The Wedding of River Song

Prequel: That bloody nursery rhyme is playing again, as a pair of eyepatch-wearing soldiers inspect some Silence in a water tank. Then we see River, also wearing an eyepatch, lurking menacingly near an Egyptian sarcophagus. It’s all very atmospheric but a little bit dull; it’s more of a mood piece than a preview of the plot.

After a series like no other, with its various long-running storylines and the bloody great gap in the middle, comes a series finale like no other. For a start, it’s only one episode long, but at the same time it feels like the final chapter of a story that’s been going on for ages, finally tying up threads that have been dangling since the premiere. It’s a different way of telling The Doctor’s story, and one that’s not universally popular, but of which I am a big fan.

Besides, it’s not all heavy complicated stuff – this alternate universe where all of history is happening at once looks like great fun. Steam trains coming out of The Gherkin, Charles Dickens on BBC News, and even the pterodactyls from Torchwood having their render files dusted off. Churchill’s back again, he’s got a Silurian doctor and he’s keeping a bearded Doctor locked in the Tower of London. What’s not to love?

There’s also one of those big, varied, expensive-looking montages that Moffat likes to wheel out for the important episodes, which includes a tiny Dalek cameo and a heavily made-up Mark Gatiss as some sort of alien viking. It feels epic and exciting, but then the mood is punctured by news of the Brigadier. It’s a fair indication of Courtney’s standing that he’s the only actor whose off-screen passing has directly impacted the plot of a Doctor Who episode. I’m glad that Sarah Jane is still out there saving the world, even if Elisabeth Sladen isn’t, but with the Brigadier, being that much older and having lived a full life, it feels right to give his story a full stop. It’s so heartbreaking that the Doctor wanted to see him one more time after all these years, but couldn’t.

This moment also provides the impetus for the story to kick up a notch, leading to a glorious return for the Ponds, or at least alternate, eyepatch-wearing versions of the Ponds. The fact that those eyepatches turn out not to be a straightforward evil-person-indicator is a clever twist, as is Amy remembering far more than The Doctor expected her to, causing him to cut short his big timey-wimey speech. It’s a reunion that’s played for laughs rather than high drama, and it works – those two are such good friends that they’re just happier when they’re together, regardless of the circumstances, or the fact that they’ve never actually met in this universe.

The Rory stuff is cute too. I was all poised to update the Rory Williams Death Counter – even The Silence comment on the fact that he’s always dying – until Amy realised who he was in the nick of time. She then kills Madame Kovarian in cold blood, which she’s later somewhat tortured about, but I reckon it was probably fair enough. She did steal her baby and turn her into a psychopathic killing machine. That’s not cricket.

Then the eponymous wedding happens and time is put right and The Doctor dies. He’s careful to point out to us that River won’t remember killing him, which is mightily convenient but does help to sort out any confusion I had as to her timeline. Her later chat with Amy clarifies that she often has to lie in order to avoid giving spoilers to people from her relative past – again, convenient for storytelling purposes, but I buy it.

In retrospect, including the Teselecter in the ‘Previously’ recap rather gives the game away. I can’t remember whether or not I figured it out in advance originally, but either way it’s a good, satisfying conclusion. It leaves the series at an intriguing crossroads, with The Doctor’s vow to stay in the shadows coming across as very McCoy, as does the notion that he planned this whole thing for his own mysterious purposes.

Like I say, not your normal finale – it’s more like a victory lap for the series, the magician revealing how he pulled off the trick. Luckily, I really like the series, and the wrapping-up this story provides is meticulous. It’s a shame it doesn’t end with Amy and Rory back on the TARDIS, but having previously moaned about too many questions being left unanswered, we’re left with just one. A big blue head in a box shouting “DOCTOR WHO” over and over again should be the final image of every series.

RATING: 9

HALF-SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 7.5

SERIES AVERAGE RATING: 8.18

  • Seasons/Series watched: 32 of 36
  • Stories watched: 224 of 275
  • Individual episodes watched: 783 of 839

So yeah, the second half is not quite as good as the first, but not by as big a margin as I remembered. I think it’s improved by watching the two parts in much closer proximity; it’s a shame I had to sit through Torchwood in the middle, but the momentum still carried far better with a two-week gap than a two-and-a-half month one. Even so, this portion of the project seems very stop-start, veering wildly between various spin-offs and specials, without the stability of a big block of proper episodes for comfort. I’d best get used to it.

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Let’s Kill Hitler

Prequel: A little mini TARDIS scene, in which Amy leaves the Doctor an answerphone message to ask if he’s any closer to finding Melody. It’s then revealed that he’s been listening the whole time, and the look on his face tells us that he hasn’t. It’s quite effective both as a reminder of where we were up to before all this Torchwood nonsense, and as a quite touching little character piece. And it turns out that the title “Let’s Kill Hitler” flashing up in big letters is still funny, even if it’s only at the end of a prequel.

Ahh, it’s good to be back to Who, with the last couple of weeks serving as an equivalent to the infuriating gap between the two halves of this series. But in the same way that the split gave the seventh episode a much more epic feel than your average seventh episode, they’re using the format to their advantage again to create a whole new type of Doctor Who story.

It takes the big heavy mythology stuff that Moffat excels at, but presents it in a comedic way. A regeneration is played for laughs, which is (almost) unprecedented, but it never strays into parody. Even the act of River Song murdering the Doctor is dealt with in a light-hearted way – huge, important things are happening in this episode, but the tone is unyieldingly fun and entertaining. It’s a joy to watch because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and lets you know that it’s OK to just enjoy the ride.

Never is this sense of fun more prevalent than in the scenes involving Hitler. What an innocent time 2011 was, back when people punching Nazis was something that only needed to happen in time-travel stories. The sight of everyone’s favourite weedy nurse sticking one on the leader of the Third Reich is simply wonderful, as is the dialogue about putting Hitler in a cupboard.

It was little more than a cameo for the Fuhrer in the end, with the episode title something of a red herring to cover the humongous River-based revelations. It really did a thorough job of filling in as many gaps as possible, and a welcome side-effect was the chance to see Amelia again, along with a tiny little Rory. It was no surprise that Mels would be short for Melody, so it was for the best all round that the switch to Alex Kingston happened early, before Mels strayed too far from rebellious youth to annoying brat.

It was disconcerting to see River in the role of villain, but the weirdness was enjoyable. The only snag is the speed at which she switched from brainwashed Doctor killer to the River we know and love. It’s an unfortunate habit of Moffat’s that he leaves a little too much to the imagination at times. It would be nice to know what the Doctor said to River while he was dying, as whatever it was clearly helped to undo all her conditioning – that’s fairly important, and as it is it feels like we skipped a page and it’s harder to buy the change of heart.

I love the concept of the Teselecta – it’s like The Numbskulls from The Beano, with all the tiny people controlling the big person, each one controlling a different function. My only other beef with this episode is that their motives were left unquestioned – under what authority do they jaunt around history torturing people, and who decides which people deserve to be punished? I mean, they were right about Hitler, but even then they nearly cocked it up by doing it before the War had even started, which would have played havoc with the timeline.

But these are quibbles in an otherwise cracking start to the second half of the series. You can’t help but love an episode that takes the time to dismiss the idea of the TARDIS’s temporal grace as “a clever lie”, and explain why River looks younger the older she gets. Plus, Rory punches Hitler and puts him in a cupboard. I can’t state this enough.

RATING: 8