‘Doctor Who’ Christmas Special 2015 Review: ‘The Husbands of River Song’ Is a Holiday Highlight
Recap and review of Doctor Who – Christmas Special 2015 – The Husbands of River Song:
Doctor Who has had a hard time getting rid of River Song (Alex Kingston), and with good reason: not only is she one of the more interesting characters in the show’s gallery, she’s someone who, as Steven Moffat put it, started out dead. So it’s hard to really put an end to a character who seems like she has as many lives as The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) himself! And yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Husbands of River Song” is the last we ever see of her. If nothing else, it would be a fitting end to a relationship that’s now spanned three incarnations of the Time Lord.
“The Husbands of River Song” is a holiday highlight less for its adventurous qualities, and more for how it somewhat softens a Doctor who spent the last three episodes in a state of near-constant anguish. The adventure seems somewhat ancillary, in the grand scheme of things. It’s mostly just a diamond heist story. However, instead of the diamond being inside a vault or an art gallery, it’s inside the head of a powerful warlord known as King Hydroflax (Greg Davies). River enlists the help of The Doctor, not realizing who he is, since she doesn’t know he’s got himself a new face since they last met. It’s interesting to see how River acts when she’s independent from The Doctor, completely separated from his influence or direction in an adventure. In fact, I’d rather have seen vignettes of what River has been up to in the intervening years, since we only get hints of it here, meeting new assistant Nardole (Matt Lucas), husband King Hydroflax (a marriage River allowed solely so she could get her hands on the diamond), and new husband Ramon (Phillip Rhys), who has had their marriage wiped from his memory by River. I’m not necessarily saying we should get a spinoff or anything, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in what River’s been up to. I also think this season, with its focus on hybrids, could have gotten a lot of mileage out of exploring how a human/Time Lord hybrid makes her way in the world, particularly without a TARDIS and with a seemingly limited understanding of her own Time Lord heritage. I also feel like the episode could have done more to explore River’s own sense of personal loss. It’s implied the episode takes place not long after River lost Amy and Rory in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, so both she and The Doctor are in a state of recent loss, with even The Doctor admitting that it’s been a long time since he’s laughed. While the marriage between The Doctor and River has been controversial among many Whovians, I think it works largely because they’re both uniquely damaged people. It’s a marriage that wouldn’t make sense for any other two people in the universe but The Doctor and River Song. I like the complexity their relationship holds, and the understanding that their time is unalterably limited.
One of the most powerful moments of the episode is when River asserts to the villains that they shouldn’t bother trying to use her as bait to lure The Doctor, since he would never come to save her. She essentially chastises the villains for being so shortsighted that they assume her loving him means he somehow loves her back, when this has never been the case, in her mind. “He is the Doctor, he doesn’t go around falling in love with people, and if you think he’s somebody that small or that ordinary, you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re dealing with,” she declares, in Alex Kingston’s best moment in the episode. Seriously, it was a Doctor-worthy speech, in its emotional output. It would be easy to just write it off as more sentimental fluff, particularly once The Doctor reveals his identity to her by turning her own catchphrase against her (“Hello, Sweetie.”). But the relationship between River and The Doctor is fraught with complicated sentimentality. They love each other, but neither is really in a position to do much about it, since they already know exactly how this story is supposed to end. River mentions how her diary is nearly full, which is why sadness hangs over her every interaction with The Doctor, especially once the ship they’re on crash lands on Darillium, the planet on which she and The Doctor are rumored to spend their final night together. It’s unabashedly emotional, and features callbacks that set up River’s eventual final confrontation with the Tenth Doctor in “Forests of the Dead”, such as The Doctor giving her a Sonic Screwdriver of her own. However, while it all seems like a reminder that their relationship can never be normal, the episode ends with The Doctor revealing that a night on Darillium lasts 24 years. In essence, The Doctor and River get to have a normal life for nearly two and a half decades. While that time might go fast, relative to how long both characters have been around already, it’s enough time to forge a new lifetime of memories. It also leaves a possible window open for River’s return, if Moffat sees a reason for it. Regardless, I wouldn’t complain if this is how we capped off The Doctor and River Song’s relationship. After all, even the best romances have to come to an end, whether through heartbreak, tragedy, or plain old time.
“The Husbands of River Song” was a delightful hour of TV, and bodes well for the post-Clara era of Doctor Who. The Doctor will be back next year with a new companion, and while we don’t know who that is just yet, it should be interesting to see how the Time Lord forges ahead with a companion whose acquaintance with the legendary “Doctor” is entirely limited to his Twelfth incarnation. Until then, this holiday special is a great way to leave things, as we ponder what the future holds for Doctor Who.
But what did you think of the Doctor Who Christmas Special 2015, “The Husbands of River Song”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Doctor Who, relive the Series 9 finale with our review of “Hell Bent”!