Sunday, October 2, 2011

Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song

Season finale! I've watched it twice now. I spent most of the first viewing stewing over the myriad inconsistencies (more on that later). The second time around, I enjoyed the episode quite a bit more.

Spoilers ahead.

At its heart, the story is a simple one. The Doctor goes to his death in Utah. The event is a fixed point in time - it must happen - but River refuses to kill him. As a result, time goes wonky and can be set right only if River does the deed. The universe at a standstill is fun and interesting, but it's all smoke and mirrors. Nothing much in this episode matters except for what happens on the shore of Lake Silencio. In the end, it's a robot body that is shot and burned. The Doctor is fine.

This story pretty much concludes the saga of River Song. All the big questions have been answered. We now know whom she "killed" and that, yes, she is the Doctor's wife.

However, I could not help but feel disappointed for how this last chapter played out. Ever since her introduction, River has been strong and sassy, with a hint of something dark beneath the surface. Now we see she has always and only been a pawn - first of the Silence and then of the Doctor - and her love is unrequited. I find that sad. She is ripped from her family at birth and brainwashed. Finally she gets a chance to kill the Doctor and falls in love with him instead. Next time they meet, the Doctor uses her to fake his own death and she goes to prison for most of the rest of her life. After she earns a pardon (for a crime she didn't commit), she sees her Doctor for the last time and dies for him.

However, a lot of what happens to River in this episode feels forced. It happens because the show's writers have said (or strongly hinted) that it would happen and now they have to deliver a payoff. But it is done sloppily. My two main points of contention:

River kills the Doctor. This has been hinted at since the weeping angels two-parter last season and was confirmed in "Let's Kill Hitler." The question all along has been: Why would River kill the best man she's ever known? What horrible, tragic circumstance would force her into such a position? It turns out she does not do it of her own free will, and that cheapens the act. The spacesuit moves itself, which raises the question of why she or anyone has to be inside it in the first place. What kind of idiot bad guy puts the one person inside who might manage to find a way to stop the Doctor's death from happening? Oh, and then the Doctor addresses my issue from last week by saying twice that River won't remember doing the deed. But unless there is a Silent standing behind the Doctor when she fires the shot, that makes no sense. A satisfying payoff this was not.

River marries the Doctor. Why did he do that? I mean, really ... why? He says five minutes before that he does not want to marry her. She says she loves him, and he ridicules her for that. On the pyramid roof, he calls her stupid and says she embarrasses him. Rarely have we ever seen the Doctor act so cruelly toward someone. Then he marries her? All he has to do is whisper in her ear that he's inside a teselecta robot. She would let him take them back to the lake after that, with or without marriage vows. The only reason I can think of for the Doctor marrying River under these circumstances is, as I said above, that their marriage has been hinted at many times and Steven Moffat wanted to squeeze it into the finale whether it made sense or not. If the Doctor showed even a modicum of affection for River during the pyramid sequence, I might have bought it. But he doesn't. It would have been so easy for Moffat to write it differently. Why he didn't, I will never understand.

And, as a side note, it bothers me that the Doctor and River marry in an alternate timeline that gets wiped from existence and never happened. It seems that for a legitimate marriage, which from all appearances this is not, they should go through the ceremony again. Maybe this time, he could tell her his name.

Despite these gaping holes in logic (time isn't the only thing disintegrating on this show), I still managed to enjoy most of the episode. I like super-tough, resourceful Amy and her devoted Captain Williams. I liked the reason why the Doctor goes to his death: He knows a secret that must never be spoken. And I like the question he must never answer: Doctor who? I like that we'll see a semi-reboot next season with the Doctor going more under cover than he has in a long, long time.

There's a lot to like. If only the writers could work out the bugs in the internal logic, I would be a very happy viewer instead of one who's mostly happy but left yearning for the finale that could have been.


Jerry Prucha Jr said...

Wow, I have to totally agree! I've had an uneasy feeling since they navigated the story, some things didn't quite make sense. I want to enjoy the end of this arc, so I'll watch it a 2nd time... soon! Thank you for your analysis!

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks said...

Hi Jerry. I liked fifth season much more. This season's long arc seemed to get away from the writers. Here's hoping for a good Christmas special in a couple of months.