After the heady emotion of the past season, Doctor Who returns for Christmas with probably the most carefree romp the programme has had since its revival. This is a jolly tale of a hustle involving a living head in a zip-up bag, the most valuable diamond in the universe and, of course our hero, accompanied for the first time in this incarnation, by his most enduring leading lady. It is very telling that the two major supporting characters are played by comedians. In the role of King Hydroflax, we have (literally) the biggest comedian in Britain, Greg Davies, whose bombastic persona is perfectly suited to to play a ranting oaf of a galactic dictator. Matt Lucas makes Nardole into a very likable supporting role, all the more amazing in that the script never specifies who he is or what he does.
These characters are well suited to the knockabout farce of the first
portion of the story. However, there is a more substantial undercurrent
running throughout the story. River does not recognise the Doctor,
because he does not have one of the twelve faces that his thirteen
allotted Time Lord incarnations have. So, for over half the story, the
Doctor gets to see what she is like when he isn't around and the
difference is marked – an amoral con-artist who is not above killing her
(admittedly megalomaniacal) mark and swindling the innocent. The Doctor
is aghast, but not a little exhilarated by this revelation, but it is
the subsequent one which leads him to refocus his perception of her
personality. She may call him 'damsel' behind his back, but she needs
rescuing from herself and she suspects, but doesn't care, that her love
for the Doctor may not be mutual. The Doctor's co-opting of her
catchphrase makes everything slot back into place as we realise that
they are heading for their last meeting before his first. The
performances of Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston have to be top-notch to
make this work and it is no surprise that this is precisely what we get.
From the grumpy Grinch of the early scenes to the man bending time and
space to make a date perfect, Capaldi is effortlessly excellent and is
matched by Alex Kingston who makes us still love her character, even at
her most unlovable.
Douglas Mackinnon helms a spectacular production with the humour of the
early sections melding well with the unsettling Scratch characters in
the middle and the elegiac romance of the end. There is the expected
fantastic design and effects work. Suzie Lavelle does sterling work
lensing a visually stunning episode that manages to capture everything
from the festive feeling of Mendorax Dellora at Christmas to the beauty
of the Singing Towers.
This story seems like a fitting farewell to River Song, but, then again,
so did her last one. Let us hope that she will be back for more!