TV Recap: Doctor Who, ‘The Husbands of River Song’

Photo Credit: Ray Burmiston/Simon Ridgeway, © BBC
Photo Credit: Ray Burmiston/Simon Ridgeway, © BBC

The Husbands of River Song Plot Summary:

A crashed spaceship is calling for the help of a special “surgeon” and of course, The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is mistaken for him. The person calling for help? The Doctor’s wife, River Song (Alex Kingston). However, something’s different about River — she doesn’t recognize her husband, and instead claims that King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) is her husband. She needs the surgeon to remove a valuable diamond that’s been lodged in Hydroflax’s skull, which is also slowly killing him.

‘The Husbands of River Song’ does and doesn’t work as Doctor Who Christmas episode. The plot of the episode is pretty thin — River’s trying to steal a diamond and hunt down The Doctor at the same time, but doesn’t recognize The Doctor’s current regeneration. It’s a fine story, but it’s not as rich or well-constructed as say, “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” or “Voyage of the Damned” or “A Christmas Carol.” Nor is the episode particularly “Christmas-y” outside of the episode’s opening scene with Capaldi donning a pair of silly reindeer antlers.

Photo Credit: © BBC WORLDWIDE LIMITED
Photo Credit: © BBC WORLDWIDE LIMITED

Yet, ‘The Husbands of River Song’ isn’t about the plot. This serves as a mere backdrop for the return of one of Doctor Who’s most beloved supporting characters — Doctor River Song (Kingston).

Frankly, building an episode around River Song is never a bad thing. And you can forgive the writers for a disposable main plot, because bringing River back to interact with Capaldi’s version of The Doctor is the Christmas present every Whovian really wants this year. Okay, that and an actual working TARDIS, of course.

It should come as no surprise that Alex Kingston reprises her role as The Doctor’s wife with the same brilliant, confident and vivacious panache that she exuded during her run with Matt Smith a few years back. Yes, it’s like she never left…and frankly it’d be okay if she never left the series period.

The chemistry between Capaldi and Kingston is probably the best onscreen chemistry Capaldi has had with any ally of his in his two year run as The Doctor. The comedic bickering banter as well as the romantic chemistry between these two is just intoxicating to watch. It’s the type of chemistry that makes you put your hand on your chin, puts a big goofy smile across your face, and makes you saw, “Aww!” While Capaldi might not have the physical appeal of the “boyfriend Doctor” (Matt Smith) Kingston still makes us believe that she is wildly, physically attracted to Capaldi’s Doctor. And that’s important because we already saw what happened to Clara when the “boyfriend Doctor” (Matt Smith) became the “Scottish Doctor.”

Photo Credit: © BBC WORLDWIDE LIMITED
Photo Credit: © BBC WORLDWIDE LIMITED

However, it’s not the chemistry between the two characters that propels the episode. Kingston has two great moments that are near heartbreaking in their honesty and sadness.

The first comes when River monologues about The Doctor not loving her, and how there’d be no way he’d be by her side in a moment like the moment she’s in — faced with certain death. Kingston exudes this steel-willed but at the same time heartbroken conviction. It’s hard to feel completely heartbroken along with you, and Capaldi’s facial reactions during this monologue really makes her words even more powerful. It’s as if these words are both a shock to the system, but already something he knows in the bottom of his heart.

Spoilers. When The Doctor does reveal himself to River, and admits that he will stand by her in this moment of certain death, and that he does love her — how can your heart not swell with joy, and your eyes not fill up with tears.
Kingston’s next big moment comes at her dinner with The Doctor — which she realizes may be her last. She’s once again able to show a vulnerable side to a character who is pretty damn fearless and courageous. The ending to that scene, which we’ll keep unspoiled, is a bittersweet ending to the episode, but one that fits perfectly within the Who-niverse.
‘The Husbands of River Song’ is all about the relationship between The Doctor and River. The episode built around it is fine, but forgettable. Yet, seeing Alex Kingston wielding her sonic trowel, and watching her and Capaldi gaze into each other’s eyes while busting her each others chops makes everything worth while.
Rating: 7.5/10
Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be seven years old in 2016 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He currently works as a project manager in the telecom world, and is a freelance writer for NJ.com. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites