The Wedding of River Song
The Doctor: It’s time.
Production Code: 2.13.
Doctor Who Season: S32 (Ep13). (Footnote ).
Story Number: 224.
Wow. Plot discussed obviously with this review…
After the credits roll after the precredits – “DOCTOR WHO” – there’s a scene which expresses two of the themes of these past two seasons.
One theme, Observation. “Use your eyes, notice everything” the Doctor told us in The Beast Below. The Silence have been surveilling, watching our heroes. This scene shows us a Dalek’s eye view, as the grainy picture crackles with interference, as the Doctor hoves into view and tilts up his hat.
The other theme, of myths and stories and legends. To the Dalek, the Doctor is the Devil himself, something of which the Doctor is very aware.
THE DEVIL HIMSELF
Devil or Saviour? In the precredits, Emperor Churchill thinks him the latter, as the figure is led in chains by Romans (an echo of another story – yes, The Pandorica Opens.)
These two seasons have been about the four main characters of the show, a love quadrangle: Rory, Amy, the Doctor, and River. There’s a lot of questions answered though questions will remain by the end of this episode’s runtime…
Two dialogue exchanges, between River and the Doctor in Flesh and Stone, and Kovarian and River in Closing Time sum up how these character and themes define these two seasons.
“The Pandorica. That’s a fairy tale.” “Oh Doctor. Aren’t we all?”
The later story, earlier for River…
“By Silencio Lake. On the Plain of Sighs. An impossible astronaut will rise from the deep. And strike the Time Lord dead.” “It’s a story.” “And this is where it begins.”
Of these two seasons which form one long narrative that began with The Eleventh Hour, there is of course a season-long serial for each. With Season 32 (the one that’s just completed), it began with the mystery of The Impossible Astronaut. An impossible astronaut rose from the deep and struck the Doctor down, killed him between his incarnations – he didn’t make it to the next body. A Viking funeral, as Canton said the Doctor said they’d need one.
Okay, so, the BBC wasn’t going to end the show with the Eleventh Doctor, so the question was – how does the Doctor get out of that? Even before it happened, it was hinted it would happen, Flesh and Stone, “Time can be rewritten” says the Doctor. Already we were being primed to think that was the solution.
“Maybe he’s clone or a duplicate or something”
Time must be rewritten if what Canton is saying is correct…
“I believe I can save you some time. That most certainly is the Doctor. And he is most certainly dead. He said you’d need this.”
Clones, duplicates, doubles: if we were going to persist with those options, the rest of the season provided us with plenty of options every other episode or so.
The Curse of the Black Spot – an alternate universe, so an alternate universe’s Doctor? The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People – the “clone” Flesh Doctor?
Let’s Kill Hitler – a Teselecta duplicate of the Doctor? The Girl Who Waited – not an alternate universe but an alternate timeline of this universe’s Doctor? Time can be rewritten like it was for Amy?
So, many red herrings along the way – there’s even doubt cast on the “good man who River kills”, with Rory going to war in A Good Man goes to War and an awful lot of apparent foreshadowing this season of Rory’s death.
When the Teselecta is shown again during this episode (and there’s a hint we might see it again from the “previously”), I have to say I did think that option-answer, a duplicate Doctor, to “how does he escape the Lakeside?” but this idea was quickly muted by remembering Canton’s lines a season ago about it not being a clone or duplicate.
The “Live Chess” is a great scene, and the symbol of a Queen who can’t be touched else a death results, and the King withdrawing and conceding the game have parallels with River and the Doctor .
The hungry skulls of “the underworld” that the Doctor has to navigate through to speak to the all-knowing “oracle” of Dorium continue the Greek and Roman flavour that these two seasons have.
Still points, fixed points, Dorium elaborates – and clarifies what The Question is that was “Unknown” to the Teselecta in Let’s Kill Hitler. (“In plain sight” meant it was very guessable before now.)
NOT ONE LINE
Once the story has tantalisingly skipped over Dorium telling the Doctor what The Question is, it’s back to the TARDIS. There’s a tribute to the late great Nicholas Courtney as the Doctor phones to her the new of his character the Brigadier passing away. The acceptance of the past few episodes goes from the Doctor for a moment as he tries to get the Brig to go out to celebrate something, anything, but the Brig having gone peacefully…
The Doctor’s already got the Stetson and blue envelopes, the Teslecta delivers “A date, a time, a map reference” to Amy and Rory, River – and Doctor! (And Canton must have a unique envelope one that’s actually signed by the Doctor and asks him to help the others prepare for the Viking funeral of the Doctor.)
“Is there nothing else we can do?” A downcast Doctor leaves without taking up their offer, and it seems to close out the possibility of the Teselecta being the “duplicate” escape.
It’s a simple narrative device, (and one that smooths over any confusion of playing the same scene twice, the lakeside astronaut scene though this time from the Doctor’s perspective) to have the Doctor narrating most of the first half of the story when required – once the story actually catches up with creation of the 5.02pm reality then there’s no more “talking through what happened before the lake with Winston” as that’s when he’s rescued from the Silence by Amy and her squad.
So we actually get to hear the dialogue between the astronaut and the Doctor by the lake this time – and see that it’s River. (That it wasn’t actually River in the suit was always an option.) The Doctor tells her not to worry that the suit’s automated, and this has to happen.
“Time can be rewritten!”
