Monday, 18 August 2014

The Wedding of River Song written by Steven Moffat and directed by Jeremy Webb

This story in a nutshell: Time has gone batty because the Doctor hasn’t died…

Geeky Hero: The Doctor is even worshipping himself these days by calling himself the ‘face of the devil’ to a Dalek. Get over yourself man and get on with your adventures. I was unsure about the Doctor’s willingness to just roll over and let himself die in Closing Time and was really happy to see that his fighting spirit had returned here. The Monks don’t want to kill the Doctor; they just don’t want him alive because he is a man with a long and dangerous past. It transpires that the Silence wanted to kill the Doctor because at some point the question of his name will be asked. Big deal. Ace asked that question in Silver Nemesis and the universe didn’t end. The series did but the universe didn’t. Are we heading for a big revelation at the 50th Anniversary that answers the question of Doctor Who? If so, it could be another anchor point in the shows mythology like revealing The Time Lords at the climax of The War Games. Alternatively it could completely demystify the character and prove that the mystery surrounding his past on Gallifrey really was never worth hearing. Dangerous business but the show hasn’t remained at the top of its game for this long by playing safe. If he had to die he didn’t have to die alone which explains why he invited his friends to watch him croak it. It makes perfect sense that the Doctor as the Tesselecta would forgive River for murdering him because she isn’t in control of the spacesuit but do you know what? I think even if it had been him he would have forgiven her anyway – I know the Doctor and he isn’t the sort of person who would go to his death baring a grudge (that's why Tennant railing at his death in The End of Time was such a unique aberration). Maybe the Doctor does have a degree of modesty left because he finds the idea that River would send out a distress beacon to the people of the universe to aid him stupid and that it wouldn’t mean anything to anybody. He’s decided that the universe is better off without him but the universe doesn’t agree – this is veering dangerously close to the sort of hero worship that Davies employed (‘I can’t let you die without knowing that you are loved!’ - oh vomit) but at least it isn’t as bad as the uncomfortable mythologising of the character in A Good Man Goes to War. However the big coup for this episode and of series six in general (because this is clearly where the series has been heading) is the Doctor’s realisation that he has been far too noisy of late, too omnipresent and approaching something that people consider to be a benevolent God. Now the universe thinks that he is dead he can go back to his simple life of adventuring and keep his head down. I was literally leaping around my front room as he made this decision and Simon was quietly phoning the nearest asylum from the sofa. About bloody time. Although I do have to say Moffat wouldn't have to state that he is dialling back so much if he hadn't tried to make his legend too colossal.

Scots Tart: I genuinely feel that where Amy and Rory have been left now is the perfect stopping off point for their characters. I didn’t warm to her at all in her first series but given the torture she has been through this year I couldn’t help but change my opinion sightly. I’m still not sure about her being satisfied with her baby growing up with mercenaries but then I guess she did grow up with her daughter in a perverse way (Mels, try not to think about it too hard or you’ll give yourself a hernia). Dropping Amy and Rory off and giving them a house and a car so they are safe and settled is just about the perfect ending and with the two parents and their daughter reunited at the climax of this tale and laughing together at the Doctor’s ingenious escape, this could happily be the last time we see any of them. What else can be done with Amy? She’s met the Doctor, waited for him, met him again, waited for him again, met him again, had the culture shock of the TARDIS, tried to get in the Doctor’s knickers, travelled with her husband, lost her husband from all time and space, got him back again, got married, regained her parents, had a baby, lost her baby, grew up with her baby, discovered who her baby is, grown old waiting for the Doctor and Rory to save her, prevented that and finally been forced to leave the TARDIS to keep her safe. Taking the character beyond all this madness would feel like treading water which parts of The Wedding of River Song already does since it features a parallel Amy who has once again lost her husband (this is getting sloppy now Amy - look down the back of the sofa, that’s where things usually are). Amy has felt much more interesting this year (whereas last year she felt like a backstabbing wench) but she’s pretty much been done to death and I feel it is now time to try out a new dynamic with the 11th Doctor. Her murder of Madame Kovarian does surprise but it leaves me feeling kind of ambivalent towards the character again – perhaps River would have turned out to be a psychopath anyway? Amy realising that the Doctor is her son in law is just about the perfect closing line she could have asked for.

