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01 Oct 2011Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song, by Emma Hyam
02 Oct 2011Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song (Review 2), by Matt Hills

Written by Emma Hyam

Doctor Who: Series Six - The Wedding of River Song
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jeremy Webb
Broadcast on BBC1 - 1st October 2011
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK broadcast of the episode.

Well I never…

This episode was always going to have quite the challenge to resolve all the issues that were raised in this series and to do it in a way that was satisfactory even more so. So lets take the first issue, did it answer all the questions raised?

Well, sort of, no doubts there will be plenty of viewers crying “cop out” at the posing of yet another mystery to be solved but the episode was successful in answering the questions that series 6 threw our way and sorted some stuff from previous years. Eye patches? Check. River Song’s marital status? Check. The Doctor’s fate? Check. The nature of The Silence? Check.

And here lies the issue, the episode was so geared towards tying off loose ends that the episode whizzed by at such a thunderous pace as to leave me feeling somewhat bamboozled and underwhelmed, there were some fun little moments, the appearance of Charles Dickens, the carnivorous skulls left by the Headless Monks, The Doctor’s attempt to get Captain Williams to ask out Amy and River and The Doctor’s shotgun wedding. It was well acted, I loved Karen Gillan’s work in this episode, her coldness in allowing the death of Madame Kervorian was awesome and more than a little terrifying. The visual effects were overall excellent and the fate of The Brigadier brought a tear to my eye.

Despite these bits I found my eyes flicking towards to clock, wondering how on earth they were going to get this to a conclusion and trying to keep everything straight in my mind. More than a few times I found myself thinking of this episode as functional rather than entertaining. You could sometimes see the plot points being hit rather than a fluid move from cause to effect. Problem is how could the show do anything else? By setting this series up to move towards an event that could never really take place without ending the whole show, whether this was a wise decision on Steven Moffat’s part is going to be a debate that keeps fandom going for the rest of time I think.

I think people really weren’t expecting things to be this straight forward, that there would be an immense universe imploding shock to the system that we go with “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang” but we should know better than that by now, with Steven Moffat things are never really that complicated when you scratch at the surface and I think when push comes to shove that will disappoint more than a few viewers. I wasn’t disappointed by what I saw, it was the logical conclusion of the last two series, in fact I’m looking forward to going back to series 5 and 6 and seeing how it works in retrospect, armed with the knowledge we have now. As I said earlier in this post the episode itself suffered under the weight of the purpose it had to fulfill but it was still a good piece of television. As series finales go it certainly wasn’t the worst we’ve been given, it wasn’t the best either but with me I’ll tolerate stuff from The Doctor that I’d never countenance from anyone else.

I’m sure as I type this the internet is ablaze with “MOFFAT MUST GO” and I think that was going to be the reaction whatever happened in this episode, it was always going to be seen as a cop out and thats a shame because whatever this episodes faults it doesn’t deserve that harsh a verdict. In 20 years time when people are writing clever books about series 6 and youngsters are discovering it for themselves I believe this episode will be held in much higher regard, much like series one’s “Boom Town”, hated by nearly everyone on transmission has now been subject to a great deal of revisionist praise.

So in conclusion I thought it was good albeit flawed, a lot of you who read this will think it sucked and Moffat should be hung from the nearest yardarm… as it always was and as it will always be, and when you think about it isn’t that just a tiny bit marvelous….?


LinkCredit: Doctor Who, UK 
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Doctor Who: Series Six - The Wedding of River Song
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jeremy Webb
Broadcast on BBC One - 1 October 2011
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK broadcast of the episode.

Including series six's punctuation this is the third finale from Steven Moffat, and strong patterns can be seen to emerge. Firstly, the showrunner revels in misdirection – setting up loyal, fan audiences to interpret details in a particular way, e.g. expecting that the Doctor will tell River his name as part of a Time Lord wedding ceremony, only to find we've been well and truly hoodwinked. Advance rumours and spoilers also indicated that the Daleks would turn up, and they do. Sort of. But rather than the ultimate evil (or even the ultimate wedding party gatecrasher), this Dalek is just a stepping stone to information about the Silence, again misdirecting audiences. Dorium Maldovar's involvement offers yet more sleight of hand; how on earth can a previously beheaded character return? Easily enough, of course, if it's accepted that talking heads can make for fun rather than dull TV.

