The Case For and Against The Wedding of River Song
Guest contributor Jack H and David Selby debate the Series 6 finale.
The Case For
By Jack H
The Wedding of River Song is an episode that had a very mixed reaction from fandom. Even now it is still constantly debated about and discussed. In my section of this article I will be making the case for this story and explaining why I think it is so brilliant and underrated.
Just look at the pre-titles sequence. Already we’ve had cars flying on hot air balloons, dinosaurs terrorising people in the park, Charles Dickens promoting A Christmas Carol on BBC news and Emperor Winston Churchill entering the Buckingham senate on a mammoth, accompanied by a Silurian Doctor. It’s so wonderfully mad and so, so Moffat. The idea of time splintering; it all happening at once is brilliant and inventive, and it’s a strong setting for the episode. The format of the Doctor telling Churchill about what has already happened is a great way to tell the story, it allows us a deeper insight into the Doctor’s deeper feelings and emotions as he reflects on events.
I must mention the scene where the Doctor confronts the Dalek. It’s a prime example of what makes this episode so good. In a cameo appearance, about 10 seconds long, Moffat has summed up the hate between the Doctor and the Daleks perhaps better than any other writer managed in a whole stories. An amazing scene. Seeing the Doctor try to find out about why he has to die is a great segment, it showcases lots of interesting scenarios and locations.
The tribute to Nicholas Courtney is beautifully emotional. It is fantastic that Moffat respected him enough to make the tribute so integral to the plot. It is a stark reminder that there are some things the Doctor can’t stop and his realisation that his own time is up is upsetting. The Doctor goes on a fantastic journey in this episode; the realisation of him needing to die is fantastic. Seeing the scenes from the start of the series played out again is brilliantly unreal from the Doctor’s perspective; with River in the suit. The exchange between them is heartfelt and it’s hilarious when River changes it and doesn’t kill him.
The Silence, while not being used as much as in their first appearance, still manage to be an incredibly scary and unnerving monster. Kovarian is also creepy and her presence in the episode is very chilling.
The use of all the characters in this episode is brilliant. Seeing Amy being superior to the Doctor and knowing more about the situation than him is a strong advancement in their relationship. The moment when the Doctor realises that she remembers the other world is beautiful. Another fantastic moment for Amy is when she kills Kovarian. We hadn’t seen much of her grief for not being able to bring up her daughter throughout the series so it was nice to finally see it had a lasting effect, it was a dark scene showing how much it had affected her.
A large amount of criticism of the episode is aimed at River’s character. Of course she’s not perfect though, she isn’t supposed to be. She was raised as a psychopath and that’s still lingering on her character here. People need to understand that it isn’t that Moffat ruined her character, it’s that we see a story of an incredibly flawed character becoming a hero, but we see it backwards so some people just don’t understand it. Her loving the Doctor also makes perfect sense: she has been obsessed with him for all of her childhood and a long way into adulthood. And then she meets him and realises that in the future he will love her too, the outcome is fairly obvious.
I must mention the rooftop scene. For me it’s one of the most emotional scenes in Doctor Who’s history and Alex Kingston is so good in it. The idea that she thinks that she will suffer more than everything else in the universe is so heartfelt. She is of course wrong but that’s where the emotion lies. How she believes that she is helping the Doctor by building the distress beacon and then his realisation that people have answered is a pleasant insight into how the Doctor touches so may lives.
This episode had the very important task of concluding the series long arc of how the Doctor survived his death. The revelation that he was the Teselecta was a great twist, I certainly never expected it. The cliffhanger is also brilliant with the revelation that the question is ‘Doctor who?’ being a brilliantly clever ending to the series.
The Wedding of River Song is a fantastic episode in my opinion and I think fans need to start appreciating it more. It’s got character, emotion, a fast pace, etc. everything that makes Doctor Who great.
The Case Against
By David Selby
I’m not speaking categorically as a Moffat-hater here. Whilst I disliked The Big Bang, I was generally happy with how Series 5 went. The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below were magnificent stories whilst A Christmas Carol, that year’s Christmas special, frequently comes to mind when talking about my favourite ever Doctor Who stories. But by the time The Wedding of River Song aired, I’d grown apathetic towards Moffat’s decisions as show-runner.