Loyal Roman: The man who dies and dies again, as the Silence call him. Poor sod. Is that how is going to be remembered?

The Missus: Hell in High Heels is how the Doctor describes River. So it turns out that the climactic face off that we saw in The Impossible Astronaut was in fact a piece of theatre masterfully played by both the Doctor and River – him as the Tesselecta and her knowing full well that she will drain the suit of power. River breaks down at the thought of having to murder the Doctor and cannot let him go without letting him know that nobody in the universe loves him more than she does. It's shocking to think that the scene in the garden is the first time that we get to witness a proper conversation between Amy and River as mother and daughter and the chemistry between them is completely different. It's worth noting that so much time and energy in series five and six has gone into trying to convince the audience that River has a dark side and tried to murder the Doctor (she did, temporarily, but not at the point that you are told she does) when in fact she is forced into a suit which doesn't give her any choice. Couldn't the Silence have used anybody?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He always made us pour an extra brandy in case you came round one of these days.’
‘My friends have always been the best of me.’
‘She would like to go out with you for texting and scones.’
‘You embarrass me!’

The Good:
· I have a very good friend who has thoroughly enjoyed the show since it has been back on the air (the lure of Chris Eccleston as the Doctor was too much for her to resist) and we have had many wonderful chats about the show, especially in the last year with the tangled web of River Song’s timeline to unthread and comprehend. One opinion of hers is that the show cannot match the production values of American sci-fi (I think she said it has a ‘Doctor Who look’) but I cannot disagree with that more if I tried. What strikes me about American sci-fi in general is that there are standard sets that the show takes place in but Doctor Who conjures up a dazzling new environment every single week. As for the effects I think that this show is at the cutting edge of CGI with some stunning landscapes and monsters being brought to life. What I am leading to is the beginning of this episode which opens with a stunning madcap landscape that sees steam trains screaming out of the gherkin in London, cars flying in the sky and pterodactyls screaming overhead and swooping down to steal food from children looks spectacular. I wouldn’t expect better from a movie.
· Lovely details in the universe crunched into one time period – a Roman waiting at traffic lights, The War of the Roses enters its second year, Charles Dickens rewriting A Christmas Carol to fit the current temporal insanity (a superb cameo by Simon Callow), the Buckingham Senate and Silurian Doctors.
· It's always a pleasure to see Ian McNiece back as Winston Churchill and I have heard people complain about his constant reappearances but each time there has been a perfectly rational explanation for it and it gives the series a pleasing sense of continuity. He’s such a charming actor you know you are in for some delightful scenes.
· The scuttling, carnivorous piranha skulls stripping a man of his flesh is such a gloriously old school bit of camp menace that I fell instantly in love with it. For such an absurd concept they sends a chill down the spine. It’s a lovely detail to add to the legacy of the Headless Monks, beheading their victims alive and turning their skulls into vicious little vermin.
· The tribute to Nicholas Courtney’s death within the show really took my by surprise and I must have audibly sighed because Simon took my hand and squeezed it! Its beautifully done with the Doctor declaring that time has never laid a glove on him and receiving the devastating news that the Brigadier has slipped away in bed. Smith looks physically pained by the news and then a sense of euphoria sweeps over him. It’s like a universe without the Brigadier is not one that he wants to live in and he suddenly declares that he is ready to face his death. Never before has their relationship been felt so keenly and I have never wanted to hug the Doctor more than at that moment.
· We have been learning about fixed points in time and space since The Fires of Pompeii (The Waters of Mars is another great example) - actually even though they weren’t described as such the concept has been in place ever since The Aztecs when the Doctor growled ‘You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!’ It is nice to finally see the consequences if you do alter a fixed point in time – it stops and every time period exists at the same time. Absolute madness. No wonder the first Doctor sounded so furious.
· The Silence are one of the most ghoulish looking Doctor Who monsters and having visited the Doctor Who Experience in London I can report they are just as creepy in the flesh. That horrible sucking noise chills my blood and their screaming, puckered faces are enough to give me nightmares. They are easily the best monster to come out series six.
· Love the cheeky and playful version of the already cheeky and playful Eleventh Doctor’s theme when he spots the tributes to the ‘Raggedy Doctor’ in Amelia’s train cart.
· The episode very cleverly fools you into thinking the Doctor is willing to be killed and force the issue by touching River and hopping back to Lake Silencia. Bring forth the hero worship as we all admire him for sacrificing his life to put things back on track. Given the truth of who he is it is probably the most manipulative Moffatt has ever been and the most devious and I really admire him for that.
· ‘Tick-Tock goes the clock now prison waits for River…’ – everything as far back as The Time of Angels has now been explained satisfactorily in her timeline. The Doctor was the ‘greatest man she has ever known’ that River killed and the reason she is imprisoned in a Storm Cage. Very nicely done, if protracted.
· Hands up time – I didn’t guess that the Doctor was the Tesselecta the whole time even though it was staring me in the face. Neither did Simon. And whilst it was a cheat (and as a consequence so was the whole arc) it was still a surprise.

