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Doctor Who complete reviews: The Wedding of River Song

REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO

The season-spanning mystery girl comes to the fore at last...

The Wedding Of River Song (Doctor Who)

Weddings. Don't ya just love them? The happy couple exchanging their vows. The free champagne. The endless standing around while the photographer man spends yonks assembling the massed hordes to smile cheesily at a camera lens. Not to mention the banquet meals, the awkward speeches and the equally uncomfortable dad dancing to 'The Lady In Red' or some other time-honoured classic.

The Wedding Of River Song (Doctor Who) - Alex KingstonThe final Doctor Who story of the season has all of the familiar hallmarks of the wedding – tears, tantrums and emotions running as high as the sky. And why not? After all, it's the all-important season finale which wraps up all of the mysteries of the season in one neat bow. Now this is something of an oddity, given that firstly, it's all done in 45 minutes rather than 90, and secondly, it's written by Steven Moffat, a man whose Christmas lists are presumably 120 pages long. It's an audacious move to make the season finale just three quarters of an hour long, given that there are so many plot strands crying out for closure. But incredibly, many of the loose ends are cleared up – while of course, establishing some new mysteries at the same time.

So, as with weddings, let's look at some of the familiar hallmarks that are present and correct in The Wedding Of River Song...

THE QUAKING GROOM

Like some of the grooms trembling at the thought of their blushing brides not making it to the aisle, our hero is also trembling in his boots. Yes, The Doctor has realised that Judgement Day has arrived on April 22nd 2011. It's the moment that he meets his maker, zapped by River Song in an astronaut suit and left to die before he can regenerate. The poor bloke's looking for answers, and wants to know why those pesky skull-heads, The Silence want his head.

Not literally of course, but it's left to another disembodied head to provide the answers – yes, Dorium, who's still blue in the face, makes yet another appearance, this time as an outer-space Russell Grant who's predicting all sorts of doomy goings-on. The Silence are apparently averting the terrifying future of Doctor Eleven where he will apparently meet his match on the Fields of Trenzelor. At which point the question that must never be answered will be asked. Whooooo. So kids, start posting on those internet forums about what the regeneration story of Eleven will involve. What's the question? Is The Doctor a closet fan of Demis Roussos? Does The Doctor fart at inopportune moments? Is the Eleventh Doctor really Bruce Forsyth in disguise? Miss these big revelations at your peril.

Even with these Dorium answers, The Doctor's still refusing to go to Lake Silencio – at least until he learns of a terrible tragedy (read on). But in the end, and even with a bold attempt to ward off his death, The Doctor is seen to really be killed.

"The fact that Moffat's actually included River Song in the title tells you how far away Doctor Who is from becoming The River Song Show"

Well, in fact, it's all a con. As if Moffat would really kill off his leading man here and now, when there are many more stories to be told. As I mentioned in The Impossible Astronaut, the real fun comes from trying to work out how The Doctor avoids death. The internet forums went into meltdown over the weeks as fans speculated on how the cheat would play out. The most common one was that The Doctor was really a Ganger – a fair guess at that, although in the end, it turned out to be the next most popular theory. The miniaturised crew of the Teselecta robot have promised The Doctor any form of help that they can, and sure enough, it turns out that the Teselecta took on the form of the Time Lord at Lake Silencio. Admittedly it's a bit of a cop out, but fair play to Moffat, the main mystery is wrapped up in a logical fashion, and for once it's a pay-off that's not shrouded in convoluted mystery.

THE DOTING BRIDE

Yes, it's River Song. Yet. Again.

The fact that Moffat's actually included River Song in the title tells you how far away Doctor Who is from becoming The River Song Show. Which is, as I've said before, feels just a little bit misplaced, given that the character's been too smug and big for her own boots.

The Wedding Of River Song (Doctor Who) - Winston ChurchillBut this time around, she actually does something that's a bit heroic and not in the least smug. She attempts to cheat The Doctor's death by draining the weapons systems of the astronaut suit – at which point, all hell freezes over. In other words, it's time for one of Moffat's ambitiously overcooked notions – all of history disintegrates, which provides an excuse for lots of self-indulgent back-slapping and pointless celebrity cameos. Admittedly it's great to have Simon Callow back as Dickens – unfortunately, at the same time, breakfast bores Sian Williams and Bill Turnbull turn up and do their usual schtick of talking very slowly in glazed-eyed, patronising tones like the world's dullest school teachers. We also have Winston Churchill back – inexplicably, he's now become the Holy Roman Emperor, with a mullet-headed Doctor as his soothsayer. Which means that in this screwed-up pot-pourri, The Doctor's evidently auditioning to be the 21st century version of Pat Sharp. You almost expect the good Doctor to quickly dart to a gaudy TV studio to host a revived version of squealy kids' gunge show, Fun House.

"It's a pity that we couldn't have seen more of this side of River before – it would have been nice to see more of this dedicated compassion"

Bless River though. Even when The Doctor's frogmarched before her, she's adamant that he can't come near her because otherwise the spell is broken, time gets back on track and her beloved Time Lord croaks it. Either she wants a super crazy world or she really is in lurve with The Doctor. It's a pity that we couldn't have seen more of this side of River before – it would have been nice to see more of this dedicated compassion. In fact, any sort of feeling would have done, but sadly, most of the time, Moffat just chose to write her as a smug cipher, while alternating her lines along the lines of “Hello Sweetie” or “Spooooiiiilllaaaahhhs”. Just a bit more humility would have been nice, but at least we get a bit more depth to River Song's character in this one (and it's probably one of Alex Kingston's best ones, too).

