The Wedding of River Song
|224 – "The Wedding of River Song"|
|Doctor Who episode|
The Doctor reveals his escape to River Song by use of the Teselecta
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Originally broadcast||1 October 2011|
"The Wedding of River Song" is the thirteenth and final episode in the sixth series of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, and was first broadcast on BBC One on 1 October 2011. It was written by lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat and directed by Jeremy Webb.
In the episode, alien time traveller the Doctor (Matt Smith) attempts to escape his apparent death at the hands of the Silence. River Song (Alex Kingston), whom the Silence had programmed to kill the Doctor, refuses, and they end up in an alternate timeline where all of time is running simultaneously and beginning to disintegrate. The Doctor tries to restore the universe with the help of River and the alternate universe versions of his companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). It is revealed that he had already planned escape by posing as himself using the shape-shifting Teselecta.
"The Wedding of River Song" concludes the story arc of the series and reveals what really happened at the start of the season premiere, "The Impossible Astronaut". The episode features many returning characters. It also pays tribute to the classic series character Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart following the death of the character's actor Nicholas Courtney. One of the last episodes to be filmed for the series, production for "The Wedding of River Song" finished in April 2011. The episode was watched by a total of 7.67 million viewers in the UK, and received positive to mixed reviews from critics. While visual elements were praised, the characters and resolution of the episode received a mixed reception.
A prelude to the finale was released online 24 September 2011 after the previous episode, "Closing Time". It shows Area 52 with the clock stuck at 5:02 p.m., where Silence are kept in stasis and River Song is wearing an eye patch in the same fashion as Madame Kovarian.
The Doctor, aware of his imminent death at the fixed point of time on 22 April 2011 at Lake Silencio in Utah, attempts to track down the Silence to learn why he must die. He encounters the Teselecta shapeshifting robot and its miniaturised crew who are currently posing as one of the members of the Silence; they offer him any help within their power as he faces his death. Through them, the Doctor is led to the living head of Dorium Maldovar, one of the Doctor's allies taken by the Order of the Headless Monks ("A Good Man Goes to War"). Dorium reveals that the Silence are dedicated to averting the Doctor's future, warning him "On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer a question will be asked—one that must never be answered. And Silence must fall when the question is asked." ("The Time of the Doctor") The Doctor continues to refuse to go to Lake Silencio until he discovers his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has died, at which point he accepts his fate. To avoid crossing his own time stream, he gives the Teselecta crew four invitations to Lake Silencio for Amy and Rory, River Song, Canton Everett Delaware III, and a younger version of himself.
As shown in "The Impossible Astronaut", the Doctor joins his friends at Lake Silencio and then approaches the astronaut, now known to be a younger version of River Song, Amy and Rory's daughter, trained to kill the Doctor by the Silence and Madame Kovarian. River does not want to kill him but is unable to fight the suit's control, and the Doctor says he forgives her and reminds her that the event is inevitable. River, despite his warning against interfering with a fixed point, surprises the Doctor by draining the astronaut suit's weapons systems and averting his death. Time becomes "stuck" as a result and begins to disintegrate; all of Earth's history begins to run simultaneously at a fixed moment of 5:02 p.m. on 22 April 2011. In London, Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill takes the Doctor, his "soothsayer", out from his locked cell to ask him about the condition of time. The Doctor explains the preceding events, as tally marks begin appearing on his arms, indicating the presence of the Silence. After noticing a Silence nest overhead, they are rescued by Amy and a squad of soldiers under her command. Due to the effects of the crack in her bedroom, Amy is cognizant of the altered timeline, though she is unaware that her trusted captain is her husband Rory. Amy takes the Doctor to "Area 52", a hollowed-out Giza pyramid, where they have captured over a hundred Silence and Madame Kovarian. River is also there, aware of the consequences of her actions she refuses to allow the Doctor to touch her, an event that would "unfreeze" time and allow it to resume. They all wear "eyedrives", external memory eye patches which enable them to avoid the Silence's effect of erasing themselves from memory.
They realise that this was a trap arranged by Kovarian, as the Silence begin to escape confinement and overload the eyedrives, killing their users. The Doctor and River escape to the top of the pyramid while Amy and Rory fight off a wave of Silence and Amy realises who Rory is. Madame Kovarian dislodges her own eyedrive as it begins to overload, but Amy forces it back in place with the intention of killing her as revenge for Kovarian taking her child (Melody Pond) away. Amy and Rory regroup with River and the Doctor. River tries to convince the Doctor that this frozen timeline is acceptable and that he does not have to die, but the Doctor explains that all of reality will soon break down. River claims she'll suffer more than anyone else in the universe if she has to kill the Doctor, despite his horror at the idea. To stop it, the Doctor marries River on the spot and whispers something in her ear, declaring that he had just told her his name. He then requests that River allow him to prevent the universe's destruction. The two kiss, and reality begins to return to normal.