The Bad:
· One thing that really bugs me these days is that the show is a complete sell out when it comes to the episode titles. Moffat has gone on record himself saying that there are better titles for the episodes but going for ratings drawers like The Doctor’s Wife, Lets Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song attracts more people to the show. Is that the sort of legacy you want? Not one of integrity but one of popularity? I understand this approach even if I don’t like it and I think it’s a shame because there would be some fantastic alternative titles to these episodes. Looking at the episode listing for series six is like looking at the chapters in a soap opera.
· The LIVE CHESS sequence is brilliantly realised and looks grungy and dangerous…wasted on one scene. I bet there could be an awesome adventure set in that location.
· Is Dorium Maldovar as a head in a box a step too far? I love the actor and the character (what little we have seen of him) but I don’t know if we are straying into parody now. Mind you the ‘how bad are my injuries?’ gag is brilliant. The head in the box feels gratuitously out of place during the tribute to the Brigadier.
· ‘What’s so dangerous about my future?’ ‘At the fields of Trensalor, at the fall of the Eleventh…’ – this arc isn’t even over yet and Moffat is already preparing for the next. I hope this isn’t more false promises because we were guaranteed to witness the Doctor’s greatest fall at Demons Run (which we didn’t by a long shot) and then we were also promised his death (again false). ‘The fall of the Eleventh’ – sounds like another dreary death threat. Which it was. He's not even the eleventh Doctor, so the whole myth is nonsensical. It must have been written by a Doctor Who fan before he watched Day of the Doctor.
· Were the new scenes at Lake Silencia filmed during the American sojourn because they look like fixed close ups with unconvincing lake backdrops?
· ‘And I turned around and they were all wearing eye patches!’ – the tribute scene was lovely but once again we are plunging off a cliff into the parody universe.
· A powerful monster tries to put the Doctor out of the way as the universe comes to an end, Amy forgets all about Rory and River turns up to save the day. Comparisons with The Big Bang are fair but in context it feels completely different.
· Madame Kovarian has been one of the highlights of this year even though she has had precious little screen time. What a pity then that she should once again be reduced to a cameo and dispatched without much thought. We were promised great things with this character but they all came to nothing. I do hope we get to see her again somehow because Frances Barber is so good in the role.
· I still don’t understand why the Doctor marries River. Or whatever that pathetic excuse for a ceremony was. Was it just to give this episode its naff title?
· If you are really pernickety you could pull the logic, the continuity and the surprises of this story to pieces. But lets leave that to the people who care about such things… Mind you I have just written 3500 words on this episode but considering the fact that I reasonably enjoyed it I hope I shall be forgiven.

