The Doctor Who Christmas Special has become tradition on Christmas Day evenings and this year, showrunner Steven Moffat has given us a very special present – the return of a favorite recurring character. Professor River Song, the daughter of companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams, and The Doctor’s wife, is back! Meet me after the time and space jump for my thoughts on “The Husbands of River Song.”
Portrayed by the eternally sexy Alex Kingston, who some folks might remember from “ER,” or know as Dinah Drake Lance on “Arrow,” Professor River Song is a hard character to sum up. Conceived in the TARDIS and affected by exposure to the time vortex, she grew up to be an archeologist, a thief, a con artist, a master criminal, and if legends are to be believed – The Doctor’s wife and assassin.
And then there’s the twist. In the timey-wimey time travel world of The Doctor, River and her husband keep meeting out of order. As they are both time travelers, they keep crossing paths in a non-linear fashion, and if you’re confused, don’t worry, so is River. She needs The Doctor’s 500-year diary to keep track of when they meet and which Doctor she encounters. Yeah, welcome to the Whoniverse.
It all begins on the human colony of Mendorax Dellora on Christmas Day in the year 5343 when Nardole (Matt Lucas of “Little Britain”) is looking for a surgeon and comes upon The Doctor’s TARDIS. Quaint village, snow, holographic antlers on The Doctor’s head, and the night this special aired are as close to Christmas as we get this year however. This is a River Song adventure, it just happens at Yuletide.
The Christmas part may have also come in the way of a gift. First this is a terrific if frantic episode, and second, with rumors of showrunner and writer Steven Moffat leaving the show, perhaps he wanted one last chance at writing River Song, and giving her a proper send off. Whatever the reason, it’s Christmas, enjoy.
This is a case of mistaken identity, and The Doctor, obviously looking for something to do, plays along. The Doctor plays surgeon and is brought to a rather festively colored flying saucer just out of town. A surgeon, left wandering the town, has been commissioned to perform surgery on a patient, and The Doctor is filling in.
The Doctor is delighted to find Professor River Song at the flying saucer, but she doesn’t seem to know him. Ironically she knows all the faces of The Doctor except the newest one played by Peter Capaldi – they’ve never met. Yet. As far as she knows, Time Lords have a limited number of regenerations – Peter Capaldi is one over the limit. She continues to refer to him as the contracted surgeon, the one she’s hired to operate on, wait for it, her husband.
River’s husband (at least one of them in this case, she’s also married to her henchman Ramone) is a vicious world-conquering cyborg megalomaniac named King Hydroflax. He’s a human head on a robot body that resembles a demonic Baymax from Big Hero 6. But he’s not what River wants – there’s always a caper – she’s after the diamond embedded in his head. That’s what she needs a surgeon for, to get it out – the most valuable diamond in the universe.
As opposed to many of Steven Moffat’s more horrific creations, Hydroflax is a fun Who villain that hardens back to the Douglas Adams era of the Tom Baker Doctor. His head is played by Liam Cook while the voice is that of Nonso Anozie, who was easily the best thing about TV’s “Zoo” and “Dracula.” I wouldn’t mind seeing more of King Hydroflax and his followers.
Harmony and Redemption
Once Hydroflax’s head safely in the bag, and a hasty retreat is made from his forces, River and The Doctor escape to a starship cruiser called Harmony and Redemption to sell the diamond for our second act. This ship is the spacefaring equivalent of the super-villain bar in Kingdom Come or Saints and Sinners on “The Flash,” crossed with The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. It’s a restaurant where the bad and the mad meet and make deals, perfect place to sell the diamond.
As might be expected in any such den of scum and villainy, treachery is in the air. Double crosses are everywhere and the potential buyers of the diamond, led by a particularly nasty piece of work named Scratch, are followers of Hydroflax. When a treacherous maitre d’ offers the King’s Baymax body the head of The Doctor, hilarity, as they say, ensues.
Despite the dangers of this one, it is probably Moffat’s best script in years, and definitely this season’s best episode. And certainly, having River Song spend her last twenty-four years with The Doctor at a romantic locale is truly a happy ending. I really did love this one.
Add in a plethora of brilliant one-liners, call backs to previous episodes, The Doctor’s jealousy and disappointment, and yes, even the sonic trowel, and you have a wonderful holiday gift from the folks at “Doctor Who.” Thank you.