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The Wedding of River Song | www.ed-rex.com


The Wedding of River Song

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The Artificial Vanilla Wedding Cake of River Song or,

Steven Moffat and the Temple of the Lost Story Arcs

 

Bye-bye, Eye-Patch Guy. This should not have been funny.

Let's get the elephant out of the corner, herd it down the hall and shoo it right on out of the house. The Wedding of River Song was a dreary capstone to a dismal series, as dully static as this series' other "climactic" episode, A Good Man Goes to War.

Ostensibly meant to answer two years' worth of hints about the the ever-more tedious River Song, the episode was frankly boring. Very little happens on-screen that doesn't involved one character explaining things to another, something that seems to have become the default story-telling method in the Whonivese lately (see just about every entry in my reviews of Torchwood: Miracle Day for far too many examples).

And more, we were expecting answers as well to the mystery of the Doctor's apparent death at Lake Silencio, which we witnessed way back in the early minutes of the series opener. Well, we got answers of a sort, but they came packaged as explanatory flashbacks, like synopses delivered at a story-meeting. (I will leave for others to determine if the solutions offered makes even timey-wimey sense, but I do find it hard to swallow the idea that the Doctor can fool Causality as easily as one can fool a few enemies. It's a bit like crossing one's fingers behind one's back and expecting that an omniscient deity won't catch you at it.)

When you get down to it, the The Wedding of River Song is just lousy dramatic narrative, since almost nothing of important happens as we watch. It's the rare writer who can make episode after episode of talking heads entertaining, and Steven Moffat is neither a David Simon, nor a John le Carré.

In place of a narrative, we are offered a collage of Big Ideas — the militarized religions of the 52nd Century; Winston Churchill as Holy Roman Emperor; pterodactyls in the skies over England; the return of the miniaturized time-travellers called the Tesselecta; and of course, of the "memory-proof" Silence (whose fingers are still too fat for their slim-line suits). All this delivered in static but breathless streams of expository dialogue. We keep being told how exciting things were a few minutes ago, and how exciting they will be again a in the future, but nothing is exciting now.

And furthermore ...

Beyond the structural, a few other issues bear mentioning, if only in passing.

  • River's distress call to "millions", "The Doctor is dying. Please, please help ..." is horribly reminiscent of the infamous "Tinker Bell" solution to The Last of the Time Lords. Doctor Who, Superstar was a bad idea then and is a bad idea now;
  • River's utterly selfish declaration that her potential broken heart is of greater import than the fate of "every living thing in the universe" is every bit as monstrous as the dalek's desire to wipe out all life but their own, yet we are apparently meant to see it as romantic. (Have I mentioned that Moffat is a moral idiot? Oh yes, I have.)
  • I don't think any blackskins made the ultimate sacrifice this episode, but then again, unless I blinked and missed one, it seems that in the 52nd century there are no people of colour around.

Shades of Through the Looking-Glass! Unfortunately, Moffat is no Lewis Carroll, either.

Moffat also cheats, again and again and again. Rather than misdirect his audience, he is forever taking the easy route of muffling the sound, or of cutting away from a scene just as a secret is about to be revealed, all the better to "surprise" us later with an explanation declaimed at a machine-gun's staccato pace.

The dialogue that closes out the episode is a perfect demonstration. The Doctor is returning the head-in-a-box Dorian to his crypt. (That Dorian has proven to be less than a completely trust-worthy ally in the past doesn't matter; Moffat needs someone for the Doctor to talk to.)

"The Tesselecta. A Doctor, in a Doctor suit. Time said I had to be on that beach, so I dressed for the occasion. Barely got singed in that boat."

"So you're going to do this, let them all think you're dead?"

"It's the only way, then they can all forget me. I got too big, Dorian, too noisy. Time to step back into the shadows."

"And Doctor Song? In prison all her days?"

"Her days, yes. Her nights ... well, that's between her and me, eh?"

"So many secrets, Doctor. I'll help you keep them of course."

"Well you're not exactly going anywhere, are you?"

"But you're a fool, nonetheless. It's all still waiting for you. The Fields of Tranzelor, the fall of the 11th and the Question."

"Goodbye Dorian."

