Street Corner, Two in the Morning, Getting a Taxi Home (The Wedding of River Song)

(85 comments)

In this image, Clara is disguised as an empty room. 
It's October 1st, 2011. Dappy is at number one with "No Regrets," while Maroon Five, One Direction, and several bands without numbers in their names also chart. It is also the hottest October day in history, and the day in which New York City police arrested seven hundred people during Occupy Wall Street. And it's the day Doctor Who's sixth season wraps with The Wedding of River Song.

The obligatory introduction out of the way, let’s start where we left off. This is, after all, an episode about answering questions. So let’s just give the answer. “By adding another twist to the A Good Man Goes to War/Let’s Kill Hitler subversion of the epic and having River heal the Doctor.” That, at least, is what the plan seems to be. We’ve already discussed the nightmare that production on Season Six turned into back with Let’s Kill Hitler, and so we don’t need to go into it here, but suffice it to say that the distinction between Moffat’s first draft and the shooting script is in this case largely theoretical. As a result, like Let’s Kill Hitler, this is an episode of television in dire need of fine tuning. To quote that post, “it’s not so much that the episode does the wrong things as it is that the episode doesn’t quite put the emphasis on the right beats.”

But in this case there’s something more. Almost all of the major storyline of the season is resolved at its center, with the revelation of who River Song is. All that’s really left for The Wedding of River Song to do is to square away how the Doctor cheats death. But this is not actually a particularly interesting question, simply because there are so many ways to do it. On top of that, the out of order nature of the season means that the whole thing is necessarily a bit of a shaggy dog story. The big climax of this arc already happened in the season premiere. All that’s left to do is to pull back the curtain and reveal how the trick was accomplished, which is by definition the least interesting part.

So yes, ultimately the entire mystery of the season is “the Doctor gets away by hiding in a shapeshifting robot.” This is not a particularly effective plot beat, and the fact that it’s placed so close to the end of the episode makes it bear more weight than it can possibly support, but again, as we’ve seen, with these two episodes in particular it’s important to try to discern intent, not so much in order to argue that the episodes are secret works of genius, but rather as a sort of archeological process to uncover what would have happened if Moffat had actually had the chance to revise any of this. 

Clearly the actual key beat of the story - the actual climax upon which everything hinges - is the scene atop the pyramid. It is, after all, what the episode is named after. And this is how these sorts of resolutions are supposed to work. The point isn’t supposed to be how the Doctor cheats death, but rather what the emotional consequences of his doing so are. The story shouldn’t be about the methodology, but rather about how the Doctor and the woman who both loves him and kills him reconcile all of that. (In this regard, you can see the entire thing done with the emphasis put in the right places by Mark Gatiss just over two years later in The Empty Hearse) And in that regard, it’s a mistake to treat this as “the story of how the Doctor survived.” The story tells us up front, with scrupulous fairness, exactly where to look for what the story is actually about. It does the exact opposite of Let’s Kill Hitler: where that title was a feint, this one is utterly sincere. This is a story about River. 

So the key exchange in the episode becomes when the Doctor asks River if her killing him meant she’d suffer “more than every living thing in the universe,” and River, after a majestically timed pause, simply answers “yes.” It is, of course, a fantastically narcissistic line, but it’s narcissistic in a way that’s terribly, profoundly true. If Season Five was largely about how the Doctor makes amends to Amelia by teaching Amy how to be her, Season Six is about the reconciliation between the Doctor and River. Both ultimately hinge on the same moment: Amy and River both insist on their emotional and personal investments in the face of a universe that tries to categorically deny their validity. They declare their love for the Doctor, and in doing so defy reality. In each case, it’s a narrative substitution: the story insists that the Doctor has to have one fate, and they refuse, insisting on an entirely different sort of story.

But in River’s case, the narrative that’s substituted is distinctly positioned as an evolution of Amy’s saving of the Doctor last season. The first attempt at solving the problem - sending out a message to the entire universe - is largely similar to Amy’s rescue of the Doctor, which was largely based around the idea of saving the Doctor through love of Doctor Who as a set of stories. But the Doctor angrily spurns this sort of rescue, forcing River to instead demand his survival on the grounds of her love for him. And in turn, the Doctor has to reckon with River in a way that we haven’t really seen him do before. Because his reaction to River’s answer that yes, she will suffer more than every living thing in the universe is ultimately to believe her. Yes, he sulks for a few seconds, but ultimately, at the end of the day, he accepts what she says at face value. 

