THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC
The Wedding of River Song

Story No. 244 Look into my eye
Production Code 2.13
Dates October 1, 2011

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Jeremy Webb
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.

Synopsis: Time stopped at 5:02 on April 22, 2011... the moment the Doctor died.


Reviews

Almost answered by Clement Tang 22/8/12

Here it is. The Series 6 finale. The Doctor is gonna die and Silence will fall.

Of course, if it were to fall, the whole show would've been axed. This story is able to present itself well, but it gets jumbled up. The two timelines are shown on and off, so viewers must pay close attention to every single aspect of the show to understand it.

But I do love the acting from Matt Smith and Alex Kingston. Sorry, but Karen and Arthur seemed dull. Kovarian isn't that great either. It's only those two who stand out. You can feel the Doctor's pain of going to his death and River's pain for... I'm not gonna spoil it if you haven't watched it.

I can't say much without spoiling it because, as River says, "Spoilers", and way too many spoilers at that. But I will say that I enjoyed the story fairly well. The ending is quite nice, too, albeit a little too simplistic. Nonetheless, go ahead and watch it, but only if you know enough of the background concerning Steven Moffat's arc.

8.5/10... No, 8.25 for being wibbly wobbly.


A Review by David Gottner 19/5/15

I liked A Good Man Goes to War and Let's Kill Hitler, so when I was actually rather surprised to see the show come completely off the rails with this train wreck of a finale. There are problems with the script both logically and thematically.

To review the story, the Doctor must die at Lake Silencio as it's a fixed point in time, but River Song intervenes and doesn't shoot him, causing time to stop, and the Doctor is whisked off to a parallel dimension.

First of all, the premise makes no sense. In the parallel dimension, time has stopped; it's perpetually 5:02, April 22, 2011. However, in the new reality, time is obviously flowing. The Earth spins about on its axis. There is morning, followed by afternoon, then evening, then night. What happens the next morning? The people living there should flip their calendars one day and it becomes April 23! And why would clocks stop when people's hearts are beating? A clock is just a machine with moving gears or vibrating crystals or somesuch; it doesn't measure anything called "time" in any weird metaphysical sense. Maybe time in the outside universe has stopped, but why would the people in the bubble universe know or even care to (or be able to) measure it? They also mention that all historical periods are happening at once, but how would characters who live in the bubble universe know that? We as the viewers know that Charles Dickens shouldn't be writing in 2011, but the residents of the bubble world wouldn't know that.

The second problem is one of theme. The major theme is of the episode is that the Doctor must reconcile himself with his impending death. He had been avoiding it for some time, using the fact that he is a time traveller to postpone the inevitable indefinitely. When he receives a call that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has died, he decides it's time to face the music and sets course for Lake Silencio.

When the Doctor is later transported to the parallel dimension, he sees a place where nothing dies (maybe people die, but not species or institutions); Europe is still being run by the Holy Roman Empire and pterodactyls harass people who want to picnic in the park. This ties nicely with the Doctor's reluctance to die, perhaps suggesting that the Doctor's time has come and it's time for the Universe to move on, just as life on this planet moved on to other forms after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

So it just felt cheap when the Doctor got to cheat his way out of death by a mere technicality. I felt a tremendous sense of anticlimax with this episode. Is that it? It also makes no sense: Somehow the Doctor could fake his death and not cause a time paradox when presumably it is his continued existence that causes the paradox (the nature of the paradox is not explained or shown).

This could have been a good final episode if the producers wanted to end the show for good and give the Doctor a somewhat intimate sendoff. It could also have made a good regeneration episode, maybe one with higher stakes, such as having a regeneration in which the Doctor forgets his past selves and has to start over with a blank slate. (That would fit well with the theme of the episode of moving on.)

This episode was a big "Get Out of Jail Free" card for the Doctor, and, what's worse, when you see how he avoided his death, the whole story could have been told in a really short five-minute show.


"It's the Geek Out hour!" by Thomas Cookson 20/6/15

As an insatiably imaginative pre-teen kid, I was a sucker for Back to the Future, and Bill and Ted's time travel paradoxes. I got the crazy idea that time travel might just be a future technology waiting to happen and one day my future self would have a domestic time machine of his own. I even drew a chalk marker outside my doorstep, so he'd visit, and hopefully transport me back a few years so I could get all the Space Lego sets that they'd since deleted from stock.

Who needs Santa?

So let's address Moffat's prominent timey wimey trope (in some quarters, his most tiresome trope).

