The Husbands of River Song.

TV Happy Boxing Day. I had planned to wait until January before reviewing yesterday’s Whoverfest but after sitting through the first forty minutes of the Harold Lloyd silent The Kid Brother and not laughing once due to the high number of jokes which are at his expense through bullying with half my brain writing the following in my head, I realised that it was best to get it into this infernal, extraordinary machine rather than having the words bouncing around waiting for them to flow through my fingers. You’ve probably read most of the following in one of the professional reviews which turned up online within seconds of the episode ending but I haven’t read any of those. About the only pieces of writing I’ve tended to pay attention to about any episode this year have been my old colleague from Behind The Sofa Frank who's now posting to the Frame Rated blog and Graham in the monthly consociation proceedings.

As is so often has to be the case when a Steven Moffat script is making a statement, let’s begin at the end. Once The Husbands of River Song concluded, many of the tweets advertising the wares of those being paid to do this sort of thing before Christmas asked readers what they thought of the archaeological academic’s final adventure, even though everything about the story is designed to eek out her story for a good while yet. One of the problems inherent in the character is that when he created this treasure in season four, Moffat narratively locked in a bunch of story points which would indicate what her penultimate adventure would entail. Like the Doctor’s limited regenerative cycle there was always going to be a point where the writer would need to circumnavigate these details, not retcon them as such, but at least provide an re-interpretation.

That’s what I think Moffat is doing here. Apart from the additional two hundred years mentioned  reminding us that River’s a Time Lord and therefore capable of many millennia of life and seemingly designed to give the ironically named in this instance Big Finish a massive gap to fill, if this final date is to last twenty-four years, there’s clearly enough wiggle room to indicate that not all that time will be spent on Darillium. Far from being her final adventure, the whole substructure of this seems designed to both honour her description of their final encounter from The Forest of the Dead and circumvent it, thank goodness, if required. Anyone else wonder if we’ve even seen her introduction into being a “companion” full time for the next season? It’s certainly very interesting that we’ve not had announcement yet about Clara’s replacement …

As a quick sidebar on the Big Finish stuff, and note I haven’t heard The Diaries of … yet, but The Eternity Clock game apparently establishes that she uses a mnemosine recall-wipe vapour whenever meeting earlier incarnations of the Doctor so as not to pollute the timeline and fictionally to keep with the spirit of him not knowing who she is during Silence in the Library (even though it makes a nonsense of her complaint about him not recognising her).  As an alternative, doesn’t Hell Bent also provide a nuWho-hewn method for this to be the case? And given that, what’s to stop her and Tenth even having audio adventures together? Or with any of the Doctors? At this point I’d certainly welcome an appearance in one of The Early Adventures with Fraser subbing in as a Pat against her. Imagine her turning up in a Tom and Lalla story. I’m giddy with anticipation.

None of which really explains how she doesn’t recognise Twelfth as the Doctor for reasons other than comedy. Time Lords have tended to identify each other irrespective of their outward appearance, even, if Ninth in Dalek is an indication, able to know if there’s another member of their race in existence anywhere in the time vortex. Moffat seems to have decided to ignore that now. Twelfth didn’t suspect Missy in Dark Water and now River spends most of Husbands (an abbreviation which sounds like a nineties sitcom starring Belinda Lang and Jenny Funnell) entirely oblivious to his presence, even in the face of an orgy of evidence that this random stranger is the love of her life. It’s all completely worth it for the look on Capaldi and Kingston’s faces when the penny drops (in favour of Donna) but it’s still a nagging irritant through much of the episode.

Which is, sigh, part of the problem with Husbands (co-starring Daniel Hill as "Trevor"). Like so many of these kinds of stories with their overwhelmingly poignant conclusions featuring huge story points which are likely to be the thing most people, well ok fans, talk about, not everything which occurs in the run up is top draw entertainment and you can boo all you want but I’ll just give you my best Craig Revel Horwood disdain face in return. The whole robot business is rubbish, and inane rubbish at that, right down there with many of the underpowered antagonists we’ve endured during the Moffat era. Perhaps Hydroflax plays well with children with its jolly big red (Hero 6) and Lego friendly replaceable heads, but it’s not a patch on anything in the panto parts of season 17 this story is pastiching with its references to how a wife might consummating her marriage without knowing the particulars of her spouse’s anatomy.

