The Wedding of River Song (Doctor Who series 6, episode 13)

[A revised and improved version of this essay appears in my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]

And so we come to the end of Doctor Who series 6.  So many questions to answer, so much ground to cover, so many ideas to tie together.  Were they answered?  Was it covered?  Were they integrated?  Will this so-called review consist entirely of questions?

Read on after the break.  Needless to say, spoilers follow!

You could characterise Moffat’s work as Doctor Who show-runner as a constant surfing on the very edge of the possible.  It’s beyond question that he’s given us a much denser, faster-moving Who than ever before; and — most important — a Who that is richer in ideas.  The main arc of series 6 has included an at-times bewildering array of concepts, including more time-travel paradoxes than you can shake a stick at.  There are writers who you feel safe with — you know what you’re going to get from a West Wing or Frasier episode — and then there are the writers who might do anything.  Joss Whedon is one; Moffat is another.

When Moffat’s ideas work (which is more often than not), they fly.  Up to the start of this season, it’s been unquestionable that half a dozen or more of the best ten New Who stories have been his.  (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances; The Girl in the Fireplace; Blink; Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead; The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone; The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang; A Christmas Carol.  Candidates by other writers: Dalek, Father’s Day, Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, Human Nature/The Family of Blood; Midnight; The Lodger.  Just so you know).

But a strange thing has happened as I’ve watched the four pre-Wedding Moffat episodes this year.  After each of The Impossible Astronaut, Day of the Moon, A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler, I’ve found myself feeling only guardedly positive.  Positive, yes; I had a lot of good things to say about all of those episodes.  And yet they posed so many questions, and answered so few, that I found myself always reserving judgement — thinking “well, we’ll know how good it was when we’ve seen the next one”.  Delayed gratification is all very well, but it seems to have reached a point where no one episode makes sense alone — not just because you need to know what came before, but also what is going to come after, before you can form a coherent view of its events.

There have been times when I’ve wondered whether it’s getting to be too much work; but then the episodes in question have been so fascinating, and so funny, and so dramatic, that it’s been easy to look straight past the complexities — at least in the short term — and just enjoy the ride.  But the problem with that approach is that the episodes are writing cheques that the series finale needs to be able to cash.  It’s a tall order.

And the end of series 5, I felt that The Big Bang absolutely pulled it off — it answered most of the questions, and those that it left unanswered had the feel of next-series teasers rather than overlooked details.  Better still, it included very clever moments like the explanation of why the Doctor got his jacket back in the middle of Flesh and Stone — a true Mind Blown moment.  But it’s interesting to think about how Moffat did that.  When you’re learning to ski, one of the hardest lessons to absorb is that you need to point your skis downhill because that gives you much more control than staying side-on and skiing across the hill.  Full Speed Ahead And Damn The Horses turns out to be the best way to ski, and that’s the approach that the Grand Moff took in The Big Bang — starting out not by explaining the mysteries accumulated in previous episodes, but by piling on more mysteries.  Most notably, what the heck was Amy doing inside the Pandorica rather than the Doctor?  That was maybe the single most startling What The Heck?! moment of TV I’ve ever seen.

So The Big Bang worked, absolutely.

But then in A Good Man Goes to War, Moffat pulled the same point-the-skis-downhill manoeuvre by introducing a whole nother bunch of concepts — the Future Church now opposed to the Doctor instead of allied with him, the Headless Monks, the Sontaran nurse, the Silurian detective, The Pirate That No-One Really Wanted To See Again, and much, much more.  Again, it worked; but again, largely on sheer exuberance.  And, unlike The Big Bang, it left just as many open questions behind it as it resolved.  So it was satisfying as a mid-series semi-finale, if you will, but wouldn’t have done as the series finale.

Which finally brings us to The Wedding.  Just as a reminder (from the last post), we wanted to know 1. why the Doctor had to die; 2. why River had to be the one to do it; 3. why she had to do it in the form of an Impossible Astronaut; 4. why there was a Silent there; 5. why Present-Day River missed Old River with five shots from point-blank range; 6. why she said “of course not” after missing; 7. what the Doctor and the Astronaut said to each other; 8. how the Doctor could avoid death when Canton told us “That most certainly is the Doctor. And he is most certainly dead”; and 9. what is the “first question” that the Silence believe must never be asked.

Well.  We got answers to #1 (it’s a fixed point in time), #7 (we heard the conversation this time), #8 (it turns out it was a duplicate, and Canton was lying or mistaken), and #9.  No joy with the other five.  And these don’t seem to be the kinds of questions that will roll over into the next season.  It looks to me like they’ve just been dropped on the floor.

“… Of course not.”

And this is a tragedy not only because it makes Wedding inadequate but because it also rewrites the earlier episodes and makes them less than they were.  There’s no question that the astronaut, the conversation by the lake, and the death of the Doctor were iconic images and memorable moments.  But what do they mean?, we all asked ourselves at the time.  Turns out, they mean nothing.  It might just as well have been Time-Grabbed Rory on a hang-glider, with the Lead Piping, in the Conservatory.  River’s missed shots and “of course not” were fascinating.  Now they appear to have been merely random.

So if I seem very negative about Wedding, I think that is the main reason: because its failure echoes back in time and lessens earlier episodes (a suitably timey-wimey phenomenon in itself).  It wasn’t just a lesser episode, it made the whole series a lesser series.

It saddens me because I thought Moffat had A Plan that would tie it all together and make it all make sense.  One of the great things about The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Moff’s first New Who story, was that it all made perfect sense in story-internal terms.  The strange and disturbing behaviour and abilities of the eponymous child really did follow reasonably from their cause; and it was a cause we were given all the necessary clues to guess if we were clever enough.  I would have said that tight, coherent plotting was one of Moffat’s greatest strengths — it’s certainly the main reason I was so delighted when I heard that he was to be Russell T. Davies’ successor.

It just felt … careless.  To pick one example, we were told very clearly back in Let’s Kill Hitler (by the teselecta robot) that “The Silence is not a species; it is a religious order or movement. Their core belief is that silence will fall when the question is asked.”  Yet now it seems it’s fine to ask the question — the problem comes if it’s answered.  There seems to be no reason for the change.  As far as I can see, it’s just bad continuity.

