RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘The Husbands of River Song’

So what happened?

Having stopped off with his TARDIS on Christmas Day 5343 on a human colony on Mendorax Dellora, The Doctor is mistaken for being a surgeon by a bumbling servant called Nardole and taken to a crashed spaceship, before being greeted by River Song, who seemingly doesn’t recognise him. To his disgust, she too mistakes him for the surgeon she hired and informs him that there’ll be grave consequences if he doesn’t heal her dying husband, King Hydroflax, who’s adored by billions of his loyal subjects. Pulling him into another room to discuss the ailing monarch’s predicament, River tells Twelve that she intends to have him remove the most valuable diamond in the Universe, the Halassi Androvar, which is lodged in her husband’s brain by any means possible, specifically by having him remove his head so she can sell the jewel on. Having overheard her plot to kill him, Hydroflax has his mechanical body unscrew his head and plonk it down on the console in front of her, before ordering his ‘other half’ to kill her and The Doctor. A stalemate is reached, however, when Twelve grabs his head and threatens to drop it down the waste disposal, giving them time to be transported off the the spaceship when the hulking metal body downs its weapons.

Nardole uploaded
Nardole (Matt Lucas) after being ‘uploaded’ by Hydroflax’s body.

Escaping with their lives and a bag containing Hydroflax’s head which continues to issue threats at them, they’re soon met by Ramone, River’s colleague and actual husband; a turn of events which continues to stoke Capaldi’s character’s exasperation and jealously as he still finds it hard to believe that she doesn’t recognise him. Completely clueless about his inner turmoil she lets slip to him that she purposefully crashed Hydroflax’s spaceship in that location because she knew it’d be near where ‘Damsel’ was due to be. Seeing his confusion over the codename, she reveals an incomplete set of his faces to him and states that as there’s no sign of The Doctor, they’ll just have to borrow his TARDIS. There’s a problem though when the time travel device won’t go where she wants it to because its safeguards can sense that Hydroflax’s head has been separated from his body. In the meantime, whilst roaming around the colony’s streets, Ramone can hear Nardole calling for help and is horrified to find that he’s been decapitated by Hydroflax’s body and ‘uploaded’, a fate that awaits him soon after, and allows the metallic beast to trick his way into the TARDIS. The Doctor utilises his presence there though and shuts the doors, allowing them to finally travel to the destination River had programmed in.

Having materialised on a starship called ‘Harmony and Redemption’, a luxury space liner geared towards various races of super rich psychopaths, River asks the maitre’d, Flemming, to deadlock the baggage hold so Hydroflax’s body can’t chase after them, and is escorted to the table she booked with Twelve to await her buyer for the diamond still lodged in the King’s head; a shady character named Scratch who eventually turns up and reveals that he’s filled the restaurant with his cohorts in case River tries to pull some sort of stunt. Satisfied that she has the diamond, Scratch pays her, but just as she’s about to hand the head over, it transpires that her buyer and his cohorts worship the King like a God. Managing to confuse those who’d obviously try to kill them if they knew what they’d done to their beloved monarch, The Doctor takes the initiative and begins to auction off the head, giving him and River the opportunity to escape as their adversaries turn on each other. They’re thwarted, however, by Flemming who’s liberated Hydroflax’s body from the baggage hold in return for his own head staying on his shoulders and the promise that he’ll direct the clunking monstrosity towards River Song, who’d be excellent bait to root out The Doctor and take the useful information stored in his memory as his crowning glory.

Ascertaining that his head has deteriorated beyond repair, Hydroflax’s body incinerates it, leaving only the diamond, before quizzing River about the whereabouts of her Time Lord husband. Insisting that she has no idea where he is, no expectations that he’d try to save her and therefore that she’d be a useless means of luring him because he’s incapable of loving her in any conventional sense, it’s only then that she realises he’s been with her all along when he greets her with her usual words, “Hello, sweetie.” Reassured by the fact her husband is by her side, River has already used her knowledge as a time travelling archaeologist to plot her escape route; an impending meteor strike, which crashes into the space ship and gives them the distraction they need to get away. On their way to the bridge to try and prevent it from crashing, The Doctor coaxes Hydroflax’s body to upload Scratch’s universal bank transfer device with the promise of him becoming infinitely rich, knowing that the bank’s firewalls will cause all of his systems to fail, whilst River manages to get the diamond.

