Aired 1 October 2011
By beginning the revived Doctor Who‘s sixth series with the very public death of the Doctor, Steven Moffat was always going to have a tough task in wrapping up the plot arc in a satisfying manner that didn’t alienate its fans or more casual viewers. While it’s inevitable that not everyone will be pleased with the outcome, ‘The Wedding of River Song’ manages to tie together the loose threads and lingering questions without too much deus ex machina or paradox as might be expected.
The beginning of ‘The Wedding of River Song’ is Doctor Who at its most confident, unabashedly referencing its past episodes and creating a grand spectacle in the process. In an alternative London, time is frozen at 17:02, and the likes of pterodactyls, steam trains on tracks in the sky, Roman soldiers, and even Charles Dickens advertising his upcoming Christmas special on television are all seen in quick succession. Enter a bedraggled Doctor who tells Winston Churchill that time has been splintered, causing all of history to happen at once. The cause? A woman.
An extensive flashback follows, as the Doctor explains events and how this history came to be, establishing and re-establishing some important facts along the way. The Doctor’s death is a fixed point in time- he has to be there- and it is River Song’s refusal to kill him, thereby nullifying events in ‘The Impossible Astronaut,’ that created time’s splinter. Furthermore, the Silence are revealed to be a religious order attempting to answer the oldest question of the universe, and the fall of the Eleventh is ominously referenced as the future is predicted to be quite grim and glib.
For all of the rules that the Doctor Who universe has in place, though, the number one rule is that the Doctor lies. And so does River. So, a loophole for the fixed point in time exists. The Doctor is at his death as has to be the case, but he’s there within the Teselecta, making a return from ‘Let’s Kill Hitler.’ It makes sense, and it’s a better resolution than having the Ganger from ‘The Almost People’ take the fall as had widely been predicted, but the regeneration effects displayed still raise some questions. Still, this allows for the Doctor to go forward in a much quieter fashion after gaining so much attention and notoriety in the universe recently.
Loophole aside, getting to that point is immense fun as Moffat and the cast explore this alternate world exquisitely. The Silence are used to great effect even if Madame Kovarian is a bit more sidelined than expected given how much she has been built up throughout the series, but it’s truly Karen Gillan’s no-nonsense agent character that’s the standout, especially in her confrontation with Kovarian. The eyepatches are a clever touch as well, allowing the characters to retain knowledge of the Silence even if not directly in their presence.
Ironically, the titular wedding of the piece ends up feeling quite rushed given the amount of material the episode has to get through. Given that River’s union with the Doctor is the only way to repair the fractured timeline, it just seems to lack the emotional punch it is intended to deliver, especially knowing how much these characters already mean to each other even if events happen out of sync for the two. Amy’s realization that she is the Doctor’s mother-in-law is absolutely priceless, at any rate.
The big accomplishment for this episode, beyond even the ambition and spectacle on display, is that it reaffirms to a very lonely Doctor that he is surrounded by friends and love. Also, the fact that the episode took the time to pay a touching tribute to the Brigadier is a superb nod to the past and was excellently handled. And so while a bit of rollercoaster ride that is both funny and sad and at times rushed while also unafraid to offer slower and more emotional moments, ‘The Wedding of River Song’ satisfactorily brings to a close this series, answering many questions while leaving some for the fiftieth anniversary year to answer. There is clearly still more to River Song than has been revealed, but the ‘Doctor Who?’ question as well as learning the cause behind the TARDIS’s destruction last year and what role the fields of Trenzaolore will play are even more tantalizing threads to be explored.