The Twelfth Doctor encounters his wife in ‘The Husbands of River Song’ – but was their meeting a marriage made in heaven?
After the increasingly weighty and tear-jerking Series Nine, Doctor Who needed a moment to breathe and have a laugh. And that is exactly what ‘The Husbands of River Song’ delivered – being one of Doctor Who’s lightest, frothiest episodes ever. It is a bit of a jarring change of tone, coming only a couple of weeks after the trauma of ‘Hell Bent’ and so it is a special that might not win over everyone. But then if you can’t enjoy something light and frothy at Christmastime then when can you?
With the Doctor and River chased by a disembodied robot whose head they have in bag, the plot is as flimsy as a hat from a Christmas cracker. Greg Davies might be pleasingly gaudy as King Hydroflax but he and his robot body make for two halves of a silly monster – despite the comedy decapitations, there was no real sense of threat or danger. Of all the Doctor Who specials, this one seems most designed to be watched on Christmas Day, when we’re all too full to think too hard about a complex story.
But then the big draw of this episode wasn’t the plot but rather the promise of Twelve meeting River – and in that it doesn’t disappoint. Professor Song doesn’t recognise her husband for a surprisingly long time but once she catches on to the truth, Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston’s chemistry ensures they are the most believable romance of any Doctor-River pairings. That may well be to do with this being the deepest look at their relationship we’ve ever got. River’s impassioned speech about how she believes that loving the Doctor is like loving “a sunset” or “the stars” is the emotional heart of the episode. And the reveal that the Doctor does indeed care for her just as much – although it is cleverly never spoken – is supremely touching.
Speaking of which, there is a beautiful handling of River’s convoluted life. Sure, some non-fans watching might get a tad lost but for those of us in the know there is a genius revisiting of a tiny reference from 2008’s ‘Forest of the Dead’ which ties together River’s seven year-long history. At the Singing Towers of Darillium, we finally see the Doctor she spoke of all that time ago – with his new haircut, suit and tears. He even gives her that sonic with the red settings! Before hand, I wouldn’t have said it needed to be seen but it is lovely to have this moment realised on-screen and makes this the perfect place to close the TARDIS-blue diary of River Song for good.
Overall, if you are feeling critical there is much to sink your teeth into but if approached in the right spirit, ‘Husbands’ is a larger-than-life, amiable romp. It’s wonderful to see the Doctor smiling and laughing (and how brilliant was his over-the-top reaction to the inside of the TARDIS?) and so we should follow suit and just enjoy this sweet, funny love story. Recent Christmas specials have tended to be quite melancholy affairs so it is nice that Doctor Who in 2015 got a happily ever after.