Warning: spoilers.

I found the final episode… interesting. There were a number of awesome ideas in play – the alternate history mashup world, Amy’s train, Live Chess – and some excellent characterisation as well, which went a surprisingly long way towards redressing some (though by no means all) of the earlier problems I’ve had with the treatment of Amy in particular and River more generally. There was a cheesy-yet-delightful nod to Indiana Jones with the line about rats, the booby trap and the ravenous skulls in the temple of the headless monks, while the reappearance of some previous characters gave the whole thing a sense of catharsis, and the device of having the Silence chase the Doctor and Churchill during their conversation managed to be both ominous and creepy despite being familiar. This was definitely a showcase of Moffat’s better talents: strange and improbable settings with a dash of madcap thrown in, the action cutting between different times and places rather than being grounded to a single locale. All things considered, it was an unexpectedly positive note on which to end a season which has otherwise proved damnably frustrating, and has had the effect of calming my rage a little. Though not exactly brilliant, The Wedding of River Song is nonetheless surprisingly solid, with flaws that are more the byproducts of ambition than careless offense. Thus:

The Good

  • Amy and Rory’s alternate selves. God, YES. Amy being proactive! Rory not being a doormat! An office on a train! Finally, we see these companions as they ought to have been: all last vestiges of the Love Triangle of Doom stripped clean away, so that even though Amy isn’t with Rory in this strange new world and despite her memories of the Doctor, she neither pines for him nor expects to be rescued – in fact, she rescues/captures him, which I’m pretty sure is a first. As is Rory’s quiet love for Amy: even though we’ve seen him in his guise as Stalwart Soldier before, this is the first time he’s been neither puppyish nor Woobified nor outclassed by the Doctor in a blatant ship tease tactic – and even better, Amy is his commanding officer. But the best thing is that, once the world returns to normal, they keep their memories of being awesome. Nothing is handwaved away by space magic, time fluctuations, dopplegangers or dream states: instead, the pair of them – but particularly Amy – actually get to level up. So when Amy sits down with River over a glass of wine, the two of them comparing time travel diaries, not only do we get a sense that this is an actual mother/daughter relationship, however bizarre, but Amy gets to carry the weight of what she’s actually done, and learn from it. Specifically:
  • Amy killing Madame Kovarian. In cold blood. And telling her venomously as she does it that ‘River didn’t get it all from you, sweetie.’ This is the first and only time we see even a hint of the rage and grief that accompanies the loss of the infant Melody. This is an angry mother exacting revenge for the loss of a child she’ll never see again, and fuck what the Doctor would say about it – which, given her previously slavish adherence to his morality, is almost an epic development. Even more crucially, she’s never rebuked for it: nobody comes and patronises her, and instead she’s allowed to work out the consequences by herself. This is a dark, powerful, brilliant moment fleshed out by a wonderfully chilling speech, and even though it still doesn’t balance all the terrible things that have happened to Amy and her various dopplegangers over the past two seasons, it nonetheless takes enormous strides in the right direction. Mr Moffat, if you’re listening: MORE OF THIS.
  • Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill in Buckingham Senate with a Silurian physician and Charles Dickens talking about a Christmas special he’s writing on a morning breakfast show, plus a train track into the pyramids. If I have to explain to you why this is awesome, you’re not doing it right.

The Meh

  • The Tesselator as the Doctor’s Get Out of Jail Free card, because honestly? Not all that shocking. It doesn’t help that we already knew he couldn’t possibly die, no matter how much they kept calling his death a fixed point – he is the Doctor, it’s his show, therefore he lives, QED – but at least they ratcheted down the angst a bit and focused on the surrounding ideas, rather than just milking the melodrama.
  • The title. Though it certainly grabbed some attention prior to the episode airing, it also contained a massive spoiler for what should have been the single most unexpected and moving event in the episode. And when I say unexpected, I mean that the only reason it happens is because the Doctor needs to convince River to let him die, and she apparently loves him so much that it’s the only way she’ll let him go (more of which later). Which is a flimsy reason, really, but still sort of cool, so I can’t quite decide whether heralding the wedding in the title was a cunning way to make the audience less skeptical and more accepting of the actual event, when it came, or if had a sort of hybridised Chekhov’s Lampshade effect that unintentionally served to spoil its own twist. I guess I’ll never know for sure, but nonetheless, I suspect it might be the latter.
  • The Doctor’s beard of sorrow and craziness. Very scenic, certainly, but it feels like a cheap trick. Which it is, sort of. Still, I guess it works?