So there’s all this going on — more new concepts (time has stopped, the Doctor is for some reason a sort of court-jester/prisoner, Amy and Rory are “alternative”), important ideas from earlier dropped on the ground, and no resolution that makes sense.  (The Silents’ plan to kill the Doctor is incredibly convoluted, long-winded and error-prone even by the standards of Doctor Who villains.)

All of this I could forgive if Wedding had the flamboyance, the effervescence, the sheer joie de vivre of Moffat’s better episodes — including some from this series, but most especially The Big Bang.  But where that episode sparked with energy and made me laugh out loud over and over again, The Wedding of River Song felt laboured by comparison.  Unusually for a Who episode, I can’t recall a single moment that put me in danger of falling out of my chair at the sheer Whoness of it all.

So we reach the end of this series of reviews on a very unsatisfactory note.  I didn’t intend to write anywhere near so negatively about The Wedding of River Song as I have done, but I’ve found as I’m writing that my frustrations with it have grown clearer and clearer, with no corresponding growth in affection.

A real shame.  I thought early in this series that it was shaping to be the best I’ve ever seen.  But in the end, it’s less than series 5, and possibly also less than series 1 (though still better than 2, 3 or 4, sorry David!)

Next up will be the Christmas special — a presumably stand-alone story in which I hope we will see that Moffat has not misplaced his mojo.  For next series, I now have to sadly join the ranks of those who want to see the arc de-emphasised and a return to more of an anthology show.  If this series’ arc had been made to work it would have pushed Doctor Who to a whole new level.  But, uh, it wasn’t and it didn’t.

38 responses to “The Wedding of River Song (Doctor Who series 6, episode 13)

  1. I quite liked this episode and it brought it to an almost satisfactory conclusion for me. I think that’s because your unanswered 5 questions weren’t as important for me as they were for you. I took the whole astronaut costume and it having to be River doing the killing as part of the whole complexity of nudging the almost fixed point in time into being fixed and an acknowledgment of the ingenuity of the Doctor (he could stop anything else). Also River missing and saying ‘Of course.’ just seemed to be her realising that hitting would cause a paradox.

    The Silents were everywhere, it didn’t seem that it was much of a stretch that they would send someone to witness the death of the Doctor and they would be standing well back.

    Your example of carelessness also didn’t seem like that to me. It’s not uncommon for central beliefs that groups of people have to be misinterpreted by others. It didn’t seem much of a stretch that ‘when the question is asked’ should be clarified as ‘when the question is asked during a time when it has to be answered.’

    I also did get a few times when the Whoness hit me. Particularly at the end when you found out that the question is in fact one that you knew all along and has been asked since the beginning of the ‘universe’ and never answered. And if it ever is the universe will end (or at least be pointless).

    I didn’t think it was a perfect episode, far from it. But I think that these are the reasons that I had a different reaction to you. I can certainly see why you’ve been a bit let down.

  2. I still contend that season 6 was the best ever.

    I was convinced before the finale that there had to be a cop-out. It was either that or the Doctor had to really die. As I posted in your speculation post about he last episode, the Doctor really had to not die.

    What I liked about the episode was that the “tesellecta solution” was obvious from the beginning of the previously on recap. I think that was a real honest move.

    In the end, for this season, I’m glad the Doctor survived, I’m glad we have a new enemy in the Silence, I actually think they’ll be back again next year and may become recurring, which I think would be great too.

    This season had so many really great episodes.

    I don’t think this is the end of the story for Moffat, I think he’s playing the long game. The video that was on Confidential that showed River Song’s adventures in sequence from her perspective was amazing. All the threads that were pulled together, the little hints here and there. Moffat is truly the best writer/showrunner on TV right now.

    For the now way out nature that the season progressed I am personally just fine with how it worked out. Sure the stopped time was a bit of misdirect that tiptoed around how simple the solution was, but I don’t have a problem with that.

    Battlestar Galactica really lost me when the writers who hat no idea what they were doing just started pulling plot points out of their ass. I never feel like Moffat is doing that. He clearly showed us the possible outs that existed, and he used one of them. Fine by me. He didn’t really ruin the rest of the season. Yes the impact of the Doctor’s death would have been huge, him escaping death does lessen that, but I don’t want the Doctor dead!! Contrasting the change in the characters vs. what happened with the final 5 in BSG. This is way better. The only character really lessened is the Doctor, and that’s just because the impact of his death is gone.

    From season 6 we still get: A really neat villain (the silence), Really neat villan cohorts (the headless monks an the church), a really neat friendly character (the tesselecta), more backstory for River (I love that she turned out to be Amy an Rory’s daughter), we know what kind of person the TARDIS would be. Lots of great stuff, that I think will be back in future seasons.

    I still think that season 6 was the best.

  3. 2)The silence wanted to create a fixed point in time (otherwise the Doctor could cheat and just rewrite time, as he basically does in the pandorica!), and people with time lord dna are more likely to create fixed moments
    3)The suit was designed to control someone’s actions, presumably if River broke her programming. When we discover the suit, the Doctor comments that its been programmed by the Silence (aliens), who create tech by scavaging. At the time, it was the best water proof equipment that humans had created.
    4)A silent was there to check that it happened, presumably
    5 and 6. This is a bit weird. Apparently she always knew the Doctor wasn’t dead, and lied about it. But then why did she shoot at herself? Humm. Well it could be that River cheating at the lakeside could have been a “new” event, and that the first time round the Doctor hadn’t needed to tell River everything. Or it could have been River caught up in the moment, I suppose. This is probably the biggest problem with it.

  4. Ensignexpendable, thanks for a different perspective. I was surprised at how negative my review ended up being (I rarely know what I think until I see what I say, as E. M. Forster had it) and I’m encouraged to think that when I watch it again I might revise upwards. Still, it seems to me that you are doing a lot of Moffat’s work for him in coming up with a sort of reason why it had to be the astronaut, and in covering up the ask/answer inconsistency. He should be writing that stuff right into the episode, not leaving us to speculate about what he might or might not have intended.

