With “The Wedding Of River Song”, we’ve once again reached the end of the road with another season of Doctor Who. Series 6, like Series 5 before it, has been an incredibly strong season filled with a lot of high quality, thought-provoking episodes like “A Christmas Carol“, “The Impossible Astronaut“, “The Doctor’s Wife“, “The Rebel Flesh“, “A Good Man Goes To War“, “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex“. In “The Wedding Of River Song”, Steven Moffat officially takes up the task of wrapping up all of this season’s ongoing plot threads involving River Song and the Silence. And funnily enough, despite the fate of the universe being at stake as usual, “The Wedding Of River Song” is probably the most downbeat finale we’ve seen from the show so far – mainly because it’s comprised of a single episode instead of the show’s usual two-parter or three-parter.
“The Wedding Of River Song” is the first finale of its kind in that regard, and it won’t be the last one, since “The Name Of The Doctor” and “The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos” will both follow suit in later seasons. And in fairness, the relatively short length of this story is a pretty justified decision, since there’s really not that much that needs to be resolved in this episode. There have been three main storylines running throughout Series 6: the origins of Melody Pond / River Song, the Doctor growing apart from his two best friends, and the Doctor’s apparent ‘death’ at Lake Silencio. The first storyline came to a head in “A Good Man Goes To War / Let’s Kill Hitler”, and the second storyline reached its emotional climax in “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex”, so all that’s really left to be done at this point is explain how the Doctor escapes his grim fate in Utah, and have him reconcile with his friends.
In “The Wedding Of River Song”, the Eleventh Doctor pours all his resources into investigating the Silence, the cult that’s been haunting him and his friends for the last two seasons, trying to figure out why they want him dead so badly (since they clearly have foreknowledge of his future). He’s rebelling against fate one last time, now that he’s reached his day of reckoning. Since he’s working alone, without any companions around that he wants to impress or accommodate, we see a harsher and more haughty side of Eleven’s personality in this episode. As much as he hates the idea of his destiny being decided for him, the Doctor knows full well that he can’t fight a fixed point in time – that’s a lesson he learned the hard way during his time as the Tenth Doctor – but he’s still tempted for a moment to buck the laws of time, until he learns an old friend of his has passed away.
Classic Who fans will recognize the name ‘Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart’: one of the Doctor’s old chums from his days working at UNIT. “The Wedding Of River Song” acknowledges his actor’s passing, and pays respect to Nicholas Courtney, who died in 2011. It’s a pretty sad moment, and a sobering reminder to the Doctor that death is a part of life and it comes for everyone eventually, so he finally accepts his fate. However, River Song throws everything off course when she decides to fight destiny herself. As far as everyone else can tell, the Doctor has a real defeatist attitude about this predicament, especially with the fate of the world at stake. He’s certain that he knows what’s best about how to handle this fixed point, but his friends don’t agree. River is certainly being stubborn in this episode, but the same can easily be said about the Doctor.
The climax is a real moment of emotional catharsis for not only this episode but Series 6 as a whole. For the first half of the season, the Doctor was increasingly blinded by his own hubris, and eventually his arrogance cost him dearly. After what happened at Demons’ Run, he swung hard to the opposite extreme and started to sink into a depression from his own self-loathing, thinking he was more trouble than he was worth. River’s speech to the Doctor in the climax is the complete antithesis of the one she made in “A Good Man Goes To War”, and like that one, it’s exactly what the Doctor needs to hear at the time. The way the universe perceives the Doctor is certainly a mixed bag: there are plenty of people out there who fear him and hate him – the Silence are a living testament to that.
However, for every person who curses his name, there are twice as many people who love him and respect him, and the universe is undoubtedly indebted to him a thousand times over. In “Turn Left“, we saw what a world without the Doctor would be like, and it was a dark, cruel and empty place, where humanity was eventually on the verge of extinction. The Doctor has touched so many lives ever since he left Gallifey to see the universe, and he’s tried his best to be a force for good and try to make a positive difference everywhere he goes. In this season alone, we’ve seen him manage to improve things for a few side-characters. He gave the people of Sardicktown hope and joy again, particularly Kazran Sardick himself. He helped humanity rise up and take back control of their lives from the Silence in the 1960’s. He helped give Captain Avery a second chance to atone for his failures as a father, and have a proper relationship with his son, Toby.