I've argued The Girl Who Waited and The Wedding of River Song are both examples of doing timey wimey right or wrong, respectively. Put simply, the latter uses it as a narrative cop-out, the former certainly doesn't.

As my childhood anecdote indicates, the problem with time-travel solutions is they can be the priceless path to getting everything you want. Drama becomes meaningless then.

I give Moffat some leeway on this. Time Crash's 'I survived because my future self showed me how' solution works because the story's about the two Doctors discussing their experiences and accumulated wisdoms that made them who they are and the journey where one became the other. It feels like a catharsis when one learns the crucial solution from the other. When repeated in Space/Time, it becomes a less special, more throwaway moment.

The Big Bang's timey wimey solution to how the Doctor got out of the Pandorica has bothered many who were otherwise fully on board with the story. Since if the Doctor later escapes and goes back in time to give himself the means of escape then it's just saying "he escapes because he does".

For me, it was one of many hurdles the Doctor still had to overcome once free, so I could let the story off for giving him the first easy out when everything else was still so daunting and challenging. The Doctor was facing an unprecedentedly massive universal catastrophe; thus he had to adapt quickly to keep one step ahead, relying on tools and tricks in his arsenal he'd never dared use before. There's no danger of messing up the timeline if there won't be a universe left.

And yet, for time loops to work dramatically, there should be some vague sense that a natural starting point made it inevitable. What the Tenth Doctor did in Time Crash might have been possible without the time loop, if what he'd done was originally a desperate fluke that paid off. Then after the time loop was established, it became witnessed and remembered by his earlier self, thus creating a perfect circle. Likewise, Sally Sparrow only gets gradual snippets of Tennant's DVD messages perhaps because they're still a temporal work in progress but reaching completion the more she works at the mystery and closer she gets to the resolution.

So on the surface of it, there was no such starting point for the Pandorica paradox. The Doctor never had to do anything to escape. It simply comes to him from the future in a way that justifies its own circular occurrence, or from nowhere. Perhaps it'd be better if the future Doctor didn't give Rory the sonic screwdriver, but rather encourages him to remember his Auton knowledge of the Pandorica key code to break his current self out. That way it depends on Rory doing practical thinking and coming to an inevitable conclusion with some future motivation.

However, I think the solution exists in what's onscreen. It's established the Pandorica keeps its prisoner alive eternally. So the Doctor would be alive inside for billions of years, therefore the possibility of the Doctor breaking out at some point, and releasing his younger self gradually becomes more of a probability. The time loop might be instigated from the most distant billion year future point, but once the loop happened, the Doctor's escape became instantaneous.

The Wedding of River Song likewise operates on the sentient universe giving the Doctor a helping hand in its crisis. Preserving a small portion of itself as long as possible to give the Doctor the time and resources to repair the damage.

In this case, keeping the brief milliseconds where River almost pulled the trigger on a loop until she can be persuaded to fire.

Given that Moffat is a Davison fan, River's arc is inevitably a reprise of Turlough's arc. A companion secretly dangerous to the Doctor and tasked by nefarious forces with killing him. Often mistakenly vaunted as a brilliant idea. I'll give Moffat credit for setting up an elaborate, nebulous organisation like the Silents as River's paymasters. It hides this re-enactment of Turlough's deal with the Black Guardian, and as such it doesn't feel derivative.

The problem with Turlough coincides with the problem of Adric's death. Under Saward, it was the wrong time to do it. Adric's death could've worked as a symbol of the dangers that come with travelling with the Doctor. But that needs to co-exist with a sense that things the Doctor does and what he stands for are generally worth putting your life on the line for. But Warriors of the Deep destroyed all that. Suddenly there was no such case anymore for the Doctor's greater moral purpose, or his devotion to ensuring his companions' safety. He was now someone who'd put people's lives in danger for worthless, despicable reasons that make no sense to anyone but himself.

There was such a Sawardist ethos of negation where none of the companions seemingly liked being here or each other's company, that caring about these companions' loyalty or otherwise was a non-starter. Turlough's disdain for the Doctor seemed almost business as usual. There was no contrast, no counterpoint. It became impossible to care about the message of coming to value the Doctor's compassion, because no one seemed to be taking him seriously. And, after Warriors of the Deep, why should they?