What’s significant here isn’t so much that the Doctor falls in love, or even that someone falls in love with the Doctor. Rather, it’s that the Doctor accepts River’s love as a responsibility. It’s worth comparing to Rose, who the Doctor clearly knows loves him, and who he clearly loves, but who he repeatedly makes choices for, trying to send her into Pete’s World in Doomsday, and then exiling her back in Journey’s End. The Doctor may love Rose, but ultimately everything he does for and about her is done out of a fundamentally selfish belief that he knows what is best for her. But in this scene, confronted with River’s love for him, he is forced to abandon what he thinks best (erasing himself from history) in favor of accepting the implications of being loved by River. And in doing this, River heals the Doctor and saves his life. That’s the real answer. Saving the Doctor is easy - River already did that. Similarly, this was never a story about River’s healing. We saw that already, and it was confirmed the moment she showed that she was powerful enough to just cast off the Silence’s programming. In this moment, we get what the story is supposed to be about: the Doctor being healed by River’s love, and the fact that he recognizes the fact that he is loved as a responsibility.

This act on the Doctor’s part finally puts to right the trauma of Melody’s kidnapping and of Amy’s violation. We see it in the final scenes, with Amy, Rory, and River joyfully sharing a glass of wine in the back garden (clear shades of The Eleventh Hour, complete with musical cue), a family reunited and reconciled. It is an odd reconciliation, as befits a show like Doctor Who, but it is nevertheless a clear act of healing. We get, with this final act of reparation - of River’s love being accepted by the Doctor - the restoration of the happy family that we started the season with. 

And, of course, that act of healing comes alongside the properly horrifying scene of Amy murdering Madame Kovarian in cold blood, a moment that is on the one hand very much in character for Amy and on the other hand feels shocking and wrong, and demonstrates, in case it was somehow in any doubt, that yes, Amy does carry real scars and damage from what happened to her. She ultimately does, if only for a fleeting moment, claim her revenge plot and succumb to all of the temptations of A Good Man Goes to War, just as the Doctor did. (And it sets up a lovely moment in which River tries to dismiss the idea that there’s any ethical concern there, only to have her mother coldly shoot her down by adhering to the logic that if she remembers it, she’s responsible for it - a claim that keeps perfectly with the larger aesthetics and ethics of the Moffat era.) 

All of the bits, in other words, are here. It’s just that they’re lost in a story that’s a frustrating muddle. Without the time to work anything out properly, Moffat just goes for an unrelenting chain of set pieces. The “time has all run together” bits are charming enough, and the phrase “his personal mammoth” is wonderful. And, of course, the death of the Brigadier is one of the finest moments of the Moffat era, with the Doctor, at that moment not having any clue or plan how he’s going to get out of this, accepting his death as something that really is going to happen and coming to terms with it. For that to happen with a real death - one that comes out of the actual loss of Nicholas Courtney in the lead-up to this series - is heartbreakingly beautiful, and damn near steals the episode. 

But other bits wear the desperation under which they were written on their sleeve. Live chess is cute, but not nearly funny enough to support the scene it’s in, and the less said about that pit of skulls the better. (Although I suppose one general note is worthwhile - the degree to which this episode is hamstrung by having to shoot things on greenscreen is brutal. In particular, the fact that they didn’t manage to film the Doctor’s death on their US filming means that a key scene has to be shot as a flaccid pair of closeups, although the pyramid roof is scarcely better.) On top of that, all momentum stalls once the Doctor gets to the pyramid and the story has to begin bending over backwards to keep from ending. The Silence, so wonderfully terrifying in their first appearance, become generic canon fodder. The whole thing is a damp squib, so that the shaggy dog revelation of the Tesselecta, instead of being a cute joke, ends up in keeping with everything around it. 

And yet even this almost works. If The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon was, as we said at the time, a case of opening the season with its finale, The Wedding of River Song neatly inverts that, closing the season with a bit of light froth that feels more like an opener than a closer. One can question the wisdom of this, and it’s a particularly strange decision given the split season that also meant that this part of the season opened with something lighter, making the entire back half feel a bit disposable, but there’s at least a broad sort of sense that’s made with the structure. 

But for all of that, there’s still something frustratingly insubstantial here, and knowing everything we know about the nightmare that was the production of this part of the season doesn’t really help. Let’s Kill Hitler was at least a fascinating failure - a story whose reach exceeded its grasp in such an outlandishly oversized way that it’s possible to love the astonishingly feminist story it almost is. The Wedding of River Song, on the other hand, is ultimately slender by design. The season just doesn’t have much more than a few is to cross and ts to dot. All the key revelations about River are in place, and all that’s left to do is the inevitable conclusion, complete with just enough of a cheat on whether they’re married to provide a fig leaf for the fans who also want to pretend that the Doctor wasn’t about to say he loved Rose in Doomsday

And with that in place it’s time to transition to the next big arc, in which the very title of the show becomes a destabilizing force on the narrative. On the one hand, of course, the question is literal, and harkens back to the original (and as of The Time of the Doctor still unsolved) question about River: how does she know the Doctor’s name? But in reality, especially with the knowledge that the show was ramping up to Day of the Doctor, the question takes on a metafictional heft. The show’s very nature is positioned as a narrative danger to it. Its title, with all its not-entirely-clear promise, is a threat. 


But all of that lies ahead of us, and this is perhaps a better time to reflect on the season we’ve just finished. I maintain, in the face of all the heated discussions in comments we’ve had over the season, that there is no period since 1964-65 when the series was maintained a sense of reckless and giddy ambition for a sustained run quite like this. Taken as a whole, this is an extraordinary season. Yes, it goes out with a whimper, but if that’s the price for a season that has as many gems as this, so be it. It’s more than worth it. The ending is in almost every regard the single least important part of the season, and the season itself knows it. Best to go back and look at the rest of it.

Comments

Spacewarp 3 years, 4 months ago

Now this is the downside of posting River-related posts in River's Timeline Order. I can't easily find them by looking back in the blog history. Anything prior to 2011 is easy, you just stab at the archive, pick a month/year and just scroll back or forth until you find the season and story you're after. But anything with River Song in it? No chance.

I mean, you're referring back to "Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon" ("as we said at the time)...but I honestly can't remember if you've actually done those stories yet!

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Carey 3 years, 4 months ago

Pretty well agree with many of your comments here: there is a frustrating air of all the elements are there, but in need of a second draft. But here are some rambling thoughts:

I would say that the mystery angle is answered in full and satisfactorily: if taken as a whole, series six adheres to the structure of a mystery in that it introduces a problem, then at least one red herring solution, hides the proper solution in plain site and then fills the rest of the story with distractions from the main mystery that many don't realise are distractions. One of my favourite mysteries is the late 80's remake of Dead On Arrival, where we are given a wonderful opening scene (man walks into a police station and asks to report a murder. When asked whose, he replies: "Mine.") which then flashes back a couple of days and we proceed to have a ninety minute or so run about when the protagonist thinks he's investigating his own murder before, in the last five minutes working out who actually did it which is only tangentially connected to the chaos he has endured for that time. A marvellous and mostly unappreciated film.

Of course, the surprise solution to "How does the Doctor get out of that?" is spoilt by the "previously on" sequence. Ah well.

And I'm sorry, but all the complaints about Canton Everett Delaware III as an old man saying "That is the Doctor. And he really is dead." seems to miss the point of misdirection in a thriller. Russell T Davies has said previously in an interview that it always mystifies him how science fiction fans take everything said as the total truth when in all fiction the truth is that everyone lies. It doesn't matter that Canton Everett Delaware III lies. there are in narrative and meta-narrative reasons for him to do so: the line is said for the Silence, and the Silence are very much stand ins for the audience at this point.

I'm looking forward to Jane's interpretation of the episode here: there are lots of tricks to the narrative that are quite lovely. My favourite is that the Doctor supports the fiction of his death by wearing a fiction suit. Time collapsing in upon itself reinforces the whole idea that the Doctor inhabits a land of fiction where anything can happen, including falsifying his own death. Or, in the case of Amy, murdering the kidnapper of her baby.

I'm surpassed with the continuing narrative of alchemy in the Eruditorum that more wasn't made in this entry that the Doctor and Rivers wedding is very much a Chymical one, set in a dream like realm where the protagonists undergo a series of trials, purifications, tests, deaths, resurrections and ascensions to obtain the enlightenment symbolised by the joining of River and the Doctor. Which also brings to mind an earlier comment that I've read regarding Moffat's approach to the eleventh Doctor: that of teaching a genius with an inability to relate to others how to be human.

(To be continued...)

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Carey 3 years, 4 months ago

(And now... the conclusion)

I've also mentioned before that the other structural genius to series six is that it takes the traditional structure of a Davies series and reverses it: the "fuzziness" to the writing of The Wedding of River Song works if it is seen not as a series finale but as the launch of a series, with many of the themes installed by disguised by a bit of a jolly run around. This is followed by a series of one off stories that feed into the ongoing narratives either thematically or by planting small ideas within before we get to the two parters, one or both of which connected to the main narrative (and I do think of A Good Man Goes to War and Let's Kill Hitler as a two parter) before ramping up to the climax of the series with The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon where the series villains, The Silence are defeated, and we have the surprise ending of the Doctor getting killed.

But, as you say, the production nightmare of series six means that the realisation doesn't entirely meet the vision.

But having said that, doesn't that phrase cover the entirety of Doctor Who?

My apologies for the rambling.

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Carey 3 years, 4 months ago

Hmm... either I missed your paragraph saying the same thing here or it was added after I started replying. I'll presume the former and put it down to the rest of the entry spurring on so many responses that I just had to write them down. The trials and tribulations of reading and commenting on these discussions while taking a tea break from work.

Once again, my apologies.

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Bennett 3 years, 4 months ago

There's a search function just above the archive links, possibly built with this exact purpose in mind.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 4 months ago

Sadly it doesn't only search post titles. You try putting in "Impossible Astronaut" and see how many hits you get.

