Stars: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston, Frances Barber, Simon Fisher-Becker, Ian McNeice, Richard Hope, Marnix Van Den Broeke, Nicholas Briggs, Simon Callow, Sian Williams, Bill Turnbull, Meredith Viera, Niall Greig Fulton, Sean Buckley, Mark Gatiss, Emma Campbell-Jones, Katharine Burford, Richard Dillane, William Morgan Sheppard
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Jeremy Webb
Network: BBC America, airs Saturday nights
Original Telecast: October 1, 2011
In the thirteenth episode of DOCTOR WHO Series 6, “The Wedding of River Song,” the Doctor (Matt Smith) is faced with an unavoidable fate: death on the shores of Lake Silencio, Utah, in 2011 (as seen in the Series 6 premiere, “The Impossible Astronaut”). But this is the Doctor we’re talking about – surely he has some plan! Indeed he might, but not before all of time starts happening at once, old friends have surfaced in strange and surprising ways, and River Song (Alex Kingston) has to face her destiny and help the Time Lord save all of reality…by killing him.
It’s appropriate that this year’s series and the story arc reaches its crescendo with an episode in which time has ceased to function, rendering all events that take place as a meaningless jumble of disconnected visual set pieces and oh-so-cool-and-clever ideas with no logical through-line or cohesive structure. After all, that’s what passes for storytelling in this show lately.
Anyone that’s followed my reviews this year (if not as far back as Series 5) knows that I have serious issues with the way the overall story arc – especially the treatment of the abduction of Melody Pond and its emotional aftermath for our lead characters – has been crafted and implemented. But let’s be honest here: as a series finale that carries the burden of two years’ worth of questions in addition to whetting the appetite for another series to come, “The Wedding of River Song” has a task more impossible than an astronaut at the bottom of Lake Silencio. To paraphrase a cliché, you can’t please all the DOCTOR WHO fans all the time. The only question is – no, not that one – does this episode even come close to providing some narrative closure while telling an interesting story in its own right?
Not really; this episode isn’t even a story at all. As noted above, it’s just a string of happenings, a shopping list of notions – hey, wouldn’t it be cool if Americans had a pyramid clearly labeled Area 52, and wouldn’t it be cool if cars rode in the air on balloons for no reason, and so on – with no story to tell. Things just happen, characters and scenes flash on the screen, and then it stops when the episode runs out of time (ironically enough). And yet, and yet…
There’s little point in my spending time talking about all the ways this episode continues the trend of flash over substance, emotional distance over relatability (not actually a proper word), and obsessive focus on River Song as the Coolest Person in the History of Ever™ instead of the Doctor, whose television show was ceded to River entirely sometime in the last year or so. There are message boards awash with threads about all the questions this episode does not answer, about how the answers it does give are nonsensical and built on nothing but whimsy and desperation that clearly show how much of River’s ridiculous timeline was made up as it went along, and about how the show seems to not only not want to provide any narrative coherence but actively punishes the audience for daring to expect it. So why did I say “and yet…” a paragraph ago? I’ll give you an answer.
Maybe it’s because my expectations were just so low, but somehow I managed to appreciate at least a few glimmers of inventiveness and even – yes – moments of attempted emotional realism that came too little, too late but still impressed me. Let’s say I appreciated the effort, begrudging though it seemed to be. So what did I like?
For one thing, it didn’t escape my notice that in an episode that offered a warm but slightly ill-conceived tribute to Nicholas Courtney and the Brigadier (he dies alone and waiting in vain for the Doctor to visit one last time? Really?) the story spends a lot of time in an alternate reality in which everyone is wearing eye-patches. The joke’s on us all right.
Then there’s Amy’s double-barreled emotional outburst. Following an excellent reinforcement of the romance between her and Rory in “The Girl Who Waited,” this episode also nails it when she comes back gun blazing to save him from the Silence. As if that wasn’t enough, we finally get a bit of rage associated with the loss of baby Melody. Amy’s final words to Kovarian (a villain we still know squat about, but who cares, right?) are probably cheer-inspiring for some, but for me they do at least elicit a smile.
The visuals are indeed nicely realized, with some beautiful set and costume design. I’m reaching but I also like the brief mention of Utah being a still point in time – I’m a sucker for a Fifth Doctor era/Mara reference. And through it all, the episode is anchored as usual by a wonderful performance from Matt Smith, acting his heart out despite the lunacy swirling all around him. The rest of the cast valiantly do their best as well, although Ian McNeice’s Churchill is not a character I would have chosen for a second appearance. His cartoonish mugging aside, he does well enough under the circumstances.
The ending comes as abruptly as everything else, but I do hope this means we’re done with most of the torturous tale of River Song. I remember when the show involved the Doctor and his companions traveling to distant times and worlds, fighting monsters and saving the innocent and moving on to the next destination. It looks like we might be heading back in that direction and for that I would be very grateful.
Or are we? We still have all this pretentious silliness about “The Question,” yet another prophecy that will doubtless not make any sense when the show has to try to deliver on the specifics. I’m not saying the other direction is entirely sensible either – I seriously doubt the show can maintain the notion that the Doctor will now never travel openly again or avoid identification in every successive adventure – but I do hope we just drop the whole thing and move on.
As for that “Question,” once again the show proposes to answer something we’ve never really asked (Lady Peinforte already knew anyway, and the Doctor didn’t seem to give a damn back then). “Doctor Who?” We don’t need that question answered; we know who and what our hero is, thank you very much. We just want to see him being wonderful and having adventures. Tell me a story, please. One with a beginning, middle and end. Every week. So that’s my answer to the question, “what would you like for the show’s 50th anniversary?”
I would like DOCTOR WHO. And that’s a full stop, not a question mark…unless it turns up on a lapel or two.
Next time, sleigh bells ring and wardrobes sing…or something. See you at Christmastime!
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Click on Link: TV Review: DOCTOR WHO – Series 6 – “Closing Time” – Review #2
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Article: TV Review: DOCTOR WHO – Series 6 – “The Wedding of River Song”