As they argue over their marriages to other people, they soon come to realise that saving the ship and the psychopaths aboard is beyond their capabilities and that the lives of murderers aren’t worth their own, both of them eventually seek the safety of the TARDIS after a brief ‘discussion’ about who should stay behind to oversee the crashing of the ship onto the planet Darillium. Even inside, the force of the crash flings them both across the console room, leaving River relatively unharmed but unconscious. As she sleeps off her injury, Twelve finally decides to give in to fate and heads out of the TARDIS the following day to be met by an inhabitant of the planet with the famous Singing Towers, (the site where he and River are said to have spent their last night together), who’s searching the wreckage of the crashed ship for survivors. Telling the man that it’s not worth looking, he gives him the idea to build a restaurant right where they stand with an excellent view of the towers and hands over the diamond for him to fund it.

Twelve River Darillium
Twelve (Peter Capaldi) and River Song (Alex Kingston) preparing to spend their last night together on Darillium.

Travelling forward a few years, he manages to book the best table in the establishment on Christmas Day for four years in the future and after travelling to that date instantaneously, leaves his wife to come round. When she does, she realises where she is and uses her magical spray to change into something more appropriate as she’s taken to the table on the balcony where she’s greeted by Ramone and Nardole, who were pulled from the wreckage and are now living side by side in Hydroflax’s overhauled body whilst working at the restaurant. Twelve soon appears wearing a new suit and bearing the gift of the sonic screwdriver which we first see in their first/last meeting in The Library. Aware that there are rumours about this being their last encounter, River asks The Doctor about it but he refuses to answer her citing “Spoilers” and inferring that the end of their time together is inevitable. As she steels herself for her fate, she quizzes him about how long a night on Darillium actually is and he happily tells her it’s 24 years, allowing her the time, not necessarily eternity, that she wanted with him. As the picture fades on them smiling at each other, the screen flashes up the words, “And they lived happily ever after”, which aptly begin to blow away in the wind before the credits roll.

Creep Christmas Factor

Marieke: Although cut-open-in-half-heads with bank accounts and slime in them tick a creep factor box, that’s not what this episode was about. It was nice, funny, fluffy and a lovely goodbye to River. ‘The Husbands of River Song’ also showed us Twelve in a way we haven’t seen him before, – mocking the TARDIS, or more accurately people’s reactions to her interior, flirting with and teasing an unknowing River and finally giving her the night of her life at the location she’s always wanted to visit. He even made the restaurant happen. And the establishment looked very Christmassy. What’s not to like?

Antlers
The Doctor addressing Nardole, complete with holographic antlers courtesy of the TARDIS.

Danielle: Nice antlers, Twelve! Also an excellent Christmas present for the woman who has everything because she’s used to just stealing it. My ‘Sonic Envy’ continues to know no bounds. I loved that River basically introduced herself to The Doctor dressed as cross between the woman from the Scottish Widows advert and  Mother Christmas. Just perfect.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: King Hydroflax. Basically, Greg Davies’ head on a Big Hero 6 Baymax-like costume. It must be an -ax thing. It turns out to to be more the suit that is evil, trying to find its head and gathering a few more in the meantime, whilst being highly manipulative. Matt Lucas’ head resides more in its belly and even River’s other husband gets killed by another of her men. Although, she’s married the diamond and not its body… The Hydroflax was menacing mostly due to its manipulative tendencies, but it also had something funny about it… I guess a King’s body ending up as a butler was the proper Christmassy ending!

Danielle: I always like the deliberately ridiculous ‘villains’ and Greg Davies’ role as a murderous monarch with a very understandable ‘Napoleon Complex’ was pitch perfect for this Christmas Special, especially as he was constantly outmaneuvered by his intellectual superiors River, The Doctor and ultimately even his own headless, ‘tin can on steroids’ body. Truth be told, The Hoot-Owl Death Sign is far more harrowing and intimidating than a shouty head ever could be.

