#4 The Wedding of River Song written by Steven Moffat aka the Dark Lord of the Whoniverse
If you were to ask me what my favorite Eleventh Doctor episode is, this just might be it. Honestly, it’s a tie between this and next week’s, but I flip-flop back and forth. If you are a River Song fan (and many Whovians are not), this episode canonizes my OTP and puts to rest the question that has followed River since she rejoined the cast in season 5; Is River the woman who marries the Doctor or murders him? Spoilers: BOTH. I decided to start with this River episode because it is easiest to follow her Impossible Astronaut story line if you start here, at the end of season 6. Yes, I know, wibbley-wobbley, timey-wimey. But River and the Doctor’s stories run in opposite directions, and I find it helps me comprehend her time line if we begin when River marries/kills the Doctor.
Steven Moffat begins the River Song story line in true Moffat-y fashion–with her death in Season 4, Episode 9 released in 2008. So many Whovians have a negative opinion of Moffat, this character and how he’s developed her but I enjoy the implications of River, in terms of the time Moffat has taken to develop her and also what she represents in the Doctor’s timeline. We meet River as she sacrifices herself for the Tenth Doctor, whom she’s never encountered before. In the David Tennant/RTD era of Who, we get a rare Moffat 2-parter about the Vashta Nerada invading the Universe’s largest library and audiences are unceremoniously introduced to Professor River Song for the first time, who is obviously a woman that intimately knows the Doctor. When she whispers to him his own name, even Ten understands that somehow, this woman will be important to him in his future, and so he uploads her essence to the Library data base and we do not hear from her again until Season 5, Episode 4 in 2010. Flash forward a few hundred years, after Ten’s regeneration, after the Doctor begins to travel with Amy Pond, and suddenly River is back in our lives, a mysterious flirt, with big hair full of spoilers. We see River at the Byzantium with that TARDIS blue diary in which she chronicles her encounters with the Doctor because the two time travelers never meet in the right order. Can we just marvel that Whovians spend two years waiting for a Moffat story arc to come back around again? Go, Moff. In order to comprehend the arc, audiences must realize that we are watching The 11/River relationship not only begin but come to an inevitable end as well.
In The Wedding of River Song, the fixed point in time that is the Doctor’s death at Lake Silencio is upon us. Viewers have watched the plot lines twist and turn and suddenly, we are out of time. The episode starts with an alternate Universe in which all of time is happening at once. Immediately, we go between flashbacks to the Doctor’s path to Lake Silencio and a conversation he is having with the Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill. Yes, spacey-wacey. The Silence are closing in and it seems the Doctor cannot continue running away from his destiny, and so much of this episode shows Eleven seemingly coming to terms with his own imminent death. When we find that River has pretty much destroyed all of time and space by refusing to kill the Doctor and unloading her guns at the sand instead of at her man, we begin to understand that the River on the beach is watching her past self kill the Doctor. We know more about River Song at this instance than we do at any other time, and only Angels Take Manhattan and The Name of the Doctor bring new revelations to her timeline. She has rewritten a fixed point in time and conversely, jumbled up all of the Universe to prove her love for the Doctor. In the aborted timeline, the Doctor knows that the Universe must believe he is dead for time to go back to normal but River and the Ponds refuse to give up without showing him he is loved. It is a touching moment when the Doctor finally understands that “a million, million” entities are there to help him avoid death. While River comes off as a bit desperate/crazy in the scene at the top of the pyramid, to me, she also reveals herself to be as strong and as willful as the Doctor. She wants him to know she loves him because she too realizes the aborted timeline won’t last forever.
With the realization finally dawning on the Doctor, he acknowledges River’s sacrifices; a prison stint for his murder, all the lies and secrecy and eventually her death in the Library. Suddenly the intensity of their current/future relationship becomes clear to him, he takes a chance and tells her the truth. To me, this is the real beginning of the 11/River canon OTP and all the interactions between the Doctor and River after this (but in previous DW episodes) begin to make sense. All that River has done for the Doctor is validated when he admits that he needs her–as his wife, companion and partner in crime. Finally, we get to see the Doctor vulnerable and yet he is still one good idea ahead of his companions. In a moment of honesty, he reveals to River that he is the Doctor in a Doctor suit and that he and the TARDIS are inside this Doctor/Tesalecta version of himself. All is well, as long as the Doctor lays low and doesn’t start another Time War or interact with large groups of angry aliens. It’s an epic win for Whovians, who sat at the edge of their seats wondering if this was the episode we would see Matt Smith regenerate into Twelve. Alas, that tragedy is coming to your Christmas dinner, December 2013.
The Wedding of River Song
Forest of the Dead, River’s Sacrifice for your viewing feels
The Collectiva Diva
- 11 Episodes of the Eleventh Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (acollectivemind.wordpress.com)
- 11 Episodes of the Eleventh Doctor: The Doctor’s Wife (acollectivemind.wordpress.com)
- Ready For the Doctor Who Finale? What You Need to Know Before You Watch (cabletv.com)