"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? Doc-Tor WHO!"

Classics-to-be: The Moffat Four

  1. Vincent and the Doctor;
  2. The Lodger;
  3. The Doctor's Wife; and maybe
  4. The Girl Who Waited.

It's a pretty short list, notable because each is a stand-alone episode, by writers focused on telling a single tale, and because not one is about the Doctor, but for which the Doctor was only a catalyst. (See Trial of the show-runners, my review of A Good Man Goes to War for more on this.)

And that was the climax to 27 episodes of television. One guy talking to a blue head in a box, and the blue head answering like an announcer in 1942 teasing the next thrilling instalment of a Hollywood serial.

The proffered explanation doesn't even make sense.

River spends her days in prison why? She's escaped more times than we can remember and the Doctor is "dead". Why don't the two of them get a room somewhere a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away from 52th century Earth?

Presumably so that Moffat's Doctor could indulge in a little "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" about how River's nights are "... between her and me, eh?"

O! that wicked Doctor Who!

Two years of promises and hype and it is as if Moffat threw together his denouement the night before the cameras rolled, and after a two-month bender.

You may call it timey-wimey brilliance, but I call it dramatic shite.

Meanwhile, I'm tired. I'm tired of stories that ignore character and internal logic; I'm tired of dropped themes and of morality ignored; I'm tired of stories that don't move and of dialogue that has to tell me what I've missed.

A year is a long time (and even Christmas seems pretty far off), so I'll make no promises, but those of you who have grown as weary of my "hate" as I have of Moffat's Who can at least hope you won't hear from me again until the changing of the guard.


 

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Moffat even less impressive without suspense

I don't know if this is even still an active thread, but since I am late to the party i wanted to add an observation. Having watched all 6-1/2 seasons in three months it is amazing to notice how Moffat's popularity seems to depend on the suspense factor. He wants to spread out tantalizing clues between the seasons while we analyze the meta of his story and make up theories about the deeper meaning of certain incidents. When you take out the suspense factor you are left with a rather aimless and choppy exercise in pointillism. RTD had many faults, well, more like one big fault over and over again, but he told a good story and made you care about his characters. Moffat does not tell a good story, and his characters remind me of a gaming term we used, "A wandering plot device." I also worry that he is writing himself into a corner, again. He did it with this episode where he could only have the Doctor live by saying "OK audience I lied to you, The Doctor can pretend to die and reality won't know the difference." Dumb,dumb,dumb. Now he is setting up the whole "question which must not be asked" thing to be the same way, lots of build-up, untenable situation, cop-out resolution. Sorry, but even glowy Tinkerbell Doctor is less of an epic fail than conversations with a blue head, or ooh does "the question" refer to the Doctor's name ooh-ooh. Yes, I will continue to watch the new episodes, once. In the meantime I think I will go back and rewatch season 1.

Re: Moffat even less impressive without suspense

It's an active thread now that you've re-opened it.

it is amazing to notice how Moffat's popularity seems to depend on the suspense factor. He wants to spread out tantalizing clues between the seasons while we analyze the meta of his story and make up theories about the deeper meaning of certain incidents. When you take out the suspense factor you are left with a rather aimless and choppy exercise in pointillism.

That's been my impression, but as I watched them (usually only once) when they came out, it's nice to have confirmation. And I quite like the gaming term; "wandering plot device" indeed.

I also worry that he is writing himself into a corner, again.

I wouldn't bet the proverbial farm, but might be willing to wager, say, five bucks, that the famous question just gets ignored over the next series. It seems to me more likely that we're just going to watch the new companion put Rory to shame and instead put South Park's Kenny to shame by dying at the end of every single episode. (Now there's five dollars I'd be happy to lose!)

Re-watching Series One suddenly seems like a very good idea.

Thanks for letting me chime in

Have a similar worry about Clara/Oswin..whatever her name will be. We were told what a nice change this new companion was going to be. I have watched both episodes with her in and hmmm, We have a perky 20ish girl-hello Rose, Martha, and Amy. Who has a thing for the doctor-hello Rose, Martha, Amy, and River. She has already died twice-hello Rory. She has some mystery about her existence-hello Amy and River. I have yet to see any unique aspects to her. We have already had two main season plots tied up in the origins of a companion and this looks to be a third.

