REVIEWED BY Chantelle Harvey
Editors Note – this Review contains Major Spoilers!!
On Christmas Day 2015 Doctor Who returned for, it’s now traditional Christmas Day outing and the Doctor needed cheering up and so did we after Clara’s emotional farewell. But did Steven Moffat fully deliver a proper prescription?
In previous years, Doctor Who Christmas specials have had their fair share of criticism. Whimsical, fanciful, sometimes a bit too wacky to hold the average viewer’s attention on a cold Christmas evening. So why does the Husbands of River Song feel different?
After a series full of dark, sometimes bordering on depressing, themes without a real comedy episode, series 9 was epic, bold and severely missing what Doctor Who sometimes does best; light-hearted fun. For this reviewer, hearing Murray Gold’s upbeat music rolling before the titles alone put a smile on my face.
So what’s the story? It’s (conveniently) Christmas Day, 5343 and the Doctor is in a grump. Carol singers are warned: you will be criticized. Seemingly the Doctor is feeling lonely after the loss of Clara Oswald in the ground-breaking finale, and just as any good friend should, the TARDIS attempts to cheer the Doctor up with a pair of festive reindeer antlers. His reaction is pretty clear: he doesn’t want help.
But someone needs a surgeon, and lo and behold, the Doctor is waiting for the call. Well, not quite, he’s more mistakenly coerced for the position. Nardole , played by the brilliant Matt Lucas, leads the Doctor straight to a real-life flying saucer, and, more importantly, an old friend. River Song unveils herself in timely fashion.
Yet, what’s this? River doesn’t recognise the Doctor! One thing is for certain, she urgently needs his help. Her husband (the other one… no, the other-other one) needs medical attention – and she needs the diamond stuck in his head.
There’s only one solution: they have to remove it. No, not the diamond. The head.
For Christmas Day it’s the perfect remedy; silly jokes, fantastic puns, quick-witted one-liners. You can tell that Moffat is having fun here because he is, for once, not letting plot or emotional substance hold him back from producing fifty minutes of comedy material. There is truly some wonderful pieces in this ep; the Doctor pretending to react to the TARDIS for the first time (“It’s my go!”), for example, and his two ‘powerful’ reactionary speeches which crash, bang and completely miss their intended audiences. However, for Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston as the Doctor and River Song, their dynamic truly shines when the high-intensity plot comes to play. Their science babble and easy banter capture the core success of their relationship (no matter the Doctor’s face) and as a viewer, it’s interesting to watch unfold.
But this is Doctor Who, and you can’t get too comfortable. With the laughs also comes the drama. It was a lovely touch from Moffat, keeping the idea of River not knowing the Doctor for most of the episode (and a touching analogy of the Doctor not recognising Clara at the end of Hell Bent), albeit sometimes unbelievable. For anyone who originally was not fond of this plot element, the restaurant scene where so much is said in not many words at all has the strength and ability to turn any critic around. “It’s the easiest lie to tell a man,” claims River when describing falling in love, and the sudden uncertainty is clear in the Doctor’s eyes. You can learn more about River in this single conversation than you ever could from fifty minutes of flirting.
The real emotion, however, is reserved for the final scene; the singing towers of Darillium. We’ve heard so much about it, everyone has anticipated it, but now that it’s finally here the moment feels too. simple. The scene is just how River described to the Tenth Doctor all those years ago; the Doctor in a proper suit and a new haircut. The towers sang and he cried. Once again, the Doctor avoids saying anything too obvious, but one thing is abundantly clear; he’s learnt from his mistakes with Clara; “Not everything can be avoided. Not forever.” River’s response to the meaning of forever isn’t just relevant to her relationship with the Doctor, and their last twenty-four years on Darillium, but is also a response to the whole of series nine and the gone-too-far ‘duty of care’ adopted by the Doctor; “[Happily ever after]. It means time. A little time.”
And after a whole series of struggling for ‘a little more time’ between the Doctor and Clara, the immortal Ashildr/Me, and the extra splinter of time reserved on Darillium for the Doctor and River, series nine ended on an uplifting optimistic note, true of the Christmas spirit.
They lived happily. Whoever ‘they’ may be.
Official Episode Summary
It’s Christmas Day on a remote human colony and the Doctor is hiding from Christmas Carols and Comedy Antlers. But when a crashed spaceship calls upon the Doctor for help, he finds himself recruited into River Song’s squad and hurled into a fast and frantic chase across the galaxy. King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) is furious, and his giant Robot bodyguard is out-of-control and coming for them all! Will Nardole (Matt Lucas) survive? And when will River Song work out who the Doctor is?
All will be revealed on a starliner full of galactic super-villains and a destination the Doctor has been avoiding for a very long time.
- The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
- River Song – Alex Kingston
- Nardole – Matt Lucas
- King Hydroflax – Greg Davies
- Ramone – Phillip Rhys
- Flemming – Rowan Polonski
- Scratch – Robert Curtis
- Concierge – Anthony Cozens
- Alphonse – Chris Lew Kum Hoi
- Receptionist – Nicole Smartt King
- Hyrdoflax’s body – Liam Cook
- Voice of Hydroflax – Nonso Anozie
- Written by Steven Moffat
- Directed by Douglas Mackinnon (Listen, Flatline).
- Music by Murray Gold/BBC National Orchestra of Wales