Should Doctor Who have such a heavily structured arc playing out over a season? Does the show lose some of its identity when telling one long story rather than individual ones? Or does the show feel out of date when telling standalone adventures without some over arcing momentum to keep viewers watching? All very good questions and I’m not sure where I fit in to it all. Series six has been such an oddity for me. At times it has touched on absolute genius (The Doctor’s Wife) and at others it has felt as if it is losing its magic because it wants to be flashy/geewhizz/smart all the time and doesn’t give itself time to breath and tell stories that allow its performers to act (because anybody can act like a smart ass). There have been some knock out shocks along the way (the end of A Good Man Goes to War and the River twist in Let's Kill Hitler certainly qualify) and the sense that the show was building to something momentous, even if the former trick you into thinking that the episodes you have been watching something more impressive than in reality and the latter is paid off disappointingly. I’m not sure that with this episode they pulled off what Moffat were promising, lots of ambition and no satisfying place to take it. Simon, on the other hand, has found himself drifting away from the series in the standalone episodes (he couldn’t bear Night Terrors or Closing Time) but was on the edge of his seat during the arc pieces (he loved the opening two parter, the middle two parter and this episode). I had the opposite effect finding the Steven Moffat scripts my least favourite of the year and wishing the show would wrap the arc so it can get on with telling good stories as it has done week in week out for over 40 years. I find that the arcs were just about perfect during Davies time with emphasis on the running storylines woven into the standalone adventures but not so much that they dominate them (the bees, the planets disappearing and Doctor/Donna were all great examples in series four). Moffat’s stories written during the Davies era are my favourites of his (the Angel two parter is the only exception) and rather than focussing on telling a good story he is far more interested in hopping about all over the place, telling non linear narratives, throwing away inspired concepts on one scene wonders and being a bit too smart (and by that I mean stylish rather than intelligent) for his own good. He’s a fantastic storyteller but seems to have gotten it into his head that a story cannot be told unless it encompasses hundreds of locations, time periods and lots cocky dialogue. Every one of his stories has stand out moments but I don’t think a single one holds together as a piece of storytelling. Whoops, I have gone well off tangent. My point is that there is so much detail that you have to keep up with in season six that if you miss one of the pivotal episodes you are pretty much screwed. There are rapid clips at the beginning of this episode trying to keep you up to speed but they go past so quickly you’ll give yourself a headache trying to take in a years worth of plot in a minute). It;s unfair on those who want to dip in and out of the series. I know plenty of people who gave up this year (hardcore fans and casual viewers) simply because the show became too unwieldy to handle and that’s a shame because there is good stuff in here. I don’t want to rant because I don’t think Doctor Who has ever looked as good as it has this year and with Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill giving stand out performances (in some places despite the material) but I just feel that the focus now needs to be on good old fashioned storytelling (some decent historicals would be nice) and less of the an obsession with the Doctor (whether that's his death or turning him into some dark avenger). Judging by the Doctor’s comments at the end of this episode (which I really appreciated) I thought that might be the case. Oh what a fool I was.

The Shallow Bit: The Doctor does look hot in that hat Simon, you’re right. The beard on the other hand is a definite no-no. And the hippy hair has to go too.

Result: What a curious beast The Wedding of River Song is (hate that title!) because it fails to be the climactic finale that was promised but it still manages to tell a reasonably enjoyable story. I remember a time when all a season finale had to be was an entertaining story so it doesn’t do anything wrong on that score but considering what we have been promised over an entire season I can understand if people found this…anti climactic. Although you have to remain alert this is a very nicely structured piece with the Doctor relaying his story to Churchill through its first half until we reach the point where all of time stops, which paradoxically kick starts our story from the point of the Doctor’s death and its aftermath. Am I making sense? Try watching the episode then! As usual Moffat is juggling 400 ideas and has seemed to have taken a gentle dose of mind altering drugs before sitting down at the keyboard but this time we are talking about the Doctor’s death (or what was supposed to be the Doctor’s death) and if weird shit didn’t coalesce around his demise it would feel as though the universe had shrugged away our hero. Besides, it is at least entertaining weird shit with some startling imagery (a steam train heading into a pyramid adorned with AREA 51 on a sun kissed desert) and imaginative world building. This is pretty much the epitome of Moffat insanity with him getting so many things spot on (goodbye Brigadier) and just as many things wrong (more promises he can't keep as we head into the 50th anniversary year) but on the whole providing a colourful and creative, if subjectively flawed, finale. Let the madness end now though and lets get back to some good drama: 6/10


Anonymous said...

Speaking of getting back to good drama - are you ever going to complete your 'top 50'? Or review 'Web of Fear' and 'Inferno'? I keep checking, but now it's more in hope than expectation.

Richard C. Lambert said...

· I have a very good friend who has thoroughly enjoyed the show since it has been back on the air (the lure of Chris Eccleston as the Doctor was too much for her to resist) and we have had many wonderful chats about the show, father daughter wedding songs

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David Pirtle said...

Entertaining anticlimax is a pretty good way to sum up this halfway-decent episode. The most disappointing thing about it though is that, combined with The God Complex, this would have made a fine exit for The Pond Family, yet their exit ends up getting dragged out over another half-season.