THE ONE WHERE All of history exists at the same time… And the Doctor realises he must die to start time again.
VERDICT Remember back in the first half of the series when the Doctor would look at the TARDIS monitor screen and the image would flash back and forward between “Amy pregnant” and “Amy not pregnant”? I’m getting that feeling every time I think about the star rating for “The Wedding Of River Song”. Five stars! No, four stars! No, five stars! No, four…
Why? Well, it’s about nine tenths a great, great episode. From the audacious history mash-up teaser with pteradons, Roman soldiers and BBC Breakfast existing simultaneously (it looked like they spent more on that than the rest of the series put together) to the ominous ending when a 48 year-old question suddenly takes on a whole new edge (“Doctor Who?”) it’s an episode crammed with esoteric delights; witty, scary, emotional, crazy, surprising and action packed.
Stand-out moments come thick and fast: Dickens being interviewed about the next Christmas special by Bill Turnball; Churchill Caesar and the Doctor looking up to see the Silence; live chess; the bitey skulls; a steampunk train entering a pyramid that’s been turned into Area 52; Amy’s idealised portrait of Rory (so sweet!); Rory turning kick-ass; Amy suddenly realising who Rory is and going back for him (even sweeter!). The gimmick of the whole of history being stuck in one moment is so deliciously appealing you can’t help but admire a show that’s admirably unlike anything else you’ll see on TV this year. The episode is sumptuous confection made mostly out of the finest ingredients.
With the final bite, though, you’re expected to swallow something that makes you splutter: the final revelation that it wasn’t the Doctor that died by the lake in Utah, killed by River Song in an astronaut’s suit. It was a Teselecta double.
Initially – the first time River reveals what the Doctor really whispered to her (“look into my eye”) – it seems like a cool twist – the doctor in a doctor suit. And it’s certainly refreshing to have a denouement that’s based on good old-fashioned scripting sleight of hand rather than technobabble (there is technobabble, but it largely ends up as a red herring). Your great aunt Mabel who’s been moaning she can’t follow the show any more can’t fail to grasp this one, can she?
But it does mean the whole episode is just an elaborate version of the classic Star Trek: Voyager alternate timeline shtick complete with reset button. And while Moffat may have wrong-footed us by making us think it would be the Flesh Doctor on the beach, it’s still in essence the same get-out clause – a double.
There are a couple of other minor niggles too. The wedding, and the whole “universe coming to the Doctor’s rescue” gubbins, are both so sudden and under-egged they end up a little cheesy rather than poignant. Meanwhile, Dorian never really looks like anything than an actor with his head stuck through a hole.
All of which seems a bit disingenuous to mention, when the episode offers up so much fun. I’m just being a cynical, gnarly old SF hack who’s seen it all before and letting the clichés that 99% of the audience won’t be familiar with worry me too much.
And it wasn’t a complete reset button. It means the Doctor can now return to being a mysterious unknown traveller. For a while at least…
TRIBUTE The scene with the Doctor phoning up for the Brigadier only to discover he’s just passed away was a moving tribute to Nicholas Courtney, and used to poignant effect in the show. Maybe we’ll have a similar moment for Lis Sladen soon.
INJOKE Great to see Simon Callow back as Dickens, and you have to love the post-modern gag with him promising to top the last Christmas special with a story about ghosts from the past, present and future. Shame Doctor Who’s Christmas Carol episode was last year instead this year – because that would have been really freaky.
INJOKE 2 “I hate rats,” is clearly an Indiana Jones reference.
INJOKE 3 “Pond. Amy Pond.” How long has Moffat been waiting to use that one?
RULE TWO Rule one may be that the Doctor always lies, but rule two seems to be, “And so does the showrunner”. He swore blind the Doctor’s death was a proper death in prepublicity for series six.
THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME Oddly, this episode doesn’t seem to be the conclusion to the River Song arc that we may have expected from the title; there may not be any mysteries left, but she certainly seems available for future appearances.
SPECULATION Presumably Madam Korvarian is still alive in our universe.And hopefully, it’s important that the Doctor didn’t want Amy to know he was still alive, and River is a big blabbermouth for telling her and there will be repurcussions.
BEST LINE Rory: “I’m not sure I understand.” Amy: “We got married, had a kid, that’s her.” Rory: “Okay.”