Wednesday 17 June 2020

Story 225 - The Wedding of River Song

In which the whole of history becomes frozen at 5:02:57 pm on 22nd April, 2011. Dinosaurs co-exist with the Wars of the Roses, Charles Dickens is promoting his latest Christmas Special on daytime TV, and Winston Churchill is the Holy Roman Emperor. Like some, Churchill is aware that there is something wrong with Time. He orders that a prisoner be brought to him from the Tower of London - a ragged soothsayer who has been warning of this. He is the Doctor. He tells Churchill that the freezing of time was all due to a woman...
After his visit to Craig Owens in Colchester the Doctor had set out to try and find out as much as he could about the Order known as The Silence, before having to face his fate at Lake Silencio. Information from a Dalek database leads him to the space docks of the planet Calisto B, where he meets a former member of the Silence - Gideon Vandaleur. Like Madame Kovarian, he wears a black eye-patch. After a short discussion, the Doctor reveals that he knows Gideon to be a fake. The real Vandaleur is dead. He is really a Teselecta, once again commanded by Captain Carter, who the Doctor had spoken with in Berlin.
The Doctor is pointed towards a man named Gantok. Before leaving, the Doctor tells Carter that there is a favour he may be able to do for him. The Doctor then meets Gantok over a game of live chess - played with electrified pieces. The Doctor allows him to win - saving his life as he was on the point of defeat - if he can take the Doctor to the Silence. Gantok takes him to the subterranean Seventh Transept, where the Headless Monks have kept their severed craniums for centuries.

This is really a trap, but Gantok falls into a pt of skulls which eat him alive. Venturing further in, the Doctor finds the casket containing the head of Dorium Maldovar. Very much alive, he agrees to help the Doctor, and is taken aboard the TARDIS. Dorium tells the Doctor about a legend about the fall of the Eleventh, on the fields of Trenzalore, where no man may speak falsely, when a question will be asked which must never be answered - a question hidden in plain sight. The Doctor does not know what this signifies. Lake Silencio was chosen for the Doctor's demise as it could be made into a fixed point in time, which could never be altered or undone. Dorium remarks about the Doctor's current solitary existence, him having pushed Amy and Rory and other friends away. The Doctor decides to call up his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - only to learn that he has recently passed away. The news causes the Doctor to finally accept his fate.
When the Doctor finally catches up with Amy, Rory and River Song - 200 years after he last saw them - events at the lakeside do not go as they should, however. The earlier River emerges from the waters hidden in her spacesuit, but she refuses to kill him. The Doctor insists she go ahead as otherwise all of time and space will be fractured. She disregards him - and history becomes stuck at that exact moment in time.

Back at Churchill's Buckingham Senate House, the Doctor has been telling the Emperor of these events. They suddenly find themselves brandishing weapons, with no memory of why they have them. The Doctor then notices that they have tally marks written on them - the method previously employed to warn of having had contact with the Silents. They are attacked by a group of the creatures, but are saved by the arrival of Amy Pond - dressed in military style and wearing an eye-patch. She sedates the Doctor and he wakes later to find himself on a train travelling to Area 52, which is built within an Egyptian pyramid. Amy has retained memories of her travels with the Doctor, but is unaware that her lieutenant - Rory Williams - is really her husband. The Doctor is given an eye-patch, which Amy explains are really eye-drives - small memory devices which allow the wearer to remember seeing the Silents. At Area 52 the Doctor is reunited with River Song, who has Madame Kovarian prisoner. The base also contains a number of captive Silents, held in tanks of fluid to suppress their deadly electrical powers. River has been working on a plan to get time moving again, and scientists notice that time moves forward by a second when she and the Doctor touch. The Doctor blames her for causing all of this by not killing him. Kovarian seems undaunted by her predicament. She reveals that she has set a trap. The eye-drives have been hacked and they start to attack their wearers with electrical shocks which grow more powerful by the minute. The Silents are not as powerless as they believe, and they begin to break out of their tanks and attack the base personnel.

