The Husbands of River Song

full season set
1-episode volume

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(Doctor Who Story No. 268, starring Peter Capaldi)
  • written by Steven Moffat
  • directed by Douglas MacKinnon
  • produced by Nikki Wilson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 58 minutes
Story: The Doctor is astonished to find River Song married to the cybernetic King Hydroflax, who lies wounded in a flying saucer on a colonized planet. Does she really not recognize who the Doctor really is? And to how many exotic locations and vehicles will their odyssey take them as he finds himself more and more deeply embroiled in her wild plot to steal the most valuable diamond in the universe?

DVD Extras for this story on the 14-episode box sets include:

  • Doctor Who Extra featurette (20 min.) with Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Alex Kingston (River Song), Greg Davies (King Hydroflax),
    Matt Lucas (Nardole / Doctor Who Extra narrator), writer Steven Moffat, and costume designer Ray Holman.
  • The Adventures of River Song (10 min.)
  • Deleted Scene (1 min.)
  • Trailer

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.

I've long felt that the relatively lightweight narratives of Christmas Specials should be tacked onto the end of previous season box sets as bonuses, rather than saved up as introductions to the following seasons. Season 35, the ninth season of the New Millennium years to come in its own box set, is actually the first to do this, the first to not worry about pushing a premature box set to be ready for Christmas sales instead.

I actually liked this story more than a lot of the one-off adventures of the second half of the season. It successfully aims for a tone that we haven't seen too much of recently, and brings some better resolution to many of the ideas we have seen.

His Head is Sold Separately...

The story's tone becomes both a strength and a weakness here. On one hand, the humour factor is quite a bit stronger here than in most of the previous season, and while matching up with the adventurous nature of the episode and its fun factor, these elements work quite successfully. But there's also a habitual sick horror factor as well, which is off-colour enough to ensure that some of the intended humour doesn't work, but appears callous instead. For my tastes, the horror elements could probably be dropped altogether and it would produce a much better end product.

"I haven't laughed in a long time..."

Of course, Alex Kingston and her character of River Song make a really strong impact on this story, dictating much of its style and energy and pace. It feels much like the whirlwind of a typical Matt Smith era adventure. Peter Capaldi does a really enjoyable job of showing his character slowly winding back up to this speed, matching Kingston in the fun factor and humour and adventure, and then taking the lead to slow her down a bit into something less manic and more meaningful.

This adventure really is a bit of a showcase for both Kingston and Capaldi, who I think both performed quite excellently. And in fact, I somehow felt that, while David Tennant's Doctor might have been an okay match for River Song, Peter Capaldi's Doctor seems so much more right for River than Matt Smith's Doctor. This may indeed represent the first time I can actually take the Doctor and River together seriously as a couple. The misgivings I had about whether or not their so-called "wedding" actually had anything to do with love kind of melt away when I see these two tackle the parts. The chemistry here seems to be at its best.

One of the other big pluses for this adventure is that it's pretty much the only one that is inventing truly new settings for itself in the Season Box set. Instead of old Doctor Who staples like Skaro, Gallifrey, cameos of re-run places like Karn, and old Solar System staples like Neptune and its moon, imagination is finally expanding to a few new creations. "Mendorax Dellora" as a Human colony in 5343 provides a good starting point that allows some Christmas to enter into the show without being too intrusive to the main archeological adventure-thriller narrative. Before long we switch out to a fancy cruise ship, reminiscent of The Empress from "Nightmare of Eden" (story no. 107) and much more believable than its much-too-retro counterpart in "Mummy on the Orient Express" (story no. 254). We board during its flyby of Gamma Eridani, a real star only 260 light years from Earth and some 330 times brighter than our sun. At this point, we've lost track of the year, but it's interesting that the ship's data expects the star to turn to a Type 2 supernova at some point.

And finally we end up at the Singing Towers of Delirium, or whatever... which is great as a worthy off-planet setting for this show. Overall, this one story has fulfilled a lot of the promise of the series that so many other episodes ignore - showing us something of the universe. Healthy extra points right there.

Though at many points the adventure seems to barrel along at too great a pace for its own good, there are a number of standout scenes that redeem it and give it better weight. Firstly, there is a running gag throughout most of the first 2/3 of River not recognizing the Doctor no matter how many obvious clues pile up, and it does stretch credibility considering that the TARDIS is at her disposal and she did plan to pull this caper off in his vicinity. However, the big scene that provides payoff for this gag is so nicely done and so strong that I wind up wanting to give the contrivances all the rope they need. That scene is nearly worth the price of admission all on its own.

