I have friends who are casual viewers of Doctor Who who’ve told me the show became far too confusing for them in Series 6. Perhaps it’s true that complicated series arcs put the casual viewers off, since traditionally (i.e. under Russell T Davies) Doctor Who has been a show you tune in for an entertaining “story of the week”, rather than a show with a continuous serialised narrative you need to keep up with, like Game of Thrones. For the casual viewer, then, The Wedding of River Song might seem like impenetrable nonsense. It relies heavily on an understanding of the Series 6 arc for its appeal. For us fans who do tune in eagerly every week, though (or at least for this fan), it was an exciting and gratifying culmination of a host of irresistible arc-related mysteries we’d been teased with all series. Although the episode looked messy (there were cars with balloons attached floating around London…), and moved at a pretty quick pace, it didn’t actually end up the undignified ejaculation of arc-revelation that it might have been (and which a certain regeneration episode ended up being…). The answers to the mysteries surrounding the Doctor’s death and the Silence and River Song were conveyed satisfyingly and didn’t end up unduly impinging on the scene-setting and plot progression.
I thought the idea of the story was really intriguing, i.e. that time is imploding because the Doctor failed to die his appointed death because River Song got sentimental and couldn’t bring herself to kill the love of her life (women, right?). There were dazzling scenes of all of time happening at once, which were just a bit nonsense, but delightful fun nonetheless (Winston Churchill as Roman Emperor anyone? Charles Dickens promoting his latest “Christmas special” on BBC Breakfast anyone?). This felt a tiny bit repetitive, as Moffat played with a similar concept in Pandorica, but that didn’t bother me too much. Any excuse to have Winston Churchill say “Good Lord, man, have you never heard of downloads?” works for me. The flashback format worked well, I think. It was an effective way both to pull the audience in, beginning the episode at the heart of the action with bloody great Pterodactyls flying around London, as well as progress through a substantial amount of narrative quickly by having the Doctor recount to Churchill what’s been happening up to that point.
I mentioned in my review of Pandorica that that finale was just a “pit stop” on the road of a much longer, greater overarching narrative. In The Wedding of River Song, we’ve moved further along that road, finding out more about what the Silence are and about their attempted orchestration of the Doctor’s death, but there’s still a great deal of mystery surrounding this long-term arc. That’s good. Like I said, this finale was already substantially arc-heavy in content, and if it had been any more so it would have been unwatchable. We did learn some more tantalising details of the greater plot at work, but the episode still made room for an enjoyable, captivating story about two fated lovers, the Doctor and River Song, and how all of time and space regrettably had to come between them. The Doctor’s ingenious solution to that particularly awkward conundrum was a satisfying way out which no one can honestly say they saw coming. That said, it was clever, but perhaps I was expecting something more? I’m not necessarily disappointed, but the makeshift resolution added to the sense that this finale was the most low-key yet (despite the stakes being just as high as Pandorica or The Stolen Earth).
In addition, this episode, although fast-paced, was peppered with wonderful, memorable scenes. There was the Doctor resisting the suggestion that he had to go to his death, before receiving a phone call informing him that his dear old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart had passed away, and solemnly bringing himself to admit, finally, that his time had come, as it comes for all, time machine or no. There was the moment of the Doctor’s “death” at Lake Silencio, where, in the last seconds of his life, the Doctor selflessly chose to gently console and comfort River, Matt delivering with pathos the Doctor’s dying words. “You are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven,” in particular brought on the goosebumps. Very powerful stuff. There was the profound scene where River in the Receptor room of the pyramid shows the Doctor how much the universe loves him before he dies. “You’ve touched so many lives, saved so many people. Did you think when your time came, you’d really have to do more than just ask? You’ve decided that the universe is better off without you, but the universe doesn’t agree.” The Doctor seems taken aback and genuinely startled to learn this, especially given how much he’s been wallowing in guilt and self-loathing of late, which River was determined to snap him out of before he went, and justly so. The marriage of the Doctor and River itself was mesmerising, if a bit brief and understated. Finally, one of my favourite moments of Series 6 was the Doctor trying to set Rory up with Amy with the words “She said that you were a Mister Hottie-ness, and that she would like to go out with you for texting and scones.” Oh, Eleven. We adore you so much.
Some final thoughts. I think, for the first time, I actually saw Eleven and River. Before now, the pairing of Eleven and River always seemed somewhat awkward to me. Maybe it was the visible age difference, or the actual age difference (1,100 to, what, 40?). But I thought they were excellent together in this episode, especially in the Receptor room of the pyramid, and I totally see them now. Perhaps it’s because the Doctor seems to have noticeably aged; he seems older, more worldly, more jaded, than the energetic young puppy dog he was in, say, The Time of Angels, which makes for a more convincing dynamic with River. Secondly, Madame Kovarian was set up as a major player in the machinations of the Silence and in Series 6’s arc in general, but she was wasted in this finale. She got all of ten lines (I counted). That said, she wasn’t a particularly good character in the first place, but her presence in this episode was a bit pointless. She was basically plot fodder for Amy to get her revenge over Melody. Finally, although the episode held off answering too many questions, it pointed energetically at the way ahead by hinting really tantalisingly about where the Eleventh Doctor’s arc was heading. “On the Fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely, or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never, ever be answered…” Cue Whovians smacking their lips hungrily.
I recall really despising this episode on my first viewing because I was in the audience during the season premiere when Steven Moffat said that the Doctor actually died and it wasn’t just a robot. So when it turned out to just be a robot, regardless of the fact that the Doctor was inside the robot, I called foul.
Years later I watched the episode again and it’s… passable. It’s one of my least favorite finales, which is okay. Some of the episodes in-between were magnificent.
On my first viewing I thought the Teselecta resolution was really jolly clever and was delighted with it. But I was 16 at the time and thought everything Doctor Who did was awesome and that the show could do no wrong. Now I agree, it’s a bit underwhelming. I think it probably called for something more earth-shaking for the Doctor to defy his death.
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