If you had River witness the events Turlough did, she'd have no incentive to spare the Doctor the bullet. And this illuminates where Moffat got it right. When River Song can't kill the Doctor here, it's obvious why. Turlough on the other hand would've easily sold the Fifth Doctor down the river (no pun intended) and eventually it makes no sense how the snide, hopeless Fifth Doctor ever earned his or anyone's respect. Warriors of the Deep makes it look like it's the Doctor who's more likely to sell Turlough and Tegan down the river along with all of humanity, to appease his genocidal chums.

So Moffat has somewhat worked around the worst problems of Turlough. Maybe because as a Davison fan he extrapolated the best qualities of the Doctor's characterisation and era and embellished them, whilst jettisoning the unsalvageable dreck. So we have a four-team TARDIS, but a likeable one where the people will stand by each other, and where River's loyalty is a fierce one, spurred on by personal penance. And where the Doctor is every bit as wonderful as Moffat convinced himself Davison was.

That's not to say Series 6 wasn't critical of the Doctor's actions. It was, far more often than you may think. But it wasn't Saward's brand of perma-sneery perpetually critical misanthropy that channelled a nasty side of himself that wanted to leave everyone with the worst impression of things and of his ugly personality. With Series 6, ultimately the faith River has in him is justified. The very faith that the Davison era almost seemed determined to retroactively erase from trace.

After all, a part of me felt that even in Moffat's contentious criticisms of the classic series, there was the promise of a producer who was sharply critical enough of faults and flaws to know what to rectify and jettison and how to focus on and elevate the show's best qualities. It was his gushing praise of RTD's work that made me worry and I suspect made some of the anti-RTD crowd expect the worst from him, contrary to the overriding impression of him as the show's great white hope.

But one of the worst traits of noughties Britain was how we became such a success-fixated culture. We were force fed the idea that judging and pouring vitriolic scorn on someone's lesser achievements or lesser lifestyle is somehow laudable and for people's own good, and a healthy form of 'constructive criticism'. It's in all our home improvement shows. Moffat's attitude that classic Who just didn't measure up so let's kerb-stomp it into dust, seemed horribly indicative of this culture. As did his willingness to have the Doctor destroy Amy's lesser ganger in cold blood, for being an inferior imposter of Rory's wife. And what was worrying was how much it ran roughshod over the rest of that Ganger two-parter and the same scenario in The Girl Who Waited, where in each case the original author was dead against that ethos. Arguing that even a clone of someone is valuable. Even if they're unhappier or more bitter and resentful or even their very existence is disturbing to the original is inherently every bit as valuable and important as the original. A less endearing personality doesn't make them a lesser person.

This is also worrying in that it suggests Amy's strength as a bereaved mother is in not falling to pieces over what happened, like a normal person actually would, but holding it in long enough to have it spur her to go for her revenge the first chance she gets. To be ruthlessly kerb-stomping, like everyone should.

Unfortunately, with all that laid out, The Wedding of River Song is a failure. As MrTARDISReviews argued, it came so close to perfection, yet its faults make it ultimately worthless. Hell, the story almost seemed to keep getting blackouts every time it approached greatness. So how could Moffat have fixed it? Frustratingly he could have done it so easily.

Returning to the paradox problem, what's here sidesteps the inherent problems, but in its escape route it goes immediately from frying pan to fire. Basically, what I mean is for once the Doctor's solution has nothing to do with the time paradox. In fact, it's retconned that he determined the solution early on, the moment he got reacquainted with the Teselecta. Long before the paradox even started. And the sad thing is, I like this world where time has stood still, but it has nothing to do with the plot at all. It bypasses the problem of the Doctor using time paradoxes to bail himself out, by making the experience and endurance of the paradox ultimately meaningless.

Perhaps that's what's happening. Moffat's trying so many non-linear storytelling experiments that inevitably every fan's forced to conclude at least one of his stories fails by being a stake-absent narrative. Yes the Doctor wouldn't have sought and discovered the solution if his future death weren't pre-witnessed, but that concerns a different story, merely homaged here, not at its heart.

Having set River up as an amoral killer in Let's Kill Hitler, Moffat now must reconcile that with those words in Silence of the Library: "One day I'm going to be someone you trust completely." The day River defied her masters because she couldn't harm the Doctor and now never would. Had River simply fired as we saw in The Impossible Astronaut, the Doctor's escape plan wouldn't matter. His relationship with and trust of River would cease making any sense. It had to be done this way.

But River's choice and the ensuing paradox still should have mattered. And there's one simple way both could have. With all of time happening simultaneously, 1930's Berlin and the Teselecta should be here too. The Doctor has to race there, find the Teselecta and bring it and River to Lake Silencio, then fake his death. Have the earlier Teselecta cameo be a reminder to him, but not the solution itself.