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Scott 3 years, 4 months ago

"I maintain, in the face of all the heated discussions in comments we’ve had over the season..."

Right, just for that, I propose we all stubbornly refuse to have any heated discussion in the comments for this season. Try and second guess us, will you?

*folds arms and sits down silently.*

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William Whyte 3 years, 4 months ago

"it’s that the Doctor accepts River’s love as a responsibility." "complete with just enough of a cheat on whether they’re married"

... yes, see, this is the problem for me, this pulling of the punches. If you want to do a story about the Doctor being married, do a story about the Doctor actually being in love. This wasn't a story about people getting married: this was a story about the Doctor somehow tricking River by saying some magic words that happened to be about marriage. It was magic, not an emotional connection: and it was dull magic, Harry Potter-ish magic, that's really just about saying words and twiddling dials, not about drawing on and exhausting yourself to do things you never realised you could do. The idea that River could be satisfied by the words of a marriage reduces and cheapens her, like Pascal's Wager reduces and cheapens God: any God who mistakes Pascal's Wager-driven belief for true belief is a very stupid God; any River who mistakes what's happening for an actual wedding based on an actual relationship is a very stupid River.

And the Teselecta resolution... see, I don't mind a clever get-out. But the problem was that the Doctor's death was a "fixed point in time", and key to the evolution of the Universe as a whole, not just to the Silents. Just as with River, a timestream that can be fooled by a man in a robot suit is a very stupid timestream.

So I didn't like it at all. Both resolutions depending on tricking someone who we'd been led to believe was better than that.

Maybe I was watching it unsympathetically. You are better than I am at liking the Moffat era.

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William Whyte 3 years, 4 months ago

all the complaints about Canton Everett Delaware III as an old man saying "That is the Doctor. And he really is dead."

... my problem with this was, who was he trying to trick? Just Amy, Rory and River? What was the point of that?

It makes sense as an attempt to trick the audience of the TV show. I can't see it making any sense within the story itself.

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Bennett 3 years, 4 months ago

But I believe it does give preference to them. If "Impossible Astronaut" does not match a title on the first page of results, then it is safe to assume it's an entry from your future. Alternatively, you could use the "inposttitle:" search modifier - but now I'm just giving too much away.

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xen trilus 3 years, 4 months ago

I understood it as Old Canton being under instruction from the Doctor (or rather, him having not been told the truth by the Doctor). Up until the point at which the Doctor whispers the truth in River's ear on the pyramid, his full intention is to leave the Ponds well and truly deceived as to his survival, as part of his whole self-loathing and "I hurt Amy" and "I need to disappear" kick he goes on in S7B.

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Scurra 3 years, 4 months ago

This is also the problem with the "prequel" trilogy of Star Wars movies - it is very carefully structured to run in the reverse order to the "original" trilogy (taken to a ridiculous extreme in Attack of the Clones), but unfortunately, this means that when taken in isolation (and, worse, when taken as individual films) it fails, since it has to start with the happy ending and finish effectively at the start. And because it is being done over a long period (since movies don't come along every week), this aspect is dangerously undermined - it certainly made The Phantom Menace a much weaker film upon release than it really is.
(Not that I am defending the prequel trilogy, but I do think it deserves the same sort of redemptive reading that Philip has done so brilliantly on this blog.)

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Spacewarp 3 years, 4 months ago

I remember all the fan complaints at the time that the tesselecta was somehow cheating, that you couldn't just "fool" Time like that. However after much thought I came to the realisation that it actually wasn't cheating. The idea of a fixed point in time and that everyone knows the Doctor was killed there and then was simply everyone's interpretation of the event. There was no external Absolute observation that the Doctor was dead. Zap! Regeneration Energy! Zap again! Burn the body. The Doctor didn't change the event, he fulfilled it. Because up until the point when he realised he could use the tessecta, even the Doctor's knowledge of events was informed by what everyone else had seen.

Although everyone thought it was the Doctor being shot and killed in "The Impossible Astronaut" (even the viewers and Canton), it wasn't. It was always the tesselecta. Only we couldn't have known that because we didn't even meet the thing until 6 episodes later.

Moffat was strongly accused in several fan quarters of hastily writing a cop-out, but I'm now 100% certain he had this planned right from Day 1. Because there's the absolutely fantastic irony in "LKH" of the tesselecta crew torturing River for the dreadful crime of killing the Doctor, not realising that they themselves were part of the whole deception. That's pure Steven Moffat.

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gatchamandave 3 years, 4 months ago

Oddly, there's an even more elegant solution to the " that's really the Doctor, and he's dead" present in the season - if the Ganger Doctor had survived.

However, that then would have led to two further problems - the fans would have worked out that solution to what was supposed to be a season long mystery pretty quickly, and his dismissal of Ganger Amy as unworthy of life, which is perhaps the most hateful thing any Doctor has ever been written as doing, would have been even more despicable than it already is, adding on an extra crunchy lair of hypocrisy.