Sometime later, Amy and Rory are visited by River, shortly after the events of "Flesh and Stone" in River's timeline. When Amy explains that she had recently witnessed the Doctor's death, River reveals that the Doctor lied when he said he told her his name; instead he had said "Look into my eye". The Doctor had asked the Teselecta to masquerade as him at Lake Silencio, and the Doctor and his TARDIS had been miniaturised within it. Elsewhere, the Doctor takes Dorium's head back to where it was stored and explains that his perceived death will enable him to be forgotten as he had been getting "too big" and drawing too much attention. As the Doctor leaves, Dorium warns of the prophecies that still await him and the question which Dorium calls out after him: "Doctor who?"
The Doctor mentions the possibility of visiting Rose Tyler and Jack Harkness. He also says that Queen Elizabeth I is still waiting to elope with him as hinted in The End of Time; this explains why she was so angry in "The Shakespeare Code". Amy's office contains the model of the TARDIS she made as a child ("The Eleventh Hour"), along with drawings of various monsters and scenes from her adventures with the Doctor. River Song states that she used her hallucinogenic lipstick on President Kennedy, a possession of hers that was introduced in "The Time of Angels".
One of the Silence calls Rory "the man who dies and dies again", a reference to the many times he appears to die. In "Forest of the Dead", River whispers something in the Doctor's ear that makes him trust her, which the Doctor states just before her death was "my name" and that "There's only one reason I would ever tell anyone my name". The episode's main plot centres around the damage caused by River when she tries to re-write a fixed point in time. The concept of "fixed points" in history which may not be altered, even by the Doctor or his companions, was introduced in The Aztecs (1964) and was named and explored in the new series with episodes such as "The Fires of Pompeii" and "The Waters of Mars". When River meets Amy for a bottle of wine, she is wearing military fatigues and says that she "just climbed out of the Byzanthium", and that she saw Amy there. This refers to events in "Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone" (the "crash of the Byzanthium" first being mentioned in "Silence in the Library".)
"The Wedding of River Song" concludes the story arc of the Doctor's apparent death which began in the series opener, "The Impossible Astronaut" and resolves more pieces of River Song's timeline. Despite this, it leaves ambiguous whether the Doctor and River are legitimately married. Showrunner and episode writer Steven Moffat described it as "a big roller coaster ride of Doctor Who madness". One of the "mad idea[s]" he included in the episode, "Live Chess", came because Moffat wanted to make chess — which he called "one of the most boring games in the world" — into a dangerous spectator sport. Originally, the script did not include the brief scene with a Dalek; Moffat had intended to rest the Doctor's most famous adversary for the sixth series. Amy's confrontation with Madame Kovarian, a scene which shows what she might have been like had she not met the Doctor, was also added into the script later.
Following the death of actor Nicholas Courtney, the Doctor learns in the episode that Courtney's character Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has died peacefully in a nursing home. Moffat said of the reference, "In a story about the Doctor going to his death, it seemed right and proper to acknowledge one of the greatest losses Doctor Who has endured." Moffat has confirmed that the eyedrives are also a tribute to Courtney, who wore an eye patch when playing an alternative version of the Brigadier in Inferno (1970). Several characters reappear in the episode, including Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) from "The Unquiet Dead", Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) from "Victory of the Daleks", the Silurian doctor Malohkeh (Richard Hope) from "The Hungry Earth"/"Cold Blood", the Teselecta and Captain Carter (Richard Dillane) from "Let's Kill Hitler", and the Headless Monks and Dorium (Simon Fisher-Becker) from "A Good Man Goes to War". McNeice felt there was room for his character to return, as "Victory of the Daleks" had hinted that he and the Doctor knew each other well.
Filming and effects
"The Wedding of River Song" was one of the last episodes filmed for the series; 29 April 2011 was the last day of filming. However, a scene from "Let's Kill Hitler" was delayed and shot on 11 July 2011, making that the last day of filming for the series. American television hostess Meredith Vieira recorded her report of Churchill's return to the Buckingham Senate in front of a green screen while filming a segment for The Today Show's "Anchors Abroad" segment in May 2011.
