The Husbands of River Song

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263 – "The Husbands of River Song"
Doctor Who episode
Doctor Who The Husbands of River Song.jpg
Official poster for the episode
  • Matt LucasNardole
  • Greg Davies – King Hydroflax
  • Rowan Polonski – Flemming
  • Robert Curtis – Scratch
  • Chris Lew Kum Hoi – Alphonse
  • Phillip Rhys – Ramone
  • Anthony Cozens – Concierge
  • Nicolle Smartt – Receptionist
  • Liam Cook – King Hydroflax's body
  • Nonso Anozie – Voice of Hydroflax
Directed byDouglas Mackinnon
Written bySteven Moffat
Script editorDavid Davis
Produced byNikki Wilson
Executive producer(s)Steven Moffat
Brian Minchin
Incidental music composerMurray Gold
Running time56 minutes
First broadcast25 December 2015 (2015-12-25)
← Preceded by
"Hell Bent"
Followed by →
"The Return of Doctor Mysterio"
List of Doctor Who episodes (2005–present)

"The Husbands of River Song" is an episode of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. First broadcast on BBC One on 25 December 2015, it is the eleventh Christmas special since the show's revival in 2005. It is written by Steven Moffat and directed by Douglas Mackinnon. The episode marks the return of Alex Kingston as River Song, making her first appearance alongside Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor.[2] This also marks the first appearance of Nardole, who would become a companion starting from the next episode.


On Christmas Day 5343 on the human colony of Mendorax Dellora, the Twelfth Doctor is mistaken by a servant, Nardole, for a surgeon hired by River Song to attend to her dying husband, King Hydroflax. River, who has not yet met the Doctor's present incarnation, fails to recognise him and increasingly frustrates him with her flirtations with Hydroflax. River takes the Doctor aside to discuss the operation he is supposed to be performing; the Halassi Androvar, the most valuable diamond in the universe, has become lodged in Hydroflax’s brain during a raid on the Halassi vaults and is slowly killing him. It transpires that River does not want the "surgeon" to heal Hydroflax, but to remove his entire head (killing him) so she can take the diamond.

They are interrupted by Hydroflax, who has listened to their conversation. Being a cyborg, he detaches his head from his mechanical body for safety and orders it to kill them. While River defends herself, the Doctor grabs Hydroflax's head and threatens to put him in the garbage disposal, creating a stalemate and allowing Ramone, River's actual husband, to teleport her, the Doctor and Hydroflax’s head outside of the ship. Believing Nardole to have information about River, Hydroflax’s body (which operates independently) decapitates him to use his head as its own.

Although the Doctor is convinced that River knows who he is, she denies it. She reveals she purposely crashed Hydroflax’s ship in their location knowing the Doctor would be in the area with his TARDIS. Being unfamiliar with his new set of regenerations, she has an incomplete set of his faces and Ramone has only been able to find the TARDIS, not its owner. River decides they will just have to borrow it instead, which she has apparently done before without the Doctor's knowledge. However, the TARDIS's safeguards prevent it from taking off when it detects that Hydroflax’s head and body, although separated, are still linked to one another. That makes the head and body both inside and outside the TARDIS.

Hearing Nardole calling for help, Ramone is tricked and uploaded into Hydroflax’s body as well. A homing beacon inside Hydroflax’s head allows his body to locate the TARDIS. Using Ramone, it forces its way inside. With Hydroflax’s head and body now both inside the TARDIS, it is able to travel to the starship Harmony and Redemption, where River requests that the maître d’, Flemming, deadlock seal the baggage hold where the TARDIS landed in order to prevent Hydroflax’s body from pursuing them further.

Rather than return the diamond to the Halassi, River reveals that she intends to sell the diamond to a buyer named Scratch, who has secretly filled the meeting point with members of his own species. After receiving payment, River and the Doctor discover that Scratch and his compatriots worship King Hydroflax and are after the diamond in his honour. Despite attempts to hide the bagged head containing the diamond, they are stopped from escaping by Flemming, who was tricked into entering the baggage area by an under-duress Ramone. Flemming has promised Hydroflax’s body an even greater head – the Doctor's – and believes that River Song will be the perfect bait to get it.

Sensing that Hydroflax's head is beyond recovery and will die imminently, Hydroflax's body destroys it, leaving only the diamond. Flemming interrogates River for the whereabouts of the Doctor, but she explains that although she loves the Doctor, they are mistaken in thinking that he loves her back. She insists that the Doctor is incapable of falling in love, that he is beyond such simple emotions, and that he doesn't care enough about her to place himself in danger whenever she's in trouble. Then, upon seeing the steady gaze and mild smirk on the Doctor's face, River realises he has been with her all along. The Doctor confirms this by whispering "Hello sweetie".

Being a time traveller, River knows the ship is about to be crippled by a meteor strike, which she uses as their escape plan, taking the diamond in the process. The Doctor uses Scratch’s universal bank transfer device to overload Hydroflax’s body, before heading to the ship’s bridge. As the ship is crashing, River discovers that they are heading towards the planet Darillium – home to the Singing Towers mentioned by the future River as the place where she spent her final night with the Doctor ("Forest of the Dead"). Realising that they cannot save the ship, they flee into the TARDIS, but the impact of the crash knocks River unconscious.

