The Wedding of River Song ★★★★

Is the hectic conclusion to the Doctor/ River/Silence saga truly satisfying or just cleverly behaving as though it is?

Doctor Who Wedding 2011

Story 224

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Series 6 – Episode 13

“I just told you my name. Now, there you go, River Song, Melody Pond. You’re the woman who married me – and wife, I have a request” – the Doctor

First UK transmission
Saturday 1 October 2011

Storyline
The Doctor’s appointment with death at Lake Silencio is looming, but within the astronaut suit River Song now discharges her weaponry, causing a maelstrom in time. It’s as if all of history is happening at once. The Time Lord’s friends have captured Madame Kovarian and many of the Silence and sealed them inside a pyramid at Giza. The Doctor and River seem to have a wedding, but the Time Lord has replaced himself with a Teselecta. He intends to pretend to the universe that he is indeed dead and lead a quieter life. But Dorium Maldovar warns that an even greater threat lies ahead, when the question will be asked that he’s been running from his entire life: “Doctor…who?”

Production
November 2010 at Lake Powell, Arizona, USA. April 2011 at Hensol Castle; Mir Steel, Newport; Cardiff City Hall; Dyffryn Garden, St Nicholas; Bute Park, Cardiff; Archer Road, Penarth; Upper Boat Studios.

Cast
The Doctor – Matt Smith
Amy Pond – Karen Gillan
Rory Williams – Arthur Darvill
River Song – Alex Kingston
Madame Kovarian – Frances Barber
Dorium Maldovar – Simon Fisher-Becker
Emperor Winston Churchill – Ian McNeice
Dr Malohkeh – Richard Hope
The Silent – Marnix van den Broeke
Voice of the Dalek – Nicholas Briggs
Charles Dickens – Simon Callow
As herself – Sian Williams

As himself – Bill Turnbull
Newsreader – Meredith Vieira
Gideon Vandaleur – Niall Greig Fulton
Barman – Sean Buckley
Gantok – Rondo Haxton (Mark Gatiss)
Dr Kent – Emma Campbell-Jones
Nurse – Katharine Burford
Carter – Richard Dillane
Canton Delaware – William Morgan Sheppard

Crew
Writer – Steven Moffat
Director – Jeremy Webb
Producer – Marcus Wilson
Designer – Michael Pickwoad
Music – Murray Gold
Executive producers – Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
Just as this sixth series began with a dedication to Elisabeth Sladen, so it concludes with a homage to that other giant of Doctor Who, Nicholas Courtney, who’d died two months before her in 2011.

A long way into the story, and completely out of the blue, the Doctor gets a phone call informing him that “Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart has passed away”. The reference will be lost on many viewers – the Brig having been shamefully neglected by 21st-century Who – but it’s piercingly moving for long-term fans who, like me, have adored that character since the 1960s.

As CO of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, he became the Time Lord’s staunchest ally, and the 11th Doctor absorbs the news of his death in glum silence, just as he’s preparing for his own demise. It’s a beautifully judged moment from Steven Moffat – and it’s no coincidence either that almost everyone in this finale ends up wearing an eye-patch (or “eye-drive”, which enables humans to remember any contact with the Silence). One of Courtney’s well-worn anecdotes from his time on Doctor Who was all about eye-patches!

You might feel you need two eye-drives while watching The Wedding of River Song. Are you swept along by the dizzying pace and storytelling gall or left behind, frustrated, gasping for logical explanations? The notion of “all of history happening at once” sets up a lot of fun: pterodactyls attacking swotty kids, Dickens on BBC Breakfast… But why then, you may wonder, isn’t Winston Churchill competing for power alongside William the Conqueror, Elizabeth I and, erm, David Cameron?

More importantly, is the conclusion to the Doctor/River/Silence saga truly satisfying or just rather cleverly behaving as though it is? Any rational mind must question why the Silence hatched such a preposterous scheme to dispose of the Time Lord – grooming Amy’s child…bunging her in an astronaut suit…in a lake in the middle of nowhere…

Although I enjoyed Frances Barber’s juicy performance – almost as much as she did – I’m none the wiser as to who Madame Kovarian was. And how did she, the Silence and River flit so freely between 1969, 2011 and the 52nd century, where River attained her doctorate? At last we’ve witnessed River becoming the Doctor’s wife – or, at least, a Doctor’s wife – but when does she find out his real name (as suggested in her 2008 debut story)?

Of course, no one really believed that the Doctor was going to die. In a season packed with duplicates, many viewers might have guessed that a Flesh Doctor or the Teselecta (from Let’s Kill Hitler) could come into play. But if you go back and study The Impossible Astronaut, the impostor we’re now told was at Lake Silencio was far too convincingly in character as the 11th Doctor. After being zapped, he even started to exude that familiar regenerative aura. How the hell could a robotic Teselecta accomplish that? In truth, it’s a bit of a con.

It also seems an act of immense cruelty that the Doctor invited his friends to witness his “death”, but then he does want the world, the universe, to believe that he has been eliminated: “I got too big, too noisy.” And the finale’s punchline is spine-tingling.

Blue-faced Dorium Maldovar reveals that “the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight” is all about our hero. It’s “the question you’ve been running from all your life” – a mystery as old as the series itself. “Doctor who?” booms Dorium at the very end, as the Time Lord vanishes into obscurity. “DOCTOR WHO!?”

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And thus Steven Moffat is once more pressing a reset button. He said in April 2011, “We’re putting the Who? back into the Doctor.” I’m pleased at the notion of less Last Gallifreyan grandstanding, and the Doctor playing on a smaller stage like it was in the old days.