    And Jason, I agree that the Doctor had to somehow not die. The teselecta would have been a perfectly good solution to the problem were it not for Canton telling Amy, Rory and River explicitly that it really was the Doctor who had died. Because that wasn’t just one character talking to other characters, it was the author talking directly to the audience, telling us the ground rules. “Whatever other clever stunts I might be pulling”, Moffat was telling us through Canton, “you can trust me that this really is the Doctor”. But it wasn’t. Leave out the promise back in episode 1, and it would never have been broken.

    Kieran Martin, all your suggested solutions to my Unanswered Questions are perfectly good speculation, and just the kind of thing that I have been enjoying thinking about as the series has progressed. The problem is that now the series is over they are still unanswered. A finale has a duty to show us the solutions we’ve been grappling for throughout. And it Just. Didn’t. Do it. At this stage we shouldn’t be speculating any longer about why it was River, In The Lake, With The Spacesuit. We should be saying “Oh, so that’s why!” and telling each other how impressed we are by how it all tied together — like we did with the Doctor’s jacket in Flesh and Stone.

  5. Mike, that is true. However I did feel that these things were implied and as I mentioned I clearly wasn’t as keen for questions 2-6 to be answered explicitly as you so probably accepted them more readily.

    I’m looking forward to re-watching the entire season again as I’m sure there is more to piece together to find out what was happening this season than I’ve spotted so far.

    Also, yes, I did watch the episode twice before I could decide whether I liked it.

  6. On the question and the translation of “Silence will fall when the question is asked”, the foreshadowing of the alternative translation “Silence *must* fall …” indicate that, at some point, answering the question will be unavoidable. So far the Doctor has never answered the question, even though it has been asked numerous times over the last few decades, either by saying nothing, or by one of the peripheral characters saying “Just the Doctor”. This means that the Silence know that there will be an event at which the Doctor simply won’t be able to avoid answering. For some reason, as yet undetermined, this will be a terrible event, at least from the point of the Silence, so they need to stop him before he can answer.

    As for Canton explicitly stating “That most certainly is the Doctor, and he most certainly is dead”; I think that is simply a) to set the season off on the right note – if it IS the Doctor, what’s he going to do about it? and b) to indicate just how thoroughly the Doctor has concealed his faked death. The only people who knew that it was faked were River and the crew of the Tesselector. The Doctor then reveals himself to Dorium, and River reveals the truth to Rory and Amy. That means that there are only a handful of people who know the truth, and Canton isn’t one of them.

    The “of course not” from River is because she forgot. The Doctor tells River-in-the-suit that she is there to watch because she has to remember a murder she doesn’t remember committing. Present-Day-River’s reaction is to defend the Doctor, but she can’t hit the impossible astronaut – it would be a paradox. As she fire her final round, she realises and knows that the Doctor is fine. She remembers all the details she had forgotten when she *was* the impossible astronaut all that time ago (to her, anyway).

    My only left over question is more mundane. The Doctor is in the Tesselector the whole time the alternative non-history is happening. This means that the Tesselector can age, become gaunt, and grow a beard. It can also fake a Timelord regeneration, which is cool. Was this by design or an oversight?

  7. The mixed feelings I have about this episode are not due to any unanswered questions. The episodes spends more time on introducing new intriguing ideas than resolving older issues. Cyberpunk-roman London, Special Agent Amy Pond, Live Chess, and others I don’t remember right now. All that in barely 45 minutes and spread rather thinly. Double the time might have done it better justice.

    Also, we still don’t have an answer for one question: Why did the Doctor’s Tardis explode in The Big Bang? As far as I can tell, there haven’t been any clues, so far.

  8. I also have mixed feelings about the episode. I really hoped that it was the real Doctor who was going to be killed (and who would find some way out), but I liked the overall plot anyway. I still think that the whole series are amazing.

    The only thing I really dislike is the fact that The Doctor allies with the Teselecta. Although we got mixed signals between the episodes, I think that The Doctor should really disapprove what these peoplo do and if there is no alternative but to use their help it shouldn’t be in such a cheerful way.

    Regarding “the question” and the questions I think you are being a little too picky, except maybe for number 2. 3 and 4 are quite unimportant and easily explained. 5 and 6 she’s just faking it, as she already knows everything.

    I must admit that I had to see Confidential for those last two (thank God for that River’s ordered timeline!), but I’m sure Moffat put enough clues to sort it out, because as he says in Confidential: ” I never found River’s timeline that complicated” (well, that must be true if you can think it, but not for the rest of us mere mortals)

    The biggest problem now is that we’re going to have too much time with too little Doctor…

  9. Well, I guess I’m lucky in that I liked the episode a lot and I thought it was really awesome.

    And I say this in spite of the fact that–let’s face it–having it be a fake after all that certainty that it could not possibly be a fake is a bit lame. The only reason that didn’t bug me is because of the sheer nerve, style, and finesse with which the Doctor pulled it off. And that’s entirely true to the nature of the Doctor, so that’s cool.

    Now I know that you said that if the questions weren’t answered within the episode, then it doesn’t really count, but, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like a stab at your unanswered questions anyway:
    #2 why River had to be the one to [kill the Doctor]: Actually, this one is still fuzzy for me. We can see that there’s apparently some necessary connection that the person that kills the Doctor be a Time Lord (I guess). Perhaps the Silence (Silents?) felt that only another Time Lord could be the Doctor’s equal in wiley finesse or something.
    #3 I feel this one really has been answered, at least partially: they needed to put River in something or other to ensure that she actually did what they wanted. You could argue the suit was actually his killer. (Note the parallel between this and last season where Rory killed Amy against his will.)
    #4: This seems clear: Creation of the Fixed Point is what they’d been working towards for Who knows how long. They definitely wanted to be present to witness the event itself. Also, back in episode #1 the show was busy introducing the Silence to everyone. (And even then the Doctor was running circles around them–remember when he put a TARDIS inside the dwarf star alloy black box? But then that was sort of the real question all along: who is pulling the wool over who’s eyes? The Doctor or the Silence?
    #5: Again, it isn’t clear that she missed. Just because the suit suffered no damage and had no apparent impact points, that does not mean she missed. Really, I don’t think she missed. It’s just the space-y wase-y souped up suit suffered no damage from mere projectiles.
    #6: Again, I dispute that she missed at all. She says “of course” as in “of course that wouldn’t/couldn’t work… because it didn’t work. As the memory of what another her had done in the past suddenly rushes back into her memory. Anyway, as River says at the end of the episode, she’s always having to lie to maintain the time line. Everytime the Doctor or River says to the other one “Time can be re-written” the other one responds “Don’t you dare!”. Go watch the Forest of the Dead again sometime.

