Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song

Churchill: 'All of history is happening at once.'

You have to admire the ambition of tonight's episode—for fifteen minutes I just stared at the screen, both amazed and befuddled. The visuals were at times breathtaking: from the car carrying balloons, to steam trains exiting the Gherkin, to the vaguely impressive pterodactyls. (Less impressive after Terra Nova's, sadly.) I even liked the weird meld of the Tudor/Roman/post-war eras. True, we ended up with more questions than we got answers to, but this was a remarkable ending to what's been a wholly remarkable season.

Ever since 'The Rebel Flesh' I've been convinced that a ganger would die in the Doctor's stead. The real Doctor dying was out of the question, as no regeneration = no series. I completely overlooked the possibility of a Teselecta—until one turned up six minutes into the episode. From that moment onward, it became obvious how it would end. (Apparently the surprise was ruined even earlier in the season recap, but I was busy making a coffee and missed it). The Doctor didn't have to die, he just had to create the illusion of being dead. Which means his regeneration back in 'The Impossible Astronaut' was a complete fraud. Can a Teselecta fake regeneration? Evidently, yes.

In hindsight, tonight's story could've done with an extra episode. It was just too dense. River's chronology—concisely presented in Doctor Who Confidential (and partially reproduced below)—would've made for an ideal epilogue. Plus, in an episode called 'The Wedding of River Song', you could be forgiven for expecting a wedding lasting more than 20 seconds. Even Vegas would be hard pushed to match that feat. Nice setting, though—atop the Great Pyramid of Giza—but after two seasons of the Doctor thinking that girls are a bit rubbish, would he really have married River so easily? I'm not saying he didn't love her, and I'm not saying that kiss wasn't a stonker, but Eleven has never struck me as the most romantically inclined of the Doctor's incarnations. (Unless the TARDIS is involved, naturally.) Marrying River felt more like an attempt to ease River's guilt than it did an act of love.

The tribute to Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was a lovely show moment. After Elisabeth Sladen's dedication back in 'The Impossible Astronaut', fans have been waiting for something similar for the Brig. Superb acting by Matt Smith. The Brig's death was a timely reminder of the Doctor's own mortality, and his reaction to it a touching on-screen memorial to Nicholas Courtney. (Who died earlier this year.) It was also a nice continuity tie-in with Battlefield, where the Seventh Doctor predicted that the Brig would die in his bed. Spot on, Sylvester.

According to Doctor Who Confidential, Amy killing Kovarian wasn't in the original script, but its inclusion gave us a fascinating insight into an Amy untouched by the Doctor. She didn't think twice before killing Kovarian. Mind you, Frances Barber was hamming it up so much, I dare say I'd have killed her myself. As a result of growing up next to the time rift, Amy could remember events from the aborted reality—particularly the emotional fallout. I liked the idea that, had things been different, Amy could have been that person, and that River's ruthlessness wasn't all from Kovarian—some of it was passed through the blood.

Now that the alternate reality's folded, are River and the Doctor still married? I'm guessing yes, since a wedding ceremony did actually take place—but marrying by robot proxy, in a reality which never happened, seems like a shaky start to any relationship. Is it even legal? Are Gallifreyan marriage ceremonies binding under such fractured conditions? Is there a timey-wimey clause?

With the Doctor back in the shadows, Russell T. Davies' messianic Doctor is essentially dead (or at the very least sleeping), which heralds something of a new era for Doctor Who. Hopefully they'll tone down the 'Lonely God' nonsense. I cringed at River's 'everyone loves the Doctor' speech. The Doctor was right—it was embarrassing, but it served to emphasise a point that the Doctor has become too conspicuous. Tonight the whole of the universe, past and present, affirmed their love for him—which, for a perpetually wanted man, is just too high a profile. Hopefully a change in focus will mean a season of smaller, more low key adventures. Assuming Dorium keeps his mouth shut. The man is a black marketeer. What's to stop him selling all he knows to the highest bidder? Apart from his head being stuck in a box in the Cave of Skulls.