Re: Thanks for letting me chime in

No thanks necessary; welcome aboard and I hope you stick around.

So far, I quite like the actress playing what's 'er name. I don't know yet whether she can really act but she's certainly a lot more charming to me than Karen Gillan ever was.

But the repeated deaths, combined with Steven (Girl Literally in the Refrigerator) Moffat's questionable way of handling women leaves me pretty nervous.

Impressions of the new companion

She does seem to be headed that way, what with two deaths in two episodes. I'm not sure who would take your wager.
Will you be reviewing The Snowmen or anything else more recent or have you truly given up on the series. I have enjoyed your reviews.

Re: Impressions of the new companion

I'm honestly not sure. I'm still watching the show, but I kind of feel like there's not much point in hammering away at it — or even, as with the Christmas special, explaining why I kind of enjoyed it.

I think I'm a little burned out on Steven Moffat, as well as busy as hell with other (theoretically more important) things. But who knows? Something might inspire me. And lord knows, the Who reviews pull in a lot of traffic, which any writer enjoys!

While there have been a small

While there have been a small handful things the past two seasons that I have quite enjoyed (and I actually like River more now than I did last season, because I can now see the woman who will become the awesome River we first met in the library, whereas in season 5 I really couldn't) than I've been assuaging my general dissappointment with Moffat's work at the helm by re-watching Sarah Jane Adventures instead.

And I did like the Amy we saw in alternate-world, and the fact that she did finally show a reaction related to having her baby stolen away.

Also, pterodactyls are awesome! I am now convinced the pterodactyl that the Torchwood hub had must have gotten left after the timey-wimey stuff put everything right.

Re: While there have been a small

I've been assuaging my general dissappointment with Moffat's work at the helm by re-watching Sarah Jane Adventures instead.

They really are consoling, aren't they? And this season's opening diptych wasn't bad. Unless Davies lets his Tasteless Bastard run completely riot, I fear I'm going to spend the second Tuesday from now weeping like a baby.

Darn you. I hadn't realized

Darn you.

I hadn't realized BBC had started airing what 5th season they have.

Within two minutes of watching the episode (which is to say, nothing specific to the episode) I was already bawling like a baby at the site of Sarah Jane, large as life on the screen.

Re: Darn you. I hadn't realized

At the risk of sounding being crass, there are an awful lot of celebrities I would rather see dead than Elisabeth Sladen.

...yeah, I liked this one

I didn't think it was without problems. Most glaring to me is how the women have been relegated to mostly passive roles and are defined by their relationship to him. Particularly River, who was supposed to be a strong character with agency.

This said, I think River's declaration was supposed to be awful. The Doctor certainly thought so. And note, River's distress call didn't work. That, to me, was a takedown of Tinkerbell Jesus and a recognition that, while the Doctor is certainly important, he is not the most important. Ultimately, he cheats death not as a saviour but as a trickster.

Eyepatch Guy was hilarious. I thought it was meant to be hilarious. I mean, "Live Chess"? Flailing into a pit of skulls? That was camp gold.

And I'll admit, they had me with both the pure awesome of the opening sequence, and the Brig's death. I'll forgive a lot of plot holes for both of those moments.

Re: ...yeah, I liked this one

I envy you the liking, I really do. (Which is another reason I'm so pleased I was able to enjoy this week's SJA — I imagine I'll be posting about those soonish.)

Most glaring to me is how the women have been relegated to mostly passive roles and are defined by their relationship to him.

Very definitely. And I like to think I'd have dealt with that had I believed in the relationships in the first place. Which brings me back to my structural criticism and why I've so hated Moffat's work.

I think River's declaration was supposed to be awful. The Doctor certainly thought so.

And yet he not only gave her absolution, he solved the problem (just like that!) and married her in the bargain. What the hell kind of moral seriousness is that?!?

Eyepatch Guy was hilarious, though. If you could convince me he was meant to be, I might have to reconsider the whole episode.

Word on the shout-out to the Brig. (Though unless I missed something beyond the dedication earlier this year, an in-story shout-out to Sarah Jane Smith would also have been appropriate. I admit, I raised a bit of an eyebrow at its absence.)