But then...I wonder if that WAS the original solution and Moffat then realised this and had to quickly whip up The Numbskulls...sorry, The Tesselecta bunch as Plan B.

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David Ainsworth 3 years, 4 months ago

We'll discuss this again, I'm sure, but I can't agree about Doppel Amy. The Ganger people are presented as Flesh beings distinct from the original animating consciousness of the "riders", but the animated Flesh actually being ridden by human beings are not Gangers, possessing only the original animating consciousness of the human. So Flesh Amy isn't a Ganger, just Flesh being ridden.

Despite that, the Doctor carefully and repeatedly establishes how Amy perceives the Flesh and applies her own understanding of her position when "killing" her. I can't agree that, if some mechanism existed for preserving human consciousness within an artificial body, it necessarily follows that killing a consciousness delighted with its new form is morally equivalent to killing a consciousness which considers its new existence a form of prolongued torture.

That said, the Doctor's clearly in the wrong in that he doesn't consult with Amy directly and let her make her own decision. But that's following a pattern we've seen since Rose, one which, as this entry notes, it takes his experiences with River to convince him to be wrong.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 4 months ago

The sad thing about this is that I wish we were really at the Series 6 finale, and I wish we could skip ahead come Wednesday to Series 7. It'll be interesting though; this is where I begin to fall out of love with the show.

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Jarl 3 years, 4 months ago

In my opinion, this episode has one of the finest cold opens in the entire series. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say "the best"; I just rewatched Silence in the Library yesterday and that was still pretty fantastic, but I still remember my first reaction to how utterly wrong everything at the start of this episode is. It's wonderful.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 4 months ago

My problem was "Why is Old Canton [or, as he was at that point, Old Man We've Never Seen Before] an authority on dead Doctors?" It didn't work as misdirection because I couldn't see any reason why I should believe him.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 4 months ago

Incidentally, Phil's order for River-related posts is not River Timeline Order. If it was, he'd have started out with "Astronaut/Moon" (which he hasn't done yet), but he actually replaced "Silence/Forest" with "Name of the Doctor", which happens after that in Rivertime.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 4 months ago

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Daibhid C 3 years, 4 months ago

I agree with Spacewarp. I have never got the idea that a "fixed point in time" is something the universe insists has to happen. A "fixed point in time", as far as I can make out is a think that people know happened, and therefore has to happen. Unless the people are mistaken, or were fooled.

The timestream doesn't care if or how the Doctor dies, it just cares that everything is consistant. If what happens isn't what Amy, Rory and River saw (the Astronaut intentionally not shooting the Doctor) everything goes wrong. If it is what they saw, it doesn't matter whether it's what they thought they saw.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh, and regarding Ganger Amy... http://www.arthurkingoftimeandspace.com/3faces/11053000.htm

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BerserkRL 3 years, 4 months ago

any God who mistakes Pascal's Wager-driven belief for true belief is a very stupid God

There are many good objections to Pascal's Wager, but I don't think this one works. For the standard reply, see, e.g., p. 83, column 2, of this: http://joelvelasco.net/teaching/hum9/pascalswager.pdf.

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Triturus 3 years, 4 months ago

You can look titles up on the index page here:
http://www.philipsandifer.com/p/tardis-eruditorum.html

- a CTRL-F search for "impossible astronaut" on this page shows that it hasn't been covered yet. And it's a bit easier than using the whole site search function

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BerserkRL 3 years, 4 months ago

the less said about that pit of skulls the better

Though one thing worth saying about it is that it's a nod to the title of the 2nd ever Doctor Who episode, and so of his first broadcast adventure. Thus in order to save his life he has to return to his starting point.

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xen trilus 3 years, 4 months ago

Matt Smith is possibly the only thing holding the second half together. He plays the Doctor as aware of and incredibly pissed off at the total lack of narrative momentum amid the nonsense playing out around him. (Which also doubles nicely as frustration at himself, since he's effectively keeping the plot from moving - and time, come to think of it - by refusing to reveal the truth about the Teselecta, but that obviously doesn't come out until second viewing.) As such, he's sort of the one thing you can latch onto in the whole latter 20 minutes. - "We're doing this FOR you!" "Then people are dying for me. I won't thank you for that, Amelia Pond!" The way he sells exchanges like that, you can almost believe that the plot is getting intense.

I mention a second viewing...the thing about that ending reveal of the Teselecta, placing it there, is that it forces a retroactive re-interpretation of the entire episode. And this causes problems. For one thing, it means that the first viewing of the wedding scene doesn't make much sense - "now why is River suddenly agreeing to kill the Doctor just because he married her, hmm? Didn't she JUST clarify that it was the one thing she could never ever allow herself to do, lest she suffer to the level of a million billion universes etc?"
And this confusion about the characters' motives totally undermines the whole "tear-jerking emotional climax" that the wedding scene is set up as. (Why is it set up like that? Because it has to be, because we've been expecting a big tear-jerking emotional climax for River this whole time and this is when it's supposed to happen. But it just doesn't quite fit this specific story. Moffat is practically contorting to make it happen at all.)

