The Wedding of River Song is a curious beast, or rather would be, had we not seen something similar in the series 5 finale, The Big Bang and the cliffhanger story before the Summer break with A Good Man Goes To War. These all feature a jumping from different times and adventures, picking up wildly bizarre strands that will have an effect on the story’s outcome.
We’re shown a selection of bizarre instances where time has stuck somehow, yet continues to overlap. This results in striking imagery, with pterodactyls flying over an everyday picnic scene, Edwardian hot air balloons carrying modern cars and Winston Churchill presiding over the Roman empire. I really did enjoy seeing the return of Simon Callow as Charles Dickens, giving the cheesy interview you’d expect if he was around today.
This odd, frozen alternate timeline is a result of River Song refusing to kill the Doctor at Lake Silencio in Utah at the very beginning of Series 6. But changing this “fixed point” in time has a massive effect on our reality. In some ways, I could see a parallel to the story Father’s Day, and the terrible results because a man who should’ve died didn’t.
I’m still not sure what to make of The Wedding of River Song. It had some really amazing scenes. What particularly caught me out was the reference to the passing of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. In a fit of pique, the Doctor tells Dorium’s head that he can talk to any of his friends in any time period. He calls the Brigadier, but it’s too late, and his old friend has passed away. This was a lovely, sad moment that was a fitting tribute to Nicholas Courtney who died earlier in the year. It was also one the strong parts of the episode, not so much the resolution of the story arc.
I also greatly enjoyed the scene where River and Amy are talking to each other over a bottle of wine. Although this is a key turning point for the story, it was stronger for the quietness of it. Just like the Doctor and Amy reunited on the train, this is where the characters have room to breathe and the dialogue is excellent. While it’s important to round off this series’ arc, it wasn’t the resolution that mattered to me by the end.
I feel that this episode also successfully addressed those questions about Amy’s seemingly detached attitude to finding her daughter. The alternate Amy still shares much of her “real world” counterpart’s memories, and voices her feelings to Madam Kavorian. She’s seen her daughter grow up, but having to deal with a great deal of torture in the process. In a remarkable turn, all these emotions lead Amy to setting Kavorian’s eyepatch to kill her. Again, a very powerful scene that helps to make up the quota of golden moments.
The resolution to the demise of the Doctor was rather convenient. Surely it would have to be the actual Doctor, not the Tesselecta, to be killed properly to make a difference. Essentially you could’ve had a shop dummy or *ahem* a flesh replica that would also do the same job. But at least this story line is sorted. I also hope that the River Song story has been told. Yes there are adventures that we haven’t seen, and at some point she’ll be given the sonic screwdriver. But like the Time War, I don’t need to see that. Some things are better left to the imagination.
I am pleased that the solution does mean that the Doctor should become something of an unknown element. I was getting a little fed up by making the monsters back off by simply telling them to look him up in history. Anything that draws away this feeling of godlike power can only be a good move. This is something that Steven Moffat has been trying to do for a while, giving the show a bit of a reset, and making him something of an anti-hero again.
Unfortunately, we’re still given a holdover of a new question. Dorium yells after the Doctor “Doctor who?” like it’s something that should matter. Should I care? I feel it’s a question that doesn’t need answering, and there’s a danger that the character can be demystified too much. It was tried during the Slyvester McCoy era, and while hints were dropped, you never really found out. I would much prefer that to be the case, but writing for a modern audience they will expect an answer. I really do hope that we don’t get to know too much in the following series.
Update 03/10/11: I decided to re-watch The Wedding of River Song last night. Taking away all the anticipation and pre-conceptions of what to expect, I came away with a different perspective of the episode. I’m adding this addendum because unlike other reviews, I have definitely changed my mind about the story a lot. It was well written, wonderfully executed and delivers a much more satisfactory resolution to the story arc than I first gave it credit for. A top notch story that is a great payoff for long term viewers.
I still don’t really see the point of the “Doctor who?” question at the end, however.