    On the ridiculously convoluted way that the Silence tried to get the Doctor killed: Yeah it was crazy. But I mean haven’t you noticed how the Doctor seems to always get out of everything? The Silence certainly have. So… they went to great lengths to ensure that whatever might happen in the past or the future and howsoever much time might get re-written–like watching patterns form and break apart and re-form in the clouds–that this one thing would be fixed: the Doctor’s death. And it nearly worked, but then it didn’t. Because it turns out that all they fixed was a moment of destruction of the Tessalector (sp) ship.

    Now for my criticisms/concerns:
    I think that what happened here was that Moffit finally got to where he’d nearly written himself into a corner. And my main concern is that, going forward, he’s not going to be able to get himself out without totally blowing what’s left of continuity. I mean we’ve already got the “time can be re-written” thing suggesting that a mere hand-wave can undo loads of whatever was supposed to have already happened.
    Now, we supposedly still have this Fixed Point where everyone thinks the Doctor died. But that should mean that for ever into the future, people still think the Doctor died there. If that perception of that moment in time ever changes for the Universe at large, then won’t that sort of erode the fixed pointedness of the fixed point?

    Shouldn’t the Tessalecta’s (really don’t know how it’s spelled) ship always show that the Doctor dies at April 22, 2011? Except now the Tessalecta crew themselves know that, that’s not true.

    And having the First Question be “Doctor Who” is, IMHO cool, but it is so very over the top that some people will surely be turned off by it.

    More-over though: If the next season tries to do anything with the fields of where-ever, that’d be bad. Because, yeah, within the show Doctor Who itself, that question must never be answered. It’s kind of like Rule #1 in the Doctor Who bible what with it being the name of the show and all. I hope the next series/season just gets back to smaller stories that don’t involve the Doctor dying.

    I think that it is the general consensus of all (including Moffit himself) that the more arc-y nature of series 6 was an experiment, but that now it’s time to get back to anthology format.

  10. Christopher Brown

    Yes, thank you, MS. I would have liked the finale more no doubt and not minded the lack of certain answers so much if they had done what we had been waiting for for OVER A YEAR and EXPLAINED WHY THE FRIKKING TARDIS EXPLODED!!!

    We are to gather that the Silence did it. But why?! According to this episode, they were the guardians of history, so why destroy it? Was it somehow to enable them to get into the universe through the cracks and establish themselves in history, if the hints from Vampires of Venice were correct? If it was, then that just raises more questions about what they are, and even then there is a huge risk that the Doctor could have failed. Perhaps it wasn’t the Silence who blew it up, but someone working against them, or who controls them somehow?

    A lack of answers might have been okay if the explosion was at least discussed or related to the events of this series, but it wasn’t even mentioned in context to the Silence’s plans *once*, and there was no indication that they would even get around to investigating it next year.

    This worries me. Throughout the past few years I, too, have had tremendous fate in Moffat, scoffed at all the accusations of his plots making no sense, and I was certain that all the head-scratchiness and long months of speculation would pay off in the end, that he was truly crafting a continuous story throughout his two seasons so far. But now, I’m not so sure. This worries me, and while previously I have had no idea where he was going, I was at least assured that there would be answers. Now I don’t even know if I’ll get them, and it is spectacularly bad judgement to leave your viewers without any follow-up for two years. For the first time, I am in doubt at Steven Moffat’s leadership over the show, and after a year and a half of sticking with him that isn’t a place I should be.

    This really should have been a two parter in expense of the pirate episode.

    On the plus sides, I thought it certainly seemed Who-ey at times, and a lot of the ideas were great. I am really glad they didn’t use the Gangers as a get-out clause, as that would have completely destroyed whatever of the Flesh Two-Parter’s moral was left after that stupid leave-the-Gangers-behind ending, and the use of the Tessellecta was actually really cool in that it *was* foreshadowed right from the beginning, with the Doctor spitting out the wine.

    Great site and reviews, by the way. Keep it up! (What do you have against Sauropod Vertebrae?)

  11. Why exactly do the Silence want to kill the Doctor? Why exactly must Silence fall when “Doctor WHO” is asked? Even though Dorium repeats it 3 flippin’ times at the end? What’s so dreadful about the Doctor’s name? Why did it have to be an astronaut suit? Yes it’s the best thing in the 60’s, but they have time travel. Why couldn’t they get something more advanced? [*] Why did it have to be River? Couldn’t they use Amy? Why didn’t we get every answer we assumed we would get in this episode?

    I honestly don’t care.

    And, it’s weird that I don’t, because I’m exactly the type of person who gets picky when it comes to TV shows. When The Big Bang aired, I was kind of dissapointed that the voice was never explained, why the TARDIS blew up on Amy’s wedding, and who exactly did it. I watched it again, knowing these answers weren’t going to come, and I loved it. Ugh… it was so much fun. When it comes to Doctor Who, I don’t mind the occasional plot hole or deus ex as long as there other fun stuff to compensate. And at least The Big Bang did MOSTLY make sense which, going by Moffat’s record, is kind of an achievement.

    And The Wedding of River Song certainly didn’t let down in terms of sheer excitement either. Freakin’ Pterodactyls in parks, Area 52 in Egypt (a BEAUTIFUL effects shot might I add), and Amy getting to be the kickass spouse for once. There were so many little things to love about this episode I forgot the entire time I was watching that the whole “fixed point in time where everything happens at once and time stops except when it doesn’t because… er…” didn’t make any sense at all.