Taking it forward into the second viewing, in which we are now aware that the Doctor is sat inside the Teselecta (and could have told Amy or River about this at any time, be it on the beach, on the train, inside the pyramid, on top of the pyramid...). So what does the wedding scene mean now?
To start with, the Doctor appears to use it as a way of sneakily telling River the truth while leaving Amy and Rory out of it (not that this has much effect, as River inevitably goes to tell them later anyway). But surely it's not just that? In telling the truth, he's giving up on his attempt to convince his friends that he's dead and exit their lives forever. He's re-committing to his existing relationships rather than giving up on them, which forms a nice counter balance to the issue raised in the ending of God Complex - he might have hurt them, yes, but they still love him and don't deserve to suffer his loss - and you could take the wedding as a gesture representative of that commitment. ('Could' being the operative word here, it's still too ambiguous to really work as the climax of utterly convicted emotion the direction and soundtrack want us to swallow it as.)

(Contd...)

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xen trilus 3 years, 4 months ago

So we have a story in which the Eleventh Doctor stops being antisocial. (This in itself is a hell of a long way from the 'super River/Doctor love-in' that had long been anticipated.) But, frustratingly, he gets off way too easily. He is the antagonist of this episode! The resolution actually hinges on HIS decision to stop throwing his self-pitying, selfish tantrum, and actually consider the feelings of his closest friends.
But we don't get the truly satisfying endpoint of that - the one in which the Doctor tells the truth to River/the Ponds, we the audience learn it then and there, and we're actually invited to think about how ungodly shittily he has treated them for the duration of this episode, we're just as appalled as they are, and he gets an incredibly uncomfortable and humbling smackdown that lays his deepest issues out in the open, but perhaps is himself 'forgiven' (just as he laughably tried to placate River with earlier) - we don't get any of that because Moffat has to try and play this as the super River/Doctor love-in story. The result feels desperately awkward and forced.

All of that said, I think everything before they get on top of the pyramid is great fun. Amy and Rory's little subplot, despite getting unwritten at the end of the episode, is utterly adorable. The sinister air with which Smith carries himself in his introductory setpieces (Live Chess et al.) is the sort of delight we haven't had since Sylvester McCoy; made all the more perfect by the casual glimpse of him reading Knitting For Girls as though it's Deadly Space Mercenaries Monthly. Smith gets to show many other sides, such as his aging, wise storyteller in the charmingly bonkers interludes with Churchill; his petulant rage at the idea that he has to go to his death; the worldly regret as he tells Amy about his existence being the very thing tearing time apart; the grim calm with which he gives his last talk to River on the beach. The last two are somewhat undermined by knowing it's all an act, by a robot no less, but he's convincing enough that you can still imagine it's sincere.

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John Seavey 3 years, 4 months ago

It's interesting to me that Phil discussed this in terms of the emotional weight of the scene, with the Doctor accepting the emotional responsibility of River's love. Because to me, the scene was very much structured (and the episode as well) as the Doctor reluctantly accepting River as an emotional equal. The Doctor has always been very wary of accepting River as operating on his level, continually undercutting her decisions; when she sacrified her life, the Doctor made sure that he had made an "out" for her without informing her of what it was, much less whether it was wanted. He unilaterally made the decision for her. And when the reverse situation happened--when the Doctor knew full well that he was going to escape death, but didn't want his friends to know because he'd decided to "fade into the shadows" (an utterly cruel decision that took none of their emotional pain into account)--River was one of the people he was going to lie to. "Look into my eye" is important not because it's how he cheated death, not because of the emotional subtext of the wedding, but because he is admitting that she is just as strong-willed as she is, and she is going to call his bluff. Make her his patsy? Make her his murderer? She'll let the universe burn first. He will damned well be honest with her or there will be consequences. In short, River faces down the Doctor and wins in that moment. That's what's significant there to me.

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Alan 3 years, 4 months ago

"Right, just for that, I propose we all stubbornly refuse to have any heated discussion in the comments for this season."

Not gonna happen. Curse of the Black Pearl is on deck, and that alone will set off an inferno.

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Seeing_I 3 years, 4 months ago

OK, a positive to start out with - the incredulous look the barman gives the Doctor when he slams down the Dalek eyestalk as evidence where he's getting his information from was just priceless.

"The Silence, so wonderfully terrifying in their first appearance, become generic canon fodder." Moffat really does have a knack for coming up with great villains and then undermining them, doesn't he? Just like in "Flesh and Stone" when suddenly the Angels can be SEEN moving, utterly ruining the point of them, and also are capable of being fooled into freezing instead of it being a fact of their biology as in "Blink." It's very frustrating!