The Annoying

  • Why doesn’t Amy know who Rory is? I mean, she remembers his name, but even though the wildly idealised version she draws of him doesn’t resemble the actual product, you’d still think the name would tip her off. A comparatively small blunder that could have been easily avoided, it nonetheless niggled at me the whole way through.
  • River saying that the pain she’d feel if the Doctor died would be equal to that of everything in the universe ceasing to exist. I know it’s a time-travel romance and they’re encountering each other backwards, but River’s love has been growing more and more one-sided lately, to the point where her obvious need for him to reciprocate is actively stifling his ability to do so. More importantly, though, we seem to have a continuity problem. We’ve already seen that the Doctor plays no part in Melody/River’s childhood – he couldn’t find or save her – such that her first youthful meeting with him after the child-in-the-spacesuit incident is when Mels regenerates into River in Let’s Kill Hitler. The turning point of that episode is where all her flirtatious psychopathy falters, however conveniently and unrealistically, when she learns about her future with him, the knowledge of which is apparently enough to override all her training and make her switch sides. The next thing we see, she’s off to get her degree in archaeology – but as soon as she’s finished studying, she’s taken by Madame Kovarian to kill the Doctor at Lake Silencio, with the tacit implication being that they haven’t seen each other in the intervening years – she has, after all, been studying so she can go out and find him herself. True, it’s possible we’ll see that they’ve spoken between those points in a later episode, but as things stand, all her angst about not wanting to kill him – her choice to fracture time rather than shoot him in the final – seems to hang on the very slender thread of those previous two encounters, both chronologically and emotionally, which also makes her love for him a very suspect motive. Possibly it’s a later version who marries him, but we don’t know that for sure; and given that we’ve already seen their last ever kiss in an even earlier episode, we have to assume that this is a younger River than the one who helped him at the start of the season. The point being, as much as I liked how impromptu and brief the ceremony was, as well as the significance of the kiss – which was one of the better, more genuinely romantic moments between the two of them – I’m really wanting to see the events that make her fall in love with him in the first place, rather than just keep having their existence inferred: the fact that he’s the Doctor and therefore awesome isn’t enough, not in this context. His ignorance of their history was an amazing device to begin with, but the longer that emotional truth is hidden, the more (or so I fear) it weakens River’s character, turning her from a kickass, independent and equally awesome love of his life into another companion with unrequited affections along the lines of Martha Jones.
  • As much as I loved these versions of Amy and Rory, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at how disconnected their awesomeness was from their previous portrayals. If Amy really had been just a best friend this whole time, a clever, self-possessed, no-nonsense girl blessed with extraordinary powers of observation courtesy of growing up beside a crack in time and space, and if Rory had always been stalwart and unthreatened by the Doctor’s presence, so many of the earlier problems I had with the show might never have existed, or been ameliorated along the way. Which is irritating. But at least we’ve moved on from there, finally.
  • There was no TARDIS in this episode, except in flashbacks. Where did it go?
  • Do we really have to wait another season before the whole thing with the Silence is resolved? I like that Moffat’s playing a long game, but his mode of play is starting to grate. It’s been dangled for two seasons already now, and there’s only so much suspense to be derived from a cryptic couplet and the unshakable inference that the Silence fear whatever circumstances eventually prompt the Doctor to tell River his name. To quote Monty Python, get on with it!

On balance, though, I’m prepared to call the episode a win. Sure, it didn’t move me to ecstasy, but it was much less problematic than its immediate predecessors, and there were some genuinely cool moments that I’m keen to revisit at some later date. I’m still ready for some new companions – but I’m definitely going to keep watching.

  1. Phoebe says:

    I think you’re reading River’s timeline right–at this point, her only knowledge of the Doctor is what she was taught, their single meaning (during which time she begins to get hung up on him), and whatever information she’s learned as, you know, she’s written a doctoral dissertation on him. In short, she’s a woman with a huge, unhealthy and obsessive crush. Which is problematic in its own way, sure, but explains too why she’s all “OMG I love you so much I’d destroy reality for you.” Makes her eventual sacrifice in The Forest of the Dead that much more impactful, too. I really hope we get to, you know, watch them fall in mutual love over the next season.

  2. Phoebe says:

    There was no TARDIS in this episode, except in flashbacks. Where did it go?

    Oh, and it’s in the Doctorbot.

  3. I think it’s absolutely true that River at the point of the wedding is unhealthily obsessed with the Doctor, and he is right to be scathing at her choosing to sacrifice reality to keep him alive. It’s very early in her own timeline.

    Important to remember, though, that the Doctor well aware of a large chunk of their history. He hasn’t been completely alone for those 200 years between The God Complex and Closing Time – he has spent an awful lot of that time visiting River in the Storm Cage, taking her on many of their various adventures and, presumably, trying to figure out her role in his life. It’s made clear in the Impossible Astronaut that the River on the beach and the 1100 year old Doctor have many anecdotes in common.

    So when he make that comment about how she spends her ‘nights’ in prison… he’s talking at least partly about events that have already happened for him.

