California Literary Review

Doctor Who Recap: ‘The Wedding of River Song’ (Season 32, Episode 13)

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October 2nd, 2011 at 11:30 am

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Still: Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song

Photo: BBC


And now, the end is here…

And so we face the final curtain. Or rather, we all wait impatiently for the Christmas special. Thankfully, this split-season malarkey has meant that we only have a few months left to go. Hurrah! I loved the opening of this episode, with the steam train running through the Gherkin and traffic jams of cars hanging from hot air balloons. It was beautifully fantastic, as was much of the episode. The plot, indeed, was equally fanciful, but somewhat less satisfying than the visuals. We all knew the Doctor wasn’t going to die; we just didn’t know how he was going to avoid it. While at the time I thoroughly enjoyed myself and found it an entertaining enough solution, subsequently I just wasn’t satisfied. There were too many loose ends, things that didn’t seem to fit with the solution, so that I was less concerned with ‘Who?’ than with ‘how?’ or ‘why?’.

Having set the scene of a world with time in chaos we are presented with the Doctor in the guise of soothsayer to Winston Churchill as Caesar, explaining why it’s always 5.02 pm and being chased by the Silence. As the story is unfolded to Churchill, so we see the Doctor (in his stetson, for ease of identification) trying to track down the Silence and the reason why he must die. In doing so he plays some ‘Live Chess’ (which, incidentally, sounds like a fantastic sport), has an Indiana Jones crypt moment, and meets up with the Tesselector again. This brings us to the point where the Doctor decides to face his death as a result of hearing that his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has died a few months previously. I’m glad I had my dad around to explain this to me because it worked really well as a motivation, but as a relative newcomer to Doctor Who (a Tennant girl, to be precise) I didn’t immediately get the reference.

Having ended up back by the lake again, we then found out how River shattered time by not shooting the Doctor. This is only one of my many problems with this episode: if it’s a fixed point in time, so fixed that it destroys time when it doesn’t happen, how did she manage not to shoot him in the first place? If, at a fixed point in time, there is still enough free will to alter the expected course, then how is it fixed? Anyway, however it happened, we end up back with Churchill and the beardy-weirdy Doctor, discovering that they are being attacked by the Silence. Enter Amy Pond in a sinister eyepatch and Rory as the faithful soldier (again), with Amy able to remember the Doctor and any number of monsters, but unable to recognise Rory because she thinks of him as some sort of stereotypical hunk. Certainly amusing and leading to some lovely drama, but not that likely, surely.

Then we get onto some of the really strange bits. Firstly, River and Amy have sent a call for help across the whole universe, but don’t seem to have any idea of what to do with the help when it gets there. No plan is put forward and they are seemingly only there to give the Doctor a warm and fuzzy feeling about how many people don’t want him dead. Secondly, the Doctor is being, quite frankly, mean to River, but then suddenly turns round and marries her. We find out later that instead of telling her his name he tells her the secret of his death, but does that mean that they aren’t really married? Does the fact that they married in a time that doesn’t now exist mean that they didn’t get married? Certainly, River’s dismissal of Amy having murdered Madame Kovarian would suggest that she sees that timeline as defunct, and yet she still regards herself as the Doctor’s wife. Is that her own wishful thinking or is she just being illogically comforting to Amy? Then the big reveal takes place: the Doctor isn’t actually dead (big surprise!), but was hiding inside the Tesselector… ummm what?

I have many issues with this point, but the main one that’s really bugging me is this: if the body that got shot by the lake was just the Tesselector, taking the form of the Doctor, how did it start to regenerate after the first couple of shots? We know that the Tesselector is a shape-shifter, but it’s just a machine and surely shouldn’t be able to take over the actual properties of the original body, therefore shouldn’t have the Timelord ability to regenerate. Plus, when it was burnt, wouldn’t it become obvious that it was a machine? You would expect that if the Silence are that desperate to see the Doctor dead they would want to check that he really was, at which point they would find out that it was all an elaborate deception and come after him again. Indeed, if he wanted to keep his non-death quiet he’s not doing a very good job, since River’s already spilt the beans to Amy and Rory, while the whole crew of the Tesselector must have known what he was up to.

Another thing I don’t understand is why the Tesselector was put at the Doctor’s disposal anyway. In ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ the crew didn’t show any inclination to help the Doctor escape his premature death, being more interested in catching Melody Pond. Now, not only have they helped the Doctor avoid his death at a fixed point in time, but they have also essentially prevented Melody Pond from becoming a murderer. What happens if there are more Tesselectors around and one of them finds River? If they caught her, they would be condemning her on incorrect evidence. Mind you, if the Doctor had managed to keep quiet he would have been doing a cold, cruel thing in letting River believe that she had killed him and in letting Amy and Rory believe he was dead.

So, I felt that this episode, which was supposed to triumphantly explain how the Doctor cheated death, was something of a disappointment in terms of the plot inconsistencies. It was enjoyable and had a lot of the witty banter we love, but that too fell flat at times; the scene when River came to see Amy after the wreck of the Byzantium felt particularly stilted and heavy. The plot was quite ingenious, especially the way in which the stories have been strung along over several series, but I wonder whether it was this, in itself, that had made them stretched and thin in places. Overall, I was left a little dissatisfied with the explanation, but despite my frustration and questions, and regardless of who the Doctor is, I just can’t get enough of him.

Doctor Who, Episode 13 Trailer

  • Michael

    I would have prefered if the Doctor who died at the shores turned out to be Flesh. THAT would have explained things nicely, and (honestly) was what most fans I think, were expecting.

  • Jean

    I totally saw that bit with the Tesselector coming.. I mean sure, it’s a shapeshifter but it does take on a lot of the original’s characteristics, e.g. accents. I think it copies everything including that which makes the person unique, so the regeneration energy kinda made sense to me. Also, having the doctor inside it seemed to allow this, when the machine touched River for example and time would attempt to right itself. I attribute that to the fact that the actual doctor was within the machine. However, I agree that the fact that the Tesselector crew allowed the doctor to make the switch did NOT make sense. Flesh would have made a whole lot more sense too.. not as complicated, you know?

  • Rachael

    Yes, I really thought that the Doctor that died would be the flesh copy, somehow reappearing from the ether and existing for a bit as the doctor. Did they manage to “rewrite a fixed point” anyway? The tesselector appearing to regenerate just doesn’t make a lot of sense…

  • JKRocks

    Rachael the Tesselector grew a motorbike out of its backside in Lets Kill Hitler. Surely it can fake a regeneration?

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