Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Wedding Of River Song (and Doctor Who Series 6)

I'm going to start out with a short review of this episode, then add a spoiler tag before I talk about the series as a whole. I'm also going to go ahead and bump up my word limit a bit. Since we're talking about a TV series that is at least 10 times the length of an average film, I'll assume it's reasonable to devote double my normal words to it.

To set the scene: I am not quite old enough to be a long time fan of Dr Who, but as a child I did watch bits and pieces of the old series as they were rebroadcast. I tuned in at the start of the new series, and was quite dazzled by the newness of it. I wasn't a mad fan though, and although I watched most of the following series, I wasn't hooked and I didn't follow that closely.
What got my attention was Steven Moffat (who, in my mind, always seems to be spelt 'Stephen'. Weird.) Both for his excellent contributions to the Dr Who series, and for his other stuff. I didn't see much of Coupling, but Sherlock was brilliant. So when I found out he was to be show-runner, I started to give it some attention. His first full series was probably the best of the bunch... until this one came along. That said, there's plenty of holes to plot and nits to pick, so I'll get stuck straight in.

The Wedding of River Song is one of the most confusing experiences I've had watching a TV show. All those weeks of building up suspense, and showing those crazy ads (WHOA, pterodactyls? in Dr Who?), and they finally let us in to... whatever this world is. Everything is mushed together like some kind of living history museum where somebody's jumbled up all the facts just for fun.

It's a bit jarring, and strange, but it becomes clearer as it goes on, and I do find this episode to be very intriguing to consider as a series final. Usually there's more hype. There's more grandiose claims about the survival of the universe - there's more 'universe' shown to us to be in peril. Here the grand special effects serve the purpose of building up the world, rather than adding to the 'ultimate-ness' of the ending. Right up front, all the show and fluff merely sets the scene for what really boils down to a very convoluted answer to the question 'does the Doctor really die?'.

If you've watched Dr Who for any length of time, you should already know the answer to that.

The extra bits are fun though. It's great to see more of the Silence, even though they're far better suited to the eerie bits of the Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon two-parter. References to past Dr Who, from this season and others, and from other material as well (the Dickens reference was particularly clever, both referencing Who lore, and reinforcing the strangeness of the world). Interactions between characters are entertaining, and while the resolution is a little questionable, the focus on character and engaging story are a welcome break from the bloated end-of-reality-time-space-everything-disaster stories seen in seasons past.


Let's get to that resolution, shall we?

All that extra storytelling explains what? The Tessalecta impersonated the Doctor, and was shot by River in Utah. I've been uncertain throughout the whole series about how satisfyingly they would be able to pull off the Doctors' escape from apparent death. All in all, I am still uncertain about this conclusion. It's easy to say it's a cop out - just a man in a robot suit, not very surprising or interesting. It makes me wonder why the Doctor even had to be on the beach then? To control the robot so it acted like him I suppose, but at one point he also says that 'Time demanded that I be on that beach at that moment'. Makes me wonder who this Time person is and how he controls everything in the universe? (There doesn't seem to exist a God in Dr Who canon, except for the Doctor of course). Seriously, why does he have to be there? What is a 'fixed point in time'? How is one created? How does one know when one happens? How can free will interfere if it is 'fixed'?

Brushing that aside, this conclusion has some pretty intriguing implications for the series. The Doctor has been seen as a messianic figure a few times more than once in the past 6 series. He's travelled everywhere across parallel dimensions and alternate galaxies, has conquered foes that threatened to destroy existence itself, has had dozens upon dozens of inspiring speeches said about him... and just generally, it seems, the universe relies on him way too much. I thought this show started out as being about a simple traveller who went places?

I digress: implications! With the universe believing the Doctor to be dead and gone, what shall he do now? Obviously theres a whole lot of questions still to be answered, about the fields of Trenzelor, and the fall of the eleventh (the eleventh Doctor, perhaps?). But for the Doctor, this will mean a chance to just kick back and relax with the whole 'saving the universe every other weekend' thing. Perhaps for the show this will mean a return to simple, small-scale stories. Perhaps, like this year, they will be driven by the characters (All of which were great, by the way). I hope they take this opportunity to really delve into the Doctors' character; what makes him tick?

The fact that the question is the first, the oldest, and is hidden in plain sight, and is in fact the very title of the show perhaps points to a highly self-reflexive season next year. Maybe the Doctor will realise that he is the very reason that this universe exists - that everything around him was invented for him by screenwriters and novelists, and his entire life, all he's ever known is in fact a television show broadcast to millions worldwide! Man, if only that were Tru.

Maybe all this hype is around the reveal of his name. I hope not. That would be dumb.

Other loose ends continue to hang. Madame Kovarian was only killed in the aborted timeline; she and the rest of the Silence still loom in the distance. I think series five never got round to explaining why the Tardis blew up. Considering this series was all about how the Doctor both escapes death and the attention of the universe, perhaps that's something he might now wish to follow up on. Maybe he did follow up on it in the 200 years of his timeline that transpired. That seems like an awful lot, doesn't it? Lots of gaps that could be filled in.

It's hard to say what the next series will bring along, but there's plenty of ways it could go, and although it could slide down a dangerously canon-crushing (or worse, uninteresting) path, there is potential here for something amazing, and I look forward to tuning in next year!