It still boggles my Thirty-Six-year-old mind that an integral part of Christmas Day is now that I put out a spread of biscuits, bread, meat, pates and cheeses. I get a glass of Cider or Mead or a mug of tea. I sit down with my family and watch Doctor Who. The show which I have loved all my life has become a tradition. To me, it only seems fitting. Last night, I had an opportunity to head to the BFI and watch this year’s Christmas adventure – Steven Moffat’s The Husbands of River Song. Here’s what I thought.
It is Christmas Day on a remote human colony, and the Doctor is hiding from Christmas carols and comedy antlers. But when a crashed spaceship calls upon the Doctor for help, he finds himself recruited into River Song’s squad and hurled into a fast and frantic chase across the galaxy. King Hydroflax is furious, and his giant robot bodyguard is out of control and coming for them all! Will Nardole survive? And when will River Song work out who the Doctor is?
All will be revealed on a starliner full of galactic supervillains and a destination the Doctor has been avoiding for a very long time.
I realise now that I was wrong. You see, I’d always thought there was precisely one correct way to watch Doctor Who and that is at home with family and / or friends and a blooming good mug of tea. In silence for the most part. This is actually a thing in my house – no-one can talk through an episode of the show I haven’t seen. There are reasons. One of which is that I can be grumpy. But this year I’ve been a lucky chap and last night in particular, I found that there is indeed another correct way to watch an episode of Doctor Who.
That way – good readers – is on a big screen in an audience that includes a large number of children. Children are brilliant to watch Doctor Who with. You know what? They also watched in silence (except for the laughs other uncontrollable vocal noises which escape from us all during something we enjoy). Brilliant. Being in a room filled with not just the press but also the people who are really the show’s target market brings a whole new joy to proceedings.
Which brings me rather neatly onto this year’s Christmas story. Which is a tale filled with joy. It’s an adventure which sees the return of River Song so how could it not be? I’m not afraid to admit my utmost respect for Steven Moffat’s ability to create wonderful scripts and this episode is no exception to that. Of course being a Steven Moffat script, the audience can expect some lovely character interactions and moments as well as the occasional tug at the heart strings in amongst the fun and the adventure. These are there, fear not.
Peter Capaldi is on top form in this story which is set some time after this year’s finale. What’s brilliant is contrasting Capaldi’s reactions to Christmas to those of his predecessor. While Matt Smith’s incarnation had that amazing exuberance and joy about the season, Peter Capaldi appears as more the bloke who tolerates Christmas but wants no real part of it. Whatever his TARDIS has in mind! What’s brilliant is the fact that as with the past two series of the show, the Doctor mellows through the episode. This is in large part due to the presence of River – to whom he becomes a companion of sort. It is fitting that it’s River who brings forth his first laugh in a long time. Fitting and brilliant.
If I had a concern going in it was in what I always think of as the comedy stunt casting. In this story, we’re treated to not one but two comedic actors and I couldn’t help but think back to Hale and Pace in Survival and Mitchell and Webb as rubbish Comedy Robot Sidekicks a few years ago. Again – I was wrong. That’s twice now in one review. Greg Davies in particular revels in his role as the particularly angry and ruthless King Hydroflax really helps set the tone. Have you seen the man? He does look like he could be an inter-galactic tyrant! I actually found Hydroflax to be one of the highlights of this story. The character has the right level of ludicrousness about him. Davies isn’t quite into pantomime mode but he is heading in that direction. Pun intended.
To wrap-up (see what I did there? It’s like a Christmas present or because it’s Winter), The Husbands of River Song is a great rollicking adventure that has some beautiful emotional moments concealed amongst the fun. I am not sure exactly what I was expecting from this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special but whatever it was it wasn’t this. It wasn’t a story that just felt right for Christmas. There is a melancholy but hopeful note to the climax of the story that I loved. It embodied Christmas for all the right reasons. Don’t expect anything overly complex, serious or thought provoking. This is Christmas. Actually – expect it towards the end.
Merry Christmas Doctor, River, King Hydroflax and to everyone who helped put this special together. Special. Yes. That is definitely the right word for this one.
Rating: 4.5 /5