Mark Gatiss, who played Gantok, was credited in this episode under the pseudonym "Rondo Haxton", a homage to the American horror actor Rondo Hatton on whom the character's look was based; Gatiss underwent prosthetics to play the part. Gatiss, who has written for Doctor Who, also played Professor Richard Lazarus in "The Lazarus Experiment" (2007) and provided the voice of Danny Boy in "Victory of the Daleks".
The cast found working with the eye patches strange as they had to act with one eye; Kingston remarked that it made her "slightly dizzy". Gillan was allowed to fire a specially-made machine gun used for films. Churchill's Roman Buckingham Palace was filmed in the Cardiff's City Council building. The script called for an Indiana Jones style tunnel for the Headless Monks' chamber, but as that kind of location was not available in Cardiff a set was built instead. The skulls were hand-crafted and required a lot of preparation, so it was one of the first things started for the episode's production.
Broadcast and reception
"The Wedding of River Song" was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on 1 October 2011 and on the same date in the United States on BBC America. Overnight ratings showed that the episode was watched by 6.1 million viewers, the third most-watched programme of the evening and an improvement upon preceding weeks of Doctor Who as well as the previous series finale. Final consolidated figures by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board were 7.67 million viewers, the seventh highest for BBC One and the second most-watched programme for 1 October. It was given an Appreciation Index of 86, placing it in the "excellent" category. However it was the lowest rated finale since the revival of Doctor Who, with the others scoring an AI of 88 to 91.
The episode received positive to mixed reviews from critics, with some reservations over the resolution and character interactions. Dan Martin of The Guardian gave a positive review, believing that the episode "moves along the bigger, 50-year story and effectively reboots the show". He particularly praised it for being simplistic, as well as the visuals of all history running together at once. Rachel Tarley, writing for Metro, praising the "gripping race" against time and noting that the script was "snappy and witty throughout, but the episode had its eerie and touching moments where necessary, too". The A.V. Club's Keith Phipps gave the episode an A, calling it "pretty close to a perfect season finale" for those not looking for all of the answers. Morgan Jeffery of Digital Spy wrote, "As a piece of Saturday night entertainment, it works — packed full of strong performances, stunning visuals and sharp dialogue. And as the resolution to a series-long arc, it's mostly satisfactory — though the episode poses as many questions as it answers."
Dave Golder of SFX gave the episode four-and-a-half out of five stars, explaining that he was in conflict whether to rate it five or four stars and calling it "about nine tenths a great, great episode". He referred to the many concepts of the episode as a "sumptuous confection made mostly out of the finest ingredients" and found the Teselecta resolution a "cool twist" at first but it meant " the whole episode is just an elaborate version of the classic Star Trek: Voyager alternate timeline shtick complete with reset button". IGN's Matt Risley rated "The Wedding of River Song" 8.5 out of 10, writing it "managed to tie together plot threads and character arcs without too much Deus Ex Maguffiny predictability and with a whole host of trademark sci-fi spectacle to boot". Though he thought the wedding "felt a little too rushed to leave any lingering emotional aftertaste", he praised other emotional moments in the episode and the fact that everyone thinks the Doctor is dead will help the show explore a new angle.
Gavin Fuller of The Daily Telegraph called it an "uneven ending"; he praised it for being "visually clever" and liked the way the Silence were handled, but thought the Teselecta solution was "a bit of a cop-out". Neela Debnath of The Independent was displeased with the episode, calling it a "brainteaser" that "refused to tie up the loose ends neatly", and that as a finale it was "underwhelming in terms of drama and overwhelming in terms of information". However, she praised the fact that Moffat appears to be spreading storylines over several series, believing it "strengthens the show". On the other hand, HitFix's Alan Sepinwall thought that the resolutions from the wedding on were "excellent", but felt it could have done without another alternate universe, as it was similar to the previous finale "The Big Bang". Maureen Ryan of TV Squad criticised the episode for having too many "bells and whistles" which undermined the emotional moments, especially the wedding, which she did not believe showed that the Doctor was really in love with River. However, she did enjoy "callbacks" to previous episodes such as Churchill and Amy and Rory's relationship. Charlie Jane Anders of io9 thought it was better than the previous finale, "The Big Bang", as there were more answers, fun, and a satisfying resolution. However, she was critical of the reason River had to kill the Doctor as well as their relationship, and believed that Amy killing Madame Kovarian was "no substitute" for Amy dealing with what Kovarian had done to her child.
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