Moffat, it was right under your nose!


"Silence must fall" would be a better translation by Evan Weston 3/6/19

The Wedding of River Song is, in my view, completely given away by its title. Because, while the moment is built up for the viewer as the most important part of the story, it really doesn't have to happen. The Doctor is seeking River's faith in him, I understand, and it's certainly pretty cute, but necessary? Not at all. She would have followed him in whatever he decided, marriage or no marriage. But isn't this the second time she's ever met the Doctor, after, you know, trying to kill him? The infatuation angle makes sense, but isn't there something missing...

This is a series finale that is clearly attempting to course-correct for a rubbish arc, not by bringing it to a satisfying conclusion but by lighting off enough distracting fireworks for the viewer to say, "oh wow, that was a neat and unexpected way for it to end." And for a while, The Wedding of River Song comes very close to succeeding in this regard. It's probably the most entertaining bad episode of Doctor Who ever produced, and it has some wild ideas and wonderful set-pieces to carry it through. While they are a red herring, they do deserve some praise, and I would be remiss not to mention what this episode does well.

The visual of time happening all at once, an inconceivable concept, somehow manages to be a success. Ian McNeice is far better in his return as the Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill because, well, he's not actually playing Winston Churchill. The train rides to nowhere and cars held up by hot air balloons were only a couple of the nice chronological touches, but I think my favorite is Simon Callow's tremendous Charles Dickens, all the way back from the series' third episode, returning six-and-a-half years later for a cameo. There are also some terrific, inventive moments that deserve to be singled out. The game of live chess is truly exciting, and the subsequent scene with the hungry skulls is great creepy fun. It's all produced and shot marvelously, with the effort required of a series finale. There's a lot of care that goes into the design of The Wedding of River Song, and that is to be commended.

So, too, are the performances. None of the leads have to do nearly as much here as they did in the previous three stories, of course, but Smith, Gillan and Darvill all do a fine job. Matt Smith in particular gets to display a lot of emotion, and he's really come on quite strong down the homestretch of Series 6. However, they are all badly beaten by another great turn from Alex Kingston, whose River Song remains entertaining even though at this point she makes absolutely no sense. Kingston and Smith are delightful together, and she has the ability (like he does) to go from silly to serious in the blink of an eye. The only misfire is Frances Barber's lousy Madame Kovarian, who is over the top and then killed - by Amy, which at least seems right - before she can do anything. Good riddance.

The prevailing point, though, is that she doesn't do anything, and that means the much-hyped Silence doesn't really affect the proceedings all that much. The whole arc is sort of cast aside just because it needs to be. I understand this choice by Moffat, as he's not a stupid man, and he admittedly writes himself out of a corner much better than Russell T Davies ever did, but what had the opportunity to be a powerful villainous force is turned to mush by the end of the episode. The Silents themselves are way underused, getting just one (totally awesome) line and appearing for a grand total of about five minutes on screen. I desperately hope to see them again, as their untapped potential to be wonderful, classic monsters is enormous.

What I hope not to see again, as I hinted in my Let's Kill Hitler review, is the Teselecta, which finally comes about as the obvious plot device it was destined to be. This is an example of Moffat making things too easy, as I called this back in Let's Kill Hitler and again at the beginning of The Wedding of River Song, when the door doesn't close behind the Doctor as he leaves the bar. It's very lazy plotting, and the Teselecta does nothing in this episode other than serve as a Deus ex Machina (Deus ex Moffata?), which is extremely annoying and lowers the stakes dramatically. Fortunately, Moffat lets us at least experience Amy without the Doctor for about two minutes in a lovely scene with a post-Byzantium River Song, but the thing ends too quickly for it to have any real worth.

But the Teselecta, which was in fairness put to good use in Let's Kill Hitler, and a bit of sloppy writing isn't nearly enough for me to give The Wedding of River Song the tongue lashing it so deserves. To get my reasoning across, I'll draw comparison to Steven Moffat's first finale, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. That story was incredibly confusing but also deeply ambitious, trying extremely hard to make us understand exactly what was going on. It has holes, but its largest problem is an excess of exposition that weighs down the pace of the story. Here's why that's a better finale than The Wedding of River Song: I'd much rather view something that wants me to understand and appreciate a coherent whole than something that breaks its own rules to make that task easier.