    That’s what’s weird about the show. Now that doesn’t mean to say that I would enjoy ANY episode if it didn’t make sense so long as it was a thrill ride. End of Time is just… oh god kill it with fire…
    But, I don’t know… At least the whole Doctor-cheating death thing was believable in terms of plot device and not just simply “push that button there”.

    Which brings me to my overall view. I’m fed up with those who thought the whole Teselecta-Doctor was a rubbish… *shiver* cop-out [**]. Were they genuinely thinking that the Doctor would, after 50 years on TV, die? I’m glad they were disappointed, they were living in a dream world. Or maybe they were just disappointed that it was the Teselecta. “It’s Steven Moffat, he could have done something a little bit more unexpected”. That’s the thing though. With ALL the speculation that’s been going on Internet, of COURSE the solution was always going to be one of them. It’s the same with River = Melody. How it could it possibly be unexpected if you spent the last half year pondering over every single possible solution? After all that, if the solution was going to be unexpected, it wouldn’t make sense, as it wouldn’t tie in to the rest of the series. But no, we were introduced to the Teselecta a while back (only 6 weeks but whatever), so we have the idea of what the Teselecta is. If it was suddenly revealed that Amy could save the Doctor because her relationship with Melody could allow her to travel in time with the atoms of Jammy Dodgers, or the Doctor suddenly could cheat a fixed point with the help of a 5 minute Christ/Superman Chimera, it wouldn’t be unexpected. It would be Deus Ex Machina. And Moffat has managed to avoid doing that (at least as much as poor old Russell) in NuNuWho up to this point.

    Which reminds me, I think I have to clarify something. It wasn’t the Doctor’s death that was a fixed point, it was the EVENT. If history assumed that the Doctor died, then that’s it’s problem. But, as the Doctor said, “Time said I had to be on that beach”. Not that he had to die.

    This series is ultimately not about the Doctor’s death/escaping death, if folks thought it was about that then of course they’re bound to be disappointed with this episode. This series is about the Doctor realising who exactly he’s become. Not to his friends, but to the universe. Some might call him a healer, some might call him a warrior. He’s a thing to be feared and respected. He realises just how far he’s gone. He knows how much he messes up his friends lives (especially with making his best friends’ daughter a killer) and this episode was about him deciding to step back into the shadows once more and observe the universe not to interfere.

    OK, chances are he’s going to interfere. In the Whoniverse that’s sort of an occupational hazard. Anyway, I loved this episode. A fantastic end to a very, very strong (or at least ambitious) series.

    Better than Series 5? Hmm… I’ll have to wait a while before I decide. But still better than the first four.

    Though I will say that I WISH Moffat could have took the time to resolve the whole “who blew up the TARDIS”. Since we have to wait ’til freakin’ Autumn next year before Series 7, waiting more seems like kind of a dick move. This episode could have done with an extra 15 minutes, just to take the time to breathe a bit more and maybe also explain why Amy could remember the events of the Time-stuck universe. Maybe what the Doctor said earlier about “You grew up with a time field, you can remember things others can’t” had more significance than we thought.

    [*] Maybe they had to be inconspicuous. Which, going by the nature of this show, seems a bit strange in itself. They could have a 51st century weapon and the locals would simply go “Oh, another day on Earth”.

    [**] ugh… that word’s been used so. many. times.

    I’m planning to write a full series review/observation over the next two weeks I have off just so I can finally get these burning thoughts about this show out. My mind’s going crazy with what I’ve seen over the past… eh… whatever weeks since ‘Astronaut’. Despite our differences in views, we have to agree that’s what the wonderful thing about this show is, right?

  12. I’m beginning to think that Moffat has a PLAN (and not a lame one like BSG’s cylons, yes I can’t quite let that go ;-).

    If you look at the way River’s story is interwoven into the show and especially if you watch the video of River’s forward timeline from confidential, you see that Moffat must have had some of the larger points of her arc figured out waaay back. There are little clues and breadcrumbs from very early episodes, the ones that are very late in River’s forward timeline.

    I believe that this means that Moffat has a “bible” for the show, with bold outlines about what he wants to do. I do NOT think he’s making it up as he goes. And I think that is awesome. Babylon 5 had a five year story arc that was the most amazing thing to ever be on television IMHO. I’m hoping Moffat is shooting for that.

    Regarding the out for this weeks episode. Think of it this way. If at the end of “Impossible Astronaut,” we found out that the Doctor was really a look alike Doctor robot, how pissed would we have been. The way Moffat crafted the story built up the suspense, but also gave us the clues and the context within the story to make the Tessalecta Doctor’s death a good explanation and way out of his death. This is a very fair way for a show runner to treat his audience. Like I said before the Tesselecta was front and center in the “previously seen” and you should note the gangers weren’t there at all. Moff was playing fair with us.

    I think you should be able to figure out where the story is going and you should be able to tell what the options are. Sure surprise is great, but having a logically consistent show with very solid writing is greater (see afore mentioned Battlestar Galactica, which I think fell into stupid surprise trap).

    He’s still the Grand Moff in my opinion and he has a PLAN.

    And I’ll be there along the way, on the edge of my seat.

  13. This would seem to be one of those times where we’re more or less in agreement!

    I have long suspected that the images come to Moffat first. He sees a horse on a spaceship or an astronaut striding out of a lake to commit an assassination, so he writes it in. Which would be fine, but he then promises to tie it all up and doesn’t manage to.

    Your list of favoured episodes is interesting, partly because I’d imagine it to be the orthodox one. Notably it only includes one Davies episode. Maybe ‘Turn Left’ could be in there. (Bizarre that he wrote his two best episodes after we all thought he was spent!) Everybody seems to rate ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘The Lodger’ which surprises me, but was surprises me the most is the exclusion of ‘The Impossible Planet’ – I really liked that one!

    Isaac:
    “Creation of the Fixed Point is what they’d been working towards for Who knows how long. They definitely wanted to be present to witness the event itself.

    The Silence set up the event but I’m not sure we’re supposed to believe they make it a Fixed Point. Isn’t the whole rationale of Fixed Points that They Just Are, like mountain ranges or oceans? Or is there some ref to this I missed?