An undoubted master in misdirection, Moffat also delights in opposing audience expectations. Having set up crucial puzzles and questions he immediately undercuts them. Last year we were all wondering how the Doctor could escape from the perfect prison, only to find he'd managed it before the episode 13 title sequence rolled. This year, we're primed to expect mysteries over how the Doctor can avoid a fixed point in time... and what we get instead looks like the opposite; a tale in which that very fixed point has to be safely restored.

Some fan knowledge is rewarded rather than opposed, though; it's hard not to view all the eyepatches as part of a Nicholas Courtney tribute, with one of Doctor Who's most infamous behind-the-scenes anecdotes finally getting in front of the camera. Such a feeling is reinforced by the Doctor's forlorn phone call to the Brig; even time travellers are sometimes too late. Moffat allows his fandom to shine through, creating a moment of media-pro fan fiction. This is a brand of fan fiction aimed at professionally commemorating the programme's long history, its own fixed points of reference, and its own markers of painful loss. In an episode where time is frozen, its real world passing is most certainly not forgotten.

The ultimate enemy here isn't the Doctor's death, though, or even the Brigadier's heartbreaking absence; it's the end of storytelling itself. Cheating a fixed point means all of time happening at once, stuck in the same day and time, over and over. It's a world which sustains surreal special effects and wonderful juxtapositions, making for some eyecatching, unusual TV drama. But it's also a world in which no more stories can be lived out: cause and effect, sequences of events – what we usually call plots and narratives – no longer seem possible. In part, this is a story-arc finale threatening a finale to all storytelling.

Only the Soothsayer can bring back the pleasures of a tale properly told. Fittingly enough, given that this is the culmination of an arc, The Wedding of River Song is fixated on acts of storytelling and stories. While the Doctor battles against history's cancellation, Steven Moffat plays games with the audience by exploiting our desire to find out all the answers: the Doctor begins to tell Emperor Winston Churchill his tale, while Dorium also promises an account of great import. These yarn-spinners, and their insistent delays and deferrals, deliberately tease the audience. And the false ending before River visits Amy does more of the same, playing a further game with our desire to find out what really happened.

Despite its focus on acts of storytelling, I'd argue that The Wedding of River Song isn't really that interested in answers. It gives some, sure, but almost resentfully, and because it has to. The Teselecta's use is somewhat anticlimactic, if not eminently guessable as soon as it appears. It's not really the point – the point is how we get there, and what new questions can be posed, because as a showrunner Steven Moffat seems far more interested in the transformation of Doctor Who's possibilities. Series five's finale combined the Doctor's opponents in a monster mash; series six part one concluded by combining characters and races in the Doctor's army, and now six part two combines all of Earth's history. Or rather, Earth history largely as depicted in the Moffat era. It's Victory of the Daleks meets Cold Blood meets The Impossible Astronaut; a demented mash-up of episodes previously overseen by this production team, with just a (Dickensian) dash of the old regime. Each of Moffat's finales has sought to mix up and transform usual ways of thinking about Doctor Who – what if all the monsters decided to team up? What if the Doctor brought together a team of fighters? And this time, what if different episodes teamed up? Like a fan remixing Who, Moffat performs transformative work on the show, but by doing so, he transforms his own prior labours as showrunner. This is Doctor Who as a full-on game of self-referencing and self-sampling.

Truth be told, though, The Wedding of River Song is pretty useless as a whodunnit. It's really an anti-whodunnit, a skilled exercise in suspense when we know all along who dies and who the killer is. It's pure storytelling: constant interruptions and colourful incidents that happen to get in the way of an ending for 45 minutes or so. And as with The Big Bang and A Good Man Goes To War, this finale again offers a breakneck blend of misdirection, opposition, fan fiction, and transformation. To coin a playful acronym, these things are a finale's m.o.f.f.a.t. quotient.
LinkCredit: Doctor Who, UK, Series 6/32, Television 
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