This year’s Doctor Who festive treat sees Peter Capaldi’s Doctor meet River Song for the first time and offers us one of the better Christmas Specials: being a amusing romp.
In the year 5343 on the human colony of Mendorax Dellora River Song requests for the services of a surgeon to save her husband, King Hydroflax (Greg Davies), who has a diamond stuck in his head. The man to answer the call is The Doctor, but River does not recognize him, and he is not happy about River remarrying. However there is always an ulterior motive in any plot involving River.
“The Husbands of River Song” goes down the comedic route for most of its running time and it succeeds in being a light-hearted adventure. The tone is set with The Doctor putting a note on the TARDIS to deter visitors, and he comes out with some Christmasy gear. Most of the humor revolves around The Doctor and River having witty exchanges, and the episode has some of the funniest dialogue in the series. Capaldi and Alex Kingston were brilliant together having excellent comic timing as they bicker. Kingston also has to give a speech to Hydroflax’s subject where she is allowed to ham it up. Hopefully, we will get to see more of Capaldi and Kingston together.
As well as bringing back Kingston, the episode brings in The Inbetweeners‘ Greg Davies and Matt Lucas – showing “The Husbands of River Song’s” comedic intent. Although Davies is very funny in The Inbetweeners and as a stand-up comedian, he was disappointing as the main villain. Davies was not given strong material as in the intimidating Mr. Gilbert in The Inbetweeners. He still gets to threaten The Doctor and River, but Davies was the butt of the joke rather than being funny because of his ability to insult and mentally destroy people. Davies is still an entertaining presence, which is more than can be said about Matt Lucas – who had fewer notable lines and his wimpy character wears thin relatively quickly.
While “The Husbands of River Song” is mostly a comedic and light-hearted affair, there is still emotional moments that allows for development of the relationship between River and The Doctor. River has to give a terrific speech as she describes her feelings for The Doctor and how he feels towards her. River also has to face her own mortality, that her time is coming to an end.
Some Christmas Specials have to find a way to bring in Christmas iconography, and themes are forced into episodes, such as the pilot fish dressed as Santa, A Christmas Carol and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Except for the odd joke, “The Husbands of River Song” is really a longer Doctor Who episode that just happens to be set at Christmas than a Doctor Who Christmas episode.
Steven Moffat does find ways to reference River’s past with The Doctor, showing his previous faces, getting a reading of her diary and showing some The Doctor’s items River has collected over the years. But Moffat wrote this episode as a way to finish the River Song storyline: she only knew the Doctor twelve previous forms and had the idea that The Doctor regenerated after Matt Smith. The implication being that River will not see any future incarnation of The Doctor. The Doctor also gives River a gift that becomes important during her first appearance on the show. But the timeline of The Doctor and River’s meetings is very shrewd so we should have a never say never mindset.
“The Husbands of River Song” shows what Doctor Who should normally be – be light-hearted and funny but still have an emotional center. If this happens to be River Song’s last episode, then it was a worthy send off.