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New Who 6.13, The Wedding of River Song

Well, that was pretty good fun on the whole, and more satisfying than I expected it to be. I'm not going to comment in any detail on the many plot resolutions which we had, because those are, well, resolved now. But I will note that I'm pretty impressed by the fact that in the end the Teselecta was the get-out-of-jail-free plot device. I hadn't seen anyone call that one, though plenty of people were speculating about the Ganger-Doctor from The Rebel Flesh, and Moffat deserves respect for that particular piece of mis-direction. Meanwhile, although we now know the Ultimate Question (and many, many people did call that one), it seems that its connection with the fall of the Silence is to be saved for next season. OK. That's fine.

Back in this story, I loved the cracky mash-up of all of time happening at once, and squeed almost non-stop in the early montage sequence featuring cars suspended from hot-air balloons, steam-trains on high-level tracks over London, a Roman chariot waiting at traffic lights, pterodactyls in the park and Charles Dickins writing the Christmas special (super-meta!). That Roman in particular will definitely be in my talk at Leeds City Museum later this month, and one of the things I'll be using him to say is that this is the fantasy which Doctor Who offers us on a regular basis - exotic past cultures unfolding right now in our living room.

I can also make a further point about his inclusion in the sequence signalling that the Roman period is one which the BBC apparently now expects its viewers to find instantly recognisable and distinctive, while the pterodactyls do the same job for distant prehistory, the balloons and the steam trains for the long 19th century, and Churchill for the mid-20th. We got ancient Egypt later on, too, but I don't recall anything for any other ancient culture besides those two, any period between antiquity and the 18th century, or of course also anything which might have represented the as-yet-unknown future. That matches pretty exactly with the periods in Earth's history or future which we have and haven't actually visited in other Doctor Who stories over the past couple of seasons, and makes for a useful index of what history means in practice for Moffat-era Who.

I liked alt-universe Amy, all full of initiative and agency, recognising that something was wrong and leading the fight against it. And I appreciate that she did at last get a moment of anger at Madame Kovarian for stealing her baby, hurting her and robbing them of the experience of her childhood together. But the lines seemed rather unemotionally delivered, and if Amy has been feeling like that all along, why haven't we ever seen any sign of it? Oh, I know, she could have been expressing it off-screen between adventures, but if we as the audience are to be carried along emotionally by the show, we needed to see something of it. It seemed all the stranger by contrast that we did then see both her grief over the death of the Doctor and her guilt over her treatment of Madame Kovarian (even in an alternate reality) at the end of the episode - though I'm glad of course that we did get the appropriate emotions for those two events for a change.

Meanwhile, Rory gets to be awesome and warrior-ish again, drawing on what the Doctor refers to as his fundamental identity as the Last Centurion. And the dynamic between him and Amy rang true to their previous interactions - she failing to recognise him as in their childhood, him being all brave and self-sacrificing as the Silence approach, and then those actions (rather than his appearance) making her recognise him at last, rescue the hell outta him and then switch straight into husband-and-wife mode, with him going along with it slightly confusedly, but perfectly willingly. It's an odd pairing, but Rory's part in it at least always seems to be incredibly sweet.

What I didn't like, though, was River's role in it all - being happy to destroy time and reality because she is apparently so in 'love' with the Doctor, even though they have barely met at this stage from her point of view, that she believes that her personal suffering if he dies will be greater than that of the entire universe if he lives. She is drawn as a sharp contrast with the Doctor, who is instead strong and self-sacrificing enough to lay down his whole life willingly for the sake of the universe - and that contrast doesn't do any favours to a character whom we have been repeatedly been told is an amazing and strong woman.

