Another Christmas and another wonderful Christmas episode of Doctor Who. At least that is what is meant to happen. Is this episode up to snuff? Well, um, yes. Will this unreview be up to snuff? Well, um, probably not, no.
The story is The Husbands of River Song. Yep, she’s back and it is about time! And Yes, that is husbands plural. They could have called this story The Bigamy of River Song (although some internet wag would inevitably retitle the story The Big Amy of River Song and try to convince others that it is about Amy Pond and her battle with obesity). Hello, tangent, my old friend.
Some people won’t have liked this episode simply because they dislike the River Song character. To them I say “Humbug” and “Bumhug”. I like River Song (mainly because I am seriously attracted to Alex Kingston but partly because River is a great character) and I simply don’t get why some Whovians have such a beef with her. Perhaps they are more content to think of the Doctor as being asexual? A race of asexuals? Not impossible, just look at the Sontarans but I personally find it hard to believe that the Time Lords are asexual.
This story opens in the space year of 5343 upon a colony world called Mendorax Dellora. This makes this Christmas story one of the rare ones where we never even see Earth. Mind you, there probably isn’t anyone alive on Earth thanks to that pesky sun (I could explain this reference to the sun but if you are a true Whovian, you shouldn’t need me to explain).
The Doctor, for reasons unknown, is on Mendorax Dellora. This Doctor is a man who hates Christmassy stuff so why is he on a planet which celebrates Christmas? This is like a vegetarian who gets a job in an abattoir. Really, Doctor, why not spend time somewhere else? Skaro perhaps? Telos is nice at Christmas.
Anyway, the Doctor is enjoying the Christmas delights of the planet by ignoring them completely. He is disturbed by Matt Lucas knocking on his door. Lucas is playing Nardole, a servant who is looking for a surgeon to save the life of King Hydroflax who is dying. Question: is Nardole stupid? Looking for a surgeon in a big tall blue box that has the word ‘police’ written on all sides? Maybe the police on Mendorax Dellora moonlight as surgeons? Or Nardole is just a fool.
In case you are an American or another similarly mythical being, Matt Lucas was NOT the inspiration for the Garbage Pail Kids.
Nardole has been sent Hydroflax’s wife, River Song. This would be more of a surprise if the story was not called The Husbands of River Song but hey, what are you gonna do? I suppose you can pretend to be surprised. Suffice to say, River does not recognise the Doctor when he turns up at the flying saucer that homes Hydroflax. And who could blame her? She knows that there are a limited number of regenerations but not about the fresh new cycle handed to the Doctor a few years ago.
The Doctor is dismayed and bewildered by River being a bigamist. As well he might. He thought he knew her but perhaps he did not know her as well as he thought. But that is alright. The Doctor’s stress adds to our enjoyment (what devils we be…).
River and the Doctor talk with one another about the king. She tells him that his head contains the most valuable diamond in the universe, the Halassi Androvar (which my spell checker whimsically insists should be spelt as ‘classical android’). This diamond became lodged in his think-lump (or brain to those with medical training) during a robbery of the Halassi vaults. This diamond is killing him. River wants it out. In fact, lopping off Hydroflax’s head is her preferred method.
The Doctor and River are interrupted by Hydroflax who understandably is rather attached to his noggin because he is just a meaty head on a robotic body.
For no reason whatsoever Hydroflax takes his head off and places it on the table before ordering his body to attack River and the Doctor. Why the frell would he do that? Later on in the story, we learn that heads can be stored inside the body of the robot, which would be a better idea than placing your bonce within arm’s reach of people who want to steal your head. Join me, fellow Whovians, and say “Huh?” Of course there is a reason for this. The reason being that it makes it a lot easier to grab the head and threaten it with a magical mystery tour down the garbage disposal.
The threatening and posturing results in a Mexican stand-off only without sombreros and handlebar moustaches. River gets a colleague to teleport her, the Doctor and the head off the ship. Her parting words, “Adiós, gringos”, annoying those she leaves behind.
