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Review #3040: Doctor Who 6.13: “The Wedding of River Song”

Posted on the 03 October 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Gregg Wright

Well, now we know what happens when you try to re-write a fixed point in time in “Doctor Who”. You end up with some sort of weird, alternate reality in which elements from all throughout history are jumbled together in a place and time where there is no time. But even though time has stopped, a lot seems to happen in this bubble of reality. The plot of the finale seems to defy all logic, but I’ve stopped expecting anything else from “Doctor Who”.

Review #3040: Doctor Who 6.13: “The Wedding of River Song”

Regardless of the preposterous nature of the finale, it works quite well on a fundamental level. It’s not quite as strong as last season’s finale, but it’s a successful finish overall. In the end, the only lasting effects of the events in the alternate reality are the memories it leaves with the Doctor, Amy, and River (apparently). But it all made for good fun, and allowed for a kind of showdown with Madame Kovarian and the Silence. And more importantly, it marked an important point of self-discovery for the Doctor and progressed the relationship between River and the Doctor.

I loved seeing Rory as a badass soldier again. I think he fits that type of role really well. Having the Silence aliens taunt him for dying so many times as they prepare to kill him again was a great moment, and a strong reminder of how selfless Rory can be (particularly when it comes to Amy). And the subsequent exchange between him and Amy was hilarious: “So, you and me, we should get a drink sometime.” “OK.” “And married.” “Fine.” It’s a goofy moment, but I completely bought it, given how the two have been characterized in the past.

We all knew the Doctor would survive the finale, somehow. So what was most important was that Steven Moffat spend most of the episode trying to convince us otherwise, and then surprising us with a clever solution. The thing is, Moffat should have focused a little more on how he could play on audience expectations. Many fans were expecting some kind of switcheroo, like having the Ganger Doctor be the one to die at Lake Silencio. So it’s only natural to consider the Teselecta as a possible option when it first appeared in the finale.

It does marginally defy expectations, but I must admit, I only briefly considered it because it felt too obvious. I did love the moment where we flash back to see River peering into the Doctor’s eye, only to see a miniaturized Doctor happily waving his Stetson with the TARDIS in the background. But overall, I was a tad disappointed by the solution to the “Doctor dying” problem. It seems overly convenient and unimaginative. And I’m not sure how River remembered everything from the aborted reality, though I suppose it could have something to do with her being Amy’s daughter.

But what was really interesting to me about the finale was not how well it wrapped up the current story arc (which it accomplished reasonably well), but more how it shifted the status quo and set up future storylines. Having the Doctor purposefully let the universe believe that he’s dead, so that he can work in the shadows, is a brilliant idea. I think it’s exactly what the show needs at this point, given how bloated and over-the-top the show has become, with each new season involving the Doctor facing some new ultimate evil while the entire universe, or time itself, is at stake.

Not only is this a beneficial change for the show, it’s a completely necessary change for the Doctor himself, given that his lack of restraint has resulted in many (including the Silence) coming to see him as a dangerous, destructive force that needs to be stopped. Moffat has spent his entire time as showrunner gradually building up to this, by slowly forcing the Doctor to realize the negative consequences of his actions. And after all this time, the Doctor began to wonder if the universe would be better off without him. Of course, this isn’t true, but something had to change. And in my opinion, this is the perfect solution.

After all the fan speculation, some of the most important questions have finally been answered. That question, “Doctor who?”, was always the best fit, based on the clues. And it’s no surprise that it was the first thing on the minds of so many fans (including myself) after “Let’s Kill Hitler”. Classic “Who” fans will tell you that the question originated as a running joke, but I rather like the idea of taking it and crafting it into the mythos of the show. It’s a bit disconcerting to know that the references to the “fields of Trenzalore” are probably Steven Moffat’s way of preparing for the eleventh Doctor’s regeneration, but it’s an intriguing development nonetheless. It’s still not at all clear how the Doctor’s name could be such a dangerous secret, or why no creature will be able to speak falsely or fail to answer on Trenzalor, but I suspect that Moffat has been planing all this for quite a while now.

There were a few familiar faces in the episode worth mentioning. I probably enjoyed this Winston Churchill appearance more than any of the previous ones. And I loved the bit with Charles Dickens (a returning Simon Callow, who played Dickens way back in season 1) on TV plugging his upcoming Christmas special (a nice nod to the upcoming “Doctor Who” Christmas special, and the original Dickens classic, of course). Mark Gatiss, believe it or not, plays the large individual who the Doctor beats at chess (who meets a gruesome demise in the catacombs when he tries to betray the Doctor). And last, but not least, the blue-skinned Dorium Maldovar (or, rather, Dorium Maldovar’s head) returns to aid the Doctor. I thought he was an interesting character in “A Good Man Goes to War”, and was a bit disappointed to see him killed off, so I appreciated his return.

It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to appreciate the respectful nod to Nicholas Courtney, who passed away earlier this year, as well as classic “Who” fans did. For what it’s worth, though, I thought the inclusion was well-handled. It didn’t feel at all forced, and fit nicely with the Doctor’s current situation and emotional state. The inclusion does remind me of how odd it is that the Doctor always seems to have such a connection to whatever time period the audience is currently in, but I understand why it has to be this way. Giving the Doctor an anchor-point in present day makes it easier for the audience to relate to the universe of “Doctor Who”.

Now that we’ve reached the end of the sixth season, let me attempt to put some things in perspective. If you’ve enjoyed the ride thus far, I think you’re likely to enjoy the finale. I could find a lot to complain about in regards to the series as a whole, but the finale seems totally consistent with how “Doctor Who” has operated during the Moffat era. The Doctor is a wizard, his sonic screwdriver is a magic wand, and the TARDIS is a magical, living box that take you wherever you need to go in time and space. It’s hard to call “Doctor Who” science-fiction, because not only does it have so little actual science in it, it’s continually re-writing the rules of its own universe. Additionally, the show practically embodies the Rule of Cool (look it up).

Along with some consistently excellent storytelling and character writing, what really holds the show together is its lead actor, Matt Smith, who had everything working against him after David Tennant’s defining take on the role. I, for one, was ready to completely give up on the show, but was won over in a single episode by Matt Smith’s brilliant performance. Nothing else would have mattered if Steven Moffat hadn’t been able to find the right actor. Smith’s performance was similar enough to Tennant’s to make us believe that this was still the Doctor, but at the same time Smith managed to make the role his own. Tennant will always hold a place of significance in my mind, but Smith has arguably equaled him in the role. Not an easy feat. At this point, I wonder yet again what future “Who” actor can possibly live up to the impossible standard set by Tennant and Smith.

As I’d hoped, this season does seem to have been an overall improvement on the last one. We now know that we’ll have the Christmas special and at least one more season (possibly coming next fall). I honestly can’t decide how long I’d like Smith to continue playing the Doctor. Three seasons feels a tad on the short side, which is exactly how I felt after Tennant left. But then again, three seasons could be the perfect place to end it. I do want Smith’s time as the Doctor to end on a high note, when Smith still has the necessary enthusiasm and energy for the role. I suppose… only time will tell.

Rating: 8/10

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