We've dealt with fixed points directly twice in Doctor Who. The first time, which sets precedent, was the wonderful Series 1 episode Father's Day. That story explained exactly what happens in the Who universe when a fixed point is rewritten: the Reapers come to clean it up, and they don't discriminate in their cleansing. The Waters of Mars took on the idea of the Doctor messing with a fixed point, but his change was not dramatic and, while this is a bit of a stretch, you could argue that Adelaide's suicide prevented the Reapers from coming at all. Along these rules, River's refusal to shoot the Doctor should have prompted the Reapers to come claim the Doctor, and all of his friends, for themselves. However, we instead get a brand new universe in which all of time is happening at once, Amy is James Bond, Rory is an army captain and the Doctor has a surprisingly acceptable beard. Excuse me?

Even if they threw in a throwaway line to explain this, I'd feel better about it. River tries to imply that the Doctor touched too many lives for it to be that simple, but the strong implication from the story as a whole is that rewriting a fixed point, any fixed point, was the cause of time's demise. The script even tries to explain why the Silence picks the specific spot at Lake Silencio to kill the Doctor - though it fails - so we know there wasn't an oversight. I read this as a deliberate attempt to clean up the arc in a way that seems satisfying while providing a lot of fun action and spectacle to entertain and keep the viewer busy. While it does a damn good job of that, The Wedding of River Song is the most dumbed-down episode of Doctor Who since The Stolen Earth/Journey's End, and that's saying something. Even the cliffhanger, while clever, doesn't end up meaning anything until The Name of the Doctor, by which point foreshadowing it was pointless.

With this rule-breaking in mind, The Wedding of River Song comes into sharp focus. I can't fault it for being boring, slow, poorly written or even stupid. But I can absolutely fault it for being shallow, condescending and disrespectful of the show's history. Rule-breaking and continuity errors happen all the time on Doctor Who. With a show that's been going on and off since 1963, it's sort of inevitable. But at least in new Who, the rule-breaking has always come with a written-in explanation as to how that could be so. The Wedding of River Song's blatant disregard for the rules surrounding fixed points, which are a huge theme in the series and have come up time and again regarding the Time War, is something that I cannot allow to go unsaid.

It's extremely disappointing that Steven Moffat would elect to go this route instead of trying a different way of solving the arc. But you know what? I'm not sure how the arc could have ended differently. This flaw does not completely lie with The Wedding of River Song, but with the four-story Silence arc as a whole. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon was the only story in the arc that had a chance to be great, if it didn't shoot itself in the foot so much. A Good Man Goes to War and Let's Kill Hitler all lost points for telling such a pointless serialized story. The Wedding of River Song, as the culmination, earns the same penalty.

However, this story itself is not an episode to be utterly loathed, nor is the idea of a serialized season. The real villain in all of this was a dead-end arc that had nowhere to go from the start and was solved with a flick of Moffat's magic wand and an unnecessary wedding. Moffat, acknowledging this, managed to overcompensate in Series 7 by going completely standalone with very few running themes at all, but that's for a different time. For now, understand what The Wedding of River Song is: the final grave of a stillborn story.

GRADE: C

Ranking the Stories - Series 6

  1. A Christmas Carol (A)
  2. The Girl Who Waited (A)
  3. Closing Time (A-)
  4. The Doctor's Wife (A-)
  5. The God Complex (B+)
  6. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon (B)
  7. Night Terrors (B-)
  8. Let's Kill Hitler (C+)
  9. The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People (C+)
  10. The Wedding of River Song (C)
  11. The Curse of the Black Spot (C-)
  12. A Good Man Goes to War (C-)

Ranking the Supporting Characters - Series 6

  1. Kazran Sardick - A Christmas Carol
  2. The TARDIS - The Doctor's Wife
  3. Craig Owens - Closing Time
  4. Canton Everett Delaware III - The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
  5. River Song - The Wedding of River Song
  6. Strax - A Good Man Goes to War
  7. Rita - The God Complex
  8. Alex - Night Terrors
  9. Captain Henry Avery - The Curse of the Black Spot
  10. Gibbis - The God Complex

Ranking the Villains - Series 6

  1. The Silents - The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
  2. Elliot Sardick - A Christmas Carol
  3. Melody Pond - Let's Kill Hitler
  4. House - The Doctor's Wife
  5. Jennifer's Ganger - The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People
  6. The Antibodies - Let's Kill Hitler
  7. The Handbots - The Girl Who Waited
  8. The Headless Monks - A Good Man Goes to War
  9. Madame Kovarian - A Good Man Goes to War
  10. The Minotaur - The God Complex

SERIES GRADE: B-