Gangers have probably been recognized as their own species, and have made a lot of progress with gaining human rights, now that the Doctor has helped to convince people that they have their own souls. George no longer has to hide his alien nature from his family or worry about it getting out of control, and his relationship with his adoptive father is stronger than ever. Innocent people will no longer become human sacrifices for a minotaur imprisoned in space, and the people of Earth are safe again from the Cybermen for the time being. Craig made a similar argument in the last episode, “Closing Time“, that the Doctor easily helps more people than he hurts, but it fell on deaf ears. Here, he’s unable to ignore it, as River shares messages from all across the cosmos. And contrary to what the Doctor might think, his friends still love him. Even if they could change their experiences with him – the good and the bad – they wouldn’t do so. Because to quote another story Steven Moffat wrote, “The Girl In The Fireplace“, the Doctor is worth the monsters he fights.
Over the last two seasons, Amy, Rory and River have become the Doctor’s family, and it’s really very heartwarming. As for how the Lake Silencio dilemma is resolved, the Doctor crosses paths with the crew of the Teselectca again in this episode, who help him exploit a loophole in the fixed point so he can escape the Silence’s attempt on his life. Afterwards, the people of the world are none the wiser about his survival, save for his closest friends. After growing way too big for his britches since “The Eleventh Hour” and learning a lot about his biggest personality flaws, the Doctor has learned a hard lesson about humility in Series 6. Now that he’s resolved to do better and be a better friend, he’s gained a second chance to go underground and travel quietly once more, the way it ought to be.
In “The Wedding Of River Song”, all of history starts to happen at once, and time itself starts to disintegrate, because River Song defied a fixed point in time to save the Doctor’s life: creating this bizarre, utterly wacky world with broken logic where basically anything goes. With that sort of premise at its disposal, the show takes full advantage of this opportunity to bring back some familiar faces from previous episodes like Winston Churchill from “Victory Of The Daleks“, Malokeh from “The Hungry Earth“, and even Charles Dickens, from way back in “The Unquiet Dead“.
In this fractured timeline, the Doctor’s friends put together a team of scientists and soldiers to help him fix the damage. Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) is in charge of it all, because of course she would be the one to call the shots. Her husband, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), is a loyal soldier who spends half of this episode looking out for everyone else’s safety: a role that suits him quite well, since he’s basically become the muscle of the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS team over the last two seasons. Thanks to the gift the cracks in time gave her last season, Amy can still remember bits and pieces of the previous reality – the proper timeline – but she ironically has trouble remembering Rory. At least until Rory nearly gets himself killed defending the others from the Silence, at which point Amy doubles back for him and starts filling some bitches with lead, because Amy’s affection for Rory transcends timelines.
In “The Wedding Of River Song”, we get to see how Amy and Rory’s relationship with River has changed overtime and become more familial, especially from Amy’s point of view. When she’s confronted with the Silence once more, Amy gets a chance to do something she wasn’t able to in “A Good Man Goes To War”: avenge the Pond family. During the climax, the Silence decide that they don’t need Madam Kovarian anymore, and they want to make her a convenient scrapegoat for all of their failures, so they start to execute her. She has the absolute nerve to call out to Amy for help, and as you would imagine, Amy is not feeling particularly charitable towards the person who ruined her life and abused the hell out of her daughter in an attempt to kill her best friend. Amy basically tells her to go fuck herself, and then leaves her right there to die. I’m not sure if I would say that was Amy’s most savage scene, but it’s definitely in the top five.