    Mrfizonic:
    “Which reminds me, I think I have to clarify something. It wasn’t the Doctor’s death that was a fixed point, it was the EVENT.’

    This is surely just playing with words, though. It’s the Doctor’s death which is the event.

  14. Christopher Brown, thanks for the kind words. I won’t comment further on Wedding here because it looks like I am going to do a followup post (especially in light of something my wife said this evening). But I did just want to answer your final question, “What do you have against Sauropod Vertebrae?” The answer is: absolutely nothing, I love them! In fact, my Ph.D was primarily about them. But for that reason I have a separate blog Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, and so it’s the one subject that this blog never covers. Well, almost never.

  15. Gavin, reading your review is one of the pleasures that I reserve as a reward for having written my own. It’s the next thing I’ll do after posting this comment!

    On favourite episodes: no, I included two Davies stories (constituting three episodes): Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways and Midnight. Two more stories (and three more episodes) very nearly made the cut: one of them was Turn Left as you suggested (but I omitted it in the end because it’s too mired in continuity to make any sense as a standalone). The other was the series 2 finale, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday. That had some of the best individual moment of anything in New Who, but didn’t quite make enough sense.

  16. Sorry, must have skipped over your listing ‘Bad Wolf’/’Parting of the Ways’ somehow! The “explain this negative” sequence must be the Ninth’s defining moment, and quite possibly the one quote I’d use in describing who the Doctor is. The only problem is that it became the template Davies used with ever-diminishing-returns, so looking back it seems a little tainted.

    ‘Turn Left’ might be a bit useless as a gateway episode, granted, but surely we’re all nerdy fans here!

  17. Pingback: More thoughts on The Wedding of River Song | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  18. Christopher Brown

    @ Mike you’re very welcome! :-)

  19. Pingback: Linkblogging For 07/10/11 « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

  20. About the why the tardis had to explode comment that was posted above, the Silence were the ones that forced it to explode, you can hear one saying “Silence will fall” when the tardis screen cracks, so it seems to me that it was another attempt by the silence to end the doctor before the question was answered, and they decided to make his death a fixed point after he found a way out of their last attempt to kill him

    Personally the question I wanted answered, and that I hope is answered soon, is why the silence had the alternate TARDIS from The Lodger

  21. I remember the scene with the screen cracking in the TARDIS, however, I never understood this way. I’ve taken it more like a foreshadowing of impending doom, not so much as an actual attack by somewhat at that specific time. — Well, I may have been wrong.

    As far as the spaceship in The Lodger is concerned, I take it that it was just one of many spaceships belonging to the Silence. Like the Silence themselves it was hding and its rather special behavior was simply what these ships do when they lose their pilot.

  22. Shannon Nelson

    The thing that bothered me the most was not so much that the Tesselecta became the deus ex machina, but the little detail of “touch”: when the Doctor/Tesselecta and River touched skin, the “time reaction” happened. It doesn’t make sense to me that the touching of River with the Tesselecta would cause the time reaction, only with the Doctor himself. This is where I lost faith in the story.

  23. Shannon wrote:

    When the Doctor/Tesselecta and River touched skin, the “time reaction” happened. It doesn’t make sense to me that the touching of River with the Tesselecta would cause the time reaction, only with the Doctor himself

    Ah, no. Remember that, despite what everyone thought, the Fixed Point involved River and the Teselectra, not River and the Doctor. So River touching the Teselecta would be the thing that resolves it. (I sometimes wonder what on Earth people who don’t watch Doctor Who make of these discussions when they happen to read them.)

  24. I’m in the odd position of agreeing with Mike and pretty much everyone in the comments thread. There was indeed a fair amount of sloppiness and cheapness in this episode, and yet, the basic groundwork WAS there; Moffat wasn’t just pulling things out of his butt, he just wasn’t putting it together as coherently as he might have. I really wish some of the dramatic ideas had been presented more smoothly (The Doctor marrying River because she pulled a “It’s a Wonderful Life” and thereby dented his own self-loathing is an important and powerful moment, but it went by so fast I think a lot of people didn’t even realize what was happening, emotionally), but it’s all THERE. It’s just that, as Mike says, Moffat’s making us doing a lot of the work. And…I can’t decide if that’s acceptable or not. I like being asked to do some of the work, but I also feel like emotions need to impact the audience as they happen to some degree. I’m conflicted.

  25. Gavin Burrows, regarding whether the Silence intended to create a fixed point: When the Doctor is first talking to the blue head guy (it’s late, I forget how to spell his name, and this computer is clunky–I don’t want to have to look up his name right now), the Doctor asks him a question similar to this: “Why Lake Silencio? Why Utah?” Blue head guy responds: “Because it’s a still point–makes it easier to create a Fixed Point.” *

    It seems like a clear indication to me that the Silence were very deliberately choosing that time and location for the very deliberate attempt to create a Fixed Point.

    Which they did succeed at. It’s just that they thought they had Fixed the moment in Time and Space of the Doctor’s death, but in truth all they ever Fixed was the moment in Time and Space of the destruction by fire of the Tesselecta and the moment when a tiny shrunk Doctor and TARDIS go poof in a puff of “ha ha!” (Nelson from Simpsons).

    I will forever love the moment where the Doctor is looking out his own eyeball at River and bows with the Stetson and shows off the TARDIS like he’s a kid in a candy store. It’s just awesome.

    Evan regarding the question of who made the TARDIS explode:
    It would be great if the Silence were the ones that did that since it would mean that, that question is answered. And I guess that’s what it’s supposed to be since, yes, we do hear some voice say “Silence will fall” just as every sun super-novas, etc.

    But that makes no sense! Are you telling me that to avoid that Question being answered by the Doctor the Silence would cause all of reality to be un-created!? Or did they somehow expect/plan the Doctor to “reboot the Universe”?

    It would kind of make sense for Prisioner Zero to be a part of the order of Slience though.