The guest cast doesn’t really help. The first time I saw Matt Lucas was inches away from me in the foyer at The Pleasance at the Edinburgh Festival in 1998 coming out of a show I wasn't attending dressed in a chicken outfit in the process of removing its head, sweat pouring off him. “It’s fucking hot in here” he said to no one in particular which is probably the funniest I’ve ever seen him be. I’m also immune to Greg Davies as a performer and although in all fairness he’s barely given leeway to do much more than Crowden his way through the mania much like the Doctor and River I was certainly happier when he existed simply as a silent cranial carbon carrier in a bag. Even the usually good Philip Rhys, previously known for his “outing” of Patterson Joseph as the Eleventh Doctor on News 24, decided that ham was the way to go and ended up as the Pork Sausagemeat we’ve just bought reduced to 20p from Tesco.

Nevertheless through all of that Capaldi and Kidston crackle and pop and have the most formidable of chemistries. A reader (whose anonymity I’ll be happy to break if he wants me to) noted via email recently that when Eleventh said in his regeneration scene that his new body might need time to “bed in” it was an indication of what was to come with Twelfth. I suggested in reply that the show is always at its best when it doesn’t require this sort of close textual reading and it would have been handy if this had been made plainer that his regeneration had gone a bit wonky while the new Doctor was being an utter bastard (or words to that effect) but does at least allow for a certain retrospective appreciation even if you couldn’t pay me to watch Kill The Moon or The Caretaker again for fun. Whatever our fellow Whoever says in polls, Robots of Sherwood was the best story of that season. Yes, it was.

Either way, at this point season eight has become an aberration and by now Moffat et al have simply decided to let Capaldi be Capaldi. As Graham says in his After Image slot in the Christmas number of DWM, “in 2015 we had the Doctor again. Just the Doctor in all his glory.” The root of that seems to be to let his performance to dictate the differences to Tennant and Smith rather than trying to write it in. Don’t runaway from allowing him to be Tuckerish or present the light comedy that has been his hallmark since Local Hero. Give him big speeches. Allow him to be romantic, to laugh (and what a laugh!) and cry and be passionate. When he bares his teeth while smiling, yes it might look like the award ceremony at a garden fence convention, but its extremely potent and gives him the approachability of Ninth, who was equally sullen at times but surprisingly huggable.

If River had arrived during series eight, the atmosphere would have been equally electric but probably also with an unhealthy toxicity. Would that version have baulked at her homicidal tendencies or agreed to them? Isn’t it important that he does offer that contrast? Notice how Doctor Professor Song’s moral compass swings back towards something north of the righteous whenever she’s in his magnetic pull? The way Kingston deftly modulates her performance in Husbands is remarkable, shifting gears the moment her love seems in danger in a moment which feels like it was written to be played for laughs, swatting her devotion into a punchline but her quiver of her voice draws straight into the drama. I adore this character and this actress. Can you tell? Twelve episodes and a couple of Christmas specials next year. Please?

Anyway, that’s quite enough of Boxing Day spent on this. Thanks to the River shipping, Husbands (created by Stephanie Calman) is pretty high up the league table of Christmas stories, even if it pretty much dumped the seasonal attributes early ala Planet of the Dead. Rather like soap operas, Doctor Who tends to save its big events for the festive episode when presumably the most people are supposed to be watching and I’d be interested to know how many of the not-we caught the significance. But given the rating (5.77m), it’s not really clear how many of those people were watching. Regardless, it was just what I needed yesterday and when it oscillates around in rewatches it’ll be a welcome respite after the grimness of the previous two seasons. Now all we need is an official announcement of when exactly we can expect the next season of Doctor Who. Someone said the word “hiatus” to me the other day and I nearly lost my head.

Christmas Links #24

In Conversation: Charlie Kaufmann:
"The writer behind Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and, now, Anomalisa — a stop-motion animated dark comedy about a depressed customer-service expert who falls in love on a business trip, which Kaufman co-directed — discusses where his ideas come from, the TV shows he can’t get made, and the finer points of puppet sex."

Festive food on the BBC 25 years after Delia Smith's Christmas:
"2015 marks 25 years since Delia Smith’s Christmas, so Press Officer and foodie Alasdair Drennan remembers that landmark programme and looks back at Christmas food on the BBC."