River takes the Doctor up to the summit of the pyramid whilst Rory holds the Silents back. Kovarian finds her own eye-drive is now attacking her. Amy helps Rory destroy the Silents, then she abandons Kovarian to die from her sabotaged eye-drive. She and Rory then join the Doctor and River at the pyramid apex where a transmitter has been set up. This is designed to call out to the universe for people who know the Doctor to offer help. However, the Doctor knows of only one thing which will put history back on course. He then asks River to marry him - witnessed by her parents. He whispers something to her, which shocks her, then they kiss - and time begins to move again.
At Lake Silencio, River shoots the Doctor, and his corpse is later burned.
Some time later, at the home of Amy and Rory, River comes to visit. She has just come from the wreck of the Byzantium on Alfava Metraxis. She tells Amy that the Doctor is not really dead. When he whispered to her it was to tell her to look into his eye - where she saw a miniaturised Doctor inside a Teselecta made to look like him. It was this which was shot and burned. As far as the rest of the universe is concerned, the Doctor was killed and the fixed point in time maintained. River must complete her prison sentence to keep the illusion. He has taken himself off, to keep a low profile for a while.
The Doctor, meanwhile, takes Dorium's head back to the Seventh Transept. As he leaves, Dorium asks a question of the Doctor's true identity - "Doctor Who?"...

The Wedding of River Song was written by Steven Moffat, and was first broadcast on 1st October, 2011. It marks the end of Series 6. It is the first time since the series returned that the finale has not been the concluding half of a two-parter.
As a series finale you might be forgiven for thinking that there will be some revelations, and some resolutions. The only thing resolved is the cheat of the Doctor's escape from his apparent death, as seen in the series opener. It wasn't the Doctor who was killed, but his Teselecta double. Whilst you can understand bystanders believing him to be dead, it is hard to comprehend how 'Time' can be fooled by this. How can a simple substitution get round this "fixed point in time", when River's refusal to play ball can freeze the whole of history. Moffat assured us that the Doctor really was killed in the opening story. No cheating. Like his predecessor, the showrunner lies, if it serves the story-telling or conceals spoilers.
There aren't really any revelations in this story either, unfortunately. We already knew that the Silence was an Order whose purpose was to stop a question being answered, and they are prepared to kill the Doctor (by assassination or by blowing up the TARDIS) to make sure that he, specifically, doesn't answer the question. Who they are and exactly why they are doing this is left unexplained. We know as much as we did at the halfway stage of the series. What the question is, however, we kind of guess from the closing seconds of the episode ("Doctor who?!.."), but of course everyone assumed that there had to be more to it than that. Instead of tying up story arcs, we get them added to, as Dorium tells the Doctor of the prophesy involving the Fall of the Eleventh, the field of Trenzalore, and people being unable to tell an untruth. In hindsight, Moffat will pull all of this together - but just not now. To the unresolved mysteries of Series 5 are added the unresolved mysteries of Series 6.

Not only does the story satisfy as a series finale, it doesn't really work as an episode either. As mentioned previously, this is the first time that we have only had a single episode finale, and I said when looking at Closing Time that fans were worried that this would mean that the closing episode would have an awful lot to fit in. By not offering any expected resolution, you might have expected that the story would have worked as a self-contained adventure in its own right - but this is not the case. To be honest, it is a bit of a dog's dinner. Moffat seems to have had a lot of ideas that weren't quite big enough, or good enough, to warrant development as stories in their own right - so he just chucked them into this. We start with the whole mix-up of history, which is quite entertaining and allows for the return of some old guests stars, but then we switch to more of the Doctor on his farewell journey. Back to mixed up history, and then this segment simply vanishes, as the Doctor goes off to the pyramid to have an entirely different adventure with Madame Kovarian and the Silents. The titular wedding seems to come out of nowhere, and is only really there to justify a story title Moffat thought sounded good, and play to fan speculation about the relationship between River and the Doctor. Did he really have to marry her to show that he was the Teselecta all along, when we know that just touching each other can start history moving again?
Building on something which RTD had started, Moffat has more and more been making the Doctor into some sort of universal celebrity, and that reaches its nadir here in the scene where River explains that the whole universe is offering to help him. It might have been intended as an uplifting moment, but I find it sentimentally overblown and embarrassingly naff.