TEARS

Ahhhhh. People love having a good old cry at weddings, and sure enough, there's one scene in The Wedding Of River Song that will have the fans weeping into their TARDIS-patterned hankies. Yes, it's the moment in which The Doctor learns of the death of his old friend and all-round good egg, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. “It was very peaceful,” says the Nurse at the end of the phone. “Talked a lot about you if that's any comfort. Always made us pour an extra brandy in case you came round one of these days.”

It's a lovely little scene, and The Doctor's grief is conveyed perfectly by Matt Smith through facial expression alone. And at the same time, it's another sad reminder of the great void left by that marvellous actor, Nicholas Courtney. Some fans were left wondering where his end-of-episode dedication was, but even if that never came to fruition, this is still a welcome acknowledgement of one of the most important actors in Doctor Who's long, rich tapestry.

FIGHTS

There's always one at least. Whether it's the two bridesmaids ripping clumps of hair from heads over who gets to catch the bouquet or whether it's the gang of beery piss-heads starting a brawl over who threw an egg sandwich at the vicar, a wedding punch-up contains more ferocity than a wrestling match between Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks.

"Director Jeremy Webb keeps the action coming thick and fast"

The Wedding Of River Song (Doctor Who) - Frances BarberAnd so in The Wedding Of River Song, Amy (nope, she and Rory are still here) finally gets to wreak revenge on hammy she-freak Madame Kovarian. Turns out that the eye-patch is not just some trendy fad, but an eye-drive device that allows the wearer to avoid the memory losses induced by The Silence. The eye-patch can also be a pretty useful weapon too – when it's overloaded, it can torture the wearer in gruesome fashion. Finally, there's some acknowledgement of the grief that Kovarian put Amy through, as the feisty companion forces Melody's captor to wear the lethal device. “The Doctor is very precious to me, you're right,” she snarls. “But do you know what else he is, Madame Kovarian? Not here... River Song didn't get it all from you. Sweetie.” Too bad that we didn't get to see more of a realistic reaction earlier on in this story strand, but better late than never. And there's something hugely satisfying in seeing silly panto witch Madame Kovarian get her just desserts.

ENTERTAINMENT

Whether it's the DJ cranking up the volume with a scratched copy of The Grease Megamix or a greasy bunch of amateurs attempting a cover version of 'Love Is All Around', there's always something for everyone at a wedding. And in fact, despite all the timey wimey stuff threatening to overshadow the story, The Wedding Of River Song still contains its fair share of enjoyment. There's plenty of good, imaginative scenes – the crazy time-affected London is well done (despite the boring double act of Williams and Turnbull), although my personal favourite scene is the one in which hapless Gantok (Mark Gatiss, again) gets eaten by a pit full of chattering skulls. The episode is directed with style by Jeremy Webb, who keeps the action coming thick and fast. And despite the many loose ends, Moffat's script is not half bad, combining the right amounts of excitement, plot resolutions, mystery and emotion.

HERE'S TO THE FUTURE

And as the bride and groom trundle off in a clapped-out old banger with tin cans tied to the bumper, The Doctor also continues his journeys. This time though, he hopes that he will be 'forgotten', given that the news of his so-called death will spread like tabloid wildfire. Picture the Daleks having a national celebration day on receiving the news. Or The Master laughing himself into a stupor. Or the Sontarans kicking themselves at not getting to do the job first. It all goes back to those innocent first days of Doctor Who when the main man travelled as a wandering enigma in a rickety old blue box.

Which I'm sure he'll continue to do for many years to come.

"Thanks to better scripts and quality performances from Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, The Doctor/Amy/Rory dynamic has played out very well indeed"

The Wedding Of River Song (Doctor Who)On the whole it's been a strong season. As with any recent season of Doctor Who, it's not been without its fair share of controversy, whether people were blathering on about convoluted arc strands, viewing figures or the return of James Corden. Luckily though, the strike rate has been much higher, compared to the weaker season that went before. OK, so there have been one or two misfires such as the smug whackathon of A Good Man Goes To War/Let's Kill Hitler and the derivative Curse Of The Black Spot. But then weigh that up against some of the first class Who that has come your way - The Doctor's Wife, The Girl Who Waited, Night Terrors, The God Complex. They're signs of a programme that's constantly pushing the envelope and entertaining audiences with innovative, well written stories. The fact that the Beeb's moving Who to the Autumn season is a very welcome one, and if the next season is anything like the aforementioned stories, then the pain of Strictly Come Dancing and The X-Factor will be considerably dulled.

And also another quick mention about the strength of the main characters who have gelled into a great Doctor/Companion team. Thanks to better scripts and quality performances from Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, The Doctor/Amy/Rory dynamic has played out very well indeed. New avenues have been explored. New depths have been found. Compare that to the rather shallow characterisation of the previous season, and applaud the work that's gone into making the TARDIS crew far more likeable and believable. And also get ready for the 'heartbreaking' scenes of Amy's and Rory's bona fide departure next season.

In the meantime, as with all weddings, I'll save the thank-you speeches for the next final regular review - the Christmas special of The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe. Catch you then!

 

John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work here.

Check out John's previous Doctor Who review, Closing Time

Read more Doctor Who articles at Shadowlocked


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