Previously on Doctor Who: Heaven Sent + Hell Bent.
Guys — we’re going to need a bigger flowchart. It’s the year 5343, humans are, for some reason, still really, really obsessed with Christmas (decorations), and the Doctor picked the prime spot to hide from, well, Christmas. You can imagine why he might not take to the TARDIS’ attempts at cheering him up very kindly.
So of course, when Nardole (Matt Lucas) happens upon him searching for the surgeon he has been tasked to find, everything goes to hell, because this one packs a lot of Christmas miracles.
The short of it is this: River’s pulling a con(tract), got herself married to a diamond and Ramone (not necessarily in that order), and she’s going to make off with the head of a King and make a lot of money off that head (definitely in that order). What the Doctor doesn’t know is where in River’s timeline this is taking place, and what River doesn’t know is that there are more than Eleven-and-a-half Doctors at this point, soo… they’ve both got some ‘splainin to do. Most of River’s story happened with the Eleventh Doctor — he was the one she was brought up to murder, he was the one she managed to marry instead. Ten didn’t know her, but she told him she knew all his faces; time-travelling archaeologist and all that. So I just sort of assumed that she’d know Twelve, too, and I don’t think we should think too hard about whether it makes sense that she doesn’t. She knows about the War Doctor, so that’s our constant. Our variables are whether she knows that he didn’t blow up Gallifrey, after all, or whether she doesn’t. If she doesn’t know about that, it stands to reason that she can’t know that he was granted a new regeneration cycle by the High Council in The Time of the Doctor. Seeing as we first met the Twelfth Doctor when he helped tow Gallifrey through time and space, his presence in any records River knows of probably would have tipped her off that something funky was going on, so… Well, alright, I’m going along with it.
We never actually saw Eleven give River the Sonic Screwdriver she had in the Library, so I guess we all knew this was coming. I know there was Last Night and everything, but it makes more sense for them to make an actual episode out of it, rather than a web special.
Anyway, River’s married to King Hydroflax, and oh man, isn’t he a gas! Genocide, terraforming, pompous jackass… and he’s got a diamond embedded in his brain that’ll kill him soon, so what he needs is, well, a Doctor.
“Get ready to say, ‘Whee!'”
River’s looking for the Doctor, and she’s got Ramone keeping an eye out, but of course they can’t find him if they don’t have all the photos. As for River, she just got back from Manhattan, and her diary is nearly full. She just lost her parents to the Weeping Angels, and Manhattan was very Don’t Let Him See the Damage. The Doctor, for his part, is a little jealous (and was all the snogging really necessary?), but at least he reminds River of her second wife.
“Is this what you’re like when I’m not around?”
Oh, come off it, Doctor. River’s got a conscience, even if she acts like she doesn’t, and even if it involves taking a head, or ten. Sure, she’s not giving the diamond back, exactly, but… a girl’s gotta make a living, right?
“Are you.. thinking? Stop it, you’re a man, it looks weird.”
A merry chase ensues, with poor Nardole and Ramone uploaded and used as pawns while the Doctor revels in getting to have the It’s Bigger on the Inside flipout, for once. He quite likes it.
Now, the actual plot of the thing is clearly secondary and, while entertaining, a tiny bit overstuffed and not all that clever, so I’m just going to say that the cruise ship full of villains definitely deserved to go down, and… wait. River tucked the diamond into her bra. And then the Doctor had it and gave it to the guy looking for survivors in the wreckage. And I don’t remember River actually giving him the… oh, Doctor, you dirty old man.
At least she knew who he really was by then, because the penny dropped somewhere during the veeery leeeengthy showdown, with the head waiter trying to convince the Cyborg King to take River hostage and use her as bait to get to the Doctor, the best and very majestic contender for Head of the King. Except, of course, the Doctor’s already there, and he’s not a fan of that idea. At all. Neither is River, and I think she said a lot of what she said because she needed to stall for time and also very much wanted to not be taken hostage so she could warn the Doctor, if necessary, that someone’s coveting his skull; but she does really seem to believe it.
“God knows where he is right now, but I promise you, he’s doing whatever the hell he wants and not giving a damn about me! And I’m just fine with that. When you love the Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect the sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, the Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to be standing in it with me!”
And that’s when the penny drops.
River, you know those eyes. As he did during Face the Raven, Peter’s just doing all the acting with his face here, because a lady is speaking and he gets to shut up for once, and although the reaction shot editing could have been a little less skittish and on-the-nose, I love watching him. It’s good that it’s Twelve who finally brings it full-circle, and not just because we got Alex Kingston and Peter Capaldi sharing the screen.
“Happily ever after doesn’t mean forever. It just means… a little time.”
And he knows. The Doctor might wish he were, sometimes, and he might certainly act like it a lot, but he’s not a monolith. Ten very much wanted forever, even in the face of loving a human without an extended lifespan, but that couldn’t last, and Eleven, even though he married River, was the one least capable of actually dealing with his feelings. He knew he was supposed to take her to Darillium, but he kept cancelling, the idiot. So now it’s up to Twelve, and he’s just no-nonsense enough, but also definitely in love enough, to finally give her that night. A night that lasts 24 years.