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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Closing Time

I wasn’t looking forward to this one, despite not being too put off by James Corden last time round. That’s because in the meantime the Emmys happened, and now I actually hate James Corden, rather than merely intensely disliking him. You won’t kiss the Doctor but you’ll kiss Sean Spicer?

Consequently I found it much harder to like Craig this time, and it didn’t help that he was reinforcing the patriarchy with his useless dad stereotypes. Luckily, the Doctor speaking baby is a very rich seam, and his interactions with Alfie/Stormageddon were the highlight of the episode. That and the fact that Lynda Baron turns up, more than forty years after singing that bloody song.

Much like The Lodger, it’s a light and comedic palate cleanser before the big finale, only this time there’s Cybermen in it. Well, they’re barely in it, but that’s probably for the best at this stage. It’s such a shame that this era of Cybermen are so rubbish, as actually, a small band of survivors rebuilding themselves from scratch, using bits of kidnapped humans, is a brilliant premise for a Cyber story, but it lacks any of the visceral body horror that it would have had in the 60s, or which was so brilliantly reinstated in much more recent times.

I wasn’t sure about the Cybermats having big pointy teeth, nor with Craig once again saving the world via the power of love. The thing of Alfie crying being enough to snap Craig out of a Cyber-conversion, and Alfie subsequently “telling” the Doctor how proud he is of his dad, seems like it’s a lovely thing. But if the message is that it takes actually saving the world for babies to love their dads as much as they love their mums, what chance have the rest of us got?

Meanwhile, Amy and Rory turn up for about a minute, and they don’t even get to speak properly. Amy is a celebrity now, either a famous model or a perfume maker, or some combination of the two, it’s not quite clear. It’s also not quite clear when exactly any of this takes place. For the Doctor, it’s a day before he gets shot in Utah, so two hundred years must have passed for him since he dropped them off, but how long has it been for them, given that she’s had time to become famous? I thought at first that this episode could take place a few years in the future, but the newspaper says 2011, so I can only conclude that the Doctor (accidentally?) dropped them off a few years in their relative past, and that for a while there must have been two Amies and Rories knocking about.

Much neater is the segue into the finale, which involves the Doctor acquiring his stetson and his fancy TARDIS-blue stationery. The subsequent River scene left me slightly confused about her personal timeline – even when you’re watching it in order at a decent pace, it’s still bloody complicated – but I think that ought to be cleared up once I’m reminded of exactly what happens at Lake Silencio. Madame Kovarian and the Silence turning up was suitably scary and exciting, but the only improvement I’d have made would be to have the creepy nursery rhyme sung by Lynda Baron. The Doctor’s in a cowboy hat, it would have been the ultimate call back.

RATING: 6

The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon

Prequel: For the first time since Series 2’s Tardisodes, several episodes of Series 6 came with a little online prequel. Not all of them, just the important ones, so naturally the premiere gets the treatment. It’s a short glimpse of an impressive Oval Office set, in which Richard Nixon takes a phone call from a little girl, denies the existence of monsters, and then completely fails to notice the Silent standing behind him. It gives you the sense of an Empty Child vibe, but with Richard Nixon instead of Richard Wilson.

The episode/series proper then kicks off with the Doctor getting the gang back together. I’m not a fan of companions living separate lives from the Doctor – life in the TARDIS should be their whole life, uninterrupted – but there will be much more egregious examples of this to come, so I’ll leave it for now. Besides, it’s all worth it for the glimpse of the Doctor trying to get their attention by invading a Laurel & Hardy film.

And then bam – ten minutes into the series, the Doctor is killed and his body cremated. It’s certainly a bold start. It was notable enough that the series started with a two-parter, deviating from RTD’s template for the first time. By the end of the first episode, Amy has revealed she’s pregnant and shot a little girl. This is definitely not a kids’ show, this is Moffat let loose and growing in confidence, taking the show into a different, darker and more complex direction, putting his stamp on it. Personally, I’m not concerned about trying to figure out whose version of Who is better – for me, both the RTD and Moffat eras were almost entirely brilliant, and both had their peaks and troughs.

Back to the story in hand, and you have to say it looks absolutely stunning. It’s another step forward from Series 5, as the new era gains its unique visual style too. The location stuff in the States is obviously a highlight, as is the design of The Silence. The way they have the outline of a face without any actual features, and the way they casually twist their mouths round while they’re zapping you, is the stuff of nightmares.

(Incidentally, is the race called The Silence, or are they each individually called a Silent, and so collectively known as The Silents? The former seems to be officially accepted, but I much prefer the latter, which is the way I originally heard it.)

There are several notable inclusions in the guest cast, the most shocking of which is Trojan from Gladiators as the Secret Service agent who takes Amy to the toilet. Then you’ve got Kerry Shale, of godawful Red Dwarf X voices fame, and two generations of the Shepherd family as Canton, a particularly kick-ass one-off companion figure, who even gets his own “it’s bigger on the inside” moment.

You’d have thought that the headline would be the presence of Richard Nixon, but he’s effectively just an incidental character in this celebrity historical – the point is that you’ve got the Doctor pissing about in the Oval Office around the time of the moon landing, and it just so happens that the President is Nixon. It seems apt that such a terrible scumbag isn’t afforded to opportunity to be a hero, something which the Doctor himself acknowledges. And he later advises Nixon to record everything that happens in his office, thus bringing about his eventual downfall. Good man.

The main thing you take from this series opener is a huge sense of scale – even the second episode has a big showy-offy pre-titles sequence, something usually only reserved for the start of a finale. It promises much for the coming year, seeding Madame Kovarian (or “Eye Patch Lady”, as she’s listed in the credits) already – another Red Dwarf alumni making an appearance in the creepiest of creepy children’s homes. There’s lots of foreshadowing involving Amy’s possible pregnancy and the little girl in the spacesuit – I know how it all ends up, but I can’t remember all of the details, so once again it’s fun to fill in all the blanks.

Speaking of which, River Song Timeline Watch: She’s quite unequivocal that all their adventures take place in the opposite order, which is obviously complicated by the fact that this adventure also contains a 200-year-older version of the Doctor. He’s a lot more comfortable around her than we’ve ever seen him before, but when “our” Doctor shows up, he’s deeply distrustful of her, perhaps more so than he was last time, to emphasise the difference between the two Doctors.

It’s interesting that River’s nightmare scenario – seeing the Doctor and him not knowing who she is – is something that we’ve already seen. But it’s worth re-examining now that we know River better, because we’re starting to care about her more than the Doctor does, and so we get the emotional beats from considering it from her point of view. Their first/last kiss is bittersweet to us, because it’s sweet for him and bitter for her.

So yes, there is much to talk about with this story, and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that it harks back to The Lodger of all things – even the seemingly throwaway format-breaking episodes are important to remember in Moffat’s era. The only other thing to discuss is the resolution, which is perfect because, in a similar way to Vincent and the Doctor, it establishes that what we see in the episode is also what we see in real life, thanks to the Doctor’s influence – the actual footage of the moon landing really does contain a message from a Silent, it’s just that we can’t remember seeing it.

Oh, and the regenerating child is brilliant and shocking, even when you know it’s coming. This series is not without its flaws – not least the fact it was chopped in half, which we’ll come to – but none of them are evident in its opener, which stands up as a real high point of Matt Smith’s tenure.

RATING: 10