trick, considering he's gay. Fry actually has a connection to the show, as he wrote an episode during the Russell T Davies years. Unfortunately it was never filmed due to budgetary reasons.

River counters by listing his wives, including Elizabeth I (who he married in The Day Of The Doctor), Marilyn Monroe (who he mentions accidentally marrying in a A Christmas Carol) and Cleopatra (who was really River in disguise, in The Pandorica Opens). 

 The Doctor tells River that "every Christmas is last Christmas," which is what Danny Pink said in Clara's dream last year in Last Christmas. Dream Danny tells Clara that people get together at Christmas because they never know if it'll be the last time. How's that for a holiday sentiment!

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