Doctor Who: “The Wedding of River Song” Review (SPOILERS)
by Kyle Anderson on October 3, 2011
Is it possible for something to be at once surprising and yet totally predictable? After watching Doctor Who’s sixth series finale, “The Wedding of River Song,” I was left wondering why we fans spent so long speculating about things. Essentially, everything was answered in the very way it was telegraphed to be since the riddles were posed in the first place. It would be very easy to say that Steven Moffat took the easy way out, but after Series 5’s completely flabbergasting ending, complete with set-ups paid off in totally unforeseen ways, the most outlandish thing he could do to mess with all of our heads is to have the resolution be what we all assumed was too obvious. That they were red herrings was, itself, a red herring.
Is this okay? Not necessarily. In many ways, the episode failed to live up to the promise of the phenomenally awesome opening two-parter, “The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon,” but in others it couldn’t have happened any other way. The entire narrative took place in the split second between when River shoots the Doctor and when the Doctor dies, which is pretty neat in itself. While it wasn’t perfect, and in my opinion definitely needed a second viewing, the finale closed the book (I hope) on that chapter in the Eleventh Doctor’s reign.
The episode begins at 5:02pm, April 22, 2011. Time is stuck, meaning everything is happening at once: Steam engines, Roman guards, Pterodactyls, and Emperor Winston Churchill. Churchill, being a pretty smart chap, realizes that time isn’t moving and so asks his Silurian physician to fetch the soothsayer, i.e. one who says sooths. I just looked up the word and “sooth” means “Truth or Reality.” So, throughout history, whenever a soothsayer has been called, they’re actually just calling a professional truth teller. The opposite of that, of course, are politicians. *Wackity-Schmackity-DOOO* Anyway, the soothsayer is, of course, the Doctor, and he enlightens Churchill on why time has stopped. It all starts with a woman. Say what you will about Steven Moffat, but he certainly knows how to depict strange anomalies of time.
The realization of all time happening at once was quite spectacular. We see the return of Ian McNeice as Churchill, and it’s nice that he’s been given a chance to play the character again in an episode that isn’t utter bilge. (I know he was in “The Pandorica Opens,” but that was all filmed during “Victory of the Crap”) We then see what the Doctor did after he left Craig’s flat. He knows he must die at Lake Silencio, but he does not know why. He tracks down the Silence and runs across the Teselecta, the shape-shifting robot ship bounty hunter piloted by tiny people. The captain tells him about the “weak link” in the Silence, which turns out to be Gantok (played by Mark Gatiss under a pseudonym), a player of “Live Chess.” In exchange for letting him live, Gantok will take the Doctor to where Dorium Maldovar (aka “The Blue Guy”) is laid to rest. He was beheaded by the Monks in “A Good Man Goes to War,” if you’ll remember, and so his head is now in a box. Apparently, if the Monks behead you, your head stays alive and the crypt is full of carnivorous skulls, which eventually devour the conniving Gantok. Dorium’s head tells the Doctor that Silence MUST fall when the question is asked, because the answer to the question must never be spoken. Blah blah blah.
The Doctor takes Dorium’s head in the box aboard the TARDIS, where he still feels like he has time to do what he wants before he has to die. After all, he’s in a time machine; he can do whatever he likes. He can help Rose Tyler with her homework or go to all of Jack’s stag parties on the same night. He’s pretty boss, if you think about it. He then calls an old buddy to go gallivanting around with, and finds that his dear friend, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, has passed away. It’s this realization — time waits for no one — which causes the Doctor to finally accept his fate. I thought this moment was one of the best of the episode. As a classic Who fan, I always adored the Brigadier, and was deeply saddened when Nicholas Courtney passed away, as I think most fans were. That they chose to not only reference it in a new series finale, but also make it the motivation for the Doctor to stop running, is monumental. What a nice sendoff to such a beloved character. Matt Smith played the scene wonderfully. I don’t know if he ever met Courtney in real life, but you really felt like he’d lost a friend. Understatement of the Year: Matt Smith is a damn good actor.
Then we find out that, yes, River Song is the one in the astronaut suit, and yes, she does kill the Doctor even though she doesn’t want to. But wait! She decides she can change history, even though it’s a fixed point in time. This is what causes the alternate timeline full of everything. There, the Doctor and Churchill find themselves fighting an enemy they can’t remember and eventually see a swarm of Silents hanging from the ceiling. I still say they are the creepiest villains the new series has produced, slightly edging above the Weeping Angels in my book simply because they look like things I used to dream about and be terrified by as a child. Just then, a bunch of soldiers burst in led by an eye patch-wearing Pond, Amelia Pond. Eye patches make people remember the Silents. She can remember the other timeline because remembering things like that is what she does. She takes the Doctor aboard her steam train office to Area 52, which is in an Egyptian pyramid. Awesome? Yes.
There Amy and Captain Williams (yes, it’s Rory) show the Doctor all the Silents they have trapped in water tanks. He also sees River and a tied-up Madame Kovarian. River and the Doctor are at the epicenter of the temporal disturbance and if they touch, it’ll short out and time will start ticking again in the right place. River, being the obstinate tart she is, doesn’t want to fix the problem, even if it means the entire universe will disintegrate, because she loves him and stuff. Capt. Williams is worried that the Silents all seem to be far more active now that the Doctor is there and Madame Kovarian laughs in her “I’m evil for no reason” way and says that they weren’t trapped at all, but waiting for the Doctor to arrive. The creepy, suit-wearing things break out and the eye patches all begin shorting out and killing folk, including Kovarian herself. Rory very nearly dies at the hands of the Silents, but Amy shows up with a machine gun and kills them all. This paid off the whole “Rory always dies” thing for the most part. Amy then kills Kovarian by not helping her, saying that River didn’t get “it” all from the bad lady.