The actual clever solution to defeat the story's big bad robotic leftover from "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" (story no. 232) is actually kind of forgettable and probably wouldn't stand-up to much scrutiny... but in the case of this story, it doesn't feel like that part of things is really all that important. The Doctor's investment in this adventure isn't really to do with all the wild things River is getting up to. His investment is simply in having a proper conversation with River, and catching up, and I think the audience tends to be there with him in that regard.

The second big really worthwhile sequence is the final ten minutes, where River and the Doctor simply have a great, honest, heart-to-heart talk in front of a really exquisite, slightly Christmassy, largely romantic backdrop. The drama here is good, the actors nail it, and it provides Season 35 with the kind of send off that it really needed.

Is it all that different from what was intended for Clara? Both cases feature a pre-planned doom weighing heavily on both women's characters as they make some attempts to say reluctant farewells to the Doctor. I'd say River's case is significantly different because of the convoluted sequencing of their encounters, which has prevented her and the Doctor from just traveling together in the TARDIS from the start. The fact that there is a proper fun adventure here better balances the final sentiments, which never really descend to the previous maudlin levels. Plus, tonight's visit with River may last a good 24 years. Nice that it slotted in between regular companions.

Regular readers will have noted that I had feared that Peter Capaldi hadn't put enough of his natural charm into his first year of stories to keep the franchise running at full steam. Well, this adventure nicely underscores the fact that Capaldi has conquered this factor, and been suitably more charming all throughout Season 35. Here's one more adventure making that shift abundantly clear. Excellent.

Well, I'm prepared to cite this as one of Season 35's more enjoyable adventures. Even if it feels a bit crazy and inconsequential for a good portion of its screen time, I think it delivers a healthy amount of good material as well in the end. Yes, this giant behemoth of science-fiction called Doctor Who did indeed have a good Doctor on hand to take us into further adventures, if only it had a clue where to go next...

International Titles:

Deutsch: "Besuch bei River Song"

Magyar: "River Song Férjei"

Français: "Les Maris de River Song"

Русский: "Мужья Ривер Сонг"

Italiano: "I mariti di River Song"

Season 35 Rankings:

Best Story:

    The Decently Poignant:
  • The Zygon Invasion/Inversion
  • The Magician's Dilemma
  • The Woman Who Lived
  • The Girl Who Died

    The Decently Standard:
  • Under the Lake / Before the Flood
  • Last Christmas
  • Heaven Sent
  • The Husbands of River Song

    The Decently Bland:
  • Hell Bent
  • Sleep No More
  • Face the Raven

Best Writer:

  • Steven Moffat (The Zygon Inversion, The Magician's Davros, The Girl Who Died, Last Christmas, Heaven Sent, The Husbands of River Song, Hell Bent)
  • Catherine Tregenna (The Woman Who Lived)
  • Peter Harness (The Zygon Invasion/ Inversion)
  • Toby Whithouse (Under the Water / Before the Flood)
  • Jamie Mathieson (The Girl Who Died)
  • Mark Gatiss (Sleep No More)
  • Sarah Dollard (Face the Raven)

Best Director:

  • Ed Bazalgette (Ashildr origins)
  • Rachel Talalay (Gallifreyan clockwork)
  • Daniel Nettheim (Zygon reality)
  • Hettie MacDonald (Magician's dramatic nuttiness)
  • Paul Wilmshurst (Christmas dreams)
  • Douglas MacKinnon (River adventures)
  • Daniel O'Hara (flaming underwater tension)
  • Justin Molotnikov (found footage maudlin confusion)

This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:

Season 35 Box Set
11 stories in 14 episodes

NEW for
April 5, 2016.

NEW for
April 5, 2016.

NEW for
March 7, 2016.
Blu-ray U.S.

NEW for
April 5, 2016.
Blu-ray Canada

NEW for
April 5, 2016.
Blu-ray U.K.

NEW for
March 7, 2016.

This story is also available in a 1-episode volume with only some of the special features.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

half-season volume
1 episode
Region 1 U.S.

NEW for
Feb. 23, 2016.
Region 1 Canada

NEW for
Feb. 23, 2016.
Region 2 U.K.

NEW for
Jan. 25, 2016.
Blu-ray U.S.
Region A/1

NEW for
Feb. 23, 2016.
Blu-ray Canada
Region A/1

NEW for
Feb. 23, 2016.
Blu-ray U.K.
Region B/2

NEW for
Jan. 25, 2016.

Bonus features include:

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