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Doctor Who Christmas Special 2015

The Husbands of River Song

Review by Paul Bowler

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Time and space is decked out with plenty of exciting festive action and surprises in The Husbands of River Song. Welcome to Christmas Day 5343 on the snowbound human colony world of Mendorax, where the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is trying to avoid Christmas, but when the Time Lord’s help is sought by Will Nardole (Matt Lucas) for a medical emergency on a crashed spaceship the Doctor finds himself reunited with his old flame, River Song (Alex Kingston)! However, instead of River always being one step ahead of the Doctor like she usually is, the tables are turned as – much to the Doctor’s surprise and amusement – for some inexplicable reason River Song doesn’t seem to recognise him!

Doctor Antlers

Soon the Doctor gets recruited by River Song and together they embark on a frenetic chase across the galaxy! Sonic Screwdriver and Sonic Trowels are the order of the day, as the Doctor discovers River has enraged her latest husband, the warrior King Hydroflax (Greg Davies), by trying to steal a priceless diamond (which also just happens to be lodged inside his brains!), but now his giant robotic body guard is after them and out-of-control! Can the Doctor save the day in time for Christmas, and will River Song figure out who he is? It’s a seasonal adventure that will take them to a starliner full of intergalactic villains, on a voyage through space, where everything will be revealed as they reach a destination which the Doctor has been trying to avoid for some time…

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Yes, its that most wonderful time of the year again, Christmas, and the 2015 Doctor Who Christmas special: The Husbands of River Song, written by Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat and Directed by Douglas McKinnon (The Sontaran Stratagem & The Poison Sky, The Power of Three, Cold War, Listen, Time Heist, and Flatline), is packed with lots of comedy high jinks, romance, adventure, and excitement to enjoy as the Time Lord is finally reunited with River Song at long last for this Christmas special.

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Having hoped to avoid Christmas this year, the Doctor has shut himself away in the TARDIS following the dramatic departure of Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) in the 2015 season finale: Hell Bent, but the Time Lord quickly finds there’s no escape from comedy antlers, Christmas carols, or festive cheer this year, especially with his long-lost wife River Song around! Peter Capaldi is as fabulous as ever in this special episode. The Doctor had to endure some pretty dark moments over the course of series 9, but that level of intensity can’t last forever, and it is Christmas after all, so it’s nice to see Capaldi playing a lighter side to the Doctor’s character for once as the Time Lord embarks on this fun filled adventure with River Song.

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Having been mistakenly recruited by River’s little helper Nardole, a brilliantly fun, yet quietly understated role for Matt Lucas, the Doctor quickly discovers that his archaeologist wife professor River Song is now married to the megalomaniac cyborg King Hydroflax played by Greg Davies (star of Man Down, Cuckoo, and the Inbetweeners). Greg Davies is wickedly good as the blustering infinite majesty King Hydroflax of the Final Cluster, and his gigantic lumbering robotic alter-ego is brilliantly realised on screen. River has had the Doctor brought here believing him to be a surgeon, as her husband King Hydroflax is dying, but it soon becomes clear its all part of River’s plan to acquire the precious diamond that has become wedged inside the kings brain. The fun really begins when King Hydroflax’s head gets separated from his body, stuffed inside a bag, and the Doctor and River team-up and go on the run with it with the robot bodyguard in hot pursuit.

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Alex Kingston is back as River Song in this Christmas special. When we last saw River in The Name of The Doctor (2013) she was a ghost, it seemed at the time like it would be her final story, however, it turns out The Husbands of River Song is not only set before that episode but it also takes place after the events of 2012’s The Angels Take Manhattan. River’s character really shines in this episode, Alex Kingston gives a wonderful performance, its great fun to see River teaming up with the Doctor again, especially as she doesn’t know who he really is for much of the episode (she believes the Doctor can only have the 12 faces she familiar with), and the chemistry between Kingston’s flirtatious River Song and Capaldi’s brilliant Doctor is an absolute joy to behold.

On the inside TARDIS

After being teleported to safety by another of her significant others, Ramone (Philip Rhys), River decides to steal the Doctor’s TARDIS. This leads to a hilariously staged entrance to the TARDIS for Capaldi as the Doctor gets his own “its bigger on the inside!” moment, as River takes the TARDIS and sets course to complete their mission. But because Hydroflax’s head and body are separated, the time machines safeguards won’t allow it to dematerialise. With River’s associates losing their heads in all the chaos, the robot manages to use their knowledge to find the TARDIS and force its way inside, but before it can attack their journey across time and space resumes and brings them to the starliner Harmony and Redemtion packed with aliens. The madcap heist plot does begin to skitter off the rails here a little bit, especially when River’s friend Flemming (Rowan Polonski) betrays them and lets the robot bodyguard out of the ships hold as the deal with Scratch (Robert Curtis) turns sour, but Capaldi and Kingston soon get things back on track as the timely foreknowledge of a meteor strike builds to a lovely emotional scene where River finally recognises the Doctor at last.

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There are some nice timey-wimey threads of continuity running throughout this story that pertain to virtually every episode River has appeared in. Those that really stand out were the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse of a fez, River’s wallet contains a snapshot of every Doctor, except Capaldi’s of course, the scene where River’s diary gets read out serves up a veritable treasure trove of continuity references, there’s a very special – and significant – Christmas present for River as well, and the beautiful ending with the Doctor and River gazing out at the view of The Singing Towers of Darillum (a particularly important place for both of them first mentioned in the 2008 story The Forest of the Dead ) brings River’s story full circle in the most magical way imaginable.

Dr 12 & River

Steven Moffat has crafted a glittering seasonal box of delights with this Doctor Who Christmas special. The Husbands of River Song is bursting with festive fun and jokes, the sets and effects looks stunning as well, even the title sequence gets a dusting of snow especially for the holiday season, and director Douglas McKinnon ensures that the pace of this exciting roller coaster ride never lets up for a moment. But it’s the chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston and lighter tone of this Christmas episode that makes it feel extra special. The Doctor and River Song have a terrific adventure together here, there are plenty of laughs, there’s even a few tears as well as their uncanny timey-wimey relationship is key to the moving denouement, and it all adds up to a fantastically uplifting Christmas treat! Happy Christmas sweetie!