    The marriage, then, comes at a time when he is potentially in love with River or at least considers her a very good friend – but not this particular River, who is too young and dumb and hasn’t learned from her World’s Biggest Mistake yet. But from this point on she is someone he can potentially love. Whereas the marriage, for her, happens at the point that her unhealthy obsession with the Doctor can potentially become something real because after this point in her timeline, he starts requiting.

    Which makes it actually quite a bit more romantic AND pragmatic than I thought originally!

    I like what you said about Amy levelling up – she has very much been on a chaotic growing up curve during her adventures with the Doctor and I am very happy to see that she does so well on her own, before he gets to her. I would have liked to see more acknowledgement in the intervening episodes of how she (and indeed Rory, whose brief parenthood gets forgotten) felt about losing her baby and as a typical writer I can see the exact points where those lines could have been included – I particularly think they missed a great chance to make that extra fuel for Old Amy’s anger and resentment in the Girl Who Waited, and for Rory’s growing anger with the Doctor in The Girl Who Waited and the God Complex.

    The bit with her forgetting Rory served I think to show how hard it was to remember herself in the first place – like the sketches, it showed how much Amy had worked to get her memories back, one by one, and the most important one still eluded her. I also very much liked that while he was obviously in love with her, he didn’t remember her – so a clever inversion of the situation with Roman Rory a year ago. Rory has had some wonderful hero moments through this season, and it was absolutely his turn to do so after he was regularly sacrificed last year to advance Amy’s plot, but now it’s her turn again and all the scenes with the two of them in that Other Time were marvellous. They both got to be the hero, and neither of them were being weakened to give the other a chance to shine. A wonderful climactic point for both character to reach – if they never travel with the Doctor again (and we don’t know if they will) then this is about the highest point for any New Who companion to have reached at the end of their run.

    It would be nice to see more companions written out in a positive way, so that leaving the Doctor isn’t necessarily a great tragedy. They almost did it with Martha, but I think Amy on the whole has fared better (so far).

    [oops long comment, apparently I have been itching to talk about this!]

  4. Grace says:

    “This is the first and only time we see even a hint of the rage and grief that accompanies the loss of the infant Melody”

    An interesting point you raise there. Interestingly enough, this scenario remind me of the Lindy Chamberlain case. I know that a lot of women believed that she must have murdered Azaria because she didn’t show enough emotion publicly. She was far too stoic to be innocent.

    This isn’t to say that Amy was too stoic to grieve, or generally show any emotion (I think given some of her behaviour it’s fairly safe to say she doesn’t exhibit this personality trait), but it does raise (at least in my mind) the question – Was Steven Moffat trying to (and sort of to failing) create the same scenario?

    Just thinking about the way in which Amy murdered Madam Kovarian, I’d say it’s plausable or even likely, but it’s the rest of Amy’s behavior which doesn’t seem to fit.

  5. TBH says:

    ” and she apparently loves him so much that it’s the only way she’ll let him go” no, he married her to give her family status, thus grant her permission to see classified Tesselector data..

    A couple of important issues about the wedding are often missed though:
    1. River is given NO choice. In fact, she doesn’t even know she’s getting married for half the ceremony’s brief length. There is no “I do”, just Amy’s “I consent”. This is the SECOND time, as you mentioned, she ever sees him (besides Demon’s Run as a baby). She was a psycho and is now infatuated with a crush with a man she hardly ever conversed with. They can’t assume she wants to marry him – heck, they can’t even assume she’s sane enough to make a decision like that.

    Why don’t they ask her if she wants to marry him?

    She even said she doesn’t like weddings..

    2. The women have been an annoyance throughout the series, apparently. We’re lucky to have all these men or we’d be doomed!
    River tried to be brave and nearly destroyed space and time, for what? For nothing. She should have stayed in the kitchen and let her man try to take care of things rather than interfere.
    And Amy? The three kept the Doctor’s future death a secret from him for a while, until the foolish Amy told him, thinking it was his ganger she was talking to. Phew, now the real man can do errands and find a way out of his death. If the woman hadn’t told him – the man, the one who can do things – we’d be doomed.

    I DON’T THINK IT’S INTENTIONAL though. Sexist writing is just something TV and films are plagued with. It should be thought over, though.

    And I didn’t like the tesselector solutiin. It rewrites the fixed point. And it’s just too plain. Moffatt made my brain run around screaming (in joy) that entire episode only to finish on such a low note.. though I did enjoy the episode and the series, it’s just these things that bug me.

  6. TBH says:

    p.s. “you embarrass me”? Who does he think he is, her father? A husband from decades/centuries ago when this was still appropriate? Of all the possible reactions to what she said, the Doctor barks “you embarrass me”??

  7. […] of Steven Moffat, who hasn’t got aspectacular track record when it comes to writing women, and to whom the following quote from 2004 is lamentably attributable: “There’s this issue […]

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