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REVIEW: Doctor Who 9×13 “The Husbands of River Song”

Written by Fred McNamara

The tradition with Doctor Who Christmas specials is that they make for literal light entertainment. They’re fun, disposable respites from the meatier stuff to be found in the individual series themselves. “The Husbands of River Song” carries this tradition well, and is perhaps a perfect example of how the Christmas specials are able to separate themselves from the series, and therefore get away with things you wouldn’t find in any of the individual episodes that make up your standard Doctor Who series.

“The Husbands of River Song” is bursting with humour like I’m bursting with Christmas dinner, a whole 24 hours after consuming it. I don’t quite recall when a Doctor Who Christmas special was this focused with delivering laughs, to the point where the episode employs the efforts of two of the U.K.’s most well-known comedy actors. If this were any other episode of Doctor Who, I could easily bemoan the comic aspects of the episode and how they fall into self-parody. However, this is a Christmas special, which makes my bitching redundant. As I’ve mentioned, the Christmas specials of Doctor Who have a magical way of detaching themselves from standard criticism of Doctor Who, perhaps it’s the effects of the season!

Anywho, on with the review! “The Husbands of River Song” features the return of the Doctor’s ever-entertaining yet ever-muddled romantic interest as she’s on the cusp of stealing away a priceless diamond – a diamond that’s lodged in the head of her husband, the comically menacing Hydroflax. Unexpectedly, the Doctor becomes a sidekick to River as she embarks on a galaxy-spinning quest to achieve her theft, all the while remaining highly frustrated that River fails to recognise him in his new, grizzly form.

Following on from the mangled and morose three-part finale, the opening few scenes of “The Husbands of River Song” are a much needed blast of warm, laughable entertainment. Greg Davies gives the kind of portrayal for the kind of villain that would only be acceptable in a Christmas special, and nothing else. The same goes for Matt Lucas‘ bumbling, hapless Nardole, assistant to Hydroflax. Alex Kingston is also in spirited form, perhaps thanks to her recent adventures as the character with audio drama extraordinaries Big Finish. Curiously, her own audio stories saw a Winter release – beneath all of this lovely humour, could “The Husbands of River Song” be little more than an advert for the more complex tales to be found from Big Finish?

Well, I honestly couldn’t tell you. For me, River Song is a character who comes from a time when I temporarily gave up on Doctor Who. The general direction of the show left me cold and emotionally blank, unlike the majority of the Russell T Davies era, and yet here I am, complimenting a story that sees River Song and the Doctor become entangled in an adventure that has a surprisingly tender finale. Am I getting soft in my old age?

“The Husbands of River Song” doesn’t rectify the mind-numbing calamities that have occurred under Moffat‘s rule, because it isn’t meant to. It adds to River’s story, for sure, but it stands alone as well. Much like 2014’s “Last Christmas”, it’s perfectly designed to be digested as a one-off adventure that is satisfying enough to watch without much thought for past or future events. I mean, obviously it helps if you know who River Song actually is, but apart from that, it’s all good. Even with the Doctor’s parting gift to River, which brings her on-screen adventures full circle somewhat (spoilers!), there’s a lot to enjoy here. If anything, the cosmic Indiana Jones element of the special may have been better off as just that, without the fragile climax between the Doctor and River. But since when was Moffat a man to bow to what the fans want?

“The Husbands of River Song” does exactly what a Doctor Who Christmas special should do. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s action-packed, and it’s immensely watchable, because of its detachment from the routine of Doctor Who. We know the Christmas specials are a lot softer than other Doctor Who adventures, and “The Husbands of River Song” fits the bill perfectly.

Overall grade – B

+ Greg Davies!

+ Matt Lucas!

+ Peter Capaldi and Kingston shared quite a bit of instant and natural chemistry on the balcony, they make for a smoother pair of adventurers than Kingston and Matt Smith ever did!

– How exactly did the Doctor manage to reinvent Hydroflax as a waiter?

Extra Thought:

Whatever happened to that poor surgeon> Is he still wondering about in the snow?

Did you think “The Husbands of River Sing” found a balance between disposable Christmas fun and being a fitting end for River Song’s story? Comment below or send us a Tweet!

About the author

Fred McNamara