This review contains spoilers.
After an emotional roller coaster of a season finale, this Doctor Who Christmas special was a bit of a shock to the system. While previous years have usually had a more emotional theme running through them, or a moral about the true meaning of Christmas, this special threw caution to the wind and went wild with whimsy and ridiculousness for the greater portion of the episode.
Once I assumed that there would be little (if any) mention of Clara or the Doctor’s feeling of loss and confusion after the season finale, I found it a lot easier to enjoy. There were definitely some laugh out loud moments (especially the Doctor’s reaction to seeing the TARDIS ‘for the first time’), though I confess that I did find some parts a little boring. At times it seemed like scenes and conversations were inserted to pad out the episode rather than because they had any value, comedic or otherwise. In that respect, it reminded me of Deep Breath, the lacklustre season 8 premiere.
But all of the padding and not-quite-funny jokes were forgotten as soon as River Song and the Doctor were alone on the Harmony and Redemption. Here, the little hints at their place in River’s timeline and her relationship with the Doctor gave way and revealed some unexpectedly resentful adoration.
The Doctor and River’s relationship has never captured me as it did in this episode, when we finally learn what River thinks about the Doctor and the way in which she allows herself to love him. Throughout this discovery, Peter Capaldi once again captures the entire spectrum of emotions in a few facial expressions. In less than a minute, the Doctor’s opinion of River is made certain in a way that the Eleventh Doctor was never able to achieve. He does love her. It may be a mixture of romance, respect and platonic love but the affection is there, even in a Doctor who has always had trouble showing his emotions.
I feel that their time on Darillium is a perfect way to complete River’s story. When we first met River, the Doctor didn’t recognise her; when we last meet River, she doesn’t recognise the Doctor. Their journey is full of pleasing parallels and bittersweet references to everything that has already come to pass for us.
These last sequences more than make up for the emotional impact that the rest of the episode is lacking. A relationship built on hasty adventures and fleeting flirtations has always seemed at odds with the emotions that River exhibited when we first met her back in season 4. With 24 years to look forward to, River no longer has to love hopelessly and resignedly. I forgot about Clara and stopped wondering who the new companion might be. By the last scene, the only thing that mattered was the Doctor and River finally being able to begin their relationship just as it ends.
With both Clara and River now off on their respective farewell tours of the galaxy, we’ve reached the perfect fresh start for season 10. The writers seem to have finally given Peter Capaldi the room he needs to show off the Twelfth Doctor and I trust him to carry the show through whatever is in store for next year.