TARDIS File 06-13: The Wedding of River Song
The Big Idea… The time is 5:02pm. And it’s staying that way, because someone didn’t die. The Doctor sets out to make sure that happens….
What’s So Great…
- This is one weird episode – the sort of surrealistic, almost avant-garde take on Doctor Who that not only did one not expect to see in the programme any more, but especially for a season finale (frankly, this takes some balls). It’s full of so many imaginative ideas and visuals it’s somewhat incredible that it is all contained in a single 45 minutes.
- The Indiana Jones-esque chamber of skulls, complete with a trap set off by someone stepping into a beam of light.
- The Ice Pirates-esque scenes of Dorium’s head being carried around in a box and still having conversations with people.
- Amy blowing Silents away with a machine gun.
- That we don’t see River telling Amy how the Doctor survived, but just cut to Rory walking in to see Mother and Daughter dancing in celebration.
- Further on that note, it was just great to see that Mother and Daughter reunited and openly knowing each other’s relationship to each other for once.
- Everything actually does change for the Doctor at the end, and presumably this allows a new lease of life for the show itself.
Some quick bits of trivia…. Mark Gatiss (having written four previous episodes and having played Dr. Lazarus in The Lazarus Experiment and the voice of “Danny Boy” both this season and last) plays the character of Gantok (billed under the pseudonym “Rondo Haxton”). This is the final episode to be executive produced by Beth Wilis, while the next story (the 2011 Christmas special) is the final one to be executive produced by Piers Wenger.
Things to Geek Out About…
- This perhaps is the most bittersweet “geek out” moment in the new series – the Doctor is informed that Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart has passed away peacefully in his sleep. It’s tribute to actor Nicholas Courtney who played the Brigadier had passed away shortly before this season began broadcasting, back in February. I imagine I wasn’t the only one with a lump in his throat for this scene.
- We get a cameo appearance by a character from the Eccleston-era (not often we get a chance to say that!) – Charles Dickens, played once again by Simon Callow
- Ian McNeice returns for this third appearance as Winston Churchill
- Similarly, Simon Fisher Becker also returns for his third appearance as Dorium Maldovar and while we’re at it, Richard Hope returns as Silurian scientist Malokeh.
- The script references Mawdryn Undeadin a major way, referring to the Doctor and River “shorting out the time differential” – an idea and phrase that was first mentioned in that story as resulting if the two versions of the Brigadier were ever to touch each other, albeit used a bit differently here.
- The story also gives us fascinating glimpse at what would happen if a “fixed point in time” becomes “un-fixed” (ie. changed) – something that the series has talked about for a number of years now and in fact, is what we have long seen the Doctor try to prevent in many classic series stories (even if the phrase “fixed point” wasn’t used, similar phrases like “established history” were in stories like Attack of the Cybermen).
Did You Notice…
- We learn why the Silents want the Doctor dead so badly (first trying to blow the TARDIS in The Pandorica Opens, and then programming River Song to kill the Doctor in The Impossible Astronaut – silence will fall when the oldest question in the universe is asked, hidden in plain sight. Doctor Who? And what will the events of the Trenzalore and the “fall of the Eleventh” turn out to be (and is the fall of the Eleventh as obvious as it sounds?)
- A Silent calls Rory “the man who dies and dies again”, which suggests that they are certainly well-informed. Does this mean we might not have seen the last of this?
Not To Complain But… If that’s the last we see of Madam Kovarian (hopefully not if she died in an alternate timeline) it’s a shame we didn’t get to learn more about who she was or what her motivations were (we know she was employed by the Silents, but why was she so thoroughly evil?) Where’s that Target novelization of the story when you need it?
All Things Considered… Whatever one might feel about this episode, one thing that has to be certain is that it is different from any of the other season finales the new series has done. It is not just the most low-key finale (even the revelation that the Doctor hasn’t been killed after all is not treated as a “grand” moment of triumph shouted from the rooftops to thunderous applause from a crowd as we might have seen in the past but a fairly low-key celebration almost done as an afterthought), but arguably the most bizarre, surreal and high-concept as well.
And yet even so, it’s an episode that works on a very understandable level in terms of characterization, as we see a halt to the Doctor’s descent which started in A Good Man Goes to War and continued through to Closing Time. It is arguably Craig that may have been the turning point in this respect as he indicates to the Doctor that he’s done much more good than any harm that has happened to others as a consequence of those good deeds. This point is later reinforced by River, Amy and Rory but it turns out that by this stage the Doctor has already come up with a plan to avoid his own death, so that reinforcement is mainly there to send a message to the audience which takes an optimistic, positive view of the Doctor’s existence and lifestyle. Nevertheless the Doctor has still acknowledged the dangerous and harmful side of his existence, but is proactively doing something positive about it, hence getting the universe to think he’s dead.
