As usual, I came to The Wedding of River Song with no knowledge of what to expect, so I had no wild imaginings as to what this season finale might contain; certainly no imaginings as wild as those of Mr Moffat.
As episodes go (and we’re forced by the narrative construction of recent instalments to use the term ‘episode’ over ‘story’) this one was filled to the brim with ideas and images. You couldn’t fault it for scope and imagination: from vistas of a London where all Time is happening at once (a very literal interpretation, but a fun one nonetheless), through dark caverns full of hungry and curious skulls to Egypt’s Area 52 with its cells full of Silence, this one had it all.
Opening in an elegiac and downbeat manner, the story unfurled to reunite us with recent friends and elements from recent episodes, whilst also spoiling us with mentions of Rose Tyler and Captain Jack. I adored the smashed-up Dalek and got a lump in my throat at news of the Brigadier’s demise. This lump grew large enough to force a tear when this revelation tipped the Doctor over the melancholy edge, thus revealing the true extent of his affection for an old friend.
But even though this episode was an ambitious and colourful selection box, it reminded me of over-indulgent Christmas Days as a child, where, unconstrained by the usual rules built into my life, I would glut myself on presents, sweets, TV, puddings and chocolate and come away feeling exactly as I do now – thrilled and bewildered; perhaps even a little regretful and tired.
The Wedding of River Song looked great and it certainly entertained, but was it the best way to tell the story it wanted to tell? Placing the action in a universe that never happened fails to provide solid ground upon which to support an audience’s suspended disbelief. It’s the reset button in reverse, almost. Nothing of consequence can truly happen in an alternate timeline. Or rather, anything and everything a writer can imagine is free to happen, but with no meaningful consequence. Did the Doctor and River Song get married in any real sense? And, while we’re at it, did they even care that they did/didn’t? (I’m still not entirely sure why they did/didn’t, or why indeed River even thinks she loves him.)
I’m not keen on reviewers who offer opinions on what they wanted a story to be, rather I’d prefer they (and I) dealt with what they saw and looked for the good in it, but I’ll fall into the trap and let myself down by simply suggesting that what we got tonight was wonderful but also unnecessarily convoluted.
This was an explosion in a story factory (and well done to Moffat for being able to explode so colourfully), a Doctor Who fever dream; but something a little more focussed and a little more specific might have been the real order of the day. It was like a pastiche of a Russell T Davies series finale (don’t get me started on the ‘Tick-tock’ rhyme contrivance), a mad, sugar-high dash from A to B that tripped around the houses, lying to its audience and opting for the simple get-out-jail option that we’d all predicted ten minutes into this season (back in April): ‘it wasn’t really the Doctor who was killed, folks’. Not the bravest choice for a brave programme with a history of brave stories.
I don’t want to have to say this, because I had fun while it was on, but it really did feel like it had been made up as it went along, didn’t it? I don’t offer any judgement on that being a good thing or a bad thing, but I observe it – and you probably do too. We’re now in an era of Doctor Who in which the question ‘What pictures are weird?’ has over-taken the question ‘What ideas are weird?’; a series where the ideas fit the image rather than the other way around. This may be a bold experiment that takes us to some wonderful places. It may well be. I hope so.
Whatever my misgivings, The Wedding of River Song was a crazy, fun-filled romp to cap a mixed bag of a season – the best aspects of which have continued to be Matt Smith and the general ‘look’ of the show – and even featured some teasing ‘revelations’ regarding the Doctor’s future. For all the joy I take from such teasing, I still say it’s a shame when the best bits of an episode are the bits that have little to do with the current narrative and are there merely to trail an episode somewhere up ahead.
In this case, it turns out (again) that the Doctor’s going to die (again) – which means he’ll probably just send a pretend version of himself along to take the hit and avoid the whole thing, because he can do that now there are no rules. ‘I’m faking my own deaths now. Faking my own deaths is cool.’ Already then, probably a good two years before we even see it, his impending death just doesn’t matter. Hopefully it’ll be made to matter by having him (quite sadly) regenerate. And you all knew that the oldest question, hidden in plain sight was ‘Doctor Who?’ didn’t you? Of course you did. I’d have been gutted if it had been anything else. Oh, and speculate all you like, kids, you’ll never be told.
In conclusion then, I’ll offer a personal opinion that The Wedding of River Song was my least favourite season finale since the series returned in 2005, but on its own terms it was, quite unarguably, a brilliant bit of fluffy fun.
And it all ended very suddenly, didn’t it?