Star Wars is dead, long live Star Wars:
"The Force awoke a few days later than most for me, but on Monday 21st December, I sat in a small cinema in Hammersmith and readied my body for Star Wars. Sweaty palms? Check. Slightly elevated heartbeat? Check. Stupid grin plastered on face despite nearby proximity of colleagues who consider me an otherwise professional and functional human being? Check. There are have been few cinematic experiences in my career where I have legitimately broken out in goosebumps, but Episode VII was one of them: if a new Star Wars trilogy can no longer be considered a once in a lifetime event, then it's still a rare treat to savour. Excitement, thy name is The Force Awakens."

As Climate Change Imperils Winter, the Ski Industry Frets:
"The typical scene at New England ski resorts over Christmas vacation—madhouses filled with students as young as 2 or 3 packing onto bunny hills while parents head to higher elevations for their first runs of the season—has been replaced by a sobering reminder that climate change is already taking a bite out of winter."

Exposed: How Keanu Reeves’ Newest Film Got Whitewashed:
"Originally called Daughter of God and directed by a black filmmaker who has since removed his name from the project, Exposed is Hollywood’s latest attempt to erase the work of people of color."

Christmas Links #23

The evolution of Christmas:
mid 1990s Xmas: Go to the shops to buy everything you need for Christmas
mid 2000s Xmas: Go to the shops to buy everything, except for a few books, CDs and DVDs from Amazon
mid 2010s Xmas: Get most of your Christmas stuff online, assuming it ever arrives

The Beatles Now On Spotify:
"On December 24 at 12:01am in your time zone around the world, The Beatles’ catalogue will be available on Spotify to all of our users."

The Year In Pictures 2015:
"THIS was the year of the great unraveling, with international orders and borders challenged or broken, with thousands of deaths, vast flows of migrants and terrorist attacks on some of the most cherished symbols of civilization, both Western and Muslim."

The first Christmas Radio Times:
"It was all very different to today's multi-channel, on-demand world. There was only radio, and London station 2LO had a meagre five-and-a-half hours of programmes on Christmas Day." [editorial interjection - post includes link to download a pdf of that very first issue!]

“There’s something rejuvenating about getting a good fright…” The Big Interview: Chipo Chung:

"You may recognise Chung from Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007), Thick of It spin-off In The Loop (2009) or alongside Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins in Proof (2005); or perhaps you spotted her in Doctor Who, recent BBC crime drama From Darkness, or in Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude. The RADA trained Yale graduate also has some impressive theatre credits, including The Overwhelming and Ph├Ędre at the National Theatre."

Readers Letters for the 22nd December 2015.

Film This blog doesn't often get comments these days due to a mix of messy Disqus logins and social media. I'm going to try and fix this in the new year, but in the mean time there's been a lovely message on the Mean Streets post from David Pascoe which is well worth highlighting here:
"What a marvellous post, both about Mean Streets (my favourite film) and the importance of a venue where you can see a wide array of films (in my case, Falmouth Arts Centre, now called simply The Poly). I lived in Falmouth all my life up to the age of 32, and it's possible my wife and I might move back in a couple of years time after a decade away. I still try to go and see films there whenever I'm back visiting. My main spell if watching films there covered 1998-2008 and was especially important as it was the only cinema Falmouth had at that time. A more mainstream cinema called The Phoenix opened in 2009 and covered a gap while the Poly was closed for a year due to financial problems. Is it symbolic that this happened the year after I moved away?

"As for Mean Streets, I got into it during my late 90s obsession with Harvey Keitel/Robert de Niro and Martin Scorsese. It became a touchstone film and one I constantly went back to in 1999-2000, probably because it captured them before their shtick had set in. A refrain at the time, as all of those incredible actors from the 70s started to age and move into projects which their reputations didn't deserve, was to check out the early work to see them "young, hungry and changing the film world". Mean Streets was dazzling, energetic, heartfelt, exciting, and looked at times like something from another world. It became my favourite film and then I didn't see it again for over a dozen years until it turned up on iPlayer. I watched it again and at the was still my favourite film."

Christmas Links #22

How we made: The Muppet Christmas Carol:
"When I met Michael Caine to talk about playing Scrooge, one of the first things he said was: “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.” I said: “Yes, bang on!” He was intimidating to start with, but he’s a delight."