It looks as though the Silence will be around for at least another season. Moffat seems loath to get rid of them. Which is fine by me—they're probably the most interesting foe we've had in years. We know so little about them. Seeing them hanging from the ceiling, like bats in a cave, was pretty creepy. It looks as though the eye-patches weren't just a bad-ass fashion statement, either—they were a means of remembering. And killing. Good to know the Silence have a sense of humour. I couldn't help but laugh at their 'Rory Williams, the man who dies and dies again' quip. Even the Silence are taking the piss now.

Next season looks set to revolve around what happens on the fields of Trenzalore. Will the Silence ever be defeated? Will any of us remember if they are? And will we ever know the answer to the question—Doctor who?

River's Chronology:

For those of you who didn't see Doctor Who Confidential, below is a rough guide to River Song's chronology:

—A child is conceived aboard the TARDIS. Amy's proximity to the time vortex means her baby carries Time Lord DNA.

—The baby is born at Demon's Run and given the name Melody Pond.

—Melody is kidnapped by Madame Kovarian, a servant of the Silence, and taken to an orphanage on earth. She's raised with the sole purpose of killing the Doctor.

—Her first attempt at killing him is thwarted by Amy. She manages to escape her space suit, and is forced to live on the streets, where she eventually dies and regenerates.

—A regenerated Melody grows up alongside Amy and Rory. She gets shot by Hitler, before regenerating into the woman we now know as River Song. Later, she tries to kill the Doctor with a kiss poisoned by the Judas Tree, but saves him after realising how much he means to her. The Doctor leaves her a TARDIS journal, which they later use to sync time lines.

—River goes on to become an archaeologist. Kovarian returns, and River ends up in a space suit under Lake Silencio. She manages to defer the Doctor's death by discharging the space suit's weaponry. Time starts to falter.

—The Doctor manages to avoid annihilation using a Teselecta double. Time restarts again, but River must keep his survival a secret. She ends up imprisoned in the Storm Cage for killing the Doctor.

—The Doctor learns River's true identity in 'A Good Man Goes to War'. From that moment on, their time lines start to run in opposite directions.

—The Doctor invites River to watch him die at Lake Silencio.

—In 'Day of the Moon' she travels back into her own past, examines the empty space suit at the orphanage, and pretends to know nothing about it. She has her last kiss with the Doctor.

—She travels back in time and lives the events of 'The Pandorica Opens' and 'The Big Bang'.

—The crash of the Byzantium. She lives the events of 'Flesh and Stone' and 'The Time of Angels'.

—She travels back in time and lives the events of 'Silence in the Library' and 'Forest of the Dead'. At this point the Doctor doesn't know her any more. River sacrifices herself for the Doctor. The Doctor manages to upload River's data ghost into the Library's computer, where she's reunited with the rest of her crew.

Other Thoughts:

—This episode should have been called 'Three Weddings in Three Finales'. Donna got married at the end of season four, Rory and Amy got married at the end of season five, and tonight the Doctor and River tied the knot.

—Evidently, the Doctor didn't whisper his name to River. He must have told her it at a later date.

—Nice cameo from Simon Callow. He first played Charles Dickens in 2005's 'The Unquiet Dead'. He even publicised 2010's 'A Christmas Carol.'

—I say, Trevor. Doctor Trevor.

—'I hate rats' was a nice tip of the hat to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. They were in an Indiana Jones tunnel, after all.

—I loved that Rory's still going along with anything Amy says. Even in a world without the Doctor, he knows who's boss.

—Rule #1 - The Doctor lies.

—A cameo too from Doctor Who/Sherlock writer and actor Mark Gatiss. He played the unfortunate Gantok. Him sinking into those skulls was just plain freaky. Did you see his hat vanish and then reappear again?

