Sunday, 2 October 2011

Review - "The Wedding of River Song"

This episode has to have been one of the most hotly anticipated finales of recent times. The build up throughout the season had been such a success that theories and speculation were everywhere. Theories ranged from ganger Doctors to converging timelines but there was one thing we lost sight of: Steven Moffat is not just one step ahead of us...he's usually in a completely different ballpark. And that is what happened with "The Wedding of River Song". It wasn't the complicated resolution we expected - in reality, it was quite simple - but the sheer detail, scope and beauty of this episode was absolutely breathtaking.

So, the basic story itself was quite simple. River can't kill the Doctor on the beach at Utah - she just cannot kill the man she loves so she discharges the weapons on the sand. Time, therefore, splinters and starts disintegrating. We see a timeline whereby all of history is happening at the same time - and it's 5.02pm. It's ALWAYS 5.02pm. To break this timeline, to get time back on its proper course, the Doctor and River have to be brought together - to "touch" - and then River must fulfill her destiny and kill the Doctor on the beach.

In the first part of the episode, we're told the story in "flashbacks" - the Doctor is Churchill's soothsayer in the alternate timeline - and he describes the events that led to the splintering of time. In these flashbacks we see a Doctor who is not going to go willingly to his death - he's doing everything he can to find out about the Silence. This includes talking to another Teselecta, cannibalising a Dalek, playing a version of rather extreme chess and going Indiana Jones style into a "Cave of Skulls" to talk with the disembodied head of Dorium Maldovar.

In the midst of all this chaos, we get that superb and heartbreaking scene where the Doctor discovers that the Brigadier had died a few months previously. (For those thinking that the team behind "New Who" don't care about "Classic Who" then it's time for you to think again. It was a lovely little touch - and superbly played by Matt Smith.) The death of the Doctor's old friend makes him realise that the time has come for him to go the Lake and face his own death. The conversation with River at the Lake was another superb scene - where he tells the astronaut suited River that "you are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven". Of course, River discharges her weapons into the sand and kabloom. Alternate timeline created. We have eyepatched Amy - who is in charge of a military group who have noticed the time problem and are trying to correct it. The eyepatches - as most people worked out - are "eye drives" which allow you to remember the Silence.

The Doctor is taken to a pyramid - eyepatched - where they have captured over 100 Silence and are keeping them in water tanks. Rory is Captain Williams - Amy's "right hand man". Whereas Amy, due to the crack in her wall from season 5, can mostly remember the "proper" timeline, Rory cannot. Amy knows that she loved a "Rory" but can't really remember what he looks like. It was funny to see that the Doctor is something of an Amy/Rory shipper. He gets Rory alone and, in a nice funny moment to break the tension, tells him that Amy thinks he's a "Mr Hottie-ness and that she would like to go out with you for texting and scones".

Throw in a captured Madame Kovarian and River Song and the gang's all here. The Silence are not trapped - they're waiting. And the eye drives...well, they can be used by the Silence to disable and, in some cases, kill those who wear them. River, of course, has a plan and whilst the soldiers hold off the Silence, the gang head to the top of the pyramid. Rory stays behind to buy some time - but he's saved when Amy returns and in a beautifully kick-ass fashion, wipes out the Silence with a machine gun. Madame Kovarian pleads with Amy to save her - but rather brutally but totally in character, Amy replaces Kovarian's eyepatch and leaves her to the "mercy" of the Silence.

So, we reach the pivotal scene at the top of the pyramid. The scene that is causing the most discussion online. It's rather amazing that, with all that happened in this episode, the main talking point appears to be the legality of River's wedding! River has built a distress beacon on the top of the pyramid - a beacon which is sending out a simple message. A message that transmits outside the bubble of their universe - to the past, present and future. The message will go everywhere. And that message is simply "the Doctor is dying. Please, please help". The Doctor isn't a happy bunny at this but his anger is sort of cut off midflow when River tells him of the response to the message. "The sky is full of a million, million voices saying yes of course...we'll help. You've touched so many lives, saved so many people, did you think when your time came you'd really have to do more than ask?"

The Doctor tries arguing but River is adamant - she can't let him die without at least knowing that he is loved "by so many and so much...and by no-one more than me". When River concedes that she will suffer more than any living thing in the universe if he dies...then the Doctor makes his decision. With the Doctor's bowtie wrapped around their hands, River and the Doctor go through a sort of wedding ceremonly. It's quick...and the Doctor whispers something in River's ear and tells her to tell no-one what he said. He SAYS he tells her his name ... they kiss ... and time rolls back onto it's normal course...with River shooting the Doctor at Lake Silencio.

It can't end there of course - and over a glass of wine in Amy's garden, River, who has just left the crash of the Byzantium, reveals that the Doctor is still alive. The best part of the scene however, was Amy's sudden realisation that she's the Doctor's mother-in-law. Dorium's head is replaced in the Cave by a hooded figure - and that's when we get the big reveal. The Doctor didn't tell River his name in the alternate timeline - he told her to look into his eyes. That's when she saw the miniature Doctor - and realised the Doctor standing before her was the Teselecta. It was the Teselecta who was shot at the Lake - with the Doctor inside. The Doctor wants everyone to think he's dead - he got too big and noisy and now he can step back into the shadows. Become the mad man in a box as opposed to the Oncoming Storm.

Was it fair? Yes. It was a fixed point in time - and the Doctor DID get shot on the beach. He was just inside the Teselecta. Who is to say that we weren't all starting from a false premise - maybe it was ALWAYS supposed to be the Teselecta on the beach. Maybe that's the only way River could have shot him? As long as the Doctor standing there on the beach was the REAL Doctor, in the flesh so to speak, River could never have shot him. When it was the Teselecta - then she fires. Strangely, there's not a lot of discussion over this - more people are concerned about whether, since they married in a now aborted timeline, the Doctor and River's marriage is legal. River calls herself his "wife". That's good enough for me.

So. What was the question? Well, it WAS hidden in plain sight. It was a question we'd all worked out - and why not? The oldest question in the Universe. Doctor...Who? The fact that this is now linked to the "fields of Trenzalore, the fall of the Eleventh" could well be Mr Moffat preparing for Matt's final episode - which I hope won't be for a very, very long time. As the Doctor, Matt Smith is superb - he seems to have a unique grasp of the character and can balance that child/old man aspect like few others. He absolutely shone in this episode - running a gamut of emotions from anger and sadness to amusement and buoyant joy. Alex Kingston deserves a heap of praise too - River Song is essentially a tragic character but Kingston brings us the joy within, the flirting and the love.

Visually, the episode was stunning. From the opening scenes with the steam train emerging from the "Gherkin" and cars hovering over London by balloon to the cave of skulls and the pyramid. It was breathtaking - and something you'd normally only expect to see in a blockbuster film. Of course, the real kudos here go to Steven Moffat - whose insane imagination came up with this epic story arc, terrific scenes and incredible dialogue. He fooled most of us again - but then he usually does. In conclusion, I loved the episode. I sat through it alternately grinning like an idiot and snivelling like a baby. I was satisfied with the story arc, amused at the fact that I became completely obsessed with the 32 minutes issue and practically leaping about with the delight at the fact that the Doctor and River are now married. I'm sure there will be another, "proper" wedding at some stage but, for now, yeah...I'm happy.

Episode Rating: 10/10 (if only I could give it more)

Screencaptures courtesy of "enchantedfleur"