    ——— on the question/assertion: does Moffat have a long-term bible/plan for the show as a whole?
    I would love to believe that he does, but if so, it’s expertly hidden. That bit of revision by blue head guy smacks of retcon: “silence will fall” vs. “silence must fall”. That right there, that’s a retcon IMHO. And you don’t do retcons when you have a plan because you don’t need to. I don’t remember any retcons in Harry Potter. That’s why that thing has such a high re-read value.

    [*]: [Earlier I said I really liked this episode and I do. But I feel that, that exchange where the Doctor asks blue head guy “why Lake Silencio” and blue head guy explains was done very poorly. The Doctor is supposed to be an expert on “practially everything”. I’ve got no problems when someone is able to out-perform the Doctor in specific tasks, nor even in flying the TARDIS (because it’s funny!). But the one thing the Doctor should never have to ask anyone on, short of another Time Lord, is anything to do with some subtle point about Time. He really is supposed to be the ultimate expert there. That exchange could’ve been reworked. Perhaps with blue head guy saying Lake Silencio is a still point, then with the Doctor jumping in that, that would therefore mean it would be easier to make a Fixed Point.


    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  26. prankster36 says:

    Moffat’s making us doing a lot of the work. And…I can’t decide if that’s acceptable or not. I like being asked to do some of the work.

    That’s my position. To be asked to do some of the work is an invigorating challenge. But if you sprinkle mysteries through a TV series, you really must clear them all up at the end. What I need emotionally is to be able to say “Ah yes, I got this right, but Moffat out-thought me on that.” To be left still not understanding something at the end is unfulfilling.

  27. Wyrd says:

    “It seems like a clear indication to me that the Silence were very deliberately choosing that time and location for the very deliberate attempt to create a Fixed Point.”

    Okay, I get you. I do remember that line now you mention it. I guess the point is that it would be too hard to make somewhere like Times Square into a fixed point, as there’s too many variables.

    But is there any indication that the Silence are able to do this? Previously Fixed Points have just been a given. And wasn’t the point of the spacesuit that they had to extemporise with what technology they had in that era, which doesn’t suggest moulding powers over time.

    Or am I missing something again?

  28. Gavin: It isn’t clear to me that you have to have special powers to create a Fixed Point. Although for all I know the show might suggest that at some time in the future.

    All I got was the sense that you could, if you wanted, create a little bullet point FAQ like “How to More Easily Fix an Event In Space-Time So As To Prevent Wibble-y Wobble-y Time-y Wime-y-ness From Eroding It”
    And on that list, I’m imagining that bullet point #1 reads “Choose a Still Point”. After that, it probably reads like a mix between cooking instructions and tips for aligning your chakras or gaining good SEO. Some of the tips really work, some of them don’t, but you try all of them. Because, if you’re the Silence, then you are really, really wanting the moment of the Doctor’s death to be Fixed. You don’t want that eroding. But still they didn’t get him. Who wants to bet they’ll try again later (or earlier)?

    Maybe the Silence did blow up the TARDIS. Maybe that was actually their second and/or final attempt to Silence the Doctor instead of their first. Or maybe, somehow, the TARDIS blowing up is the consequence of the Doctor not being silent? I dunno, I’m just guessing wildly at this point. :-)


    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  29. Isaac, your reply is more considered and more fun than anything like that which actually happened on the show. It kind of reinforces Mike’s point that Moffat shouldn’t be using us to supply his working out for him.

    (I take your point about Mr. Blue Head’s line, however…)

  30. Gavin: Yeah, I know.
    I guess the conclusion that I’ve been inexorably drawn to is: in general I agree with the criticisms given here as to the conclusion of series 6.
    It just so happens, more by luck than anything, that those problems didn’t mess up my satisfaction with this series (because Matt Smith can sell the over-the-top so very, very well). They very easily could have, they just didn’t.

    I find myself wondering what will come next after Moffat.


    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  31. The whole ‘fixed point’ thing was never really explained in the series to begin with. Rose couldn’t save her father from dying because some monsters come in and attack wounds in time? THAT is supposed to be a good plot arc, but rebooting the Universe or creating the no-time bizarro world at the end of season 6 is crap? It’s ALL crap from a logical point of view people! This is Doctor Who, not Star Trek and even Star Trek was campy and making crap up based on a lack of knowledge (and they changed crap all the time without explaining things like how fast the Enterprise can travel.

    For example, I just watched the episode with the iron-blood eating cloud and the Enterprise traveled over 1000 light years in less than 2 days (it was 2 days round trip, so that’s 1000 light years a day at warp 6-8). In Voyager, (with supposedly faster engines), it’s supposed to take them over 80 years to go 80,000 light years across the Galaxy back to where they started from. That implies 1000 light years takes about a year to travel at Warp 8-9 (and even the warp definition changes with 10 being theoretically infinite in newer series and Warp 15 being a reality in the TOS on several occasions!).

    But Doctor Who is and has always been someone making crap up on the fly and if you really watch the first season of the newer series, it’s so much crap from a science-fiction point of view. The stuff is CHEESY with a capital Swiss. A classier way of putting it is that it’s CAMPY (like Buffy the Vampire Slayer). It’s not supposed to be realistic. Or else knowing the Doctor’s actual Gallifreyan name wouldn’t destroy the Universe (I guess all those that died when he sealed them into the time war could have ended it all by stating their names aloud to the Daleks or something? Give me a break.) So in that regard, despite the emotional veneer (Tenant couldn’t seem to be anything but Hi! How ya doing? I’m the greatest being EVER! I amaze even myself!), the show is CHEESIER THAN EVER! Torchwood, by comparison makes an actual effort to explain things. Miracle Day was too long and drawn out (they could have condensed the entire 10 episode plot into a single 2 hour movie that rocked instead of dragged on like a soap opera), but at least they had a plan/reason/plot from the get-go.

