There's a lot of people saying "The Husbands Of River Song" is the least Christmassy of the Doctor Who, though I must admit I'm not quite sure why they say that. There's snow, the story ends on Christmas, and the Doctor opens the episode with antlers. For me, the signs were writ large that this was The Christmas Special, and truthfully I've never really had a problem with this. After all, that's what it is. Why bother to fight it?
So aside from the traditional moans about Christmas specials, this also saw Alex Kingston returning as River Song (and getting her name in the title credits for the first time ever!), which brings forth another round of whinging from a section of Who fans who hate the character, or who hate the idea of the Doctor being in love with her. Steven Moffat, of course, subverts all of that, and as usual it's difficult to know whether he's hitting back against his haters, or if this was always part of the long term plan. After all this time, I tend to think it's the latter. The Doctor is River's sunset, we discover, and she doesn't expect it to love her back. Why would she? But Capaldi plays his part perfectly through all of this, giving us the hint that the Doctor does have some sort of feeling for River, and whilst he doesn't love her the way she loves him, he does try on occasion. The final scenes of this episode are Moffat writing at his very best, balancing the emotion with the drama and delivering both. Though the Doctor's callous attitude towards the dead in the crash seems a trifle harsh. I know they were all murderers, but still...
Alex Kingston was a great double act with David Tennant, but her rapport with Matt Smith was out of this world. Everything about them played so well together, that, in truth, we sort of forgot that River Song ever met the tenth Doctor. Placing her opposite the older, more acerbic twelfth Doctor was going to be interesting, but a bit of a gamble - after all, they couldn't possibly have the same chemistry Kingston had with Smith. And, truth to tell, she doesn't. But that doesn't mean the pair aren't brilliant together. By twisting the story around so that this time the Doctor's the one with all the foreknowledge, and a face that River has never met, nor believes can possibly exist, we get to see how River acts without the Doctor around. And so does he, which gives Capaldi some great opportunities to deliver some humour. The script is, of course, lighter than the season(s) that have preceded it, and we see Capaldi almost getting a Tennant script, and showing just how good he is at comedy. It's a bit like the Hartnell years all over again - those rare scripts that showed us just how good Hartnell was at comedy now mirror Capaldi's run.
Of course, there are two other comedians in this episode. Matt Lucas plays the very straight role of Nardole, which requires him to be scared and obsequieous most of the time, and he does this particularly well, but as a consequence remains somewhat inconsequential as a result. Greg Davies, on the other hand, one of my all time favourite comedians, gets a role he can have loads of fun with. Sadly he doesn't get nearly enough screen time, and I wanted to see more of King Hydroflax and Davies delivering a performance Rik Mayall would have been proud of. Phillip Rhys and Rowan Polonski perform the other major roles (oh dear...look who's failed the Bechdel test again), but both of them are swept away by the higher four cast members. It's a tough gig on Doctor Who, and with Capaldi and Kingston on fine form, you don't want to be billed lower than fourth.
And so, it's Doctor Who as usual, with a fun, rollercoaster adventure, and a rather nice payoff if you care about River Song. Being a romp, you don't have to pay a great deal of attention to what's going on, but the plot is still fun, and Moffat delivers a couple of old favourite moments (everyone in the room turning to the Doctor, for instance, and a half face man), but each with a subtle twist (the man pulling his head open to retrieve the payment was genuinely gruesome), and, as mentioned, there was a great deal of comedy to play. Plus, the episode was in the skilful hands of Douglas Mackinnon, a directing veteran who skipped the last season, but made a welcome return for the special. Mackinnon is excellent at his job, and brings his episodes to life beautifully. Of particular note are the scenes at the end, which are framed and lit perfectly (so special mention to DOP Suzie Lavelle as well!).
Next year will be an interesting year for Doctor Who. If I were a betting man, I'd say it's unlikely we'll get a regular season next year, but hopefully we'll get at least a special before the traditional Christmas feast. Should we be sad? No...2017 will definitely see series ten, so truth be told, perhaps next year will be lean enough to make us remember we shouldn't take the tradition of Doctor Who, let alone its Christmas special, for granted.