The Husbands of River Song is a funny one, not just because it is legitimately funny, but instead of focusing on anything too Christmassy it instead ties a neat bow around the complicated history between The Doctor and River Song, making this the adventure she had just before her final appearance (or first appearance, from our and The Doctor’s perspective). Does it work? Well… let’s find out!
On Christmas Day 5343 on the human colony of Mendorax Dellora, The Doctor is mistaken by a servant named Nardole for a surgeon hired by River Song to attend to her dying husband, King Hydroflax…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Ooo, that’s not a happy date, right there.
The vast majority of the story is amusing hijinks with The Doctor and River, which is fine by me. There is a good twist in their relationship because River believes The Doctor only has the twelve faces she has in her wallet and therefore, for once, doesn’t recognise her husband and doesn’t act all… wink-wink, nod-nod like she does when around him normally. The Doctor is picked up by the debuting Nardole (Matt Lucas), who clearly is written here as a one off character, and taken to River as she requested a surgeon. Turns out her latest husband, King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) is dying, due to an extremely valuable diamond slowly making its way into his brain after a heist gone wrong. Of course River only married him because she wants the diamond in his head, and given Hydroflax is a mass-murdering tyrant, she’s okay with offing him to get it. The Doctor is momentarily stunned that she’s like this when he’s not around, but soon the two make their escape with the still-alive head, which is removable from the giant robot body, and start to share a laugh when Hydroflax berates them from within a cloth bag. It’s perfect because Peter Capaldi, Alex Kingston and Greg Davies all have great comedic timing and bounce off of each other really well.
While The Doctor and River then travel to a spaceship/restaurant where River is going to sell the diamond, even if it’s still in a talking head, Hydroflax’s body is now searching for its other-half and started assimilating River’s associates, including Nardole. The buyers arrive and it’s a higher up of an extremely shady group called “The Shoal of the Winter Harmony”, who pry open their own heads to store things in. Sadly for them, The Doctor and River find out that this group is strongly devoted to the legend of Hydroflax, so when they’re eventually forced to reveal the diamond is in the head of their God-like figure things get a bit tense… even more so when Hydroflax’s body arrives and starts causing destruction. Some meteorites strike the ship (as River had planned, the perks of time travel and all that) and things get ever more chaotic, as River tries to save the ship while The Doctor disables Hydroflax’s body (after it destroyed its own head) and it’s during this time that River finds out who this mysterious man with her is, right after giving a big speech bigging him up.
The ship starts heading for Darillium, where The Doctor knows from River’s past words was the place she was just before he first met her, which was also the day she died. Despite best efforts they crash there, and while River is unconscious The Doctor sets up a perfect date at a restaurant right in front of the “Singing Towers of Darillium”. The two share some lovely moments, with The Doctor not letting on that this was River’s pre-death dinner, but making sure to give her a sonic screwdriver, as she had when they first met. River catches on to the fact that this will be their last night, but is relieved to hear a night on Darillium lasts 24 years…
I like how they get Greg Davies in, one of the legitimately tallest comedians around, and have him spend most of the episode as a disembodied head, no doubt crouching under a table while filming!
Honestly? Not much! It’s genuinely a funny adventure for 45 minutes, then a very heart-warming sequence for the last 10. Any niggles I would otherwise have had can be dismissed due to it being an intentionally light-hearted Christmas story…
The beginning of a very… odd friendship.
Obviously the main one is River Song’s debut story, “Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead”, where she specifically mentions the last time they met The Doctor had turned up with a new haircut and a suit, which The Doctor mentions here, he gives her the sonic screwdriver that ends up saving her consciousness, and in general River states that they were at the “Singing Towers of Darillium” and that The Doctor shed a tear, which again, he does. It’s a nice closing loop, though I can’t imagine River won’t meet future Doctors, more than likely the shoe will just be on the other foot and her memory will have to be erased…
There are mentions of most of River’s past TV appearances throughout the story as well, plus River has a wallet with pictures of the other 12 Doctors prior to this one, but again, that’s not really specific continuity. Obviously Nardole will reappear in the next Christmas special “The Return of the Doctor Mysterio”, and become a companion until the Twelfth Doctor’s last story. “The Shoal of the Winter Harmony” also reappear in the next Christmas special…
Awwww…. It’s a shame one of them is never going to see the other again, and the other will die… still, awwww.
The Husbands of River Song is a real fun journey with a heart-warming and fan pleasing finale. It might not be the most Christmassy story, but it’s among the most flat-out fun stories to put on, and who doesn’t want to have fun at Christmas?