Having avoided taking River to Darillium for as long as possible to delay their last date together, the Doctor decides to give in to the inevitable. After travelling to the next morning, the Doctor suggests to a man searching for survivors of the crash that he build a restaurant where they are standing, with a view of the Singing Towers, and gives him the diamond to fund its construction. Travelling forward in time once again, the Doctor books a table on the balcony for Christmas Day in four years’ time. When River awakens and exits the TARDIS into the restaurant, she is told that the Doctor is waiting for her at their table. She encounters Hydroflax’s body, since salvaged and now peacefully controlled by the heads of Ramone and Nardole, working as a waiter in the restaurant.

The Doctor gives River a present: the sonic screwdriver she will use in "Forest of the Dead". As the pair admire the Singing Towers, River asks whether the stories she's encountered about her and the Doctor – that this will be their final night together – are true. The Doctor only responds by saying, "Spoilers". He insists that there is no way to avoid the end of their times together and refuses to tell River the future. He does reveal, however, that one night on Darillium lasts for twenty-four years, giving them a long last date. As the two smile at each other, the words "And they both lived happily ever after" are displayed on-screen.


Ramone shows pictures of the Doctor's original twelve faces, which River mentions having in order to recognise the Doctor in "The Time of Angels" (2010).[3] River doesn't recognise the Twelfth Doctor as the Doctor because "he has limits", referring to the Time Lords' twelve-regenerations limit first mentioned in The Deadly Assassin (1976).[4]

As he reads River's diary, Flemming relates many of her adventures with the Doctor: the opening of the Pandorica ("The Pandorica Opens"), the crash of the Byzantium (first mentioned in "Silence in the Library" and shown in "Flesh and Stone"), a picnic at Asgard ("Silence in the Library"), an encounter with Jim the Fish ("The Impossible Astronaut"), and her most recent trip – to a place called "Manhattan" ("The Angels Take Manhattan").[5][6][7]

The Doctor tells River that "every Christmas is last Christmas", repeating what a dream-image Danny Pink tells Clara Oswald in "Last Christmas" (2014).[6][7]

When the Doctor argues about River's "marriages", River recounts some of the Doctor's own: Elizabeth I (first mentioned in "The End of Time" and depicted in "The Day of the Doctor"), Marilyn Monroe ("A Christmas Carol"), and Cleopatra (mentioned in "The Wedding of River Song").[7]

Details of the Doctor's last encounter with River at the singing towers of Darillium, originally mentioned in "Forest of the Dead" (2008), are shown here. The Doctor says that he has just had a haircut and is wearing his best suit ("You turned up on my doorstep, with a new haircut and a suit"). As the towers sing, the Doctor sheds a tear ("The towers sang and you cried"), and he refuses to tell her that this is their final night together before her death ("You wouldn't tell me why, but I suppose you knew it was time. My time.")[8][7] River mentions that the Doctor had postponed it several times, one of which was shown in the mini-episode "Last Night".[3]

The Doctor uses both of River's catchphrases – "Hello, Sweetie" and "Spoilers".[9][4] River's last line to the Doctor is "I hate you", to which the Doctor replies "No, you don't". This is banter River and the Eleventh Doctor often used, such as in "The Impossible Astronaut".[10][11] River is also shown as possessing a red fez, a favourite headpiece of the Eleventh Doctor.[10][4]

Outside references[edit]

The Doctor says that a flow chart is required to follow his and River's timelines; when he learns she's married another man, he says "I think I'm going to need a bigger flow chart". This echoes a line from the film Jaws: "You're gonna need a bigger boat",[4] as well as the creation by fans of Doctor Who of flow charts to depict the Doctor and River's relative timelines.[4]

One of River's other husbands the Doctor names is actor Stephen Fry.[9][12][13]



The read through for the episode took place on 31 August 2015, with the special being filmed between 1 and 26 September 2015.[11]

Cast notes[edit]

In September 2015, it was announced that Alex Kingston would reprise the role of recurring character River Song for the first time since the 2013 episode "The Name of the Doctor". Then in November 2015, it was revealed that the special's guest cast would include Greg Davies as King Hydroflax and Matt Lucas as Nardole.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

The episode had an official rating of 7.69 million viewers in the UK with a 33.9% share. The chart position was 8th for the week and 7th for Christmas Day.[14] The overnight rating was 5.77 million with a 29.4% share of the total TV audience at 5.15pm.[15] It received an Appreciation Index score of 82.[16]


The episode had a cinema release in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhastan on 25 and 26 December,[17] and in the United States on 28 and 29 December. The cinema releases included an additional interview with Alex Kingston and a behind-the-scenes featurette.[18]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Rotten Tomatoes (Average Score)7.58[19]
Rotten Tomatoes (Tomatometer)95%[19]
Review scores
The A.V. ClubB[20]
Paste Magazine8.2[21]
TV Fanatic4/5 stars[22]
CultBox4/5 stars[23]
New York Magazine4/5 stars[26]
Radio Times3/5 stars[27]
SciFiNow4/5 stars[28]