Her colleague is Ramone and he is her husband. As well. Yep, River is a bad girl.
Back on the ship, the robotic body reckons that Nardole (who isn’t a husband of River Song) knows all about River and her secrets. His head is taken by the robot. So that the robot can pump it for information. This being done by placing it on the neck plate of the robot lest you readers think I meant something more risqué.
Despite the Doctor having a sneaking suspicion that River recognises him, she hasn’t the foggiest who he is. How galling must that be if your own wife doesn’t know who you are? Probably not a problem if you are Henry VIII. Or Zsa Zsa Gabor.
River, along with Ramone, explains that she crash-landed Hydroflax’s flying saucer accidentally-on-purpose because she knew that the Doctor and the TARDIS would be nearby. She shows Ramone all the faces that she knows the Doctor by (these pictures include a rating for snogability with the Sixth Doctor coming in at last place just after Peter Cushing, Clive Dunn, Lenny Henry and the puppet versions of the Doctor that are on Youtube). Ramone has seen none of these Doctors, although he did think he saw one of the puppet Doctors working in the local Punch and Judy booth, but he has been able to find the TARDIS.
River, not having a Doctor to taxi her about, ‘borrows’ the TARDIS. or at least she would if the TARDIS safeguards weren’t so insistent that Hydroflax’s head and body being either inside or outside and not both at the same time (grammar? What is that?).
Ramone gets left behind. River is not a very good wife, is she?
The TARDIS won’t dematerialise because Hydroflax’s head and body are inside and outside the ship, yes? This begs the question why the TARDIS did not do the same thing when the Tenth Doctor lost an hand during The Christmas Invasion. Perhaps the TARDIS only has a problem if it is the head and body? But then again, surely the robotic body does not contain any living part of Hydroflax, so why does the TARDIS have such a problem?
Outside, Ramone is wandering around when he hears Nardole’s voice coming out of an alleyway. As Admiral Ackbar would say, “It’s a trap!” God bless his amphibious heart. Is he right? Yup, a trappity trap-trap! As Admiral Ackbar wouldn’t say, “Duh!” Nardole’s head is being threatened by Hydroflax’s body. And yes, that does sound weird, doesn’t it?
Ramone has his head removed and stuck onto the robotic body of King Hydroflax. But what will happen to Nardole’s head? Will it be recycled into a basket ball? Ah, if you remember what I said earlier about the robotic body storing spare heads inside, then you will already know the answer but there is no reason to oppose the robotic body from playing basketball with Nardole’s perfectly round head.
With Ramone’s knowledge siphoned off by the big red robotic body (yes, red, did I not mention that?), the Hydroflax Mark 3 travel machine hotfoots it to the TARDIS where it used Ramone to get inside. With the body being inside the TARDIS, it now can vanish into the time vortex all the way to a luxury starship called Harmony and Redemption.
Nice name for a ship, is it not? I bet it will be a safe haven for all the innocents of the universe. No violence here, we are all lovely people. Nope, anything but. All will be revealed.
River Song meets up with Flemming, the Maître d’ of this luxury saw-horse, and asks him to deadlock seal the baggage hold in order to prevent Leonard DiCaprio from getting to the upper decks and seducing Kate Winslet and…and that is basically the plot of James Cameron’s Titanic, isn’t it? Sorry. Ahem, no, she wants it sealed so that Hydroflax’s body can’t get out and regain the head.
River then tells the Doctor about how she plans on selling the diamond (still stuck in Hydroflax’s head) to a being called Scratch. And no, I won’t be making allusions to Itchy and Scratchy, relax.
This Scratch plans on paying River with an universal bank transfer device. This UBT is a small ball which he keeps in his head. Unlike the unfortunate Hydroflax, Scratch uses his head like a purse/wallet. He has a scar on his head which is not just a scar, oh no. He separates his head along the scar and pulls his head apart to reveal gooey braininess and the UBT. He takes it out and hands it over. Scratch must be a shopkeeper’s delight…not.
