While most shows embrace the festive season as a chance to enjoy a non sequitur romp in which the main characters down tools from whatever drama they’ve been engaged in, Moffat-era Doctor Who has traditionally done no such thing. Rather, these episodes are part epilogue, part moving-on tale, allowing the Doctor to come to terms with recent trauma.
In this case, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is still clearly still not at all used to being alone after Clara’s departure. However, he isn’t given a chance to mope, being pretty much instantly dragged off to a medical emergency involving genocidal tyrant/literal talking head King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) – who also happens to be the husband of a certain River Song (Alex Kingston), although River being River, there is obviously an ulterior motive behind every ulterior motive, and she’s definitely not telling – at least initially.
Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that River has been one of the more memorable Who creations of recent years, and it’s good to see a familiar face – particularly from the Doctor’s perspective, who could definitely do with a laugh.
Moreover, it’s nice to see that River’s dynamic with the Time Lord transcends incarnations, having spent fun times with both David Tennant and Matt Smith. Kingston’s usual bombast collides with Capaldi’s understated but nailed-on comic timing to great effect, and at times it’s an absolute treat to watch. Combined with a hilarious turn from Davies (regularly the best thing about all the various panel shows he appears on), and you have one of the funniest Who Xmas specials of recent times.
Granted, it’s still wordy – shut off for a second and you’ll get lost – but there’s a reward in all this. ‘The Husbands Of River Song’ acts as a fitting coda to the Doctor and River’s relationship while still giving hope that this isn’t the last we’ll see of her. Capaldi hasn’t always had the stories he deserves, but when he gets them, he shines – like he does here.