New Who Finales in Perspective: Series 6
Mark McCullough continues the series looking back over all the New Who finales, this time with Series 6..
The finale to the sixth series of the revival was the most bonkers of the lot. Not only was it a drastically different style of story, but it had a new structure too. This was the first finale not to opt for the traditional two-part format, instead sticking with one forty-five minute outing. The result was a fast paced finale which felt fresh and unique yet still managed to do everything (and more) which was required of it.
“What happened to time?”
In a show about an alien who travels through time and space in a police box, sometimes it is nice to focus on the time aspect of the show’s soul. This is exactly what Moffat decides to do with The Wedding of River Song. The opening scenes of the episode feature Moffat, not having any boundaries of time and enjoying himself with the tools this affords him. The man has an amazing mind spewing out ideas such as: the Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill (and his mammoth), Charles Dickens’ next Christmas special, and pterodactyls in modern day London. Kudos also have to go to the production department who realised Moffat’s vision and translated it into a scrumptious visual feast making for one of the most memorable opening scenes in the entire history of the show.
Following this, the focus on time becomes more prevalent with the revelation that time itself has stopped. The question posed by the narrative is “What happened to time?” and is raised by Churchill just before the opening credits. Following this, the narrative picks up at some unquantifiable time earlier with the story of the Doctor and his final days before heading to the beach in Utah. By utilising two parallel story strands Moffat further emphasises the volatility of time within the episode whilst also providing apt distraction to prevent the viewer from working out why the Doctor and Churchill are armed.
As if this wasn’t enough timey wimey for us, one of the story strands leads the Doctor to a point first seen in the series opener. This is then changed from what we initially saw occur due to the intervention of River Song who was revealed to be the Astronaut in the dénouement of Closing Time. River’s actions ultimately lead to the story strand featuring the Doctor and Churchill. All of this is very typical Moffat style storytelling, because simple is just too simple. Although it is a testament to Moffat’s skills as a writer that something so complex becomes extremely easy to follow.
“Yes, she was there. River Song came twice!”
Within the narrative the focus is as much on River as it is about the Doctor, as you would expect given the inclusion of her name in the title. It is no surprise then that we have two different versions of the character and witness two of the most important events of her life. The first is her darkest hour where she kills the man she loves. Conversely the other major event is her marriage to the same man. The development exhibited by the character within the story is phenomenal. Chronologically the events on the beach in Utah occur for River as her next appearance after Lets Kill Hitler excluding the scene at the end of Closing Time. However the character we are first presented with is far cry from the when we last saw her. It is believable because a lot of time has passed for River between the two events; she has gone from wanting to kill the Doctor, to being fascinated and in love with him. This becomes the focus of the episode, her love for him and what that allows her to accomplish, defying time itself to resist her inevitable fate. The problem is however, the change is so drastic that it can be hard to be emotionally invested in the characters plight. I suspect that is a major aspect for determining whether someone loves this finale or hates it: their investment in River’s character.
Looking at events having seen The Day of the Doctor, there are actually many similarities which can be drawn between River here and the War Doctor. They both face impossibly difficult situations, they both rely upon a future version of themselves to show that they are forgiven and it both instances find a better way out of the situation through the help of their best friend. The big difference for River however is that she knows the impact of her actions was positive, but this is something she has to hide. The inclusion of the second version of River, chronologically after the Angel two parter of Series Five, illustrates this perfectly. In fact I would go as far as saying it adds another layer to the character particularly in re-watches of episodes where she has to hide the truth and pretend she isn’t aware what is going on. My own opinion is that this should have been the last appearance for the character as it gave her the closure she needed and told us all we needed to know about her.
“Been running all my life. Why should I stop?”
The Doctor’s characterisation is a strange one, between the start of the episode and its conclusion his stance has changed drastically. When we first join him, he is running from his fate at Lake Silencio, trying to find a way out. His quest for information sees him encounter a Dalek and extract information. This leads to a chance meeting with the Teselecta where the Doctor learns of the weakest link within the organisation that wants him dead and acts to seek it out. This takes him from a game of live chess to meet an old friend who is able to give him the information he needs. Unsurprisingly this does not convince the Doctor to change his attitude. Already aware of the fact that he is on a farewell tour, we see him attempt to do with the Brigadier what the previous episode showcased with Craig.
What happens next is arguably one of the most tragic scenes in the history of the show. The news of the Brigadier’s death was delivered very simply, over a phone call. The true pathos comes from the Doctor’s reaction; it is the catalyst for his acceptance of his own fate. But it’s more than that, in a way it is death dealing him a subtle reminder that you can run and run, but you’ll never get away. This is somewhat ironic given his claim immediately earlier that Time had never laid a glove on him. The line of dialogue: “It was very peaceful. He talked a lot about you, if that’s any comfort. Always made us pour an extra brandy in case you came round one of these days.” Just breaks my heart, and you can see that it has a profound impact on the Doctor too. It is my belief that the realisation that he allowed the Brigadier to die without seeing his friend let the Doctor to decide that he didn’t have to face Utah and his death alone. From this point on the Doctor was willing to accept his fate, until he realised that there could be a clever out, which he gratefully took.
“Oh, they’re flirting. Do I have to watch this?”
Sadly within the episode the main antagonist Madame Kovarian was brutally underused serving mostly as a plot device rather than a proper villain. For what little role the character actually has within the series, Francis Barber excels making the role her own. The tone in her voice as she appeals to Amy’s better nature never fails to send shivers down my spine. Unfortunately I don’t see much point in her presence in this episode other than to present Amy with the character defining moment where she chooses to kill her. It appears this moment had a somewhat lasting effect on her character as we see her refuse to advocate death in A Town Called Mercy.
Thankfully for what Kovarian lacked, the Silence made up for as they proved to be a creepy and threatening enemy. I’ll admit that on initial broadcast I was not astute enough to pick up on the clues that they were about to appear during the Doctor and Churchill’s conversation, so I that that was quite well done. I’m sure I’ve said in previous articles how much I love the Silence, so this section is probably a tad biased. I must say I absolutely love the fact that they are willing to let themselves be ‘captured’ to get to where they need to be. It cements their position for me as the shows smartest and most manipulative monsters.
The Wedding of River Song was a small scale character driven finale set against a backdrop of bonkers universe which provided the scale which we viewers usually associate with a finale. Due to its nature as a character piece, it has the potential to be more divisive than its predecessor and I have witnessed a somewhat Marmite reception towards it. As previously mentioned I think your enjoyment of it will probably hinge on your opinion of River Song. From my own personal experience anytime I have watched it as part of a marathon I haven’t liked it, however upon viewing it in isolation (especially for this article) I have found it to be surprisingly excellent. To conclude, it’s bold, it’s brilliant, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The following ratings were achieved by taking a sample of ten people and getting them to rate the finales by each of the five criteria assigning a rating out of ten to each. This allowed us to come up with an average for each of the categories and then an average score for the episode. Whilst ten is quite a small sample size, regression to the mean was beginning to show. The results for this finale are as follows:
- Episode Score – 7.65/10
- Finale Rating – 7.40/10
- Monster Score – 7.55/10
- Arc Resolution – 7.45/10
- Character Development – 7.60/10
This gives the episode an average score of: 7.53/10. This means that the leader board now looks like this:
- Series 1 – 9.40/10
- Series 3 – 9.05/10
- Series 5 – 8.41/10
- Series 4 – 8.37/10
- Series 6 – 7.53/10
- Series 2 – 7.53/10