Meanwhile I accept everyone's readings of River's agency, equal moral standing with the Doctor, etc, but the line about her pain outweighing everyone in the universe's just justifies her self-description as a psychopath, and makes her seem incredibly unworthy of the Doctor's - or the audience's - time and attention.

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encyclops 3 years, 4 months ago

I still have a lot of trouble getting emotionally invested in River's relationship with the Doctor, probably in large part because it's told out of order and my mammal brain is too weak to mentally rearrange it and perceive her as really being in love with him. Or maybe it's to do with the way fantasy romance so often works, where we don't see it built up bit by bit the way we might in more traditional love story, but instead Fated To Be (she's born to be his assassin and has studied him extensively for that purpose). The most recent offender that springs to mind is Twilight, which spends what either is or feels like 2500 pages of "romance" and doesn't bother to give its central couple anything in common beyond the fact that he likes the way she smells.

So I'm grateful for your insights here, Philip, and for the way you phrased them, particularly this one:

In this moment, we get what the story is supposed to be about: the Doctor being healed by River’s love, and the fact that he recognizes the fact that he is loved as a responsibility.

You've written some lovely stuff about an episode I really didn't like very much at the time, and given me plenty to think about next time I see it. I couldn't ask for more.

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encyclops 3 years, 4 months ago

Aliens revises the xenomorph biology as well, doesn't it? I don't think that makes it less frustrating, but suddenly the comparison seems even more apt.

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Froborr 3 years, 4 months ago

Good post, but one quibble: I think that as of "Name of the Doctor" I think we do know how River knows the Doctor's name, or more specifically what she whispered to him to get him to trust her in "Silence in the Library": Something along the lines of "Your real name is The Doctor, the name you chose."

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xen trilus 3 years, 4 months ago

Doesn't River imply that she actually DOES know his real name (and that she made him tell her - "it took a while")? Obviously the point of the episode is still that his real name doesn't really matter in the wider scheme of things, but I'm pretty sure Name confirms not only that River knows it but also that we will never actually see how she learnt it (she effectively consigns that to their married life off screen).

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BerserkRL 3 years, 4 months ago

the line about her pain outweighing everyone in the universe's just justifies her self-description as a psychopath

As Moffat tells us in Jekyll, "love is a psychopath."

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BerserkRL 3 years, 4 months ago

That still leaves a mystery the Doctor's saying that there's only one time he could tell anyone his name.

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Jesse 3 years, 4 months ago

I maintain, in the face of all the heated discussions in comments we’ve had over the season...

Hey everybody, let's post a bunch of mild-mannered comments that agree with each other about those episodes, just to THROW PHIL OFF.

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Prandeamus 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh yes. More tea, vicar?

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Prandeamus 3 years, 4 months ago

By the way, on a purely factual level, I have no idea about the production problems of this season. Or any other modern who season, really.

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Alan 3 years, 4 months ago

I'd always assumed the Name was what he whispered to her as he was dying at the end of Let's Kill Hitler.

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Aylwin 3 years, 4 months ago

More straightforwardly, when a River-episode post contains ostentatious allusions to what was said in another River-episode post, you can be bet your bottom ningi that the latter has not in fact appeared yet.

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Aylwin 3 years, 4 months ago

You think? I can't see it generating much discussion at all unless Phil goes for a full-blown redemptive reading. Otherwise, I can't imagine anyone will have anything much to say beyond "Yes, it is, isn't it? It really, really is."

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TheSmilingStallionInn 3 years, 4 months ago

Yeah to Aylwin, though he did cover A Good Man Goes to War already. And currently, I'm satisfied with the River order of things, keeps me intrigued/guessing. I had been thinking he might cover Let's Kill Hitler here, but it's appropriate that he did the Wedding of River Song instead. And sometimes the frustration of trying to guess what might come next is a good thing, more like Doctor Who and River Song than anything else.

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Jesse 3 years, 4 months ago

...and I see Scott already made this joke. Never mind!

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Alan 3 years, 4 months ago

This is part of the reason why I'm unhappy with Phil telling the River Song stories out of order, because the Doctor's actions in this story really only make sense in light of the ending of God Complex.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 3 years, 4 months ago

I get it now--that's the first point in the series' history where anyone ever asked, "Doctor Who?" I believe that was Ian who said that.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 4 months ago

Nope; it was the Doctor himself who said that.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 4 months ago

The pity about the Shannon Sullivan website is that he hasn't put any new production information in from "A Christmas Carol" on. Shame, really. :-(

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Leslie Lozada 3 years, 4 months ago

My problem is that despite Canton being one of the four people present at The Doctor's 'death', we only ever see him in the two parter season premier.

You know, I said in my last post that 'Closing Time' was a great breather episode. But I sort of wish that Canton appeared again, to, at least, to not let me think that the only reason that The Doctor invited Canton was because of the fixed point.