—Someone should have told Simon Fisher-Becker to keep his head still. Dorium's head was all over the place. Worse severed head acting ever!

Quotes:

Churchill: 'What happened to time?'
Doctor: 'A woman.'

Dorium: 'Time catches up with us all, Doctor.'
Doctor: 'Well, it has never laid a glove on me.'

Doctor: 'If it's time to go, remember what you are leaving. Remember the best. My friends have always been the best of me.'

Doctor: 'A needle stuck on a record.'
Churchill: 'A record? Good lord, man. Have you never heard of downloads?'
Doctor: 'Said Winston Churchill.'

Amy: 'You look rubbish.'
Doctor: 'You look wonderful.'
Amy: 'So do you. But, don't worry. We'll soon fix that.'
Doctor: 'Oh, Geronimo.'

Amy: 'What's wrong with you?'
Doctor: 'I'm still alive.'

Doctor: 'Why do you always have handcuffs?'

Rory 'What exactly did she say?'
Doctor: 'She said that you were a Mr. Hottie... ness. And that she would like to go out with you for texting and scones.'
Rory: 'You really haven't done this before, have you?'
Doctor: 'No, I haven't.'

Kovarian: 'Oh, why couldn't you just die?'
Doctor: 'Did me best dear, I showed up. You just can't get the psychopaths these days.'

River: 'Am I the woman who marries you, or the woman who murders you?'
Doctor: 'I don't want to marry you.'
River: 'I don't want to murder you.'

Amy: 'So, me and you should get a drink sometime.'
Rory: 'Okay.'
Amy: 'And married.'
Rory: 'Fine.'

Rory: 'I'm not sure I completely understand.'
Amy: 'Er, we got married, we had a kid, and that's her.'
Rory: 'Okay.'

River: 'You may kiss the bride.'
Doctor: 'I'll make it a good one.'
River: 'You'd better.'

Amy: 'Are you sure?'
River: 'Of course I'm sure. I'm his wife.'
Amy: 'And I'm his... mother in law.'
River: 'Father, dear. I think Mummy might need another drink.'
---
Also posted at The Time Meddler.

27 comments:

Mark Greig said...

Great review, Paul.

Season six has been my favourite season of the show since it came back and this was a terrific ending to it, even if it didn't quite match last season's finale. If I had to single out a favourite moment it would have to be the Doctor learning of the Brigadier's death. Matt Smith was just amazing in that scene, you totally believed that the Doctor had just lost one his oldest and dearest friends.

Christmas can't come soon enough.

Gabriel said...

You're right this should have been in two parts. There was so much story potential, sacrificed for the sake of time. But I loved it anyway. This has been my favourite season so far.

Anonymous said...

Didn't River marry an actual robot? I don't see how that works.

Anonymous said...

Didn't River marry a robot? I'm not sure how that works.

Josie Kafka said...

"From that moment onwards, it became obvious how it would end."

Cough, cough. Not to me. Stupid, stupid. (And also pleasantly surprised!)

I have a much longer comment to post once I get some sleep. For now: great job, Paul.

migmit said...

Not to me, either.

Paul Kelly said...

I'm suddenly reminded of Inspector Morse syndrome. You inexplicable get this brilliant flash of insight (a more cynical person would say you guessed) and, suddenly, you know who the murderer is. Of course, you only ever mention it when you're right... claiming the whole thing was obvious from the start (and conveniently forget to mention the twenty other times you got it wrong.) In this instance, I saw the Teselecta and though "Ah... that's how he does it!" Of course, this flash of genius is slightly negated by the fact that I've had dozens of similar bursts of "intuition" and have been right approximately zero times.

Paul Kelly said...

Anonymous: Yes, but the Doctor was inside. He was saying the words. I had a similar problem trying to work out how a robot touching River would be enough restart time. I did come up with several theories, but the most convincing one was wibby-wobbly timey-wimey. Just say that over and over again and all the problems go away ;o)

harryj said...

