Sunday, January 3, 2016

Doctor Who Christmas Special Recap and Reaction: "The Husbands of River Song"

Recap (by Rica Wiersema):

“Everyone down in Snow-ville liked Christmas a lot… But the flying saucer, landing just north of Snow-ville, did not.” Ominous alien spaceship is ominous. Also, the Doctor has just landed in the town, (which I have temporarily named ‘Snow-ville) and he doesn’t seem to enjoy the ambiance either.

He gets a knock on his door from a fellow looking for a surgeon. He answers, “Close enough. Why?” Because there’s a medical emergency. And we all know what this means: he is the wrong ‘surgeon’.

The servant leads the Doctor to the saucer, where a cross woman is waiting for their arrival. She also happens to be River Song! But when the Doctor says her name, she doesn’t recognize his new face.
“How do you know me?”
“Well, it’s a tiny bit complicated. People usually need a flow chart.”

Doctor Who in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen. But wait, there’s more! She’s sent for a surgeon to heal her… husband?
“I think I’m going to need a bigger flow chart.”

Ornament planets and snowy TARDIS!? Christmasy theme song is Christmasy!

River’s “husband” is King Hydroflax, a cyborg with thousands of followers watching with baited breath to see if he’ll survive his injuries. And against his commands, River sent for a surgeon to save the life of her ‘one true love’ — which she explains through much gushing and entirely-awkward lovey-dovey language.

The Doctor sulks in the corner until he realizes that she actually thinks he’s a real surgeon… and he doesn’t even know what species Hydroflax is!

To make things worse, the Doctor refuses to bow and keeps angering everyone with gallows humor. River takes him into a back room to explain the procedure: the universe’s most valuable diamond is lodged in Hydroflax's brain from an explosion. However, she doesn’t want to remove the diamond — she wants to remove Hydroflax’s whole head to return the diamond to its owners, who hired her in the first place. Hydroflax is a murdererous cannibal, and she doesn’t mind killing him… but it turns out he’s been listening in on their entire conversation!

Hydroflax approaches the both of them and accuses River of her plans. However, she didn’t even need a surgeon to remove his head; being a cyborg, he can actually remove it from his armored body himself. And now he plans to destroy River for her betrayal, but she stands boldly back. Suddenly the Doctor gets a chance to see that River, despite her psycopathic tendencies, is trying to do something right by defending the helpless and stealing back what Hydroflax has stolen from others. Jury’s still out on how she’s going to do it with a sonic trowel, but…

When the guards attack, River’s trowel keeps them back, but the headless cyborg Armor is more powerful. The Doctor has to grab Hydroflax’s head and hold him over a garbage chute to demand that they leave River alone. Once she gets over to where the Doctor is, she radios for someone called Ramone to beam her and the Doctor out.

The two land out in the snow and have a good laugh at the disembodied head threatening them from inside River’s handbag. When Ramone appears, however, the bonding ends because River greets him with a passionate kiss; another husband, apparently.

As it turns out, the two of them brought Hydroflax’s ship here because they’re looking for a man with twelve faces, code name “Damsel.” As in “Damsel in Distress.” And it hasn’t crossed River’s mind that the Doctor could have more than twelve faces.

Meanwhile, the Cyborg Armor demands information from River’s assistant… by cutting his head off and uploading him into the armor.

Meanwhile, River brings the Doctor and Ramone to the TARDIS. Since the Doctor isn’t here, she’ll just have to use her key to steal it and then bring it back once she’s done… apparently, he never notices when she does that.

However, this is the Doctor’s chance to appear shocked at the inside of the TARDIS — and boy, does he play it up like a true drama queen!

Hydroflax’s head powers down, but there’s a problem when they try to take off: the TARDIS can’t take off when someone’s body registers as both inside and outside of it. Since Hydroflax’s head is inside and his body is outside, the ship won’t take off. To make it worse, the Cyborg Armor is homing in on them… but it’s acquired Ramone’s head!

The Armor charges into the TARDIS and grabs River to kill her, but the Doctor shuts the doors behind it and the ship takes off! The turbulence shakes River free, and she flees outside with the Doctor as soon as they land. As it turns out, they’re on board a space cruise ship for the fantabulously-rich.

River calls in a favor from one of the waiters to have the baggage hold sealed (to keep the Armor trapped). But she’s not here to return the diamond to its owners; she’s here to sell it. This ship requires guests and even the staff to have murderous records. 
“This is where genocide comes to kick back and relax. Do try the fish.”

While they wait for the buyers at dinner, River explains that she married Hydroflax by posing as his nurse because men will believe any story they’re the hero of. (That remark doesn’t bode well for our Time Lord.) When the Doctor sees that she’s reading her TARDIS diary and asks why she looks sad, she admits that it’s nearly full. 
“The man who gave me this was the sort of man who knew exactly how long a diary you were going to need.”

