TV Recap: Doctor Who – The Wedding of River Song
Season 6, Episode 13
By Edwin Davies
September 3, 2012
Very oblique, as most of the mythology surrounding The Silence has been, but it's enough to spook The Doctor into shirking his responsibilities and going on his farewell tour, trying to put off the inevitable because, well, he has a time machine, so if he chooses not to arrive at the time and place of his death then he doesn't have to. This comes to a screeching halt when he tries to phone Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, only to be informed that he has died. (This also doubled as a lovely tribute to Nicholas Courtney, the actor who played the Brigadier in the original series and who passed away in February.) Realising that everything ends, he heads to the lake, prepares to face his fate, sees that it is a young version of River Song in the Impossible Astronaut suit, prepares to die and...doesn't. River stops herself from killing The Doctor, and in doing so causes time to collapse in on itself, creating the version of the London we saw at the beginning, a place in which all of history is happening at once.
This is all pretty dense stuff, but like the best of Moffat's work, it balanced its density with a sprightliness that prevented it from getting too bogged down in the details, instead revelling in the giddiness of the world he had created. Once it was established that the alternative world only exists because The Doctor is alive, and therefore the only way he can die is if he meets River Song and convinces her to kill him, the episode sets up an interesting examination of what it means to be noble and heroic. Not only must The Doctor make the ultimate sacrifice to save the universe, but River must also consent to killing the man she loves most in the world, which she eventually does after a hasty marriage ceremony overseen by River's parents, Amy and Rory.
Oh yeah, Amy and Rory came back (this was a packed episode) and they got to strut around wearing cool black outfits and killing The Silence, who were also back and, as ever, were incredibly creepy. Their involvement in the story felt somewhat rushed, but that's only because the episode itself was barrelling along at such a pace by that point, building up to the crucial moment in which The Doctor must choose to live or die, that I didn't really notice. Like the best Doctor Who episodes, "The Wedding of River Song" swept me away on a rush of pure fun and adrenaline that is rare in television.
Ultimately, after sharing their first kiss as man and wife (or whatever the Time Lord equivalent term is) they are placed back on the side of Lake Silencio, Utah, and River kills The Doctor...or does she? No, obviously. Turns out that The Doctor made a deal with the Teselecta (the rubbish shapeshifting robot from earlier in the season) so that they would take his place; A Doctor would die on the side of that lake, but not The Doctor. After a scene in which a time traveling River Song informs her mother and father that The Doctor is still alive, we see The Doctor talk to Dorium Maldovar, the blue-skinned merchant who had told him of The Silence's prophesy at the start of the episode. He says that he had to fake his death because he had gotten "too big, too loud", and that it's now time for him to step back into the shadows.
It's hard not to view that scene as Moffat stating his feelings about the show and its future. Dorium says that the question that must never be answered is "Doctor, Who?" which can be read as meaning that The Doctor is going to have to make a choice that will determine what kind of person he is, but it also speaks of an identity crisis within the show itself. Perhaps the show has become too big and loud, too dependent on big story arcs and less focused on telling small, interesting stories. It still does them, and it does them well, but maybe placing The Doctor in a situation where he has to work in a more secretive manner is Moffat's way of re-centering the show, making it less about spectacle and more about story and character.
Who knows? There is still the matter of The Silence's prophesy to deal with - which, with its talk about the Fall of the Eleventh, sounds like it won't occur until Matt Smith leaves the show - but I'm hoping that it will be put on the backburner and we'll get more episodes that work as individual capsules. Even though this season felt awkward and uneven, there were some great standalone episodes along the way. "The Doctor's Wife", "The Girl Who Waited" and "The God Complex" were really terrific hours of television that showed what the show can be at its best. I hope that speech is an acknowledgement that Doctor Who, at heart, is a show about interesting small stories and not grand narratives.
I also hope that the Christmas special this year doesn't completely suck balls.
Season rating: 7/10