Technically, none of the regulars really plays themselves in this. The Doctor is a Teselecta for much of the running time, whilst River, Amy and Rory are all alternate versions.
The story sees a lot of returning characters - some going back to the first series. There is a cameo from Simon Callow reprising Charles Dickens (The Unquiet Dead), speaking on the BBC's Breakfast Time with real presenters about his new "Christmas Special". Then we have Ian McNeice returning to play Winston Churchill. He has a Silurian physician, and it's Dr Malokeh from The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood - played once again by Richard Hope (who once auditioned to be the Doctor). Richard Dillane is then seen once more as Captain Carter, commander of the Teselecta. Under heavy prosthetics, as Gantok, is Mark Gatiss in an uncredited cameo. Simon Fisher-Becker returns as Dorium Maldovar, in reduced circumstances and despite having been killed in A Good Man Goes To War. He spends the entire episode as a head in a box, and is another element simply forgotten about when the episode switches to the Area 52 section. In a flashback to the events at Lake Silencio, we also catch another glimpse of William Morgan Sheppard as the older Canton Delaware III. The only other role of note is Niall Greig Fulton, recently seen (or rather heard) as Satan in Good Omens, as Gideon Vandaleur. The main guest artist, however, is the principal villain - the return of Frances Barber as Madame Kovarian. Moffat at least gives us the satisfaction of killing her off, and at the hands of Amy Pond as well - at least in the sense that she deliberately refuses to save her when she has the opportunity.

One actor who is missing, despite his character having a significant role to play, is Nicholas Courtney. He had dies at the beginning of the year, and the programme paid tribute by having the Doctor learn of his old friend's death - in bed, as an old man, as he had known would happen way back in Battlefield. RTD always regretted never finding a cameo for him in Doctor Who, but had used him on The Sarah Jane Adventures, and it had been hoped that he might have featured in that series again with Death of the Doctor, but he was already far too ill.
Sadly, this touching scene will be thoroughly trashed later when Moffat decides to bring him back as a reanimated corpse who's been turned into a Cyberman. It's a science fiction series about a time traveller, Steven. There are far less stupid and insulting ways to save a character falling out of a crashing aeroplane.

Overall - well I think you should be able to guess what I think of this one. A disjointed mess, that fails to satisfy on almost every level. I'm not the only one to think so. This was the lowest rated series finale in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll by a long way - coming in at 129th place. All the others lie within the top 55 places.
Things you might like to know:
  • This episode had a prequel, which consisted of shots of the stuck clock, and the soldiers in Area 52 with the Silents stirring in their tanks.
  • Mark Gatiss used the name Rondo Haxton for his credit - an homage to Universal horror actor Rondo Hatton, who is best remembered for his role as the "Hoxton Creeper" in Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl of Death (1944).
  • The newspaper proclaiming that the Wars of the Roses have gone into their second year is the "Londinium Cotide". Cotidie is Latin for "Daily".
  • Amongst the images of London stuck in time we have cars flying around suspended from balloons. Everything else we see comes from history, but we've never had flying balloon cars. They can't be from the future, as the whole point is that time is stuck at 5:02:57 on 22nd April, 2011 - the future can't happen. Also, if everything is happening at once then London should both exist and not exist at the same time.
  • The sequence of the pterosaurs in the park may be a reference to the novelisation of Invasion of the Dinosaurs - which featured children going missing in parks due to dinosaurs.
  • Just when we think that we've finally had a season in which the Daleks fail to appear, we get a cameo from a wrecked New Paradigm Dalek Supreme (repainted a greyish colour).
  • Another possible tribute to Nicholas Courtney is that everyone in this story wears an eye-patch? This refers to Courtney's favourite convention anecdote, from the set of 1970's Inferno.
  • As well as the BBC's Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams playing themselves, we also see US TV anchor Meredith Vieira as another newscaster. She was in the UK to make a segment about the show for the Today programme, and was offered the chance of a cameo. Her piece featured Cybermen - leading many to believe that they would feature in this episode.
  • As well as being the only series finale since 2005 to consist of only a single episode, it is also the only one not to feature the TARDIS interior for its closing scene.
  • Sadly, there is no such magazine as Knitting for Girls, just in case you might want to seek it out. I did - purely for the Spot the Ball competition of course.

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