Doctor Who Review, Series 6, Episode 13: “The Wedding of River Song”
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jeremy Webb
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on BBC America
This week, on Doctor Who: Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, the Silence are back, we get a few answers, one particular question, and series six comes to a close.
Series six has been an uneven one for NuWho, with a few great episodes and several forgettable ones. It has struggled to balance its series-long arc with its standalones, often asking the audience to forget crucially important developments from only a week earlier. While the two-part series premiere is ambitious and bold, Moffat’s decision to embrace long-form storytelling has left fans uneasy, concerned that the eventual payoff won’t live up to the hype. Most assumed that “The Wedding of River Song” would be the part 3 of 3 to the story started in “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”, so when word leaked from early spoiler-free reviews that fans should manage their expectations and prepare for more questions than answers, many were understandably concerned.
Happily, these concerns are unwarranted. “The Wedding of River Song” is classic Who, filled with whimsy, humor, thrills, scares, and Moffat’s particular timey-wimey brand of fun. There are great character moments for all, winking nods to the fans, callbacks to the classic series (chess!) and, at the heart of it, a dramatic through-line that ties everything together and makes it all work. The episode ends with the promise of a different approach from the Doctor and the series as a whole next season. One gets the feeling that this Doctor’s comparisons to Troughton’s Second Doctor will only increase, with his renewed determination to stay below the radar, presumably going on more small-scale adventures, keeping his nose out of intergalactic politics, and resolving fewer situations by brandishing his name and its blood-soaked legacy as a weapon.
Not everything here works. Many may not like the meta comments we get, particularly regarding River and the Doctor. Others may not like the structure of the episode, with a good portion told via flashback. Perhaps the biggest fault of the episode is the titular wedding itself- upon reflection, there doesn’t seem to be any need for it and though River expresses her love for the Doctor, we get no such pronouncements from him, either in word or action. Yes, he clearly likes her, but if we are supposed to think he loves her, that he truly wants to be with her forever, or that this wedding means much more to him than his previous shenanigans, something clearly failed at the script and/or performance level.
Most of the episode, however, is successful, prompting hope that there is yet more to come with the Doctor and River, some reason why he chose to marry her. With this episode, and with his overall very successful two seasons of running Who, Moffat has earned the benefit of the doubt. The premise of the episode is a great one- it allows for fun visits from previous guests, delightful flights of fancy, such as perhaps the most eco-friendly flying cars yet, and, finally, proof of what the Doctor has been saying since the return of Doctor Who– that, unlike what the First Doctor claimed (“You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!”), and unlike what the Fourth Doctor claimed (“[The future can be] Shaped. The actions of the present fashion the future.”), certain points in time are in flux and others are fixed, unable to be altered. We finally see what happens if someone tries to alter a fixed point, and of course River is the only one crazy and ballsy enough to do it.
Each of the main characters gets at least one memorable character moment. River’s comes first, with her decision to stop time rather than lose the Doctor, and her cocky, youthful glee at doing so. Rory is up next, demonstrating even in this bizarro universe his grit, determination, and loyalty, withstanding torture wordlessly to hold the line as long as possible. Amy’s is perhaps the boldest and is definitely the darkest, showing us just how much River is like her mum (in a strong callback to River’s great “Mercy!” moment in “The Big Bang”). The Doctor’s comes at the end, as he strides off yet again into the unknown, more cautious and certainly humbled, but without the gloom, dread, and angst that has been clouding him throughout the second half of the season. Another moment worthy of note is the beautiful nod given to the Brigadier. It’s incredibly touching that the Brig is one of the people the Doctor most wanted to see in his final days.
The actors are in top form- Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darville are all wonderful and show us yet again why Amy and Rory are such a fabulous match for each other and the Doctor. The standout, though, is Alex Kingston, who manages to sell River’s rooftop scene completely, despite the potential ridiculousness of the dialog she’s given. She’s also wonderful in her final scene with Karen Gillan, as we are shown what should have been obvious, that once Amy and Rory know who she is, River pops in for visits and they have their own set of matching journals. Though this, along with Amy’s scene with Madame Kovarian, doesn’t make up for the utter lack of the our-baby-was-stolen plotline in the second half of the season, it is something, and it should please fans frustrated by this misstep.
While many may be annoyed by the new teases, and the lingering unanswered questions from series 5, the questions raised this season are resolved, and that’s enough for now. Moffat seems to be making an old-school 8- or 10-parter and stretching it out over the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure, peppering standalones and smaller arcs in between, and now that an end date is in sight (the “fall of the eleventh”, which one would assume refers to the next regeneration and which just might coincide with 2013’s 50th anniversary), it’s time to sit back with renewed faith in Moffat and his plan and enjoy the ride.
What did you think? Were you glad to see Dorian and Churchill back? What do you think of the Question? Post your thoughts and theories below!