The Husbands of River Song
I managed to get to the Christmas Special awhile back, but unfortunately I simply didn’t have the time available to give you my thoughts. Was it perfect? No, no it wasn’t … the early parts of the episode were especially clunky and overdone, but boy oh boy did it end well! A beautifully poignant swan song to their love story.
If you’ve not yet watched the episode, I’ll tell you now that you should stop reading as spoilers – well, they do abound here sweetie! 🙂
The Doctor, having somehow ended up on a planet at Christmas time (he always does that) gets mistaken for a surgeon who has to perform a live-saving procedure on the cybernetic and horrendously violent King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) who is dying with a projectile in his brain. His “wife” turns out to be River Song working a con to try to get the projectile—a massively valuable diamond—out of his head to sell it to mass murderers aboard a luxury space liner. River, who has not yet met the Doctor’s present incarnation, fails to recognise him and increasingly frustrates him with her flirtations with Hydroflax. River takes the Doctor aside to discuss the operation he is supposed to be performing; the Halassi Androvar, the most valuable diamond in the universe, has become lodged in Hydroflax’s brain during a raid on the Halassi vaults and is slowly killing him. River wants “the surgeon” to remove his entire head, considering it quicker and easier.
Believing up to this point the Doctor only had so many faces River refuses to recognize ol’ Twelve, leading to some hilarious moments of him trying to make her realize it’s him and her just not having it. In fact she continues to flirt with Hydroflax which only infuriates him more! They are interrupted by Hydroflax, who has listened to their conversation. Being a cyborg, he detaches his head from his mechanical body for safety and orders it to kill them. While River defends herself, the Doctor grabs Hydroflax’s head and threatens to put him in the garbage disposal, creating a stalemate and allowing Ramone, River’s actual husband, to teleport her, the Doctor and Hydroflax’s head outside of the ship. Believing Nardole to have information about River, Hydroflax’s body (which operates independently) decapitates him to use his head as its own. While the Doctor and River bicker as ever, she constantly pretends to love lots of other men, which you can see hurts the Doctor & wounds him deeply.
Although the Doctor is convinced that River knows who he is, she denies it. She reveals she purposely crashed Hydroflax’s ship in their location knowing the Doctor would be in the area with the TARDIS. Being unfamiliar with his new regeneration cycle, she has pictures of his first twelve incarnations. Ramone has only been able to find the TARDIS, not its owner; River decides they will just have to borrow it instead which she further indicates she’s done many times before without his knowledge. Sensing that Hydroflax’s head is beyond recovery and will die imminently, Hydroflax’s body destroys it, leaving only the diamond. River is asked for the whereabouts of the Doctor, but she explains that although she loves the Doctor they are mistaken in thinking that he loves her enough to find himself with her, as she believes the Doctor to be incapable of falling in love. Seeing the steady gaze and mild smirk on the Doctor’s face, River realizes he’s been with her all along and the Doctor confirms this by saying, “Hello, sweetie.”
Being a time traveller, River is aware that the ship is about to be crippled by a meteor strike, which she uses as their escape plan, taking the diamond in the process. The Doctor uses Scratch’s universal bank transfer device to overload Hydroflax’s body, before heading to the ship’s bridge. While the ship is crashing, River realises that they are heading towards the planet Darillium – home to the Singing Towers mentioned by the future River as the place where she spent her final night with the Doctor (“Forest of the Dead”). Realising that they’re unable to save the ship, they flee back into the TARDIS, but the impact of the crash knocks River unconscious.
After avoiding taking River to Darillium for as long as possible to avoid their last date together mentioned by her future self, the Doctor decides to give in to the inevitable. After travelling to the next morning, the Doctor suggests to a man searching for survivors of the crash that he build a restaurant where they’re standing, with a view of the Singing Towers, and gives him the diamond to fund its construction. Travelling forwards in time once again, the Doctor books the table on the balcony for Christmas Day in four years’ time. When River awakes she is told that the Doctor is waiting for her at their table. Hydroflax’s body, now peacefully controlled by the heads of Ramone and Nardole, was pulled from the wreckage and put to work as a waiter in the restaurant.
What we do get that gives the episode some real emotional resonance is the last 15-20 minutes, when River gives an impassioned speech to the onlooking bad guys who want the Doctor about how you can’t expect a sunset or the very stars themselves to love you back, ending with her realization that the Doctor has been with her the whole time. (How many people made a little happy noise when he said “Hello, Sweetie”? Not that I did…) From then until the end, it’s a really nice denouement to her character and their relationship. Even though it won’t be the last time she sees him, it could very likely be the last time he sees her (unless Moffat brings her back again). Referencing the trip to the Singing Towers they never get to take, and River seeing her diary is almost full up, she knows she’s almost at the end, but at least they get a Christmas of 24 years together to enjoy before then. And the Doctor finally gives her the sonic screwdriver she has with her during “The Library.” (!!!)
As I said, this was just a bit of a romp, but there were definitely some quite enjoyable moments. Any time Kingston and Capaldi are sparking off each other, which is actually quite often, it’s pretty marvelous. As Moffat rather callously said a few weeks ago, this episode takes place right after “The Angels Take Manhattan” in River’s timeline, “but it doesn’t really matter.” Turns out, he wasn’t just being a jerk; it doesn’t really matter. Other than a mention of that being the most recent thing in her diary, there’s no holdover for her. And, aside from some mentions of it being a long time since he laughed and saying all good things must come to an end, etc., there’s nothing to announce that the Doctor’s just had a sad few billion years he can’t really remember. This really is just an adventure.
Douglas Mackinnon did a really nice job directing, as he always does. Mackinnon’s now directed eight episodes, making him the third most prolific director of Nu Who behind Euros Lyn and Graeme Harper. He’s always solid, though I will say, the budget of this episode does appear to have been pretty low. It’s very obvious they redressed the Trap Street set from “Face the Raven” for the alien world at Christmastime, and when River and the Doctor confab aboard Hydroflax’s flying saucer, it’s the President of Earth airplane set redressed. This type of thing happens all the time and usually it’s not so noticeable, but here for some reason it really stood out.
And, yeah, some famous comedians in Britain were in this, like the aforementioned Davies and Matt Lucas. And while they both did fine, the episode was really about the Doctor and River. There were lots of great little moments—like the Doctor having both his sonic sunglasses and his new sonic screwdriver (take THAT sunglasses haters)—and the Doctor getting to finally say the “it’s bigger on the inside” speech the way he’s always thought it ought to be said. Stuff like that made the straightforward story a lot more fun.
It’s Christmas. It’s fun. Doctor Who makes us laugh and tugs at our heartstrings. The only real sad thing is now we’re probably going to have to wait nine more months until we get any new episodes. Bah Humbug.