The episode received positive reviews. It holds an approval rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 19 reviews, and an average score of 7.58. The critic's consensus reads "With The Husbands of River Song, Doctor Who delivers a Christmas special that perfectly balances silliness and heart."[19]


At the 42nd Saturn Awards, the episode won the Best Television Presentation and Alex Kingston was nominated for Best Guest Star on Television.[29]

Home media[edit]

"The Husbands of River Song" was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 25 January 2016 in Region 2,[30] 27 January 2016 in Region 4,[31] and 23 February 2016 in Region 1.[32] A complete box set for the ninth series, including "The Husbands of River Song", was released on 7 March 2016 in Region 2, and 5 April 2016 in Region 1.[33][34]


  1. ^ K McEwan, Cameron (26 May 2016). "Steven Moffat reveals Pearl Mackie to debut in 2017, her name and when's she's from..." BBC Worldwide. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  2. ^ "The Doctor and River Song Reunite For A Spectacular Christmas". BBC. The Doctor Who Team. 2 September 2015. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  3. ^ a b Rich Johnston. "Ten Thoughts About Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Husbands Of River Song (UPDATE)". Bleeding Cool Comic Book, Movie, TV News.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Doctor Who: geeky spots in The Husbands Of River Song". Den of Geek.
  5. ^ "The husbands of River Song new details", Doctor Who TV, UK.
  6. ^ a b "The husbands of River Song hints, teasers set 2", Doctor Who TV, UK.
  7. ^ a b c d "Doctor Who geeky spots in The husbands of River Song", Den of geek.
  8. ^ "Doctor Who: 10 things you may not know about The husbands of River Song", Anglophenia, US: BBC, Dec 2015.
  9. ^ a b "The Husbands of River Song: Hints & Teasers (Set #2)".
  10. ^ a b "The Husbands of River Song: Hints & Teasers (Set #1)".
  11. ^ a b "The Husbands of River Song: The Fact File". BBC One – Doctor Who. Retrieved 25 December 2015.
  12. ^ "'Doctor Who': 10 Things You May Not Know About 'The Husbands of River Song' – Anglophenia – BBC America". BBC America.
  13. ^ Ree Hines. "'Doctor Who' Christmas Special Recap: 'Husbands Of River Song' Is Faithful To The Past And Perfect". Forbes.
  14. ^ Marcus (4 January 2016). "Christmas Official Ratings". Doctor Who News.
  15. ^ Kate Goodacre (26 December 2015). "UK TV ratings: Downton Abbey bows out with 6.5m for Christmas Day grand finale". Digital Spy.
  16. ^ Marcus (27 December 2015). "The Husbands of River Song – AI:82". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  17. ^ "Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song". CoolConnections. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  18. ^ Foster, Chuck (11 November 2015). "Christmas Special to be shown in US Cinemas". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  19. ^ a b c "Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song (2015 Christmas Special)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  20. ^ Wilkins, Alasdair (25 December 2015). "A deeply silly Doctor Who reunion takes an emotional turn". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  21. ^ Rozeman, Mark (28 December 2015). "Doctor Who Review: "The Husbands of River Song"". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  22. ^ Wiedel, Kathleen (26 December 2015). "Doctor Who Christmas Special Review: The Husbands of River Song". TV Fanatic. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  23. ^ Smedley, Rob (25 December 2015). "'Doctor Who' Christmas special review: 'The Husbands of River Song'". CultBox. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  24. ^ Collura, Scott (25 December 2015). "Doctor Who: "The Husbands of River Song" Review". IGN. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  25. ^ Jones, Craig Owen (31 December 2015). "Doctor Who Christmas Special: "The Husbands of River Song"". PopMatters. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  26. ^ Ruediger, Ross (25 December 2015). "Doctor Who Recap: River Song is Coming to Town". Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  27. ^ Mulkern, Patrick (25 December 2015). "Doctor Who Christmas special review: "With funnier escapades and sharper banter this could have been a classy screwball comedy"". Radio Times. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  28. ^ Write, Steve (25 December 2015). "Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song review". SciFiNow. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  29. ^ "42nd Saturn Awards". 22 June 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  30. ^ "Doctor Who 2015 Christmas Special – The Husbands of River Song (DVD)". BBC Shop. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  31. ^ "Doctor Who – Christmas Special 2015". Sanity. Retrieved 12 November 2015.
  32. ^ "Doctor Who – Release Date for '2015 Christmas Special' and 'The Complete 9th Series'". Archived from the original on 13 December 2015. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
  33. ^ "'Doctor Who' complete Season 9 box set release and extras announced". CultBox. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  34. ^ "Doctor Who – Release Date for '2015 Christmas Special' and 'The Complete 9th Series'". Archived from the original on 13 December 2015. Retrieved 12 December 2015.

External links[edit]