Leaving Kovarian to her gruesome fate felt good in the moment, but the harsh reality of what Amy just did sinks in later, once she’s had time to cool down, and she’s pretty mortified to discover what she’s capable of. Most importantly, she takes full responsibility for her decision, instead of letting a handy dandy reset button absolve her of it. So long as she remembers it, then it happened, and it’s a stain on her attempts to be a good person. It’s a small but significant little detail that Steven Moffat includes at the end of the episode, to show how the lesson Amy learned in “The Beast Below” about personal accountability has had a lasting impact on her. Amy, Rory and River have become the Eleventh Doctor’s found family for quite some time now – since the end of Series 5, at the very least – and in “The Wedding Of River Song”, that close bond of theirs becomes very literal since River and the Doctor officially tie the knot. And Amy is understandably disturbed by the revelation that she and Rory are now technically the Doctor’s in-laws, despite being many centuries younger than him – because that’s just weird.
In “The Wedding Of River Song”, River Song manages to throw a wrench into both the Doctor and the Silence’s plans, because they didn’t factor her into the equation – and that was a big mistake. River is a stubborn and strong-willed woman, who’s only just recently gained independence from some sick, twisted people who thought they had a right to own her. She’s only just started to fight for control of her life and what she believes in – so if she doesn’t want to kill someone, no force on Earth is going to make her do it. She winds up breaking up time by rewriting history, and the main conflict of this episode revolves around the question of whether or not the Doctor and his friends are all slaves to time – a question that has gone unanswered ever since “The Impossible Astronaut” kicked off this season.
A lover’s spat lies at the heart of this episode, as the Doctor and River butt heads about the proper way to handle this broken fixed point. On River’s side of things, the events of this story truly mark the start of her relationship with the Doctor, and on the Doctor’s side of things, the Series 6 finale is the culmination of all the adventures and all the ship-tease moments they’ve had for the last two seasons. During the climax, River confesses her love for the Doctor and declares how much the universe would miss him if he were gone, as well as how much she would miss him. Alex Kingston and Matt Smith both sell the hell out of this scene as the two actors go back and forth, baring the souls of their characters. In the wake of it all, the Doctor and River share their third kiss, and it is a real belter. As the Doctor fully accepts his feelings for River, he lets her into his confidence as one of his most trusted allies, and from there, we all know how their relationship blossoms between two mad geniuses.
The Series 6 finale is filled with a lot of grim and macabre concepts in regards to the Silence, like a tomb full of decomposed skulls that aren’t quite dead yet, where the Headless Monks deposit all their victims. Since “The Wedding Of River Song” is wrapping up the Silence arc that has dominated this season for the time being (until we revisit it again in “The Time Of The Doctor” to conclude it for good), Steven Moffat dives into the inner workings of their organization and elaborates more on what their motivations are. They’re shown to be an incredibly powerful time-traveling cult with a lot of influence, but they’re also incredibly thick and short-sighted, and that, more than anything, is what makes them dangerous. Their meddling with history has already caused a lot of damage in the past, to the point where they nearly brought about the end of the world last season.
The Silence want to prevent the Doctor from reaching a planet called Trenzalore where he’ll be called upon to speak his true name someday, and on that day, his answer has the potential to change the world. The Silence are a clever and sneaky bunch: they lay a trap to try to kill the Doctor and his friends one last time, and in the chaos, a lot of them are killed off, including Madam Kovarian – which has to be one of the most satisfying death scenes in this entire show. By the journey’s end, the Silence are tricked into thinking their plans worked without a hitch, so they’re dealt with for now. They slink back into the shadows; ironically, a lot like the Doctor himself. But the future the Silence wanted to avert is still out there, and it’s still waiting for our leading man as we head into Series 7, the third and final installment of the Eleventh Doctor’s three-act story.
“The Wedding Of River Song” is directed by Jeremy Webb, who previously worked on “The Curse Of The Black Spot“, and he does a fine job of making this finale a surreal and immersive experience, particularly during the Silence’s siege on Area 52 in the last act. Doctor Who has clearly been saving up its budget for the last few episodes in preparation for this finale, and that decision really pays off, because the CGI shots in “The Wedding Of River Song” (crafted by the Mill) are pretty fantastic: some notable highlights include dozens of blimps ferrying cars over the city of London, Amelia’s own personal train embarking on a long journey through a desert to reach Area 52, and all the shots of the Silence electrocuting people with their taser hands. The only shot that wanders into Uncanny Valley territory is one where some dude falls into a pit of skulls and gets alive: something about that visual just did not look right.
