This review contains spoilers.
6.13 The Wedding Of River SonWell, blimey.
If you were feeling a little puzzled watching The Wedding Of River Song for the first time, then you might not be alone. The following seven consecutive Tweets that popped across our feed during the episode seem to be a pretty effective cross section of where people’s thoughts were. The Tweets, which we picked up after the episode, ran:
“I am so confused”“What the hell is going on”“Is anyone else lost”“My poor brain”“Karen is so hot”“I could use some spoilers”“Oh, I get it”
So let’s try and sort some of it out. Because arguably, by the time the credits rolled on this episode, it was a bit more straightforward than it might at first have appeared. That said, The Wedding Of River Song at times felt like a bit of a Doctor Who exam, albeit one that most ten year olds would be able to unravel at far greater speed than their parents.
It opened in an alternative London, where time is frozen at 5.02pm, and CG stream trains breeze through tracks in the sky. I like CG steam trains. I could watch those again. It’s all part of the kind of ambitious, confident and really fun scene-setter that the show excels at, particularly in its bigger episodes.
It also opened, as did A Good Man Goes To War, with a few treats and faces from before. So we had a lovely Charles Dickens moment, teasing the Christmas special (what other show could get away with something like that? Not since Remembrance Of The Daleks have we had the show teasing itself so much), the return of Winston Churchill, a Silurian, Hitler’s study, and the contents of the BBC’s Roman costume cupboard.
One of those costumes was being worn by a bearded Doctor, who proceeded to recall how we’d got to this stage via a series of flashbacks, which took up the first chunk of the episode.
It’s probably fair to say that this is where The Wedding Of River Song was at its most confusing.
Various things were established, or re-established. That the Doctor’s death was a fixed moment in time (although, as it turned out, it wasn’t quite as it seemed). That the Silence is a religious order, who will basically bugger off when the oldest question in the universe is answered (even the Daleks seem to know about them). And that the Doctor’s future holds things far more terrifying than we know now.
After all, more than once, the fall of the Eleventh was referred to. It looks like that’s what we’ve got coming for the show’s 50th birthday in 2013.
It was all being thrown together with such speed and confidence, and with a verve that no other show of its ilk would even try, yet alone match. But sadly, this time you seemingly couldn’t help but fall behind a little. Those Tweets right at the start weren’t asking unreasonable questions, and more than once I couldn’t help but wonder quite what was going on.
At one or two points, for the first time in a while, Doctor Who felt like a party we weren’t all invited to. And if someone rang in the middle of the episode for a five minute natter at the wrong moment, you were doomed (that’s not necessarily a criticism, of course).
But then, when it started to answer a few more questions and give a few more clues, crucial things began to fall into place. The fixed point in time, we learned, wasn’t really a fixed point in time. Furthermore, River’s refusal to kill the Doctor splintered time, which began to disintegrate (causing the mash-up that dominated the lovely opening of the episode). And it was only the bringing of River and the Doctor together, ultimately in marriage, that could repair things.
The episode went about addressing all of these by pulling in lots of touchpoints from throughout the series, and, as we sometimes take too much for granted, resolutions had been very carefully seeded in. That work began to pay off.
Earlier in the run, mind, it looked like it was going to be the Gangers that resolved the problem of the Doctor’s death. As it turned out, it was the Teselecta. The Doctor never died on the beach after all, it was a double (as many had suspected), and he was actually okay. Even though everyone now thinks he’s dead.
But! Hang on! If it wasn’t the Doctor that was shot on the beach in The Impossible Astronaut, and it was, in fact, the Teselecta Doctor instead (which would explain the fact that it wasn’t, actually, a fixed point in time), then how could they fake the regeneration? That’s a Time Lord trick alone, isn’t it? Or can the Teselecta do that too? They’re bloody good if they can.
And while we’re talking about problems, what about Madame Kovarian? How quickly and easily was she beaten? She’d been teased and built up so much, it was surprising that she was brushed away as swiftly as she was. Is she being saved for a return at some point in the future? I’d certainly hope so, as she deserves a better final moment than the one she got here.
It all sounds like I’m being grumble-y here, and I suppose I am a little. Whilst occasionally brilliant, I didn’t find The Wedding Of River Song (the title, or the actual act) immensely satisfying. As a showcase for brilliant writing, excellent direction
and moments of genius, it couldn’t be faulted. But as a series finale (which it didn’t feel like it was for the most part), and as a complete episode in its own right, I found it bumpy. At the end of a series run as strong as this one, that’s a disappointment.
There’s no denying, though, that the episode was full of lovely, lovely touches. No Doctor Who fan with any semblance of a heart can fail to have been moved by the fact that time was set aside to send the Brigadier off with real dignity. If you needed proof that those behind Doctor Who really care about the legacy of the show, then there it was (see also: the mentions of Rose and Captain Jack). Then there were some of the smaller, yet brilliant, moments. Amy’s realisation that she was the Doctor’s mother-in-law (and her continuing evolution into a full-on bad-ass). Her explanation to Rory as to the situation with River (and the fact that even The Silence were taunting Rory about how often he dies). The texting and scones. Churchill’s downloads. And the confirmation that River knew everything, always.
I also warmed a lot to the big emotional moment, that tends to leave a chunk of Doctor Who’s audience cold (although I’m not always sure why). In a way, the series has played out like It’s A Wonderful Life, where an important, clever and vital man feels lonelier and lonelier, only to find, when the chips are really down, that he’s loved, and with no shortage of friends.
And one consequence of this is that it lets Steven Moffat, without cheating, reset things a little for the Doctor. He can now slink back into the shadows, and out of the glare of the universe. That should set up some fun for the next series.
That’s not the only thing left behind, as there are questions, inevitably, that remain unresolved. They were neatly summed up by the returning Dorium at the end. We’ve got the fall of the Eleventh. We’ve got the Fields of Trenzador (er, I think I’ve spelt that right). And then there’s the question that the show ends on: Doctor Who? The one that’s been in front of us all along. That’s a lovely one to ask, just before the end credits of a series finale.
I guess you could wonder if that question is just being posed, or if there’s actually going to be some intention to answer it? It’s a wonderful tease, either way.
Let’s not forget, too, that we’ve still got The Silence, that there still seems to be things about River Song that we don’t know, and that Amy and Rory are surely gunning for a spin-off series of their own in the near future (both have been terrific this series).
Plus: what on earth blew up the Tardis last year? We’re still absolutely none the wiser about that. Has everyone forgotten? I doubt it.The Wedding Of River Song was a bumpy mix. It was puzzling, yet ultimately straightforward by the time the credits rolled (although you really had to pay attention). It promised to answer questions, yet left some dangling (which isn’t something I have a problem with, it just feels that some have been dangling for a while now). And it wrapped up one of the strongest series of the show to date just a little below the peaks that it’s been hitting for my money.
It proved to be a cocktail of what makes Doctor Who brilliant, yet sometimes frustrating. But it sets things up in a strong position to take Doctor Who, with its next series, towards the kind of birthday that shows like these aren’t supposed to get to.
I can’t say that I loved The Wedding Of River Song, although I did like it (and it had some corking lines). But I have loved this series. And, as always at the end of a Doctor Who run, the Christmas special can’t come quickly enough. Well done to all concerned, and my continued gratitude that British television has the talent, at all levels, to make a show such as this.
Read our review of last week’s episode, Closing Time, here.