SHOPKEEPER: That will be six pounds and fifty-seven pence for the Hydroflax Breakfast Cereal.
Scratch opens up head and takes out most of the money.
SCRATCH: Hold on, this always happens. Now where is it?
Scratch slaps the back of his head and two pennies shoot out of his nostrils.
Scratch leaves and shopkeeper vomits all over his half-price selection of cakes.
River has set up this deal in a public place. This is a good idea if you don’t trust the person you are dealing with. Scratch, being a canny lad, has filled the room with his own kind. There is no way that River and the Doctor can back out of this deal.
Scratch reveals that he and his species worship King Hydroflax. They want to give him the diamond. If only Scratch knew that the diamond he wants to give to Hydroflax was inside Hydroflax’s head. The irony is delicious.
Of course both the Doctor and River know that the diamond is inside Hydroflax’s head. This would have proved awkward if Flemming hadn’t turned up alongside Hydroflax’s body which tricked the Maître d’ into letting it out of the baggage hold in a scene I didn’t mention earlier. Actually, that is still pretty awkward, isn’t it?
Sadly, Hydroflax’s head is now beyond all recovery. That diamond has now cost his his life, such as it was. Where does this leave the red robotic body of Hydroflax? Apparently as ruler of whatever it is that Hydroflax ruled. Surely his right to reign is not that good though. It is just the apparatus that moved Hydroflax’s head around. If Hydroflax was in a wheelchair, would his wheelchair have the right to reign? Nuh-uh, I think not.
Flemming, being an untrustworthy cove (as well he might since the ship plays host to all the tyrants, mercenaries, sheep-kickers and mad-dog killers of this era), tells the robotic body that River Song has access to a head suitable for a king. The head of the Doctor, a Time Lord. Being his main squeeze, River could be the bait for the Doctor.
Hydroflax’s body incinerates the head, leaving a pile of ashes, a small sprout and a shiny diamond which doesn’t really seem all that big. Puh-leese, I have pulled bigger diamonds out of my nose.
Flemming, who has River’s diary, reads out aloud from it. He tells the room of her life with the Doctor. He mentions the Byzantium, how they fought the Romans with Asterix and Obelix, Asgard and their picnic of hamster sandwiches, how they had Jim the Fish stuffed and mounted after fishing him out of Lake Silencio, their travels aboard the Dawn Treader and finally her encounter with the Doctor in Manhattan.
The baddies ask River where the Doctor is. Scratch threatens to “Fight, fight, fight” and to “Bite, bite, bite” (I lied, sue me). She tells them that while she will love the Doctor until the stars turn cold, he doesn’t love her enough to risk his life just to rescue her. He wouldn’t be so stupid as to do that, she says. And then the Doctor sheepishly says to her, “Hello, sweetie.”
River finally realises that this man is the Doctor. She knows he has limits but once again he has astounded her. Does he explain? Does he heck! River doesn’t seem too baffled. Baffled-ish but not 100% stone cold baffled.
River, being a canny lass as this Doctor might say, knows that the ship is about to be walloped by a meteor strike. So you just know she has an escape plan.
The Doctor takes the UBT and uses it to hobble Hydroflax’s body. It overloads the red robotic body and makes it crash (by falling and in the computer sense of the word). You know what else is crashing? No not Wall Street, I meant the ship! Those meteorites have punched holes in the ship and now it is going to crash onto the surface of a planet, identified by River, called Darillium.
Darillium, as you all should know, is the site of the last time that she and the Doctor were together before she cops it in the episode Forest of the Dead. If you remembered this, award yourself a slice of pizza. If you didn’t, give yourself a stern look in the mirror and then flagellate yourself until you feel you have learnt your lesson.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Darillium is where the Singing Towers are. River and the Doctor spent their last night together there. River doesn’t know that this will be her last date but the Doctor does and he is shaken by the fact that he has finally come near the planet after years of avoiding it.
