Saturday 6 February 2016

Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song

Most people out there are probably thankful that Christmas is over and we don’t have to hear about it for a while (though the way Christmas adverts are going, expect to hear about it in June). But I’m going to have to tackle the festive season briefly again as we’re talking about the most recent Doctor Who Christmas special; The Husbands of River Song, out now on DVD.

This episode sees the return of River Song and this is already a bad sign because River Song is just awful. She was interesting in her first introduction, a kickass archaeologist with a mysterious connection to The Doctor, but every one of her appearances since then has been increasingly worse and convoluted. Her dialogue is often made up of cringeworthy lines that fez topped, bowtie wearing Whovians will be quoting for years. So I wasn’t thrilled when I heard the title of this episode. But luckily, it’s actually pretty good.

The episode begins with The Doctor being mistaken for a surgeon and being asked by the wife of an evil tyrant called King Hydorflax to perform a dangerous operation on her beau. And who’s his wife? River Song of course! As you can tell by the name ‘Hydroflax’, this episode is not taking itself particularly seriously. At least at first. It’s a series of wacky hijinks and double entendres that are just a little tiring. One interesting element is that River doesn’t know it is The Doctor because of the new regeneration, something Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has fun with.

Peter Capaldi proves in this episode once again that he was born to regenerate into The Doctor. He is excellent, even with the sometimes questionable material he is given. Everyone else in this episode just hams it up like they’re in panto. Greg Davies is absurd as King Hydroflax and Matt Lucas is fun as comic relief Nardole. Alex Kingston is River Song, with all of the issues that come along with that; flirting with everyone (Get it?! She likes men AND women. How very modern!), Steven Moffat’s ridiculous idea of ‘girl power’ and dire uses of the word ‘sexy’. But there is one scene I’ll get back to in a moment where she just knocks it out of the park.

The episode really gets going when River and The Doctor steal Hydroflax’s head, board a space cruise liner (no Kylie anywhere to be seen this time) and subsequently survive a meteor storm in said cruise liner. It’s classic Doctor Who adventuring and it is a lot of fun, particularly when it was intended to be watched; on Christmas Day. The action and the special effects are not what is important in this episode however, it’s the relationship between The Doctor and River. It appears to be the last time they’ll ever meet, with her going on to die back when we first met her in ‘Forest of the Dead’ back in 2008. The action is silly and the plot is ridiculous but the scenes between The Doctor and River, particularly the one at the end, is the best the show has ever been.

The chemistry between River and Capaldi’s Doctor is much more balanced and the whole thing just doesn’t feel as childish. The final scene on Darillium is actually touching and I can sort of see what Steven Moffat was originally going for with River. She met The Doctor at the end of her life and they continued meeting, in order for him but out of sequence for her. That idea was enough. They should have left it there but instead the whole thing got twisted and ruined by plot after plot. At the end of The Husbands of River Song you’ll be saying “Melody Pond who?” Without spoiling too much, the scene at the end is as affecting and moving as the show has ever been. Beautiful visuals combined with a great script for two excellent actors makes it a scene to remember.

The Husbands of River Song is pretty good. Parts of it are excellent like the scene between The Doctor and River, and parts are not so good like some of the sillier elements. But it almost doesn’t matter about those bits because at the end of the episode, somehow, the showrunners have managed to bring River Song’s story to a close in a great way. Not quite as good as the series that proceeded it but one of the better Christmas Who stories. If it was balanced more to the dramatic like the series it followed then it might have hit four stars, parts of the episode are truly excellent but others are sadly forgettable. 

The Husbands of River Song scores a good 3/5.


Jack Bumby

Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song at CeX

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