Definitely a good episode on its own. My problem with it is that the set-up was done so well in the last few episodes: the Doctor saying that a creature like himself would embrace death, leaving his companions behind to save them and finally his acceptance and that beautiful speech to Stormageddon/Alfie under the stars. It really did feel like it was time for the Doctor to die. Having him suddenly grab a robot double, survive and go running off for more adventures gave me severe emotional whiplash.

Also I can’t think of an answer to ‘Doctor who?’ that isn’t trite or irrelevant, or any reason why the Silence was necessary to stop the question being answered. Here’s hoping Moffat has more imagination than I do.

The Doctor Donna said...

Well, for an episode that centered around a wedding, I was majorly disappointed in the lack of emotion. River's pre-wedding speech was so painfully contrived to me. And does it seem to anyone else, or is it just me, that The Doctor married River to essentially make her shut up and do what he said? His first words after they do their micro-marriage were practically 'wife, listen to me.' Wow, what a romantic indeed.

And, possible plot hole? The Doctor and River touching made time move forward again. But River married/kissed the Teselecta shell, not the real thing. Surely the Teselecta could not genetically clone the Doctor so perfectly and precisely that the shell could produce the same result? If so, I'm calling that a bit of a stretch, even in a sci-fi/fantasy series. I call it a plothole for sure.

Dammit, does this mean more Amy? Can't we get RID of her already? I am so longing to see The Doctor interact with different people and different personalities in a long-term situation. Perhaps someone who's even more antisocial and offbeat than he is. Someone who ISN'T hypersexed like River or Amy. Perhaps someone who's very much a mental presence as opposed to a physical presence.

*sobs* May we have Idris or Donna back? PLEASE?? Because if Amy intends to stay aboard the TARDIS for all eternity, she'll have to die...or create a Doctor/Amy Metacrisis and need to have her memory wiped.

Though it does seem Moffat is taking more of a continuous arc approach as opposed to one-major-plot-per-series a la Davies. I do have to admit I appreciate that. Under Davies, every new series premiere was like starting completely over. I like having some cliffhangers to mull over for awhile.

One last thing: HIS NAME IS BLOODY THETA!! PRACTICALLY EVERYONE IN THE WHO-NIVERSE HAS REALIZED THAT!!

Juliette said...

I guess maybe Time Lord marriages count no matter what timeline you're in, so they don't have to get getting remarried every time they mess around a bit?!

Josie Kafka said...

Okay, my big question: Amy's timeline.

Not dates and stuff, but her subjective experience of time. Amy said to River, "the doctor just died." But that means Amy has experienced the wake of the Doctor's death twice: once, in company with an earlier iteration of the Doctor, Rory, River, and Mark Sheppard in "The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon"; and now again, in her backyard, with the River from "The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone."

However, we know that many things un-happened when the Doctor didn't die (hence, for instance, Churchill has Holy Roman Emperor, which is awesome). Time re-set when Robo-Doc died. But how much of it re-set when he did die, Tessalecta-style?

That is, if Amy drinking wine in the backyard is now the *new* timeline, does that mean that she never experienced, for instance, the 1960s and meeting Nixon? Because that is supposed to be her post-Doctor-death activity.

If so--if the portion of subjective time spanning from Amy witnessing the Doctor's death to some indefinable point in the future in which she's in the backyard of a house the Doctor bought for her before his experience of his death but after her experience of it (that is, episode 6.11) is erased--have the events of the past season been erased as well?

And how completely have they been erased? We know that Amy seems to have super-memory powers. Assuming she is capable of carrying numerous timelines in her head at once is one thing. But does River have those powers as well? The Doctor told her she wouldn't remember killing him, which would seem to imply that she doesn't. And what about Rory? He may have as many lives as a cat, but he doesn't have the memory of an elephant.

Will someone help me? My brain hurts.

migmit said...