Meanwhile, the staff see Ramone’s head in the baggage hold camera feed and go to get him out.

River’s buyer comes to see the diamond and gives her payment for it. He’s filled the restaurant with his own followers… and they do this all in honor of their king, Hydroflax. (Needless to say, River zips the bag back up.)

Down in the hold, the waiter is caught by the Armor… but he bargains with the Armor. If it spares him, he can provide it with the perfect head: the head of River’s real husband.

River and the Doctor try to leave once they’ve handed over the bag, but since they can’t, the Doctor pulls out the head of Hydroflax and starts asking for bids. After all, if these followers are truly devout, surely they’ll put a price on his head! Then the waiter comes in with the Armor following, but it refuses to put Hydroflax’s head back on. His tissue deterioration is irreversible, so the Armor decides that he needs a new head and kills him.

The waiter steals River’s diary to help the Armor find the perfect head and reads that she’s just come from Manhattan. They hope to find the Doctor by putting River in danger as bait, if he isn’t here already… but River doesn’t think he’ll come. She loves the Doctor, but she doesn’t think he’s ever loved her back. 
“When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back! And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you: the Doctor is not stupid enough or sentimental enough and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!"
Then she turns to see the man who is standing next to her, smiling like a teenager fallen head-over-heels, who simply whispers… 
“Hello, sweetie.”

Immediately, the two begin the most fast-paced and flirtatious conversation about their escape plan, which hinges on an impending meteor strike. As it turns out, River planned the whole thing.
“I’m an archaeologist from the future: I dug you up.”

River catches the priceless diamond (in her cleavage), and they split up: River will drive the ship, and the Doctor will handle the Armor. How? He catches River’s digital money and uploads it to the Armor — now it has hundreds of stock markets and firewalls arguing in its head, and they fry its brain!

When he rejoins River at the controls, she realizes that the planet they’re aiming for is Derillium with the Singing Towers. He tricks her into getting teleported back onto the TARDIS, but she drives it back to the cockpit to rescue him. They shut the doors just before impact, and the crash knocks River out. The Doctor peeks outside at the wreckage, then travels forward in time to the next morning when a young man is looking for survivors… right next to the Singing Towers. The Doctor gives him the priceless diamond on one condition: he should build a restaurant right on that spot, with a perfect view of the Towers.

He pops forward in time again, sets a reservation for Christmas day, then pops forward again. When River awakens, she finds herself in the finest restaurant in the galaxy, where Ramone works as a waiter with his new metal body (the Armor’s evil having been deleted by the stock market). The Doctor appears in a new suit (sob) and gives her a gift: his screwdriver.

Then they marvel at the Singing Towers at last. It’s just the wind blowing through the stone, but it’s beautiful music nonetheless. When she notices that the Doctor is sad, she admits that she looks up stories about him and herself… and some say that their last night together is at the Singing Towers. He admits that not everything can be avoided and that times do end and happily ever after doesn’t exist. But she insists that happily ever after doesn’t mean forever: just a little time. And as it turns out, time is exactly what they have: a single night on Derillium is twenty-four earth-years long.

And they both lived happily ever after…

Quote of the Episode:
River: “If either of you use my name again, I will remove your organs in alphabetical order. Any questions?”
The Doctor: “Which alphabet?”


There was just something about seeing Stephen Moffat's name up on the screen during the intro that took me back to so many of my favorite moments and characters in Doctor Who. The presence of his name stamped proudly almost seemed a declaration that this special was going to be good. Thankfully, that stamp of approval didn't fail. River Song has always been one of my favorite characters in this series, and to see more of her story was wonderful. At first I was confused, trying to place where in the Doctor's timeline this story took place since River didn't seem to recognize him and was involved with at least two other men. It was all a part of River's plot, of course, and pretty true to her character.

I could probably come up with many favorite moments, but I'll narrow them down to just three. First, I loved how River was attempting to steal the TARDIS. at one point, much to the Doctor's chagrin. Secondly, the moment when River realized who the Doctor was and how the two instantly melted into their old relationship. A lovely moment between an "old married couple." Lastly, the scene between River and the Doctor at the Singing Towers was heartbreaking and beautiful all at once. I loved how it connected to series four's "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead," with the Doctor giving River his sonic screwdriver and telling her that endings were necessary, sort of a nod to the season finale situation with Clara.

Overall, I think this special episode was a fitting tribute to a character we haven't seen for a while. I always figured the point of River's death must have been reached without any evidence aside from her absence. Returning to the end of River's timeline was a special thing and something that brings closure to all the fans who loved her.

