As the last episode of 2015, the Doctor Who Christmas special “The Husbands of River Song” is a bit of a special one. It sees the reunion of the Doctor with River Song, who hasn’t made an appearance in a few seasons, as well as being the first official episode after the loss of Clara.
When we start our adventure, it’s Christmas Day in the year 5343. And while a Christmas carol plays over sweeping shots of a cozy looking town as snow falls, we come to a very bah humbug TARDIS, complete with a ‘Carol singers will be Criticized’ sign.
After being mistaken for a surgeon by Nardole, a servant played by Matt Lucas, the Doctor is taken to a nearby space ship and greeted by a shadowy figure.
And who’s under the hood? None other than archeologist, Doctor, Professor and all-round time travel bandit, River Song. She doesn’t seem to recognize the Doctor in his current regeneration, presumably because she’s unaware of his newly acquired regenerations.
We find out that the surgery he’s been called in for involves removing a diamond from the head of a tyrannical ruler, King Hydroflax, even if it means removing his head in general. But Hydroflax is a bit of an eavesdropper, as well as a cyborg, and overhears River’s devious plan. Unexpectedly, his head comes off anyway, leaving a rather aggressive mechanical body attempting to claim it back.
Escaping to the TARDIS, the Doctor gets to act out something he’s apparently been waiting a long time to do: gush in excitement about it being bigger on the inside! River seems fairly indifferent about stealing the time and space machine though, and the Doctor’s a little taken aback at the idea that she’s helped herself to the TARDIS before.
But the TARDIS doesn’t seem to want to take off, and after a quick back-and-forth, River and the Doctor theorise that it’s because Hydroflax’s body is technically inside and outside, causing a failsafe to kick in.
Luckily, or un-luckily enough, Hydroflax’s body has caught up, sporting a new head. This means that while the TARDIS is able to finally depart, a homicidal robot is now on the rampage.
River and the Doctor make a quick exit, with head still in the bag, out into a cruise ship filled with some of the worst guests ever (think genocidal maniacs on a holiday!).
After a quick dinner and the sense that River’s a regular with this crowd, we get some intimate moments between her and the Doctor. River’s journal is almost filled, and she’s smart enough to realize that the Doctor would give her a journal with the exact number of pages she would need before her death.
The buyer of the diamond, a zipper-head alien with a handy hiding place for bank spheres or maybe a pack of gum, arrives and it is revealed that he’s actually buying the diamond in honour of their past great king, Hydroflax. This is a tad awkward, when you consider they have his head in the bag, too.
With more zipperheads surrounding the room, the Doctor’s quick thinking leads him to try and auction off the head in an attempt to make them turn on themselves, but Hydroflax’s body has caught up and interrupts the proceedings.
Now held hostage, they watch on as the mechanical body scans Hydroflax’s head and comes to the conclusion that his death will be imminent, which means the need for a new head. With a quick zap that turns him to dust, a weasely alien waiter points out that a perfect replacement head would be the Doctor’s, and River is a good way to get to him.
The body comes at River hard looking to find out the Doctor’s location, under the impression that the two were in love. But River has a truth bomb: she knows that the Doctor never loved her. She’s mad, but knows that when she needs him most he would never be there. The Doctor can’t help but be affected by this reveal, yet River has made peace with it because, as she puts it, you can’t expect a sunset to love you back.
That is, until she turns back to the supposed surgeon next to her, and suddenly realizes that he was at her side the whole time. Hello, Sweetie!
With a carefully timed meteor shower about to take place, the two make their escape, but the cruise ship is now on a direct course to crash on the planet Darillium. This happens to be the exact place mentioned in Forest of the Dead, where the two were to spend their last night as they listened to the singing towers.
While giving us some of the greatest banter that River has had with the Doctor, the two eventually take shelter in the TARDIS as the ship comes down. While River is knocked out, the Doctor steals the diamond still in her possession and gives it to a man searching through the wreckage for survivors.
Zipping ahead a few years, the man has used the money to open a restaurant looking towards the singing towers, and after booking a reservation four years in advance (not a problem with a time machine), the two are finally ready to have a date that has been a long time coming.
The Doctor is nice enough to give her a present: a sonic screwdriver that River had in her very first episode, Silence in the Library.
She can’t help but remember that her diary is almost out of pages, and she couldn’t resist looking into stories about the Doctor and herself, which suggest that their night on Darillium is the last before her death. His response? Spoilers!
At first she expects the Doctor to find some loophole to get her out of it, but the Doctor knows better than anyone that it isn’t possible. And while River makes her peace that her end is near, she gets one last surprise when the Doctor reveals that a night on Darillium actually lasts for 24 years.
- What a fantastic Christmas special and episode in general. If there wasn’t enough reason already, this is proof that Capaldi’s Doctor needs at least a season with River as a companion. The two have such great chemistry, and their banter is top notch. It’s a shame the two may not get another go, but this was a perfect way to end River’s story – if it is in fact the last time we see her.
- It was really pleasing that Capaldi’s Doctor seemed to have strong affection for River. Matt Smith’s Doctor always seemed a bit cold towards her when it came to their relationship, but Capaldi got it just right.
- It would have been great if Matt Lucas could have had a little bit of a bigger role. He didn’t get to do much, although was as entertaining as always.
- Glad we finally got to see the Doctor give River her sonic screwdriver, although that sonic trowel was pretty interesting.
- The Doctor jumping ahead in time towards the episode’s end was great. It’s always fun when the TARDIS is used like the time machine that it is!