Underrated Gems of Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song
Last year, The Digital Fix revisited five episodes from the new series of Doctor Who which have received a lukewarm reception from fans and critics, and presented an alternative view in the spirit of positive appraisal. Given the show’s widespread popularity and diversity of viewership, any episode will be received variously by different people, but each story covered by The Digital Fix had its fair share of redeeming features.
Take a look back at:
Now, we return to the world of Doctor Who criticism with a different intention: boosting the profile of episodes which, although not badly reviewed, we believe to be cases of Doctor Who at its very best. These are the underrated gems: highly entertaining, intelligently structured or thematically rich episodes that deserve far more praise than usually given.
Check out out look back at Hell Bent, while our latest instalment tackles another Steven Moffat script and another series finale, namely The Wedding of River Song.
Series six boasts probably the most ambitious story arc of the show since the revival – certainly the most serialised. The Doctor is seemingly shot dead – for good – and then later reappears, much to the shock and anger of companions Amy, Rory and River, inexplicably unscathed and two hundred years younger. From there things only get more complex with the introduction of the mindwiping Silence, the menacing Madame Kovarian and a girl in a spacesuit with the power of regeneration. The Doctor’s death becomes a lingering mystery as the series progresses just as the identity of River Song comes to the fore midway, before the two storylines converge in The Wedding of River Song.
I can’t let you die without knowing you are loved. By so many and so much. And by no one more than me.
It’s an ambitious creative decision I believe the series pulls off, and the finale is where is all comes together primarily due to the central romantic storyline. Beyond a plethora of returning characters – Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Dorium, Kovarian – a cool Dalek cameo and the revelatory twist that resolves the Doctor’s death arc, at its heart The Wedding of River Song is a love story, replete with the exchange of wedding vows, heartbreaking admissions of forgiveness (“You are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven.”) and grand gestures of commitment (as grand gestures go, you probably can’t beat River burning up the timelines to save the person she loves from dying).
The Doctor’s acknowledgement that his time is up and acceptance of the imminent end (prior to discovering a get-out-of-jail card in the form of the Tesselecta, of course) is a solemn moment, and the nod to the Brigadier tugs on the heartstrings regardless of one’s familiarity with that classic character owing to Matt Smith’s moving performance. And as always, Murray Gold’s stellar score absolutely sells the emotions onscreen.
Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill returned to the Buckingham Senate on his personal mammoth.
Elsewhere, Doctor Who’s ceaseless creativity is fully on show. There are few better examples of the show’s wackiness and mashup of ideas than the pre-credits sequence, where pterodactyls and air balloons fly the skies of modern-day London, Winston Churchill is attended to by a Silurian doctor while narrating an escapade with Cleopatra, and Charles Dickens conducts a live television interview on BBC Breakfast. The episode’s snappy, non-linear storytelling – a Steven Moffat hallmark – is everything you could expect from such a bold and brassy programme as this.
Any finale is necessarily tasked with juggling two primary intentions: wrapping up any series arc that might exist, and telling a cogent and stirring tale of its own to end the run of episodes on a high. Arguably a third element is increasingly common: setting up where the show goes next. The Wedding of River Song achieves all three, resolving the Doctor’s death with a neat and very Doctor-ish sleight of hand, weaving a heartfelt love story for the Doctor and River, and also revealing the ultimate question arc that runs across all of series seven up until The Time of the Doctor – all while giving us that thrilling final scene where Dorium eerily barks ‘Doctor Who?’ at a fourth wall-breaking Matt Smith.
Finale episodes might never completely live up to every viewer’s expectations, but taken on its own terms The Wedding of River Song weaves a resonant narrative that is equal parts action-packed and emotional. One wonders if the expanded space afforded by a two-parter could have alleviated possible concerns about pacing – but as a single episode it works well, streamlining the story to focus on the relationship between the Doctor and River and providing a solid ending to an ambitious sixth series of Doctor Who.