> Dammit, does this mean more Amy? Can't we get RID of her already?

NOOOO! Please. I love Amy. I didn't think I'd love Rory; now I do - but still not nearly as much as Amy.

> Will someone help me? My brain hurts.

I don't really see the problem here. The timeline with Churchill being emperor is an anomaly, it was created at once by River when she refused to kill the Doctor, and it was destroyed by their kiss (although I agree that it's a plot hole). So, our timeline has nothing to do with it; and the Doctor faked his death so that our timeline is preserved as it is. NOTHING got rewritten, because everything happened exactly as it was supposed to. Amy is not drinking wine in the new timeline, because there isn't any "new" timeline, there is an old one - and the anomaly with Churchill the emperor, which was taken care of.

migmit said...

> I guess maybe Time Lord marriages count no matter what timeline you're in, so they don't have to get getting remarried every time they mess around a bit?!

I guess there are just four people the Doctor and River Song's marriage matters for, and as long as all of them remember it, it doesn't matter what is written in the Time Lord's codex of laws. It's not like they are going to divorce and sue each other for custody over TARDIS (though I'm sure it'd be fun to watch).

Mark Greig said...

There is no plot hole with the Doctor and River's kiss. It was never the real Doctor on the beach with River at the centre of the fixed point in time, it was always the Teselecta, with the Doctor inside driving it. In order for time to return to normal the two of them, River and the Teselecta, had to touch and go back to the fixed point.

Paul Kelly said...

Josie, say after me... wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey.

migmit said...

> It was never the real Doctor on the beach with River at the centre of the fixed point in time

Oh, right. It all makes sense now.

The Doctor Donna said...

Thanks, Mark Grieg. That doies clear it up for me.

Migmit, I have never been an Amy fan. I have always looked at her as a Mary Sue companion who conveniently happens to be the center of everything. I do like Rory though. I still think the 11th Doctor needs some variance in his companions very soon. Again, someone with more wit and logical intelligence as opposed to miniskirts, high heels, and sarcasm.

I guess that'll never happen as Moffat seems to be more into fan service than anything these days.

shawnlunn2002 said...

Loved the way the Brig's death was addressed in this episode. Gold stars for Matt Smith during that scene.

Excellent finale. Definitely stronger on rewatches too.

Anonymous said...

Near the end, the Doctor mentions to Dorium that he was barely singed when getting out of the Tessellecta. So same timeline as before, the new timeline was wiped away when they kissed and I'm guessing so was the spacesuit's empty power cells scene, so she could fire on him.

Rish said...

Here guys, I would like to try and answer some of the questions you asked which, what I feel, are satisfactory.

Doctor Donna,
The Doctor and River touching made time move again... WRONG!! The Doctor went inside the Teselecta before going to Utah in the first place. So, It was River and the Teselecta at the opposite poles of the time collapse thingy. The Doctor never died. Not even in Impossible Astronaut, it was a Teselecta all along. So, River and the Teselecta touching made time move forward again. That is why there was no trace of fear when The Doctor was begging River to kill him. He knew he would not die. The fixed point was not HIS DEATH, but River killing the Teselecta. Since The Doctor kept a low profile in the future, everyone thought that the Doctor died (or was supposed to die) that day.

Josie Kafka,
This is an explanation I came up with for Amy's timeline. What actually happened was that since River refused to kill The Doctor (or the Teselecta) she created a parallel universe where all time was disintegrating. In that timeline, Amy never met the Doctor when she was a kid. No fish and custard, no Rory, no nothing. The parallel world Amy, lets call her eye-patch Amy only remembered about the Doctor because she lived near a crack in time and space. So, when the Teselecta and River kissed and made everything all right, that timeline vanished. The Amy at the end was the Amy after all that, but for her 'the Doctor just died', because this was the last time she would see him. The Amy at the end, and the 1100 years old Doctor who pretended to die, were of the same timeline, and so was Amy in Day of the Moon and the 900-ish years old Doctor in the same episode. but the Doctor who died (or pretended-this is getting confusing) And the Amy who watched him die, were of different timeline. So technically, he did not die for her at that point. ( Its like you to the future and watch your friend die - doesn't mean he has died for you, he is still alive back in your time).

