12 Great Moments From The Husbands of River Song
Mark McCullough picks out 12 faves from the festive special.
This one’s a little different to any other of the other articles I’ve written in this series, in that there has been a much longer period of time between finishing the episode and writing this article. I’ve actually watched the episode four times already and I have to say, I loved The Husbands of River Song. But it has given me the toughest decision I’ve faced to date in drawing up a list of highlight. There were three absolute standouts, which we will get to in due time. The rest of the episode however was a much of a muchness, making it very hard to justify calling something better than the rest. This is the problem a consistently strong narrative poses, and it’s a nice problem to have. So advance apologies to anyone who feels their choices were ignored!
12. I Basically Married the Diamond
One of the particular highlights of the story were the few scenes that showed us what River was like when she thought the Doctor was not around. These moments did wonders for the character, giving her a grittier edge, as she was revealed to be a lot less morally sound than her Time Lord husband. It was fascinating to see her suggest removing someone’s head in order to extract the diamond for her own purposes. Furthermore when you consider the lengths she has went to in order to acquire the diamond, marrying King Hydroflax, and what she must have done to earn a place on that cruise ship, it shows just how far she is willing to go to get the job done. River undoubtedly works best freed from the ties of her relationship with the Ponds
11. The Diamond Exchange
I have chosen to cover this all as one moment so I can talk about it all. It’s a quite unusual affair, in that it initially seems to be written to be taken seriously, but works best if you can laugh at it. Scratch is quite a unique character in that he is presented as threatening and cryptic while at the same time being downright weird splitting his head in half. One also has to wonder if the Doctor’s comment about it not being appropriate for a restaurant were intended as a topical reference. The revelation that Scratch has replaced the entire restaurant is quite a chilling one, but something the narrative fails to utilise to full effect. The final twist that Scratch is loyal to Hydroflax is delightfully funny in the knowledge that it his head is in the bag. A touch predictable, but effective nonetheless.
10. I Haven’t Laughed in a Long Time
Probably one of the simplest scenes in the episode is one that stood out to me. After the Doctor and River are teleported to safety, I adore the moment where they spend a bit of time together lying in the snow laughing. There were numerous scenes from the episode I could have chosen to highlight the chemistry between an undeniable fantastic actor and an equally phenomenal actress. They just looked like they were enjoying working together here, and that was something that was just so nice to see.
9. In and Out at the Same Time
One of the two scenes from the TARDIS I wanted to pick out for this list, purely for the irony factor involved. Here the Doctor works out the reason why the TARDIS cannot take off, whilst at the same time pretending he has no idea what the ship is and how it works. This scene can be extended to cover the majority of the episode in which he exhibits behaviour that suggest he could only be the Doctor, yet each time River remains oblivious. You could argue that River is judging him on a superficial basis, dismissing the idea because he doesn’t look like her Doctor. But I believe that she actually doesn’t consider the possibility that there could be more Doctors, strange given that she knows his ability to escape death. The most ironic moment of the episode also occurs here where River almost mocks the Doctor for being ‘quick’ when it is her missing the obvious throughout.
8. River Confronts Hydroflax
There is quite an interesting scene that occurs after King Hydroflax interrupts River and the Doctor’s conversation. What follows is a scene for River which is very reminiscent of what the fandom would call a ‘Doctor Defining Moment’. By that I mean moments like in The Eleventh Hour where the Doctor challenges the Attraxi, or in Flatline, or even more recently the speech in The Zygon Inversion. This feels like that sort of scene for River, where she champions the oppressed and stands up to a figure of cruelty. To complete the metaphor, she even produces her own sonic device. This scene works well to connect the special with the themes of Series Nine which saw Clara compared to the Doctor.
7. Build a Restaurant
I love this scene for what it symbolises. It’s not just the Doctor being incredibly kind to a total stranger by giving him the valuable gem necessary to raise the funds for the most sought after restaurant in the galaxy. Considering the lengths that River went to in order to get the gem in the first place, it actually turns out that what she got was her final goodbye from the Doctor. Thinking in terms of time now, the pair had to share this last adventure in order for it to be possible from them to ever have their goodbye. This changes the whole context of the episode on re-watch and makes it all the more poignant for River’s character.
