We kick off a trio of Tenth Doctor and River Song stories with Expiry Dating, what would be, from The Doctor’s perspective, their second encounter, just after Donna had left. It’s nearly entirely told via messages to each other, from one end of time and the universe to another, and includes several legitimately funny cameos and scenes. How does it rate over all? Let’s find out!
The first time the Doctor met River Song, he saw her die. And now she’s asking him on a date. Well, not a date, exactly… More of a mission.
But the Doctor isn’t at anyone’s beck and call. Or so he thinks. With billions of lives hanging in the balance, can the Doctor afford not to do whatever River wants? Whichever one of him she asks?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The format lends itself strongly to comedy, with River and particularly The Doctor recounting bizarre encounters via a politely worded letter, and I have to say that both Alex Kingston and David Tennant are on fine form here. River wants The Doctor to meet her at the “Apocalypse Vault”, a place where a particular group of fanatics open said vault because their religion claims it’s the end of days and then wipes out the whole star system according to the scrolls within. The Doctor refuses as the Vault and that moment are “fixed points in time” (that old chestnut!) and so begins a back and forth of messages as The Doctor tries to figure out who River is while she tries to get him to the vault, then later The Doctor finds a fake copy of the scrolls she created and River tries to get them back.
One message “accidentally” reaches the Fifth Doctor instead of the Tenth, so River puts a drug in his drink that makes him fall madly in love with her and she uses him to steal back the fake scrolls from his future self, before of course wiping his memory (and presumably getting the drug out of his system). Peter Davison is also on his best comedic form as he pines and lusts over River, and recalls a ticked off Tegan pinning him to the wall and saying “she just isn’t into you”, which made me laugh. The Doctor soon pegs onto the idea that he wasn’t the specific Doctor River was searching for and uncovers a letter the First Doctor wrote in response to her plea (which again made me laugh as it included such lines as “you appear to want me to meet you in some absurd-sounding vault”) and then plays a message from the Sixth Doctor responding to her, apparently having just installed a message machine at Mel’s behest. Again, this was a good laugh as well.
A fun cover, though it looks a bit more thrown together than usual. I think it’s the Fifth Doctor in a random hexagon that does it…
The Doctor finally gives up and meets River at the Vault and finds out that really River didn’t have any time altering plans (though she did “add an extra couple of zeros to the year”) and the whole thing from the start was to cheer The Doctor up after he lost Donna, give him some direction and purpose again. This story really neatly falls in between Journey’s End and The Next Doctor, as even though he lost Donna he’s still quite chirpy and cheery in the Christmas Special, so hearing the still angry and upset Doctor visit loads of places and have adventures again due to River’s plan made a lot of sense. The genuinely funny story ends on a really quite sweet and touching note, and makes The Doctor go from angry at not knowing who River is to being somewhat excited to find out.
Not much to talk about really. Maybe the first half drags a little, the concept stretched a bit too thin before it starts evolving, but that’s really nit-picking.
Not too much to talk about. As previously mentioned, this story clearly takes place pretty much directly after “The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End” and certainly before “The Next Doctor”. The Doctor had only met River once before, a time that included her death, in “Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead”. Having said that, “The Diary of River Song” series, plus some Eighth Doctor audios, have shown that River has actually interacted with The Doctor many times before his Tenth self, and in this story, after he finds the messages from some of his past selves, he seems to remember past encounters. Whether this includes the ones heard in these stories or not remains to be seen (or heard, I guess?)
Expiry Dating is a genuinely funny story well performed by Alex Kingston and David Tennant, plus the other cameos! It even throws in a sweet ending to cap things off. While it might not stand up against the epic storytelling of some stories, in terms of making you smile and generally keeping you entertained for an hour, this gets top marks!