‘Wallace And Gromit’ Creators Release New 360-Degree Animation for Google’s Spotlight Stories:
"Santa Claus is coming to town — but one particular custodian really doesn’t like the idea of someone messing with his chimneys, or climbing around on the roof. He tries to catch the intruder, starting an epic and hilarious chase. That’s in a nutshell the premise of “Special Delivery”, a new animated short by Aardman Animations, the award-winning animation studio behind such hits as “Wallace and Gromit”, “Shaun the Sheep” and “Chicken Run”."

Tesco delivers our Christmas parcels to an address 700 miles away in Shetland:
"I ordered three items on 23 November. One arrived three days later but, according to my Tesco account, the other two were delivered to Shetland. We live on the Isle of Wight, nearly 700 miles away. I have phoned, messaged and emailed, but get nowhere, just a “we will get back to you” message."

‘The Quatermass Experiment’ Experiment:
"This caption is a blatant lie."

Love, SRSLY:
"It's the first of two SRSLY Christmas specials! First up, we revisit Love, Actually in great detail, with a little help from our friends. (Caroline Crampton, Anna Leszkiewicz, Anoosh Chakelian, Barbara Speed, Stephen Bush, Jonn Elledge)"

My Favourite Film of 1967.

Film As Christmas draws near the last thing on anyone's minds should be eggs, and yet here we are with my favourite film of 1967, Cool Hand Luke. Here's a gentlemen during the 2012 festive season eating fifty Cadbury's Cream Eggs (after consuming a box of Oreos):

Christmas Links #21

The Complete Series Nine: Blu-ray/DVD details announced:
"The DVD and Blu-ray contains all twelve episodes from Peter Capaldi’s second series in the role, with guest star’s Maisie Williams and Rufus Hound as well as the brilliant Missy (played by Michelle Gomez). The Complete Boxset also contains the 2014 Christmas Special, Last Christmas and this year’s highly anticipated The Husbands of River Song and more than four hours’ worth of VAM, including ...."

Please Stop Spreading This Nonsense that Rey From Star Wars Is a “Mary Sue”:
"Over the weekend, even as most of us were celebrating the fact that a new Star Wars movie did not in any way suck, some portions of the internet got sucked into a pointless, silly debate. Is Rey, the film’s hero, a “Mary Sue”? The answer is no. Next question?"

Christmas covered:
"Taking delivery of your bulging, bumper Christmas issue of the Radio Times is as seasonal as dressing the tree and basting the turkey."

Star Wars: The Feminism Awakens:
"Rey, the franchise’s newest breakout star, is a heroine fans can finally feel good about liking."

Our funniest moments of 2015:
"Here are some of the funniest moments and incidents from BBC Weather during 2015."

Soup Safari #60: Parsnip and Apple at Ego Mediterranean Restaurant & Bar.

Lunch. £4.95. Ego Mediterranean, Hope St, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 9BW. Phone: 0151 706 0707. Website.

Christmas Links #20

Longfellow house opens doors for the holidays:
"The historic Henry Wadsworth Longfellow house is opening its doors for the holidays to give visitors a view of the how the poet and his family celebrated Christmas in the 19th century."

THE HATEFUL EIGHT: A movie is a really big thing:
"This is a picture of the last three Hateful Eight prints leaving our print assembly location in Valencia. They are destined for local LA presentation locations."

Eyewitness 1915: Bank failure ruins kids’ Christmas, but Frick comes through:

"When a Pittsburgh bank closed its doors three days before Christmas 1915, the move threatened the small accounts of thousands of school students."

Britain's favourite Christmas paintings:
"Christmas is the ideal time to visit Britain’s public galleries. With everyone out Christmas shopping, or stuck indoors with their in-laws, your local art gallery is the perfect refuge from the Yuletide madness. In December you can see great artworks in quiet seclusion, away from the commercial hubbub of the high street – and it won’t cost you a penny. To celebrate the festive season we’ve asked curators across the UK to choose a seasonal painting from their permanent collections. Here are their favourites. What’s yours?"

Meet the 'Christmas elf' who struggles to enjoy the holiday season:
"Christmas is one of the hardest times for people with depression and other mental health issues."