River, You Know My Name (The Husbands of River Song)

In this image, Clara is cleverly disguised as Professor River Song.

It’s December 25th, 2015. The Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir are at number one with “A Bridge Over You,” a 2013 song pushed to number one in protest of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s efforts to extend the hours of junior doctors. Justin Bieber, who supported the campaign, is in number two, three, and five, while Adele is at number four, a complete lack of any shift in the charts since Hell Bent. One Direction, Coldplay, and Stormzy also chart. In news, the Paris Accord on climate change is agreed upon, while Kellingley Colliery, Britain’s last deep coal mine, closes. Donald Trump calls for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States, and Martin Shkreli is revealed to have been the purchaser of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and arrested on securities fraud charges.

While on television, Moffat’s final episode. I mean, yes, there are fourteen others. But never mind about all of that. Moffat has said that when he wrote this he didn’t know if he’d be back. I once heard an idea—I’m pretty sure it was Douglas Hofstadter’s originally, though Chris O’Leary uses the same image to talk about “Ashes to Ashes”—of writing a book that in fact ends in its middle somewhere, so as to remove the sense of coming to the end provided by the actual physical book. There are several things suggested for what to do with the excess pages, scaling up from leaving them blank to actually constructing a book that can go on for some time after it has reached its ending.

I would suggest that the Moffat/Capaldi era is something like that. It ends with The Husbands of River Song; the remaining fourteen episodes, good and bad (and there are several in each basket), are in a fundamental sense unnecessary. It is not that Moffat stayed too long—nothing about Series 10 is such a dramatic falling off from the mad and imperious glory days of Series 9 as to justify that claim.  It is simply that the actual ending is here. 

In this regard, two elements present themselves as inevitable in hindsight. The first is River Song herself. Having already had her first appearance serve as the beginning of the Moffat era eighteen months before the end of the Davies era, her appearance here provides a symmetry as convoluted as her timeline, and as effective to boot. The Name of the Doctor was never an entirely satisfying denouement to River’s story, in part because it was just never entirely satisfying period, but also because both the idea that River’s fate in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead was unfixable (as opposed to inviolate) and the idea that the trip to the Singing Towers could be squared away in a three minute farce released as a DVD extra are wholly untenable. 

Ultimately it is the latter that Moffat opts to revise, which is probably the better choice, since it works as a final story for River (and indeed requires that anyone else who wants to use her going forward has to go to some pretty extreme lengths to do so), whereas effectively resurrecting her would be something of a white elephant for Chibnall.…

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