The news of the Brigadier passing away is a sad moment, but befitting as an on-screen tribute to the character and actor Nicholas Courtney. Because the Doctor’s voice is recognized by the Nurse when he calls the nursing home to take the Brigadier out once again, it is apparent that the Eleventh Doctor and the Brig must have met up off-screen, and it is heartwarming to think that there are more adventures with the two “officially” out there somewhere. The effect of the news on the Doctor is profound – not just from his reaction, but as the Doctor at this point still believes he is going to die at Lake Silencio, it also inspires him to face up to his destiny and send the postcards out to River, Canton, Amy and Rory. Or is it that the news of the Brigadier’s death that in fact gives him inspiration to carry on fighting and come up with a plan to avoid his apparent “fixed-in-time” death? There’s no answer to this, but it’s up to the conscious of the individual Who fan to decide.
It’s not all about the Doctor of course – we get many answers with respect to River Song, in many ways completing her story, and finally telling the viewer where she truly stands. We see Amy’s anger over having missed her baby growing up emerge quite violently, after presumably having been bottled up for some time. Rory is as brave as ever, even when he doesn’t know he’s protecting his own wife. It is these character moments – all from very likeable characters that we’ve been with for some time now, which will help make this episode enjoyable even for those “casual” viewers who might not watch this two or three times to figure out exactly what happened (which is what the fans no doubt will be doing).
In such a complex episode (and going back two seasons now, a complex over-arching story) it is ironic that the resolution to the Doctor’s “death” is actually so simple. Its simplicity is what makes it a surprise that many do not see coming – at this point we’re expecting a solution to be really convoluted, complex, or “timey-wimey”, but instead he’s just miniaturized himself and hidden inside a robot version of himself.
Some may quibble that the Teselecta robot shouldn’t have been able to appear to start to regenerate, but given that earlier we’d see it grow itself a motorcycle (with gas exhaust fumes coming out of it), I’m not sure that faking regeneration energy is the robot’s abilities with respect to its physical appearance (especially with the Doctor inside it able to program its appearance and with the rest of the crew already having witnessed a regeneration – that of Mels into River). What may be more troubling for some is the presence of the older version of Canton who had said back in The Impossible Astronaut “That most certainly is the Doctor, and he most certainly is dead”. One could argue that the first statement is still correct but not the second. Of course, with the Silence watching on the hill to confirm that the Doctor dies, and with the Doctor keen for everyone to think he’s dead (as his apparent death is a fixed point) we now see why the Doctor would lie to Canton about the fact that he was dead when sending Canton out there.
As with the previous finale, we get a lot of answers, but more questions. What’s going to happen at the fields of Trenzalore? What is the fall of the Eleventh, and why will no living creature be able to speak falsely or fail to given an answer? And some questions from before remain unanswered. Who else was in the Doctor’s cot (there’s nothing in the narrative to suggest this, but Alex Kingston hints about this in the Doctor Who Confidential episode for A Good Man Goes to War). What was written on the crib that gave the Doctor River’s identity? Why does Amy’s house in Leadworth have a staircase that leads up to nothing a ceiling? How does River remember the Doctor in The Big Bang? We’ll have to see if any of these get answered (or whether some of them are simply red-herrings) next season, which apparently won’t be as arc-heavy but will still presumably be connected to multi-season story arc. And doesn’t start until about a year from now (although we have the next Christmas special up first in a few months time).
With this episode, we see a further move away from where the RTD-era ended up (which is quite natural and expected, as all new creative teams tend to gradually sweep away characteristics of their predecessors take on the show, that’s why the series is no longer still based at UNIT HQ). Not only are we in a universe where nobody remembers the global invasions by Daleks, Cybermen, Sycorax etc. so that the presence of aliens are still going to be “news” to people, but this now applies to the Doctor as well – no more boasting about who he is or using his reputation as a device to get out of trouble, and presumably no one scared/awed/worshipping his reputation. As we move forward its 50th anniversary, the show has somewhere “new” to go as the Doctor will presumably be back to being a mysterious traveler whom nobody knows still lives or has ever heard of.
Line of the Week: “Records? Have you never heard of downloads?” “Said Winston Churchill”
TARDIS File prepared by Gian-Luca Di Rocco
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