6. One Should Always Have Something Sensational to Read on a Spaceship
River and the Doctor’s dinner on board the space ship saw one of the most emotive conversations between River and the Doctor. Again this is a scene where I have to commend the ability of Capaldi and Kingston as they get into character so well that the majority of the impact of this scene comes from the body language. This in fact was the opener for the Doctor who picked up that River looked sad when looking at the diary. To this she remarked on how she knew her time was up, showing the intellect behind the character. The Doctor then uses this as a chance to probe to see what River really thinks of him. Her answer suggests that he is nothing more than useful to her, Kingston’s body language suggests the exact opposite setting up one of the three key scenes of the episode.
5. Carol Singers Will be Criticised
The opening sequence of the episode is just stunning, encapsulating everything that will go on to form a fantastic episode in a handful of scenes. The direction and use of Hark the Herald Angels Sing ensures the viewer knows it is Christmas, which then leads straight into the first humorous aspect of the episode, the Doctor’s note which was just so typical of Capaldi’s incarnation. The narrative is then kicked into gear as the Doctor is summoned to a medical emergency, which takes him face to face with his wife River Song. The mini-cliff-hanger sees her not recognise him and then go on to exclaim that her husband is dying. This becomes central to the story of the episode. Also worth a mention are the snowy opening credits, which was a nice touch to mark the festive occasion.
4. Damsel in Distress
I’m not normally one to indulge in scenes inserted as a nod to fans of the show, if I gave them all spots on these lists there would be no room for anything else. That said this one worked extremely well especially when framed with the fact that River had no idea who the Doctor was and thought her list of faces was an exhaustive one. It was also quite funny to see her impression of the Doctor as always being the one who needs to be saved, which is something we the viewers have only really seen the converse of: the Doctor saving River. It alludes to the truth being a mixed picture with each seeing themselves as the one to save the other, which I think is quite hilarious to consider.
2=. Hello Sweetie
On to the big three moments of the episode, in my mind anyway, the first two of which are inseparable. River’s monologue about what it’s like to love the Doctor is just tragic, I’ve never felt as sorry for any televised character as I did for River in that moment. Which is why it was one of the most heart-warming scenes the show has ever produced when she realised that she was wrong in her firm beliefs about the Doctor. It was quite sad seeing a character as strong and independent as River thinking of herself as less than the Doctor when in reality she is one of his few true equals in the universe. To see this fact realised to her by the close of the scene was probably as good an ending as her character could have got. Moffat evidently had other ideas as his narrative actually went on to better it…
2=. Finally, it’s my go
Hands down my favourite romp of the episode, if not one of the funniest ever to feature on the show. The companion reaction to learning that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside has been a running gag for as long as I have been a fan. This is something the show has been aware of, and has used to poke fun at itself before, much to the Doctor’s disappointment. When the situation affords him the only chance he will ever get to experience this for himself, the Doctor makes the most of it putting on a theatrical performance. At least now we know what he’s looking for from future companions having shown us himself how it is done properly. As a massive childhood fan of the show, I can only imagine how awesome this moment must have been to film for Capaldi. He certainly looked like he was enjoying it.
1. The Singing Towers
What else possibly could have taken the number one spot of this list other than Darillium? The dénouement to this episode takes the biscuit in terms of its sublime quality and the amount of emotions it covers in a short scene. There is so much that could be said here, but the vast majority of it has already been covered excellently by Clint, David and Connor. For that reason all I’m going to say here is that I loved the metaphor of the towers representing the Doctor and River. Two beings who have stood the test of time yet never quite touch each other, yet when the conditions are right they work together to produce something beautiful. A perfect summary of the Doctor and River within the series. In a word this scene was just sheer perfection, everything I could have hope for from Darillium, and more. Take a bow Moffat!