River Song had intrigued me. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead was a superb two-parter; shrouded in mystery and shadowed in an intriguing darkness. Moffat enjoyed teasing us throughout Series 5 about who River Song may be; providing subtle hints towards her reveal. Series 6 was damaging to this mystery. Somehow, River simply being Amy and Rory’s daughter wasn’t quite enough for me. I liked the idea of her being a psychopath raised to kill the Doctor, via the Silence’s manipulative techniques which were akin to post-hypnotic suggestion (see Day of the Moon). But Let’s Kill Hitler was a disaster. Enjoyable, yes, but a blatant misuse of some wonderfully imaginative ideas: the Teselecta, Hitler’s alternate timeline (maybe somehow led to Germany winning the war: 2011 then becomes home to an Aryan race as Hitler envisioned), and finally, River Song’s development. But humour got in the way of depth, and Moffat went for style over substance. The Wedding of River Song was his chance to redeem that: did he? Short answer: no.
The Wedding of River Song started off well, as the post-title sequence presented us with a dark and thought-provoking monologue (“Imagine you were dying. Imagine you were afraid and a long way from home and in terrible pain. And just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, you looked up and saw the face of the devil himself. Hello, Dalek”), which subsequently saw the Doctor follow the trail of the Silence, through a number of inventive characters and situations. Other than that, I can’t find much else to like. This episode isn’t all bad, but its shortcomings far outweigh its merits.
Take the ‘5:02pm’ setting: why? It only highlighted the lack of realism that The Wedding of River Song presented. Too much time was spent focusing on this superfluous alternate timeline, when the episode could have been set in similar locale to the first few scenes; somewhere dark and shadowy, and predominantly alien – it would have staged the Doctor’s confrontation with the truth about River Song, and the other characters could have remained in the side-lines. The alternate timeline simply encapsulates how I feel about this episode: overdone, unrealistic, and trying to be too clever and ostentatious.
I found the characters dreadfully superficial. Take the Doctor: if he knew the whole time about the Teselecta, why not tell River at the start, or when she’s in the spacesuit? Why not enlighten Amy and Rory at Lake Silencio before the big plan? And why not find Amy afterwards to tell her instead of waiting two years? It doesn’t exactly help me to emotionally invest in this incarnation if he’s upsetting and deceiving the characters who we (are supposed to) know and love, after all.
The dialogue was off, too, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt that. The flirting was taken to some cringe-worthy new levels and some of what was said fundamentally tore apart the Doctor and River’s relationship. Here’s another question for you: why did River suddenly love the Doctor? You don’t fall in love with someone just by reading about them and meeting them once. You get to know them; they get to know you. Steven Moffat, being married, should have understood this. I would have rather seen a whole series dedicated to the Doctor and River falling in love, progressively – even if it’s a very ‘alien’ relationship – instead of a suggested romance, which is given no actual proof.
Kovarian is also brutally misused. She fascinated me in A Good Man Goes to War, and based on her actions there, I could construct, as a guess, a rough character-profile for her. She is always the one holding the baby. She wants to take the baby from Amy. She wants the baby because she thinks the baby should be hers. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? I’d say she’s out to kill the Doctor because of personal motives. I actually re-wrote Let’s Kill Hitler with an alternate scenario where Kovarian had left the Silence and raised ‘Melody Kovarian’, telling her that she is her mother (Kovarian can’t have children), and that her father died. I’m not saying that Moffat had to follow my personal wishes for the character (I’m always happy to encourage diversity), but I was infuriated at the lack of depth and motive with her, and how she was simply abandoned after Series 6.
Finally, I move onto the resolution. It’s resourceful, but it’s a cop-out. “That most certainly is the Doctor…” states Canton Everett Delaware III in The Impossible Astronaut, “…and he is most certainly dead.”
From my understanding, the series would see this mystery pursued (as it was), and the resolution would see a way out, but a way where the Doctor is still somehow dead. That was the idea with The Impossible Astronaut – to kill off the Doctor. So essentially the conclusion makes that idea a waste of time. Furthermore, if the Doctor knew he wasn’t going to his death, what was the need to invite his friends along for the ride? The Doctor is selfish, one-sighted and downright childish for almost this whole series.
I’m sorry, but I can’t like The Wedding of River Song. It has a few decent scenes (the tragic phone-call springs to mind), but the majority of the episode is flawed in one way or another. The premise veered away from what the series was trying to achieve. To get me to understand the characters, and to appreciate their interrelationships, perhaps a better premise, without any other detrimental aspects would have been (with a better outcome than the answer we were given): why did the Doctor marry River Song?