Obviously, spoilers follow.
A year ago I would have said it was impossible. Even after S9, amazing as it was, I had my doubts. He’d followed up the 50th anniversary special with the disastrous ‘Time of the Doctor.’ He’d set up ‘Silence in the Library’ with ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ and ‘The Angels Take Manhattan.’ Moffat’s been good before, but it’s never stopped him also being terrible.
But S9 held on to the end. ‘The Husbands of River Song,’ in spite of its title, gives the character the arc she has awaited and deserved since 2008.
Well done, Mr. Moffat.
Way back when the Twelfth Doctor was first cast, it occured to me that this was the man to take River to Darillium. This man had the depth of character, the emotional courage, the grace to see her off properly. But given everything that happened in Matt Smith’s era, I figured that was off the table.
I have never been happier to be wrong.
This episode is everything I could want from a Christmas special. It’s ridiculous and spectacular, sweet and funny and sad. Twelve’s joy is contagious, the best treat we could ask for. River, when she’s over being campy, is courageous and sincere and – for nearly the first time since the Library – entirely real. This is the River I’ve been missing all these years.
It’s strange to think that River could ever have loved or been loved by the Eleventh Doctor. Her chemistry with Ten was undeniable – which of course could be said of just about anyone – but her scenes with his successor lacked any hint of a spark. Now, in a single look Capaldi’s Doctor conveys what Smith’s had failed at for four seasons. This Doctor knows River, loves River. That Doctor was just pretending. One possible explanation is that Matt Smith is just a vastly inferior actor. However, while Capaldi is undeniably a master, Smith is not lacking in skill. I’m not sure it’s entirely his fault that the love story failed to launch. It’s more like both actor and writer had some growing up to do. Working with Capaldi has somehow forced Moffat to move past the twelve-year-old boy and start writing for grownups again.
My husband points out that you could look at it as River’s growth and development over the course of her timeline. In the Library, she was as mature as she was going to get; in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler,’ the most puerile. She grew up out of order, from our point of view. We’ve been tolerating her childishness for a long time; now at last she’s the adult we’ve been missing.
Whatever it is, I’ll take more. Onward to Series 10!