Contributor: Gregg Wright
If you were at all confused after watching that this episode, I wouldn’t blame you. The pieces that form this puzzle stretch all the way back to season 4′s “Silence in the Library” two-parter in which the Doctor (then the Tenth Doctor) first meets Professor River Song, and River sees him for the last time. At the time, I wondered whether Russell T. Davies actually intended to bring River back at some point or not, and thought it possible that she would be completely ignored. But thanks to Steven Moffat, that was not the case.
Moffat wisely seems to had River’s story arc planned from the very beginning of his turn as “Doctor Who” showrunner. I’d have been hard-pressed to remember all of the hints dropped about River along the way, so I helped myself out by doing some online research to try and piece everything together. And much to my satisfaction, everything seems to be lining up much better than I thought it would. I even went back and watched a few clips from the Doctor’s first encounter with River to see how well her characterization there lined up with the River we’re familiar with now. My memories of the episode led me to think that it didn’t. But after watching clips from that episode, I have to revise my opinion. In fact, there are scenes that resonate even more strongly when seen now, like the one in which River realizes that she’s finally met the Doctor when he doesn’t know her, and the scene in which River sacrifices herself.
The one major revelation that River Song is really Melody Pond, the offspring of Rory and Amy (apparently conceived on-board the TARDIS) is obvious enough. It’s only when you try to decipher the deeper ramifications of this revelation, and everything else in the episode, that things become a bit more confusing. The fact that everything is so out of order doesn’t help. The religious military organization “The Church”, last seen in season 5′s “Angels” two-parter, takes a central focus here. Last time we saw them, they were working with River Song in the 51st century to re-capture an escaped Angel, after which she would receive a full pardon for her efforts. The Church seems to be a human-based organization, at a point in time when humans are spread out all over the galaxy. A little research shows that this is the time Jack Harkness is from.
At some point, presumably, humans of this era grew to fear the Doctor and see him as a threat, to the degree that the people of the Gamma Forest now use the word “Doctor” to mean “mighty warrior”. So “The Church”, allied with the Headless Monks” and lead by Madame Kovarian (“eye patch lady”), devised a plan to create a human child with Time Lord DNA who could be taken and raised by them, and eventually be used to destroy the Doctor. It’s unclear how they came to the conclusion that the Doctor was such a danger to them, given how enormously benevolent he is. But what has been made very clear over the course of the new “Doctor Who” is how enemies of the Doctor could come to fear him and see him as unstoppable and god-like in power.
And what is the “papal mainframe”? It seems to be some sort of entity that directs the Headless Monks, but does The Church also follow its orders? The word “mainframe” sounds suspiciously like a computer. I’m beginning to think, though, that some sort of powerful alien posing as God is manipulating The Church, as well as other humans and aliens, into believing that the Doctor is their enemy. What’s odd is that the previous season ended with an alliance of aliens, who’d come to see the Doctor as the most dangerous organism in the universe, attempting to imprison the Doctor. Moffat seems to be dealing with roughly the same concept all over again, but why? River seems to suggest that the Doctor is responsible for this. Is this just the inevitable consequence of the Doctor’s attempts to fix everything throughout time and space? Or is there something more sinister at work?
But let’s backtrack a moment and look at the episode from an entertainment standpoint. On that level, I think it does so fairly well. As I may have mentioned in the past, one of the issues that began to plague the Davies era was the continual attempts to “top” what came before. Eventually it began to feel very tiring and forced. Steven Moffat continues to use some of the same tricks. The build-up to the Doctor’s arrival on Demons Run was a good example of this. (And, of course, I enjoyed it as a fan-pleasing moment. I particularly enjoyed seeing Captain Avery and son make a brief return to aid the Doctor.) But unlike Davies, Moffat usually attempts to keep his epic moments grounded with strong characters. The Moffat era does a lot of this by further exploring the very nature of the Doctor–who he is, what he means, and where he’s going–but quite a bit of it is also done through Amy, River, and even Rory. So even if Moffat continues with the over-the-top antics and wild stories of the Davies era, it’s all a lot easier to accept when the character writing is this good.
As much as we learned in this episode, there are still a lot of gaps that need filling in. How does the Doctor now know where to find the infant River Song? Who eventually ends up raising River? And who does River kill to end up imprisoned? If it’s the Doctor or Rory, why would she be imprisoned for that? Despite much of my confusion, I’m fairly confident now that it will all make sense in time. The first half of this season has been a relative success, with no real duds so far. So I’m feeling optimistic about the second half.