Since this finale is another major turning point for the Eleventh Doctor and his friends, Murray Gold brings a lot of his themes for Series 5 and 6 to a head in this episode, kicking off the proceedings with a bombastic choral variation of “The Pandorica” in “5:02 PM“. “My Silence” and “Forgiven” push “The Mad Man With A Box” theme to it’s zenith (intertwining it with one of River’s motifs, “A River Of Tears“, from last season), while “Brigadier-Lethbridge Stewart” produces a new, bittersweet rendition of “I Am The Doctor” to represent a Doctor who’s in mourning. The titular climatic piece of the hour, “The Wedding Of River Song“, is a truly gorgeous piece of music that combines your traditional wedding march with River’s theme, “Melody Pond“, and “The Mad Man With A Box”, the Eleventh Doctor’s love song, with a pinch of “Little Amy” tossed in for good measure.
“The Wedding Of River Song” certainly isn’t the best season finale that we’ve seen so far from Doctor Who, but it does wrap up the events of this season in a pretty fun and satisfying way, while also clearing the tables for the show to continue onwards in Series 7. Series 6 has been one hell of a ride from start to finish, and the Eleventh Doctor and his friends have all become richer and more fleshed out characters because of the journey they went on this year.
* “Something has happened to time. That’s what you say, what you never stop saying. All of history is happening at once. But what does that mean? What happened? Explain to me in terms that I can understand… what happened to time?” “A woman“.
* “Imagine you were dying. Imagine you were afraid and a long way from home and in terrible pain. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, you looked up and saw the face of the devil himself. Hello, Dalek”.
* “Why are some of them in boxes?” “Because some people are rich, and some people are left to rot. And Dorium Maldovar was always very rich”.
* “Silence will fall. All the times I’ve heard those words, I never realized it was my silence, my death. The Doctor will fall”.
* “I had to die. I didn’t have to die alone. Amy and Rory. The last Centurion and the girl who waited. However dark it got, I’d turn around, and there they’d be. If it’s time to go, remember what you’re leaving. Remember the best. My friends have always been the best of me“.
* “Everything was in place. I only had to do one more thing. I only had to die“.
* “Why would you do that? Make me watch?” “So that you know this is inevitable. And you are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven”.
* “It’s going to be 5:02 in the afternoon for all eternity. Like a needle stuck on a record” “A record? Good Lord, man, have you never heard of downloads?” “Said Winston Churchill”.
* That shot where the Doctor shoves down Winston is flat out hilarious. The Doctor didn’t just push him down, he straight-up bowled him over.
* “How do I look?” “Cool” “Really?” “No” Ouch, Amy.
* “What did she say?” “She said that you were a Mr. Hottie-ness, and that she would like to go out with you for texting and scones” “…You really haven’t done this before, have you?” “…No, I haven’t” r/Cringe.
* “Rory Williams, the man who dies and dies again. Die one last time and know she will never come back for you” Damn, even the Silence are roasting Rory for becoming this show’s equivalent of Kenny from “South Park”.
* “The Doctor is very precious to me, you’re right about that. But do you know what else he is, Madame Kovarian? Not here. River Song didn’t get it all from you, sweetie” Hell, yes.
* “I can’t let you die-” “But I have to die-” “Shut up! I can’t let you die without knowing that you are loved by so many, and so much, and by no one more than me!”
* “River, you and I, we know what this means. We are ground zero of an explosion that will engulf all reality. Billions on billions will suffer and die!” “I’ll suffer if I have to kill you…” “More than every living thing in the universe?!” “…Yes”.
* “You may now kiss the bride” “I’ll make it a good one” “You’d better”.
* “Of course I’m sure. I’m his wife!” “Yes! And I’m his… mother in law” “Oof, father dear, I think Mummy might need another drink” Amy’s soul just died a little inside from cringing.
* “It’s all still waiting for you. The fields of Trenzalore, the fall of the Eleventh, and the question. The first question. The question that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight. The question you’ve been running from all your life. Doctor who?! Doctor who?! Doctor Who?!”