    This is too much Battlestar Galactica. I LOVED that show, BTW as it made you think along the way and everything SEEMED to be pointing to a pre-planned mega-ending that would tie all the pointers and events along the way together and make you say Wunderbar! But HELL NO. It turns out they were writing on-the-fly the entire time, making up arrows and bogus clues that had nowhere to go because they didn’t have a plan! The ending was UNFORGIVABLE and the worst let-down of ANY show I’ve EVER watched. It was like years of greatness ruined in one moment. I suppose the writing should have been on the wall when Starbuck blew up and then came back with the knowledge of Earth (apparently she didn’t know that it was destroyed already which made zero sense since Earth wasn’t Earth and our Earth was just called that later on despite her knowing the REAL coordinates with that music bit. Ha! What a LOAD OF CRAP. You can’t even attempt to save that series from itself at the end because the entire house was made of cards and looked great until you breathed and it all fell apart and made the ENTIRE SERIES worthless at the end. But it was a great ride until that point? Yeah, like finding out God is really just a child with a set of crayons and his scribbles somehow created the Universe and all the meaning we look for here CAN’T be found because it’s all just scribbles in the end.

    Now Babylon 5 HAD A PLAN! But even it got screwed because actors left the show or were canned by the parent company, ruining long-running plot lines that should have been perfect, but ended up being bandaged and thwarted by threats to cancel it (making it fizzle out toward the end of season 3 instead of holding steady through season 5).

    In the end, Doctor Who has to be treated as it is. It’s a campy fun romp through space-time that is never meant to be taken too seriously. But yes it IS sad when a writer creates a question like why did the Tardis blow up and then never even ATTEMPTS to answer it. It’s like WTF was the point of the entire last season if they couldn’t even come up with a reason for it and just hope you’ll forget all about it?

    And yes Karen is HOT (and so I can forgive any bad acting, etc. Rory should have never existed, though). I liked when Amy was hitting on the Doctor. That was fun. And they just abandoned it since a young girl hitting on a 900+ year old alien isn’t Kosher for the kiddies watching. Yet it would have been SO much better a plot if River was the child between Amy and The Doctor (would have explained that Time Lord DNA mixed with human DNA *SO* much better) and left Rory asking what happened on their wedding night (not just an attempted snog)…. ;)

  32. You use the word “crap” so much that I can’t tell when you are just using it to mean “stuff” and when you mean “unsatisfactory or contemptible elements”.

  33. Greetings! I hope it’s not too late to add something…?
    I’d just like to make a quick couple of points:
    Don’t forget that Lake Silencio was the Silence’s second attempt to use River to assassinate the Doctor. The first occurred in Berlin.
    That’s still frustrating me by the way: what exactly did the Doctor whisper to River to negate her programming? This was actually one of the questions which I expected to see answered in the final episode (the Doctor in his wedding garb emphasised this for me). The fact that it hasn’t been, I tend to see as a major cop-out on Moffat’s part.
    Sci-fi isn’t the issue here. There’s good writing and there’s bad writing – in every genre – contradictions and inconsistencies equal bad writing.
    Consider: The emotional impact of “The Girl who Waited” revolved around the fact that two Amy’s, at different points in their timeline – could not exist in the same point in time. And yet, three episodes later, we get two River’s at Lake Silencio, etc. It’s a key part of the story. This leaves us *assuming* that this was why River had to have Time Lord DNA, or that the spacesuit contained some special junk to allow that to happen. We can rationalise it out: but at the end of the day, was Moffat so bushwacked that he couldn’t include an answer in the dialogue?
    On the positive side – and a point which hasn’t been mentioned – it was an act of sheer genius on Moffat’s part to make simply the belief in the Doctor’s death to be enough to fix time.
    But does this mean that the “endless war” of which Kovarian spoke was actually correcting this problem with time where everything was happening at once because the Doctor was still alive? Still guessing…
    On who blew up the TARDIS… couldn’t have been the silence. They needed Rory and Amy married and in the TARDIS on their wedding night. Chances are though, that in the Silence’s timeline, Season five hasn’t happened yet!
    Another guess… too many… we’re almost having to write-in Moffat’s storylines for him.
    Here goes again… River at the end of AGMgtW: very nice speech to the Doctor about how much the universe fears him…. River in TWoRS: very nice speech to the Doctor about much the universe loves him and is racing to his rescue…
    If Moffat had a plan, then it’s a plan with a missing wheel… And I for one am very disappointed, because season five was my favourite to date.

  34. Arandomperson7

    So I know I’m way late to this conversation, and I skipped some comments after reading a few so I’m sorry if I am repeating what someone else said.

    I think the doctor really did die during the impossible astronaut, but the doctor was able to change it. This would be just like what Amy did in the girl who waited, old Amy remember being young and her old self refusing to help, but now she changed that and decided to help her younger self, and changed the future that had happened to her. I think it was the same for the doctor. When we first see the doctor die he never asked the tesilecta to turn into him, so when Canton said he was most surely dead, it was true then, but not anymore. the doctor had realized a way to be on that beach, but he managed to bend the rules in his favor.

    As for the silence being at the lakeside I see that as the silence just wanting to make sure that years of planing didn’t go to waste.

    I’ve recently rewatched the whole season begining to end with a friend who hadnt seen it yet, and noticed that when the silence have amy caputred in the impossible astronaut they tell her “we do you honor, you will bring the silence,” meaning the birth of river and the doctors death, so there is a whole lot of detail in every episode explaining everything, you just have to know where to look.

  35. “So I know I’m way late to this conversation…”
    Don’t worry, this one isn’t going anywhere soon… (grin).
    “As for the silence being at the lakeside I see that as the silence just wanting to make sure that years of planing didn’t go to waste.”
    Second attempt to kill the Doctor (possibly the third, if you count the exploding TARDIS).
    “they tell her “we do you honor, you will bring the silence,” meaning the birth of river and the doctors death,”
    This is one of those issues which has got fans screaming. This wasn’t of course, Amy; it was her ganger, so this is less in the way in explanatory information on Moffat’s part and more in the way of deliberate deception. Or what more unkind reviewers have described as a deliberate lie. This is basically because the idea of the SIlence checking-up on the ganger to make sure it was functioning properly is fine – so why feed it with dialogue that doesn’t relate to it?

  36. Pingback: Mike’s bang-up-to-date review of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  37. Pingback: Doctor Who, series 7 — all five episodes reviewed | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  38. Pingback: The Bells of Saint John (Doctor Who series 7, episode 7) | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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