"And yet he not only gave her

"And yet he not only gave her absolution, he solved the problem (just like that!) and married her in the bargain. What the hell kind of moral seriousness is that?!?"

The "I had a perfectly good plan and this person's just screwed it up. How do I fix it?" seriousness I think. As with most of Moff's "pay-off" episodes there were lots of great moments, (nothing to top the Sontaran Nurse and the Interspecies Lesbian Samurai Victorians- if they don't become the new SJA I'll be disappointed) but everything felt far too rushed. If they'd made it a 90 minute epsiode, or split it (throw in an easily-escaped from cliffhanger if you must) they'd have had the time to sit down and make the characterisation make sense. As always everything is too rushed.

Re: "And yet he not only gave her

As always everything is too rushed.

Which really begs the question: Why all those stand-alone episodes, then? It's not like he didn't have the time at his disposal.

As for the Sontaran nurse, I thought it worked okay as a meta-joke, but it didn't make sense in-story. On the other hand, I can just buy the Interspecies Lesbian Samurai Victorians — if they could hook up with Sarah Jane's kids it just might be glorious.

And yet he not only gave her

And yet he not only gave her absolution, he solved the problem (just like that!) and married her in the bargain. What the hell kind of moral seriousness is that?!?

It isn't, but the Doctor shouldn't be morally serious. Besides which, he gave her absolution for killing him, not for almost killing the universe.

Eyepatch Guy was hilarious, though. If you could convince me he was meant to be, I might have to reconsider the whole episode.

He had to be. Like, the accent even. No one writes a scene where a dude gets eaten alive by chattering skulls and expects it to be taken seriously, not even Moffat.

Word on the shout-out to the Brig. (Though unless I missed something beyond the dedication earlier this year, an in-story shout-out to Sarah Jane Smith would also have been appropriate. I admit, I raised a bit of an eyebrow at its absence.)

I am choosing to believe this is because Sarah Jane Smith is not dead in the Whoverse. Because that would be too sad. She is adventuring or something. They can have the Brig die of natural causes, because he's old, but Sarah Jane dying of cancer would just be too awful.

Re: And yet he not only gave her

It isn't, but the Doctor shouldn't be morally serious.

Say what!? Why in the world not? Moral seriousness is what makes Doctor Who different from, say, The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.

No one writes a scene where a dude gets eaten alive by chattering skulls and expects it to be taken seriously, not even Moffat.

You made me watch that scene again. I remain unconvinced, but I'm no longer certain I was right.

am choosing to believe this is because Sarah Jane Smith is not dead in the Whoverse.

I respect your religious convictions and frankly wish I could share them. Have you been watching the final series?

The show should be morally

The show should be morally serious. The Doctor himself, not so much.

I had no clue that there was a final series of SJA. Should I watch it? And by "should I watch it?", I mean, "am I going to be able to watch it without bawling?"

Re: The show should be morally

The show should be morally serious. The Doctor himself, not so much.

And I say, Remembrance of the Daleks, young lady! There's a difference between a light touch and no touch at all.

So far, so decent on the new(ish) SJA. I quite enjoyed the first two installments and am praying against hope that Davies just lets the show be itself without bringing out his Urge Towards Significance.

But you? You'll probably bawl, because Lis Sladen was almost as cool as Sarah Jane Smith and now we have to say Goodbye.

You wrote, "Meanwhile, I'm

You wrote, "Meanwhile, I'm tired. I'm tired of stories that ignore character and internal logic; I'm tired of dropped themes and of morality ignored; I'm tired of stories that don't move and of dialogue that has to tell me what I've missed."

You and me both, brother, you and me both.

follow the metaphors or tear it all down to shreds

I must admit, the difference in how I feel after reading this review versus, say, LJ user elisi's epic Meta: The Doctor’s Final Lesson, courtesy of River Song is huge. I agree with a number of your points, Edifice Rex, but ultimately I'm left with a sense of emptiness; there's nothing here that surprises or delights or makes me think deeper. There's no passionate engagement with the text, no rolling up the sleeves and going, 'Okay, so River can obviously break out of her prison box any time she feels like it, so what need does hanging her hat up there serve for her?' or 'How might this change my interpretation of what was going on with previous episodes, or where the series might be going in the future?'