Indeed, I didn't like at all the tenor of the soothsayer-Doctor's line when Churchill asked him what had happened to time, and he replied "A woman". I felt that I could hear all the centuries' worth of prejudicial voices coupling similar pronouncements with the suggestion that you can hardly expect anything else when something has gone wrong, and isn't it just typical of the flighty, air-headed, ill-disciplined little mares - and I didn't like it. If her story-arc had brought character growth, and River had come to realise that her attitude had been distorted and selfish, and agreed to go along with her role in the Doctor's death after all, I might have been happy enough. But the get-out-of-jail-free Teselecta device mean that that opportunity never came - instead, she only agreed to take part in a death scene which she already knew wouldn't really harm the Doctor. So the whole thing remained all her fault, and she never got to the chance to redeem herself. Gah.

Oh, and finally, I guess the mirrors I've been busy spotting never did come to anything terribly substantial, except simply as a symbol for a parallel world (cf especially Alice Through the Looking-Glass). But there was just one more to round us off anyway, which the Doctor leaned up against for a while in Amy's utterly awesome and rather Once Upon a Time in the West-ish train carriage office. Jolly good.

Anyway, there we are. New Sarah Jane Adventures starting on Monday - though watching it will be a terribly, terribly sad experience now.

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( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 1st, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC)
Very much the point I was/am going to make about the presentation of history in Doctor Who - it's the well-known bits, including prehistory, including old-fashioned leathery pterodactyls. My notes pick up on 'A woman' too.

Broadly, this has been a split personality season, with the Moffat-written episodes not having as much to do with the others as perhaps they should have done, with the exception of Matthew Graham's two-parter. The late addressing of Amy's loss of Melody was welcome nonetheless.

As for the mirrors, eyes are the mirrors of the soul, and eyes have proved themselves important too here. There may be meaning in that motif after all.

Oct. 1st, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
I like to think the pterodactyls were a bit of a Torchwood shout-out, too. Certainly a sign that both series are drawing on the same vision of history, anyway.

And yes, obviously the mirrors have lots of relevant resonances, but I had come to think they might have some explicit plot significance, too, they'd been so prominent.

I'll look forward to reading your review. :-)
Oct. 1st, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
I too loved the historical mashup! (Even if it was rather limited in its periods and places.)

But I don't really get the twist. If the fundamental nature of the universe requires the Doctor's death, how on earth is it possible to *trick the universe* and restore time to its normal flow? I'm willing to buy the trick OR the universe reacting, but not both.
Oct. 1st, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
The Event had to occur. Everyone was assuming that The Event was the Doctor's death. But everyone was assuming this based purely on the word of River and the older version of Delaware. Clearly The Event was actually the fake death of The Doctor. Which still had to happen, exactly as we saw it in The Impossible Astronaut.
(no subject) - strange_complex - Oct. 1st, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - danieldwilliam - Oct. 4th, 2011 09:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 1st, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC)
River makes sense if you remember she was bred to be a psychopath and she really has to break through her conditioning in order to be anything else. And the only things that ever usually break through it is her love for the Doctor, which is also pretty much psychotic, and what she's seen of her mother - who also has a screwed-up childhood and psychological issues thanks to the Doctor. If she ever acts sane and sweet, that's her dad coming through.
Oct. 1st, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid I still don't find her complete U-turn in Let's Kill Hitler very convincing, though. I just don't feel we really saw enough to make it work.
(no subject) - steer - Oct. 1st, 2011 09:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 1st, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think I agree with you on the River thing and that it would have been so much better if he'd persuaded her to do it for him or for the universe or something other than the fact that it didn't really matter. I'm going to I think imagine that in that scene the doctor told her to kill him because it was necessary and it was the right thing to do. And that only the audience ever knew the truth of it at the end (and the guy with the blue head of course).
Oct. 1st, 2011 09:45 pm (UTC)
Oh yes - I like your ending a lot better! I think I will imagine that version, too. And even River could still find out after the fact. That would have been fine.
(no subject) - chrisvenus - Oct. 1st, 2011 09:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - Oct. 1st, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rhube - Oct. 2nd, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 1st, 2011 09:49 pm (UTC)
Great summary, thanks.

She is drawn as a sharp contrast with the Doctor, who is instead strong and self-sacrificing enough to lay down his whole life willingly for the sake of the universe - and that contrast doesn't do any favours to a character whom we have been repeatedly been told is an amazing and strong woman.

Ah... but hold on because
(1) We've also been told that at this early stage in her life she is also a very selfish and messed up woman and it's an early River Song we see. She's amazing and strong but not necessarily particularly "good" in the moral sense at this point in her life -- and that is a very different thing. (In fact we know she's pretty irresponsible, vandalising things to send messages and so on -- her selfishness and occasionaly disregard for people is a contrast to the doctor).
(2) In fact we also see that River Song does self-sacrificingly lay down her own life eventually. So she does become the self-sacrificing noble hero type -- just not at the point we see her here.

I don't recall anything for any other ancient culture besides those two, any period between antiquity and the 18th century

The chess player was arguably viking or inspired by such (or perhaps by Gaulish warriors?) -- though he was also pretty clearly meant to be an alien so I guess that does not count. Incidentally did you spot he was wearing an eyepatch too?

The "war of the roses enters second year" was on the newspaper seller's billboard. Churchill was the "Holy Roman Emperor" so that's medieval (though his banners say SPQR) -- and hey, how come it's me noticing that one not you?

Oct. 1st, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)
SPQR was revived in the later Middle Ages and, as a motto, flourished to a minor degree in later centuries. Indeed, lots of great fascist SPQR drain covers in Rome these days.
(no subject) - steer - Oct. 1st, 2011 10:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steer - Oct. 1st, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Oct. 1st, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steer - Oct. 1st, 2011 10:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_d_medievalist - Oct. 9th, 2011 01:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - strange_complex - Oct. 1st, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - steer - Oct. 1st, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 1st, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, and another afterthought on mirrors... I think they could still have been relevant symbolism in some ways due to the fact that a mirror shows you something that looks like you but isn't you. Its much more metaphorical or something than literally mirrors being good.

In some ways though I like hints of stuff potentially rather than outright direct plot links. I liked the Bad wolf and the cracks but things like the Mister Saxon stuff and whatever other ones I've forgotten always seemed a lot more forcing references in that didn't really add anything...
Oct. 1st, 2011 11:19 pm (UTC)
I did wonder if the mirrors were a deliberate reflection of the bad wolf idea - but one with no meaning just to give the dr who discussion people something to talk about.

Overall I loved that episode. It made me laugh. Especially rory - the man that dies.....
Oct. 2nd, 2011 11:49 am (UTC)
I liked the skulls :-)
Oct. 2nd, 2011 11:57 am (UTC)
Hehe - of course you would! I wouldn't be surprised if you find that you can buy them in a toy-shop near you within a couple of weeks. :-)
Oct. 2nd, 2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
SO GLAD someone else felt the same way I do about that 'A woman' line. Really sort of disappointed and angry with the second half of this season. *grumps*
Oct. 2nd, 2011 05:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it was just completely unnecessary, wasn't it? I mean, the Doctor could equally well have said "An old friend of mine" or "Someone who should have known better", or any one of a hundred other possible answers. But no, Moffat had to go with the barely-veiled misogyny... :-(
Oct. 3rd, 2011 09:43 am (UTC)
I loved the opening and was a bit sorry that the world would obviously have to go back to normal by the end :)

The skulls would have had me behind the sofa not too many years ago. I'm scared of skeletons.

And new SJA, you say? That's just perked my Monday up immensely!
Oct. 3rd, 2011 12:53 pm (UTC)
I'm with you on the 'woman' comment: after a very similar moment you pointed out in Let's Kill Hitler this really sticks out, and I wonder whether it's SM being deliberately provocative, in which case it's just cheap and objectionable rather than disturbing if it's what automatically occurs to him. I enjoyed lots of the details but felt the overall atmosphere was glib. The nicest moment was when the Dr is informed of the Brigadier's death and realises, in one blow, that he can't run any more. That was beautifully performed.
Oct. 3rd, 2011 07:32 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, Moffat is on record as having said that men are unfairly oppressed and women are needy. This rather suggests that that is really how he thinks, and that he is sufficiently unaware that it's a problem to just let it all out in recorded interviews - or was seven years ago, anyway. So sadly I don't believe that it is all an incredibly clever prompt to make us think through the issues, or something.

You're dead right about the Doctor being brought face to face with the Brigadier's death, though. What a sad moment.
(no subject) - weepingcross - Oct. 3rd, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 3rd, 2011 01:44 pm (UTC)
If It's Tuesday, this Must be Egypt
User steepholm referenced to your post from If It's Tuesday, this Must be Egypt saying: [...] In her typically-astute analysis of the Doctor Who season finale [...]
Oct. 9th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
I need to re-watch.

But here are my things:

I was so distracted by Churchill as skirt-chaser that I barely noticed the Doctor's line. Having just re-watched, it makes sense that the the Doctor would start a story that way for that Churchill. Not nice, but tailoring the story to the audience.

Have I mentioned that I love Rory? He is possibly my favorite character ever. He's like a Fixed Point of humanity.

The one thing that really bothers me about this episode, having watched it through once and the important bits twice, is that screws with the timeline in ways that are impossible unless we are now simply moving along a different time stream. Either that or everything we've seen since the introduction of River Song has had elements of The Biggest Conspiracy Ever in it (which would explain why the Teselecta regularly change her guards, I suppose).

It does help to explain all River, though. When she doesn't kill the Doctor, she is obsessively in love with the single focus of her life to that point. When she does, it's the timeline we've been watching all along. "Killing" the Doctor means keeping far more secrets, and it's given the two of them huge amounts of time together, which would explain the difference in not only her behavior, but also her understanding of the universe and her motivations. Plus she's already given up her own relative immortality for him.

The most problematic part of the episode for me is the family bit at the end, though. It seems clear that Amy is referring to the journal when she says the doctor has just died. But in the TIme-stopped AU, she remembered seeing the split. And she remembered events after the split, which ended for Amy and Rory when the Doctor parts company with them, and goes off to die.

So why does River have to tell her he's still alive? It doesn't change her chances of seeing him again.

Is she just overjoyed that he seems to have cheated death entirely?

Because to me, otherwise, from Amy's perspective, it looks like this:

1) The doctor dies. A younger version shows up at the cafe, says he's a couple of hundred years younger than the one who died, i.e., he's got a couple hundred years of life left to go before he shows up at the lake. Lots of adventures where they figure out the stuff about River and The Silence. He leaves Amy and Rory to Normal Life. (Narrative split happens) Doctor starts farewell tour. Amy and Rory carry on, and maybe hope he'll show up again, because he could show up for every single day in their lives, and still have a century and a half to go before he shows up to die in front of them. For all intents and purposes, he's still alive in Amy's world.

2) The doctor "dies," and Amy is unsure because she saw him die and not die, but she continues on Viking cremation + adventures reality. A younger Doctor shows up at the cafe, i.e., he's got a couple hundred years of life left to go before he shows up at the lake. Lots of adventures where they figure out the stuff about River and The Silence. He leaves Amy and Rory to Normal Life. (Narrative split happens) Doctor starts farewell tour. Amy and Rory carry on, and maybe hope he'll show up again, because he could show up for every single day in their lives, and still have a century and a half to go before he shows up to die in front of them. For all intents and purposes, he's still alive in Amy's world.

Version 3: Amy sees the Doctor die and not die. Time has split. Amy cannot be living in the AU reality and remember everything else UNLESS SHE CAN LIVE IN TWO REALITIES AT ONCE (which is possible for Amy, maybe?)

At any rate, version three makes no sense because it changes things that happened before Lake Silencio. Why would Amy and Rory not remember each other? Nope. If time splits at a fixed point, then one of the realities can't be different before the point.

No, I haven't got tons of other work to do. unless tons is a list three pages long...

Why do you ask? :-)
Nov. 2nd, 2011 01:43 pm (UTC)
Very enlightening and beneficial to someone whose been out of the circuit for a long time.

( 36 comments — Leave a comment )

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