The ship is beyond rescue and since all the people on the ship are the biggest criminals in the universe, the Doctor and River leave. River is knocked out by the crash. Possibly the quietest she has ever been.
Giving in to the fact that he cannot avoid Darillium and his final night of hot rampant passion with Professor River Song, he decides to do a thing. A thing which I will describe in these next few paragraphs.
The Doctor skips ahead a day so that the burning wreckage has a chance to have burnt itself out. When he goes outside, he meets a young man who is part of the team searching for survivors.
“Hello,” says the Doctor to the man. “Look at yon towers. Ain’t they a pretty? Crivens, ye ken whut would be nice? If someone built a kebab shop or a wee restaurant wit’ a view o’ those Singing Towers”. But how can the man afford that? With a diamond he could, and he will since the Doctor gives it to him.
The Doctor travels forward in time, not by days this time but years, and tries to book the balcony area but the restaurant (“Nae kebab shop? Och, whut a shame!”) only has a booking free in four years time. (“Nae problemo!”) The Doctor has a time machine and simply books and then moves forward yet again.
When River Song wakes up, she finds herself alone. Exiting the TARDIS she is somewhat weirded out to see Hydroflax’s robotic body being controlled by both Ramone and Nardole on a timeshare basis. Ramdole (or Narmone if you prefer that) was rescued from the crash site, and with a little help from the Doctor, they now control the body and have a job with the restaurant.
She is told by Ramdole that the Doctor is waiting for her and when she meets up with him, he gives her a gift. A sonic screwdriver of her own, the sonic which she has when the Tenth Doctor for the first time he met her so many years ago. The crows have come home to roost, we all know what happens next storywise. River’s destiny is being sewn shut like a sow’s ear and all we can do is watch events described years ago unfold and pass.
River has heard legends of this night, of how it was the last night that she spent with the Doctor. She asks if they are true but the Doctor simply says, “Spoilers!” He won’t tell her how her life will unfold or of her upcoming demise but he does mention that a night on Darillium lasts twenty-four years. That is one almighty long date.
The screen turns to black and these words appear:
“And they both lived happily ever after”
The end. Or is it? Nope, it is most certainly the end.
Yes, River penultimate story. Her last penultimate story as a living breathing person that is. Ahem. Until the Doctor has her cloned and then downloaded from the Libraryworld. What? Hasn’t that happened yet? Spoilers!
Steven Moffat has done a good job here. Well, I liked it and enjoyed it as I have liked and enjoyed every still-existing story since the show broadcast in 1963. Even Dimensions in Time, god help me (I was a pre-teen at the time and beg for my age to be taken into account, m’lud).
Peter Capaldi can do no wrong (but only if you ignore his role in Minder). Faultless and utterly captivating. Watching him try and act like a companion is just wonderful. And that mock-surprise at entering the TARDIS was the icing on the cake.
Alex Kingston… I am predisposed to like her performance. Just blame my hormones for that one. Anything I say will be said through rose-tinted swimming goggles. But saying that, she is good in this story. It feels like the end of the road for this character but we have all had that feeling for many years now. I would like to see more of her. In the show I mean! But if that does not happen, then that might be for the best. It is always better to leave at the top of your game rather than flogging a dead horse. Take that as you will.
Any other actors in need of praise? Hmmm.
Matt Lucas does what Matt Lucas does best. Puts on a funny voice and acts like a servile underdog. Don’t get me wrong. He does a good job but it is nothing we have not seen before.
Greg Davies is much better. He takes the role and hams it up. In any other part, this might be terrible but with Hydroflax, it works very well indeed. It is a shame that we don’t get to see more of him acting.
I enjoyed this story, as I mentioned earlier, and I hope that you will all enjoy it as well. The Husbands of River Song is basically just a romp with a bit of sadness/happiness at the end. But, hey, this is a Christmas episode, it has every right to be what it is. And what it is…is fun.
So, go and watch and enjoy.
Bumhug if you don’t…