REVIEW: Doctor Who - "The Wedding of River Song"
Geronimo. The Eleventh Doctor’s sophomore series has officially come to an end. With tonight’s finale, “The Wedding of River Song”, writer Steven Moffat brings us back to Lake Silencio and the puzzling events of the premiere. The Doctor, still fearing his imminent death at the hands of the “Impossible Astronaut”, must decide whether to keep running from his fate or to confront it for the good of the universe.
We’re left with an episode that really should have been a two-parter. A number of great elements are accompanied by some frustrating gaps, resulting in a mixed bag of a finale.
The opening scenes of this episode were heavily reminiscent of the beginning of the mid-series finale “A Good Man Goes to War”. The Doctor is out to take on his enemies, the Silence, or at least understand who they are before they kill him. He makes a number of stops across the galaxy, gathering information, and tracking informants. He eventually finds an old ally (in brilliant reference to Indiana Jones) who helps decipher the riddles about the Silence and the “unanswerable question”.
This opener acts as a prequel to the main events of the story, which takes place in a strange side-universe created by River Song’s refusal to kill the Doctor at Lake Silencio. In this new universe, the Doctor finds himself on an Earth where history is happening all at once. Militarized versions of River, Amy and Rory are determined to avert the Doctor’s death. The Doctor must convince the side-universe River to allow him to die, or else the existence of the side-universe will cause all of time to collapse.
Understandably, the flashback narrative and the side universe, combined with the “real world” timeline at Lake Silencio, make for a complicated and layered story. I believe this episode needs several viewings to properly appreciate. Not that it’s told in a confusing way, but there are so many temporal transitions and subplots packed into this finale that it can be difficult to grasp them all at once. Your brain will definitely do some somersaults trying to work through the timey-wimey stuff.
A world where history has folded together offers plenty of opportunities to be cheeky with the visual elements of the show, and this episode takes full advantage of the scenario. Among my favourite bits were Charles Dickens promoting A Christmas Carol on a TV morning show, Winston Churchill as the Holy Roman Emperor, and steampunk trains criss-crossing the skies. Every little detail screamed, “This could only happen on Doctor Who”. As an added bonus, the FX used to create many of these sequences were surprisingly convincing.
The return of the Silence was epic, though it did not have a very satisfying conclusion. This time, the creatures take on a more confrontational strategy. They have eschewed the subterfuge seen in “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” for a more direct approach: smashing down doors and using their electrocution powers to full effect.
Unfortunately, there’s little feeling of the Silence being beaten. They’re not outwitted as they were in Episode 2 – instead they’re gunned down and mostly forgotten about.
This criticism also applies to Madame Kovarian. After eluding the Doctor and his companions for much of the series, I expected a showdown of sorts in this story, where we learn what Kovarian’s motivations are. Instead, she turns up partway through for a short back-and-forth with the Doctor, and we ultimately learn little from her. After the anticipation caused by her fleeting appearances in previous episodes, I was disappointed with how she was handled here.
In one important scene of this episode, the dialogue was also a bit of let-down. When the Doctor and River are standing on top of the pyramid, some of their exchanges felt repetitive. While I could tell that Matt Smith and Alex Kingston tried to get the most out of the text, the constant mentions of the Doctor dying or that River loves the Doctor didn’t ring true. This scene is balanced out by strong character work elsewhere, but it’s too bad this climactic scene didn’t fully take off.
What did work, however, was the handling of the Doctor’s death. Firstly, on an emotional level: the Doctor has been running from his death for several episodes, ever since he downloaded the files from the Teselecta in “Let’s Kill Hitler”. He finally decides to meet his fate head-on, and his decision to do so is believable and poignant.
Secondly, on a logistical level: Moffat found a clever way to explain the Doctor’s death, without relying on the “ganger device” I expected. While I won’t give away what the solution is, rest assured (if you haven’t seen the episode) that it’s a nice “aha” moment when the answer is unveiled.
What causes most of the problems in “The Wedding of River Song” is how everything is condensed into a single episode. As fans, many of us predicted this outcome last week when the Craig Owens story “Closing Time” did not become the first installment of a two-part story. There simply wasn’t enough runtime in this episode to adequately deal with the villains or cover all the lingering questions.
In retrospect, perhaps it would have been better to cut the “Rebel Flesh/Almost People” arc into one episode, to allow a full treatment for this story. There are a number of bright spots in this episode, but I doubt it will be remembered as a fantastic finale. Questions are left unanswered, and the villains really didn’t receive the treatment I wanted.
Still, even a mildly disappointing episode like this is an enjoyable finish to an otherwise phenomenal sixth series. Due to the impressive visuals of the side-universe, the solid performances from Smith, Kingston and Gillan, and the clever final twist, “The Wedding of River Song” gets three stars out of four.
What did you think of “The Wedding of River Song”? Pleasantly puzzled? Completely confused? How excited are you for the Christmas Special? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.
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