“Don’t you dare”
It’s the same two lines of dialogue from River’s death-scene in Forest of the Dead, except this time it’s the Doctor saying don’t you dare rewrite this death (he doesn’t add the “not one line” wink to The Aztecs though, this time.) River is again wearing a spacesuit.
And so the answer to the question “how does he get out that?” appears to be – River doesn’t zap him, in this timeline. Time can be rewritten, like mother like daughter, like Amy doing the Macarena in The Girl Who Waited, River by her strength of personality changes time.
Except – she can’t, and time starts disintegrating round 5.02pm… The Doctor’s reaction and “Who told you that?” before the image fades like a melting filmstrip caught in the projector are very funny.
And so as we’ve already seen the basics of the 5.02pm reality, we’re already up to speed with its weirdness, and, for the narrative, the Doctor doesn’t need to narrate quite as he had been doing the first 20 minutes anymore, “Pond. Amelia Pond” (Moffat’s been waiting 27 episodes to make that joke) takes the Doctor away.
So, there’s a mirroring of the previous season’s finale – an event on a certain day has caused a disintegrating reality to be in place of the regular reality, and Amy’s trying to remember. (There’s a question of “when” is Amy from, if River and the Doctor are from the beach… the inclusion of Pirate Amy in the stories sketched on the walls of the train office suggest it’s Amy from Season 32 and probably after The God Complex especially when you consider, when she “remembers” it makes sense for her to wake up and remember it after the TARDIS travels else she’d discuss it with the Doctor.)
Before the Doctor’s brought to meet the mastermind of Area 52, there’s one of the most hilarious scenes – “Mr Hottie…ness” and “texting and scones” indeed.
THE WEDDING OF DOCTOR WHO
One thing I will mention at this point in the review is the question posed by the Doctor at the end of The Big Bang, another episode with a significant date, that of 26 June 2010 (Amy’s wedding) doesn’t really have an answer by this episode’s end. Will next season answer it?
From that finale of last year…
“Something drew the TARDIS to this particular date, and blew it up. Why? And why now?”
Doctor Who episodes have had teasing titles before, not least the The Death of Doctor Who of the 1960s or more recently The Doctor’s Wife – neither are literally true though.
The wedding of River Song? River recounts some of the myths surrounding her and the Doctor as they meet in this reality (she’s remembering her library studies or maybe the myths swirl around this reality too).
“There are so many theories about you and I, you know.”
“Am I the woman who marries you, or the woman who murders you?”
There’s been stories of the Doctor being regarded through the filters of myth: a Warrior? A Healer? (Stories like The Pandorica Opens and A Good Man Goes to War.) This season emphasises River has her own myths and stories too.
Will there be an actual Wedding? It really seems as unlikely as the Doctor actually dying on that lakeside.
After Amy reaffirms her love for Rory, the Doctor is led up to the top of the Pyramid – “we’re doing this for you” says Amy…
The idea of mirrors and inversions of previous Doctor Who stories continues here – the lights in the sky, beings from other worlds, unlike The Pandorica Opens, it’s love for rather than fear of the Doctor.
“I can’t let you die —”
“But I have to die!”
“Shut up! I can’t let you without knowing you are loved. By so many and so much. And by no one more than me.”
The Doctor’s been carrying his “wedding ring”, the bowtie, with him these whole two seasons – as he begins the ceremony in response to River’s declaration. In a mirror of The Big Bang there’s an actual wedding. The four corners of the love quadrangle actually get married off at the end of it all, just the final moments of a Shakespeare comedy.
The King touches the Queen, he kisses the bride, which means the game is over for him.
THE FINAL SECRET
So the expectations are subverted, take another twist – the reality of the lake is returned to, he averts 5.02pm reality and what, he does die after all? (By this time we’re not even thinking of the Teselecta at least I wasn’t any more.)
Moffat has made us think that time being rewritten might change the outcome, especially if there were no duplicates or clones, (though it was as simple as the Doctor lying to Canton, lying to the universe, making him and it think he was dead).
Amy would have woken from that “dream” of a reality, remembering it like a dream, and we see her recount it to River.
Amazing how twisty the timelines are but clearly understandable – after The God Complex for Amy, after Flesh and Stone for River.
River lets Amy in on the “final secret” of the Doctor (which also clouds the meaning of the Time Lord wedding ceremony. Without a whispered name, is it still a wedding? Or are the bowtie and kiss the main things?)
The final secret. From Closing Time again…
“According to some accounts, it’s the day the Doctor dies.”
“By Silencio Lake. On the Plain of Sighs. An impossible astronaut will rise from the deep. And strike the Time Lord dead”
“It’s a story.”
So Kovarian and the Silence’s plan rested on this story – they raised River as the myths and legends and history said she’d be the one to kill the Doctor, the one in the astronaut-suit from that lake.
Though River was right – it was just a story after all, a cover-story for what actually happened.
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist” – or rather, the greatest trick the Devil-to-Daleks ever pulled was convincing the universe he really had died.
From using the stories that had built up around him to impress the Atraxi, to using those stories to “step back into the shadows”, that’s the journey for the Doctor these two seasons. That the “astronaut” River killed the Doctor at Lake Silencio is the story he’s sticking to.
From boldly standing in view in front of a giant eyeball, shouting to the universe, to silently telling River “shh” from within (for him at least) a giant eyeball.
Though there’s one more reveal and that’s what Dorium told the Doctor the question was:
Footnotes (and links)
Doctor Who season 33 begins Autumn 2012 though before that, this year’s Christmas Special.
The Time Traveler’s Wife (The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger)