“All of history is happening at once,” says Caesar Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) at the top of this season finale, and in a short space of time, the viewers know exactly how he feels. The Wedding of River Song (hereafter referred to by its pleasing acronym TWORS) throws everything it’s got at us. And it throws it all at once. To bamboozling effect.
It starts with a lengthy recap from other adventures in this narratively complex season, retelling how the Doctor (a foreboding Matt Smith) is trying to evade his forthcoming death on the shore of Lake Silencio in Utah. Once the viewer has this under their belt, it’s on to the pre-credit sequence, showing a London with all of history combined into a mix-and-match selection of ancient Rome, World War 2, Silurian pre-history and modern day. The viewer is expected to keep up as Caesar Churchill notices that the date and time never changes, and calls for his imprisoned Soothsayer. Who turns out to be the Doctor, recently returned from a visit to Whiskeron.
Then post-credits, there’s another pre-credits sequence. In short shrift, the Doctor robs a dying Dalek of information about the Silence. Which leads him to a bar to meet Gideon Vanderleur (Niall Grieg Fulton), an envoy of the Silence. Except it’s not Gideon, it’s the time travelling, shapeshifting robot the Teselecta, seen previously in Let’s Kill Hitler. The Teselecta’s Captain Carter (Richard Dillane) leads the Doctor to another bloke, Gantok (Rondo Haxton) and a deadly game of chess. This leads him to the Seventh Transept, and the talking head of Dorium Maldovar (Simon Fisher-Becker) who at last can give the Doctor the information he needs to start the story.
And by now, we’re about five minutes in.
That’s indicative of both the pace and the general feel of TWORS. This is a story which makes few concessions for the casual or inattentive viewer. From here it’s a rapid fire trip (via steam train) from strange London to strange Cairo, taking in the Silence, altered versions of Amy and Rory (Gillan and Darvill), Madam Kovarian (Frances Barber) and terminating in the wedding of River Song (Alex Kingston) itself, and the history rewriting impact it has. Plus a sidetrip to mourn the death of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. It’s full on, and there’s a lot to get through.
We’ve been here before, when talking about AGMGTW (acronym mad, I am). This is a season of Doctor Who which expects a lot of its viewers. And it doesn’t let up; TWORS is artillery barrage Doctor Who.
I suspect that how much you enjoy an episode like TWORS or AGMGTW or even TNOTD depends on how satisfied you are with an episode which is less a distinct Doctor Who story and more a string of explanations, wrapping up storylines from a season’s overarching story arc. Which in turn, I think, depends on how interested you are in that story arc.
Assuming you are interested in this arc, I think your enjoyment then depends on how satisfied you are with those explanations. If you’re pleasantly surprised at the answers, and don’t feel cheated or that the producers have copped out, then I think these sort of loose-end-tying-up episodes are just fine. And TWORS does an admirable job of just that, plus dropping plenty of intriguing hints for next season’s big story arc.
Personally, I find these sort of episodes enjoyable, but less than the sum of their parts. I enjoy having a few mysteries resolved, but I rarely revisit them after an initial viewing. In fact, I sometimes struggle to recall what the story’s about. And I think that’s because it’s not about anything. Instead, it’s about everything, all at once.
But if any of this bothers you, don’t let it. Thing is, this story never really happened. Nor did TNOTD. Nor did all of Series 5, as far as I can work out. Because in these narratives, things can go to all levels of doolally, and then be reversed by some timey wimey conceit.
Luckily though, our heroes retain their memories of these adventures that never were. It’s a peculiarly Moffaty piece of logic. And it creates an odd effect for the viewer where two sorts of realities exist simultaneously; we always seem to be in a permanent state where events did/didn’t happen. Some people have wondered if because River married a giant robotic replica of the Doctor and not the man himself, are the two actually married? Never mind that, surely because history was changed, the wedding never actually took place (and least this wedding. They could have tried again some other time)?
But it also leads to the feeling that you can never actually trust a Moffat storyline. When Clara recently bought the farm in FTR, I don’t think there was any regular viewer who thought there was no ‘get out of death free card’. We’re so used to time being rewritten and people coming back from the dead that the series has lost some of its ability to shock. Nothing’s a matter of life and death any more, just a matter of time.
So… A bewildering, unlikely set of events. A strange melange of imagery. A bit of romance, a bit of a punch up, old friends and old enemies popping up everywhere. And at the end of it all, no-one can quite remember what exactly happened.
All in all, just like any other wedding.
ADVENTURES IN SUBTITLING: at one point ‘timey wimey’ becomes ‘tiny winy’. Clearly a subtitler not versed in Moffatese.
LINK TO TCH. Both are Matt Smith stories of course, but also Mark Gatiss wrote one and pseudonymously appears in the other.
NEXT TIME: You had juan chanze, mah frend, juan chanze! Direct from a relay station in Nigeria, it’s TEOTW.