Warning: Spoilers, sweetie.
The fifth and sixth series of Doctor Who represent storytelling as a long game. I’m not willing to say that we’ve seen that game fully played out, but the sixth series has certainly gone out with a bang. It’s how we get from the Doctor running from his death while River is kidnapped to inhabit a spacesuit at the end of “Closing Time” to a wedding and what it means for the Doctor to die, that makes all the difference.
I’ll say up front: “The Wedding of River Song” does what it says on the tin. What Steven Moffat has written, is the cherry on the top of the meta sundae that this season has been. Time folding in on itself, history happening all at once, self-referential humor and even more questions when we come to the end of it. Silurians and Pterodactyls and Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill. Amelia Pond with an office on a train. There is no shortage of familiar faces in unfamiliar surroundings to bring the point home: the Doctor’s death is a fixed point, and reality is disintegrating. Amy Pond remembers, as she’s done before. The crack in the wall poured the universe into her head and that means she can see more than the average bear. Moffat ties this episode to “The Big Bang” on multiple levels: “Every explosion has an epicenter,” in TBB, it’s the TARDIS and here, it’s the Doctor and the fact that he hasn’t died. The drawings and figures that littered young Amelia Pond’s bedroom have their echo in the illustrations and model of the TARDIS that litter the adult Amelia Pond’s office. Amy stares down Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber) who is begging for mercy, and delivers the most chilling line in the episode, “River Song didn’t get it all from you, sweetie.” A duck pond that isn’t a duck pond, an eyepatch that isn’t an eyepatch. . . nothing is ever quite what it seems. Not every question is answered, yet Moffat manages to pack in references not only to Classic Who and Indiana Jones, but also display savvy humor towards media and fandom speculation.
Silent: (to Rory) “Rory Williams, the man who dies and dies again. . .”
River: (to the Doctor) “There are so many theories about you and I, you know? . . . Am I the woman who marries you or the woman who murders you?”
TV Presenter: (to Charles Dickens) “So, do you think you can top last year’s Christmas special?”
Director Jeremy Webb has delivered an episode that is pure romp on the surface, but weaves together the threads of the past, present and future of the Doctor and his companions. While Amy, Rory and River may be the present and future, the Doctor hasn’t forgotten his past. Not merely the recent past of Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness, but Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart, (providing a fitting and graceful tribute to actor Nicholas Courtney who passed away earlier this year.) The Brig is the reason the Doctor recognizes that there are some things he can’t outrun. It’s a lovely moment and Matt Smith plays it with the weight it deserves. Alex Kingston gets to let the arch mask River wears slip, just a little. There is a cost to being River Song. Just as there is a cost to being Amy, or Rory, and especially to being the Doctor.
I’m not going to give everything away. If you’ve followed the trail of breadcrumbs Moffat left through the series, you’ve got everything you need to know. Looking back over this series, I’m intrigued by how much faith Moffat has placed in the audience to do just that. Delivering the payoff in the finale usually involves some over-the-top theatrics, TWoRS is no exception to that rule. When you’ve got all of time and space at your fingertips: isn’t that kind of the point, though? Everything can be at stake and therefore everything is at stake.
It may not have been as much fun as “The Big Bang” but “The Wedding of River Song” has the titular wedding, a funeral, flesh-eating skulls, an awful lot of non-linear time and Dorium Maldovar’s big blue head in a box.
What more could we ask for?