The Husbands of River Song Advance Review
Note: Doctor Who TV’s pre-air reviews aim to be as detail-free as we reasonably can while still offering a critique, but as everyone’s spoiler sensibilities are different, we advise you read on at your own discretion.
A cheating wife will be exposed, a scorned husband will commit a brutal murder, and a cheeky snog will stun an old lover. It can only be this year’s Christmas episode of EastEnders. …Oh wait. Used that joke last year. Only this time, all of that does in fact apply to Doctor Who.
River Song, our cheating wife, is in fact after a priceless diamond embedded in her husband’s cranium. However, it’s not the Doctor this time, rather King Hydroflax, just one of her many husbands (yes, the title lives up to the name). When the Doctor arrives on the scene, a case of mistaken identity ends up getting him involved in this heist. And thus many antics ensue.
There’s a very easy way to determine whether you will like this year’s special. Answer the following: Do you like Christmas pantomimes? Or to put it better, do you really like Doctor Who episodes that are unashamedly a lighthearted farce with a ridiculously over-the-top villain? If you answered yes then you’re in for a treat and might as well stop reading here. For everyone else, you’ll be best off waiting for something better next year (or whenever Series 10 airs), like your reviewer today.
There are admittedly some fun moments to be had, even for dissenters initially, but the buffoonery outstays its welcome. You’re left wondering when the story will offer up something with more substance. And then, just when you’ve given up hope, the TARDIS visits a fan-pleasing location and the episode suddenly takes a turn for the better.
A large part of the problem comes down to the fact that Steven Moffat has written a script that requires River to not realize she’s been reunited with the Doctor. Whilst it does make for some amusing scenes early on, it also robs the episode of its best selling point for too long: that being the brilliant chemistry between Capaldi and Kingston. When the pair don’t know each other (the Doctor faking it anyway) quips and japery take place instead, but when they do know each other everything clicks into place.
Yes, the moment River realizes it’s the Doctor is when the episode really becomes more captivating as it is able to best capitalise on Capaldi and Kingston’s combined acting talents. These latter scenes are the easy highlight. We then see the Doctor and River at a sad point in both their lives (for obvious reasons), but both able to eventually find some happiness in each other’s company. It’s wonderfully poignant.
Steven Moffat has openly admitted the villain of the piece, King Hydroflax, was written to be silly and stupid, but does stating that something is basically useless make it any less so? It’s a generic robot better fit for a CBBC show whatever way you look at it really.
Greg Davies takes on the villainous role for some of the story, but is quickly sidelined. The other notable guest star, Matt Lucas’ Nardole, starts off in a fairly endearing role but soon suffers the similar fate. Doctor Who seems to have a problem in giving many of its comedic actors roles that too minimal and disposable (at Christmas at least).
The Hydroflax aside, at least the episode looks extremely nice with high production values throughout brought to us by returning director Douglas Mackinnon. While Murray Gold is guilty of ramming home the jaunty, “laugh now” music at times, his best stuff, like the story itself, comes in the latter half with some moving mixes we haven’t heard in a long time.
On the whole, this year’s festive special is a decidedly mixed affair, unless you happen to love lighthearted romps, or have just drank too much Christmas booze to care. For everyone else the first half is largely throwaway fluff, while the latter begins to offer something more compelling. Hopefully Moffat will pair River up with Twelve again in something a bit more fulfilling, because the duo clearly work marvelously under the right circumstances.