Amy could have the power to see through different timeline, or at least those concerning herself because of living so near a crack in time. But Rory, who was not exposed to it, doesn't seen to have that power.

I think River still has a role to play in the next season, by the end of which I think the Doctor will send her to The Library to die. So her memory is an issue which I think will be discussed.

Amy and Rory are over I think. As they should be, they had a great run and better to leave now when people still like them than to keep on going on unnecessarily and then become totally annoying.

And I didn't notice the bit about Brig's death. When was that, again?

Rish said...

I think the problem of the Doctor and Teselecta will be better understood if I state one simple fact.

The Doctor wore only the dark covered overcoat in the entire episode. Wherever you see the Doctor wearing anything else, it was the Teselecta.

Rish said...

Yeah, I remember about Brig's death now.

Aly said...

How clever was it to use his bow tie for the wedding, after it being a gimmick all the time :)

Austyn said...

Was anyone else seriously bothered by the Doctor's hair? It was...disgusting. And WAAAAAY too long. Was that a way to show us that time has passed?

Bea said...

Ok, I'm late for the party, but I'm here anyway.

First of all, and since I'm gonna be a party pooper and complain about the season that everyone seems to love, I have to say thanks, Paul, for the wonderful reviews. Whether my opinion differs or not, they're always great insight. Thanks everyone else, too, for the wonderful discussion in the comments.

Here's the problem I've been having with Moffat's Who: I am not at all emotionally connected to it. Why? Well, it's taken me a while to figure it out, but here's what I've got:

Remember the season 1 two parter The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances writter by our very own Moff? I thought it was wonderful, and a highlight of season 1. I still do. But here's the thing, at the end, when Nine was praying to who knows what to please let everyone live for once, I sort of accepted the nearly magical nanowhatsits explanations because I so wanted the Doctor to get a happy ending, a reprieve from all his grieving. So, it was wonderful.

Now, when you apply this principle to two whole seasons, it starts to loose the emotional impact. Basically, Moff's Doctor Who doesn't have any rules. Dead is never dead, goodbye is never goodbye, and now apparently fixed points in time can be changed. Moffat has a lot of clever, almost magical tricks up his sleeve to keep these happy endings happening, but the thing is... I just don't care.

I don't buy the deaths, or the goodbyes, or the dissapearences. I know there's always gonna be a double, a regeneration trick, a wave of the magical screwdreiver that's gonna fic everything. So I feel cheated.

Not only that, but I feel it invalidates a lot of seasons 1-4. Why send Rose away when there's was probably a cheat to bring her back to the Doctor's dimension? What was the whole point of The Fires of Pompeii if fixed points in time can be solved? Why did we spend so much time in The Waters of Mars proving that they can't just to reverse it?

The Doctor and his companions are too invincible, too magical, too fantastic, to the point where I find myself not caring all that much.

Now, just not to end on a bad note, there's a lot to love in Doctor Who still. Matt's Doctor is fantastic, Rory has become a great character (not Amy, sorry, I just can't warm up to her), River, even if I wish her relationship with the Doctor was finally fleshed out is a breeze of fresh air (and I thank Alex Kingston for her wonderful portrayal), and there are still some amazing episodes that definetely touch my top ten list (The Doctor's Wife, right?). I just wish the characters emotional journey and out journey with them was more exciting and believable.

Paul Kelly said...

Thanks for the kind words, Bea. I get what you're saying about repetition lessening impact. 'Father's Day' was, in my opinion, one of the stand-out episodes of the first season. Repeating the formula in 'Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel', definitely diluted the impact of the earlier episode's emotional content for me.