Mystery

Marieke: How did River Song manage to marry Stephen Fry??! We need an episode to cover this.

Danielle: Is this really River’s arc all tied up neatly in a bow now? It certainly seems like it, but this wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey malarky is a difficult thing to judge. All it would take is a memory wipe by River on The Doctor and… well… you get my drift. More pertinently perhaps, is the fact Moffat is apparently closing the door on the one character he refuses to place in another writer’s hands a sign that he’s gearing up to step down as showrunner? I’d wager it probably is.

Familiar Face
Matt Lucas
Matt Lucas as Nardole.
Greg Davies
Greg Davies as the head of King Hydroflax.

There were two familiar faces for regular watchers of British telly in this festive episode. Matt Lucas, best known for his double act with David Walliams on Little Britain, played the stupid, but infinitely likeable servant, Nardole, who unwittingly orchestrates the initial meeting between River and The Doctor. Elsewhere, stalwart of panel shows and comedic actor , Greg Davies, gave an excellent turn as the utterly ridiculous and eternally angry head of King Hydroflax.

The Verdict?

Marieke: After a series of Doctor Who which I rated as mediocre, with a few exceptions, I had no expectations for this special. And as is turns out… I LOVED it. I like Twelve (as you know, not my Doctor) like this. He and River bounced off each other so well and they matched. The looks, the glances, I believed them. Truly a bickering, married couple. On the contrary, during the series, I never was convinced by Twelve’s fondness of Clara. She was a match with Eleven, but never worked for me with his regeneration. As if the show never really knew what to do with them as a couple and Clara on her own. To me they were a bit of a mismatch, which became clear to me when Twelve met River. Also I loved the nod to the past with the Eleventh Doctor head shots and calling him the ‘damsel’. I do hope River has space for Twelve ‘s pic, cause she has got to catch them all! This special gives me some hope for next series and maybe the mind wipe I so disliked in the finale will turn out to be a good thing. This Christmas gave me Twelve as the Doctor. Now I want those five gold rings.

River Twelve only time
With River’s arc now seemingly over, will this really be the only time that River and Twelve get to interact on-screen?

Danielle: It’s been no secret that I had a hell of lot more time for Capaldi’s Doctor than Marieke has throughout Series 9. Couple that with the fact they were bringing my favourite time-travelling archaeologist back for a guest stint, and I already had a good idea that I was going to like ‘The Husbands of River Song’ long before it aired. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect Moffat to knock it out of the park in such spectacular fashion. It’s hard to pinpoint a single scene that I loved the most so I narrowed it down to two. Hydroflax hurling abuse at Twelve and River from the inside of her bag was damn hilarious, and them reacting to it with a spontaneous outbreak of laughter was the perfect showcase for the easy, laid-back chemistry between Capaldi and Kingston in this episode. I think the jewel in the crown here was the final scene in the restaurant between the married couple though. It really was a poignant ending to River’s arc in the show as she and The Doctor finally allowed themselves the time they needed to have their ‘happily ever after’, particularly as we already know that this will be the last time they see each other before her date with destiny in the Library. Those ‘Singing Towers’ on Darillium sure were picturesque too, and were only enhanced by a breathtaking score.

Singing Towers
The ‘Singing Towers’ of Darillium.

For me, the greatest tragedy isn’t necessarily that it’s the end of River’s story. It’s hard to think of a more fitting and beautiful end to a love story that constantly saw the two main players being pulled through Time and Space in different directions, particularly as the conclusion to their relationship finally sought to give them some room to breathe away from the next mortal peril/alien invasion. Instead, I think the saddest thing is that Capaldi and Kingston didn’t get to spend more time on screen together. I loved Eleven and River side by side, yet I’d happily trade a few of their episodes for more interaction between these great actors, who seem to have a ridiculous amount of natural rapport. But hey, maybe being left wanting more is a good thing…

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