I disagree that the climax was what you yourself name as the teaser for the next season. The emotional climax was dual: the negotiation between the Doctor and River ending in the kiss, and then the retelling and reinterpretation of the significance of the kiss. There's the release of tension--the Doctor survives! And what's more, he's going back to his roots, easing off the big stage and the trap of attempting ever bigger and badder season arcs to top all ones previous.

but ultimately I'm left with

but ultimately I'm left with a sense of emptiness

See, and for me, that's how I usually feel after Moffat's episodes. Reading something like Elisi's Meta doesn't change that, because while I might be able to see the metaphors, they don't change the facts: I think the plot is a complete fake-out, the characters just don't resonate with me and I don't feel a damn thing apart from annoyance watching Moffat's fireworks. I'm only interested in meta-levels if I have a reason to care, and I just don't, because plot, characters, logic and moral ideas are one big fail here, nice metaphors or not.

Re: but ultimately I'm left with

Thanks for that. You answered the question much more clearly than I did.

"And what's more, he's going

"And what's more, he's going back to his roots, easing off the big stage and the trap of attempting ever bigger and badder season arcs to top all ones previous."

I'll believe that when I see it. Who is currently in the hands of the most formulaic lead writer it's had since Barry Letts was round, and is a (if not the, any more) hot property of a BBC that feels itself under constant threat and pressure. If Moff dares disturb the universe by breaking with the Doctor's reputation as his greatest trait and weapon, it'll be the first surprise he's delivered since he first ended up in charge.

Re: "And what's more, he's going

I'll believe that when I see it.

Ditto. The Blue Head's last-minute screeching certainly suggest there are more Big Questions and Meaningful Arcs to come.

Incidentally, I note that you are the second Von to post here. I hope you kids can play nice!

The other one might be me

The other one might be me under some other variant of my ID. I lose track sometimes.

Re: The other one might be me

Unless you live in Ottawa and are this cartoonist, I think there are two of you!

Re: Follow the mataphors or tear it all down to shreds

There's no passionate engagement with the text, no rolling up the sleeves and going,

You're absolutely right, I'm not and there isn't, here.

First of all, the following of metaphors, especially when they are deliberately laid down like clues to a puzzle, is not one of my passions even when I am deeply engaged with something. Moby Dick is a great novel to my mind, because it works as fiction even if you don't recognize the specific allusions and metaphors. While it's arguably in the same literary league (and again, to my mind), something like Joyce's Ulysses is a lesser work because it would be impeneterable if you don't come to it with at least some inkling that it is a re-writing of the Grail legends. (I knew only thanks to Joseph Campbell.)

To put it another way, I come to fiction for story more than anything else. When that fails, any other virtues become irrelevant to me.

Looking to me for in-depth textual and meta-textual readings for something I think is a clapped-together piece of shite is simply asking the wrong guy.

As for the climax, I labelled that final scene the climax because it was only then that we could possibly have understood what went before. But structurally, I'd say you're right — it was an appendix, and that just isn't where you should put your story's climactic information.

This, so much.

This, so much.

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Warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/watchdog' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:349:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/accesslog' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: INSERT INTO accesslog (title, path, url, hostname, uid, sid, timer, timestamp) values('The Wedding of River Song', 'node/292', '', '54.158.238.108', 0, 'a7a1bc6526ac27a17d50d87ffe7827d1', 280, 1508627396)\";s:5:\"%file\";s:62:\"/home/edadmin/public_html/modules/statistics/statistics.module\";s:5:\"%line\";i:63;}', 3, '', 'http://ed-rex.com/reviews/television/doctor_who/the_we in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

Warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/watchdog' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:836:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/sessions' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE sessions SET uid = 0, cache = 0, hostname = '54.158.238.108', session = 'messages|a:1:{s:5:\\"error\\";a:1:{i:0;s:441:\\"user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/accesslog' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\\nquery: INSERT INTO accesslog (title, path, url, hostname, uid, sid, timer, timestamp) values('The Wedding of River Song', 'node/292', '', &a in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135