River then shows the Doctor a temporal beacon thing that she’s used to send a call for help throughout the universe, outside of the time bubble in which they are. This pisses off the Doctor and embarrasses him, though the universe apparently is entirely willing to help. She just didn’t want the Doctor to die before knowing how loved he is. This is sort of the antithesis of “The Pandorica Opens.” Instead of everyone that hates him teaming up, everyone that likes him agrees to help. It’s unnecessary, however, as the Doctor decides to marry River. This still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Why did they have to get married to make out? The answer is, they didn’t. Other than the fact that it’s always been suggested that she’s his wife, there’s no reason why at that moment they had to do a makeshift wedding. Before that point, he whispers a secret into her ear which he says is his name. Then they make out. Then time starts going again. Then she kills him and all the rest of the season happens.
Sometime later, River, fresh off the crash of the Byzantium, appears in Amy’s backyard where her mother is waiting for her. They compare notes about when they are and River decides to tell Amy the secret which the Doctor told her. The Doctor lies, of course, and he didn’t tell her his name. River also lies, she says, and has had to pretend she doesn’t know stuff she already knows all the time. Hey, guess what: the Doctor’s alive. He got on board the Teselecta and made it look like him and then that Doctor died but the real little one inside the ship could get away. As he puts Dorium’s head back in the crypt, he says that he wants the universe to think that he’s dead, that he’s been too high-profile and is going to go back to skulking around the galaxy on his own, or at least not being so visible, setting the stage for the next series which promises to be more standalone and less arc heavy. Still, though, Dorium reminds the Doctor, and us, that the “fall of the eleventh” is still ahead and the question that must never be answered is “Doctor WHO?”
Rule one: The Doctor lies. Rule zero should be: Steven Moffat lies. My real problem with this episode is the “big reveal,” simply because it’s Moffat fucking lying to us. I could write off the fact that River in the space suit was the obvious answer, and I could let go that they got married like everyone expected them to, which is another obvious answer, and the info-dump scene itself in the garden was actually kind of nice. I could even let slide the fact that we still do not know why the Silence wanted the Doctor dead, nor who caused the TARDIS to explode in Series 5. I’m fairly confident that we’ll never learn these answers, and I don’t really care at this point. What I cannot embrace, though, is the entire crux of the season-long storyline, where the Doctor dies, was the biggest cop out since the floating Christ figure ending of Series 3. After “The Impossible Astronaut” ended, Moffat was quoted as saying that what we saw was indeed the real Doctor and that he was indeed really killed. Well, no, he fucking was not.
From the introduction of the Gangers in the first part of the series and the Teselecta in the second part, the idea of the Doctor having a double became all-encompassing. In fact, at one time or another, all of the main characters had another version of themselves running around (except Rory, who is above such things) and they were really hammering home that idea. But all the while I kept thinking, “nah, it’s not gonna be a Ganger or a Teselecta; it’s going to be more complex than that. Moffat said the Doctor died and I’m going to believe that.”
That, surely, was my mistake. When this episode began, and the “previously on” material started playing, heavily featuring the Teselecta Amy from “Let’s Kill Hitler,” the idea was planted in my head that it would surely play some part in the proceedings, but couldn’t possibly be the answer. Then, when the Doctor met them again while searching for the Silence, again I thought it was too easy. And then, the big ending happens, and we see that the Doctor is in a Doctor suit and that IT got killed and not him, I was angry. Do Teselecta’s regenerate? Do they have regenerative energy? I fucking doubt it!! So how did they fake that? When the astronaut shoots the Doctor in the very first episode of the series, one of the best scenes ever produced, the Doctor very clearly starts to regenerate and then gets shot again before he can, killing him permanently. Then they burn his body. But, I guess it’s okay because it was just a shape-shifting android suit.
Did I think the Doctor would actually be dead? Of course not. I knew there was some way out of it, because the show’s not getting canceled, but to have the climax of the entire story arc literally just be “Hey, can I borrow your car?” is beyond frustrating. It spits in the face of not only fans, but completely taints the greatness of the opening two-parter, which was some of the best writing Moffat’s ever done. News flash here, folks! Moffat does not have a plan. He might have had one at some point, but it went way off the rails along the way.
I still love the series, I still love the era, and I even generally like this episode (though a second viewing was required). Hell, I still really like Steven Moffat’s work as a whole. He’s incredibly innovative from a storytelling standpoint and continues to make compelling, thought-provoking television. I’m glad he’s showrunning my favorite show. But, man, did he screw the pooch on this ending. There’s a Christmas episode coming up in a few months and then we get to wait until October of 2012 for the next series to start. Hopefully by then Moffat will pull his head out of his ass.
What’ll we do in the intervening months/year? Well, there’s nearly 50 years of content to talk about; I’m sure I can come up with something Doctor Who-related to write about for you lovely people to enjoy.
-Kanderson is sorry for yelling. He’s not mad at you. Please follow him on TWITTER