Cards on the table, as always. I am most definitely not a fan of River Song. I liked her immensely in her first appearance, but, for me at least, it all seemed to go downhill with every passing story, as her timeline grew ever more complex and convoluted. Add into the fray her “spoilers” and “sweeties” and I could happily see her being deposited into the nearest black hole.
Anyway, with my disdain for Professor Song out of the way, let’s get down to brass tacks (whatever the hell they are) and take a look at this year’s Christmas offering.
Nardole, played by Matt Lucas, knocks on the door of the Tardis, whereupon answering, the Doctor appears, sporting a fetching pair of comedy antlers, provided by the Tardis holographic circuits. He is looking for “the surgeon”. Assuming, incorrectly, yet serendipitously, that Nardole means “Doctor”, the titular Time Lord accompanies him to a flying saucer, where he is met by a familiar face. Hooray! It’s my favourite character!
Failing to recognise him in his most recent regeneration, River takes the Doctor inside the saucer, where she introduces him to her husband, King Hyrdroflax, a colossal red cyborg, with a suspiciously human head, played by Greg Davies, who is need of surgery. It soon transpires that River is far more interested in the projectile, the “Halassi Androvar” diamond, which is lodged in the brain of Hydroflax, than in saving his life.
Unfortunately for the Doctor and River, Hydroflax has been listening, and after some faffing around, he removes his own head, for no apparent reason, other than to show off. Naturally, River steals the head, and much hilarity ensues. (Caveat. Perception of hilarity levels may vary!)
Attempting to “steal” the Doctor’s Tardis, River warns the “surgeon” that the machine is somewhat more spacious inside, affording the Doctor the opportunity to finally utter the immortal line “it’s bigger on the inside”, although he does get rather carried away and launches into a lengthy spiel about temporal physics. The Tardis refuses to dematerialize, as a sizeable amount of one of the occupants is still on the outside (which makes one wonder how “Handles” the Cyberman managed). Bringing a “message” to the Doctor, Ramone (another of River’s husbands) allows the body of Hydroflax aboard the Tardis, and the ship takes off.
Arriving aboard the “Harmony and Redemption” liner, River plans to sell the diamond, which is still firmly ensconced in the King’s head, to “Scratch”, a representative of 'The Shoal of the Winter Harmony', and a man who clearly has cranial issues of his own, as he appear to keep his money inside his own bonce. The scene with him removing the sphere from his head is effective, although perhaps not necessarily suitable for the timeslot.
After some more buggering around, in which Hydroflax’s head, much like my interest in the story, is rapidly disintegrated, the diamond falls out, shoots into the air, where River catches it neatly. With her breasts. I know River is sexy and sassy, and all of that jazz, but really? The genital jokes in The Girl Who Died were bad enough.. now we have to contend with River’s knockers being flailed around like a rudimentary lacrosse racquet!
Departing in the Tardis, and with River knocked unconscious, the Doctor takes the diamond, does a little jumping around in time, where he gives the jewel to a man on the planet Darillium, advising him to build a restaurant with a view of the singing towers.
The final scene sees the Doctor and River sharing a tender moment at the restaurant, where he had promised, on numerous occasions, to take her for dinner. She ponders on the rumours that their date at the Singing Stone towers would be their final encounter; their last night together. It transpires that a night on Darillium last for 24 years, and giving River a sonic screwdriver as Christmas present, River explains to The Doctor that “happy ever after” doesn’t mean “forever”, it means “time.. little time”. And the credits roll mawkishly, with them literally living “happily ever after”.
I hadn’t expected to like this episode, largely due to River Song. Ironically, I found the scenes between her and The Doctor to be the most, nay, only enjoyable parts of the episode. The chemistry between Kingston and Capaldi is superb, perhaps due to their shared mature years. As a story, however, the episode is an utter bloody shambles. It’s a frenetic, bombastic waste of an hour, held together by a few comedic scenes which work, and a conclusion which could have been reached within ten minutes, save for all the farting around with a pointless alien who posed no credible threat whatsoever.
Matt Lucas appeared to be channelling the ghosts of every “Little Britain” character he has ever played, and Greg Davies is so ludicrously over the top, he makes King Yrcanos (Trial of a Time Lord) seem like a mewling kitten. His performance lurches between parody and pantomime, and gets tiresome very quickly.
The episode is salvaged (just!) by sterling performances from Capaldi and Kingston, and it is the latter who surprised me the most. I found her much less annoying than I have in the past. The scenes in which the Doctor attempts to prompt her into recognising him are suitably entertaining, and the final scenes are surprisingly effective, and quite moving.
In essence, The Husbands of River Song has ten minutes of workable material at the start, and concludes with a further five minutes of sheer brilliance. Sadly, the meat in the sandwich is all style (and not much of that) and absolutely no substance. I enjoy a good “romp” as much as anyone, but this is less of a romp and more of a farce, and not, unfortunately, in a good way.
Clearly intended as an end to River Song’s story, I would have liked something with a little more substance for her to bow out on, particularly in the light of the fact she was, arguably, one of the strongest elements of the episode.
Much like Time of the Doctor and Hell Bent, Steven Moffat doesn’t seem capable of writing satisfying endings for characters. Hell Bent, while serviceable, was decidedly average, and Matt Smith certainly deserved a far better conclusion than the risible nonsense offered up in Time of the Doctor. The same is true of this episode as it bids farewell to River Song. Whilst in each of these episodes, the departing character has excelled, the plots have been substandard.
In all honesty, calling The Husbands of River Song “substandard” is to give it more credit than it deserves. It is (and this is, of course only my opinion), utter crap. Pure unadulterated rubbish. On second viewing, it is marginally better than the god-awful “Doctor, Witch and Wardrobe”, but is still a cartoonish, bloated episode, devoid of plot, menace or interest.
In summary, 5 minutes of brilliance, 10 of reasonable quality, and 45 of extraneous drivel that I have absolutely no interest in watching again. It earns 4.5/10 from me, and that is being generous!