I personally loved the episode and am looking forward to what comes next.


When they first cast Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, I wanted an episode with him and River Song. I thought the dynamics between them would be interesting, since he would be “older” this time around. Plus, I just love when River shows up. However, I didn’t know how they would do it. Originally, River’s timeline was supposed to be opposite of his: the first time he meets her is the last the time she meets him; the first time she meets him is the last time he’s supposed to meet her. However, her story didn’t exactly happen this way. I guess we really do need a flow chart.

That being said, when I first heard River would be returning for the Christmas special, I was ecstatic. I’ve always loved her story, her arc, her interactions with the Doctor. Some of my favorite episodes include her. I’ve been waiting all season for this episode, and it did not disappoint me.

At first, I felt unsure about the episode. I didn’t know where it fit into River’s timeline. I wasn’t sure why she was with so many other “husbands.” She didn’t, at first, seem like the River I love. (Oh, it was her all right, but she didn’t seem to be the same.) But as the episode continued, it felt like Doctor Who. There were little jokes, such as the flow chart or the Doctor’s pretend reaction to stepping into the TARDIS or their banter about who else they’ve ‘married.’ I loved it. And then, the Doctor said, “Hello, Sweetie” to River, and I was sold, melted into a puddle of fangirl feels.

Overall, I think the episode did well to bring another piece of River’s crazy timeline to life. I loved her interactions with Capaldi’s Doctor, both before and after she knew it was him. I liked the concept of the episode, the plot with the diamond and the robotic armor guy. I liked that they ended up at the Singing Towers. The ending made my fangirl heart happy. This episode definitely showed another side to the Doctor. It revealed how much he does love River, no matter his face or what events brought them together. I loved that he was grumpy and jealous when he learned she married someone else, I loved that he gave her the sonic screwdriver, I loved that everything he did was for her.

While this could possibly be the last time we see River, I’m glad it was a worthwhile episode. I wish she could stick around to be his on and off again companion for the next season. Their dynamics were fun. The episode was fun. And I’m excited for whatever comes next.


I honestly wasn’t sure to expect coming into this Christmas special. For one thing, the Doctor has said goodbye to River so many times that I’ve almost gotten sick of it… but I was also looking forward to seeing how she would interact with Capaldi. Forgive me if you prefer the previous Doctors (I enjoyed them, too) but Capaldi has been the Doctor to end all Doctors, in my opinion. He’s finally been able to drop the side-plot of romance and just be his own man. But enough about what I expected: let’s take a look at how I reacted!

Overall, I loved the hijinks in this episode: River running around flirting and Capaldi being his usual grumpy self. It had all the cute moments and all the frightening moments at the right times.

However, I will say this about the story: it felt a little over-complicated. Not because there was too much new information to process, but just because it takes a lot of foreknowledge to understand fully. You essentially have to know about everything from River’s very first episode in Season 4 until now. And while millions of fans have been watching since then, that amount of background-knowledge still a bit of an excessive requirement. A lot of Clara’s last episodes felt that way as well.

But the good news is that I don’t think the show is going to keep building more and more complicated story lines. I’ve started to notice that the plots tend to reset almost completely after three companions or so.

First there was Rose, then Martha and Donna; we’ll call that “Phase One.” Then the show ‘restarted’ with Amy, Rory, and Clara: “Phase Two.” The only link between the phases was River, and she wasn’t so much a main character as a recurring one (in the same way that Davros and the Cybermen and the Silurians have recurring encounters with the Doctor). She appeared just before Donna’s time with Tennant came to an end. Now, I suspect that Me (Ashildr) will be the new link between Phase 2 and Phase 3.

It’s about time for the Doctor to start fresh with a new companion, and to go on somewhat-newer adventures. He’ll still have his ongoing conflict with Gallifrey, the Daleks (now hybrids?), and the rest. But hopefully the next season will be a good place for newcomers to stumble in. And the new companion(s)? Well, I’m personally hoping that the show might put romance on the shelf for a while and make way for a new dynamic, like a brother-and-sister duo. Fingers crossed!

What did you think of "The Husbands of River Song"? Let us know in the comments and tell us what you're most excited to see in the next season of Doctor Who!


  1. I loved the end bit with the sonic that made me cry.. and the Hello Sweetie. I laughed so hard at the Doctor hamming it up over the TARDIS interior but aside from that i didn't enjoy it as much as i usually did.. hmm OH and w when they fell over in the snow I adored that too.

    1. I watched it twice through before writing up my response. The first time through, I was a bit unsure how I felt (though there were moments I loved, like what you mentioned). The second time through, I loved it more. I either was distracted the first time or needed a second watch (which sometimes I feel I need to do with the regular, series episodes as well).