Doctor Who Christmas Special Review: The Husbands of River Song

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It's Christmastime, which means we were treated to a Doctor Who Christmas special! And after the rather down-beat ending to Season 9, "The Husbands of River Song" is a cheerful and at times heart-ful counterpoint.

Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 13 serves as something of a bookend to the story of Alex Kingston's River, with what is possibly her final appearance on the series. The character has been somewhat controversial since her introduction, to say the least.

Suffice to say, if you don't like River Song, you probably won't like this story. Happily, I do like her, and I enjoyed this story very much!

The Husbands of River Song - Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 13

The TARDIS was trying to cheer up the Doctor after the events of Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 12, to the point that she was putting holographic antlers on the Time Lord's head! Fortunately, River Song proved just the thing to shake him free of his funk and make him smile again.

There were some stellar one-liners and downright hilarious moments, many courtesy of River's lack of recognition of the Doctor.

River Song: If either of you ever use my name again, I'll remove your organs in alphabetical order. Any questions?
The Doctor: Which alphabet?

Though possibly the hands-down funniest moment of the episode came when the Doctor had to express fake surprise and shock that the TARDIS was bigger on the inside than the outside, giving him the opportunity to do it "properly," as he described it. Alas, it was somewhat lost on River.

He was somewhat miffed to discover that River had a habit of stealing his TARDIS when he wasn't looking. (This may explain a few things...)

River Song is a complicated character with an even more complicated timeline. The Doctor really wasn't far off when he said that he needed a bigger flow chart! This story for her was set at some point after Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 5, "The Angels Take Manhattan."

That was the episode in which her parents Amy and Rory died. Ouch. And River also realized that her own time was likely nearly up, given that she was running out of space in her omnipresent diary.

[Her diary is almost full] The man who gave me this was the sort of man who knew exactly how long a diary you were going to need.

Also specifically mentioned from River's Diary were The Pandorica Opens (Doctor Who Season 5 Episodes 12-13), Picnic at Asgard, Crash of the Byzantium (Doctor Who Season 5 Episodes 4-5), Jim the Fish (mentioned in Doctor Who Season 6 Episode 1).

This story was a treat for fans who remember River's first appearance in Doctor Who Season 4 Episode 8 and Episode 9; in that story, she directly referenced the events in this one.

She told David Tennant's Tenth Doctor about how he showed up with a new haircut and a suit. They went to Darillium, to the Singing Towers; the towers sang and the Doctor cried. He also gave her his modified sonic screwdriver. All these things came to pass in this story.

Was the villain absurd? Oh, surely. But Christmas stories are always a bit more absurd, I think, and that's just fine with me. Don't even try to apply logic to surviving decapitation. After all, if it worked for Dorium and the Headless Monks, why not?

Though I have to admit, it was a bit unfortunate for Ramone (Phillip Rhys) and Nardole (Matt Lucas). Ramone, for his part, seemed to genuinely care for River, and she didn't seem overly upset to learn his fate.

Really, though, the strength in this episode was in the interplay between Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston. Those two acted very well off each other that it's almost tragic that we know River's headed to her fate in the Library next. It would be fun to see the River pair off with Twelve once again.

A few final thoughts and musings before I sign off:

  • Alex Kingston received full star billing in the extra-festive opening credits sequence. 
  • One of the items River pulled out of the bag later used to store Hydroflax's head? A fez, a favored head-wear of Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor.
  • The Doctor's Theme played briefly when the Doctor was looking at the spotter's-guide photos of his twelve previous faces (which included John Hurt's War Doctor).
  • River's code name for the Doctor? "Damsel in Distress," a fairly apt description of the trouble-magnet Time Lord.
  • This episode was set in the 54th Century. River would later meet her end in the Library in the 51st Century, as seen in Doctor Who Season 4 Episode 9.
  • Be sure to check out our Doctor Who quotes page for some of the notable lines from this episode.

If you missed this delightful episode, or maybe you just want to watch it all over again, you can watch Doctor Who online. Until Season 10 premieres, cheers!

The Husbands of River Song Review

Editor Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
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Doctor Who Season 9 Episode 13 Quotes

River Song: If either of you ever use my name again, I'll remove your organs in alphabetical order. Any questions?
The Doctor: Which alphabet?

[to the TARDIS] You are a time-space machine! You are a VEHICLE! I've never asked you to cheer me up with hologramatic ANTLERS!

The Doctor