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Leslie Lozada 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh, come on!

Like I said before, 'Curse of the Black Spot' was a good episode that sadly could have been shuffed around, in a dense series with two concurrent intertwind arcs.

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xen trilus 3 years, 4 months ago

A more positive thing to add - there is a sort of substitution that occurs in making you rewatch the episode in a new light.

In the first go-around, we are led to believe that time (aka. the story) cannot continue until the Doctor and River give up on their feelings and surrender to the cruel, arbitrary rule of "fixed points in time".
Once we learn about the Teselecta's involvement, we see: the reality is that the story cannot continue until the Doctor stops placing a gulf between himself and his companions. That's what matters. We see that fixed points in time can be negotiated - but the love of a Pond most certainly cannot.

After The God Complex the Doctor seems to disavow the very idea of taking companions with him, breaking an essential component of the series, and thus is directly responsible for - dare I say it? - a narrative collapse! Time implodes...! Well, that's probably cheating, actually...

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Aylwin 3 years, 4 months ago

"It's very frustrating!"

[Irresistible explosive digression: It so very entirely incandescently is. That's the one Moffat story that gets me to the state of gibbering incoherent head-against-wall-banging throwing-stuff-at-the-tellyness induced by, well, just about every Davies-scripted episode except Midnight. As with a lot of those RTD ones, what makes it all the more frustrating is that the city-flattening stupidity bombs are entangled with so much other stuff that is so, so good - I adore all sorts of things in that story, but I can't quite fully enjoy it because of the niggling awareness that THEY'RE GOING TO MOVE! NO! NO! NO! MOFF! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, MAN? NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!. (Similarly, if only RTD could have neatly separated it all out so as to produce one heap of classics and another heap of utter dreck that could be cheerfully forgotten about, my enjoyment of his era would have been vastly greater). Phew, glad I've got that off my chest. To the point.]

The thing is, whereas the most serious aspects of the comprehensive screwing up of the Weeping Angels in ATOA/FAS are simply gratuitous, the mess made of the Unmemorables here is entirely natural, almost inevitable - and elements of that Angels fiasco derive from the same sort of problem.

As I willan on-said in the Impossible Astronaut thread, the problem is that the Unmemorables don't belong in this story at all. They don't belong in Time of the Doctor either. They don't belong in the arc plot. The only place they make any sense is in the story in which they originally appear, and that is because TIA/DOTM is actually two completely different stories inelegantly spliced together. On the one hand you have the story based on the brilliantly creepy (and unsurpassably ultra-Moffatish) idea of monsters who you forget as soon as you stop looking at them, who thereby control people by a kind of hypnotic suggestion and have parasitically ruled the world since prehistory, tied in with the imagery of paranoid UFO/uber-conspiracy folklore, and resolved by the Doctor in his own archetypal turn-the-enemy's-strength-against him style. On the other, you have the early stages of the story of the Kovarian Konspiracy and the repercussions of their convoluted scheme to assassinate the Doctor by creating River. There is no meaningful connection between these two stories at all - fragments of the latter just happen to get slotted into the former in the course of 90 minutes of television, and the two sets of villains are confusingly given the same name.

Hence there is never any reason to bring the Unmemorables into later episodes which are defined by the arc, nor is there anything meaningful for them to do there, because they don't actually have the least little thing to do with that storyline and make no sense within it. Hence they fail to appear at all in the mid-season pair and hence they can only be crowbarred into this one by reducing them to totally extraneous lowest-common-denominator interchangeable muscle. The trouble with proper, quality monsters, the kind of monsters that represent ideas, that fire the imagination, that give rise to distinctive stories that arise out of their own special nature that you couldn't do with any other antagonist, is that they demand stories that are shaped around them. They don't work as generic black hats, and to make them operate as that you have to strip away the things that are particular to them, that give them their own particular dynamic and that were the reason for creating them in the first place. Hence all the handwavery about no, people aren't killing them on sight any more because, er, we're in a different timeline, and you don't forget them when you look away any more because, er, look at these nifty eyepatches, and so on.

...

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Aylwin 3 years, 4 months ago

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Aylwin 3 years, 4 months ago

Hence, similarly, some of the lesser stupidities of ATOA/FAS - the Angels don't time-shift people any more but just plain kill them because, er, all of a sudden they live off burning spaceship instead, and this inscrutable unfathomable silent menace suddenly wants to have a chat and a gloat because, er, because, um...well, actually simply because these things make them better perform the duties of generic black hats.

[None of which explains or excuses the "they want us to look at them" stuff or the "walk like you can see" stuff or...no, no, deep deep breaths. Calm.]

[Mind you, Moffat does have the sense to recognise when he has goofed and act accordingly. Consequently, just as he quietly discarded the abject iDalek, none of the blithering bastardisations of ATOA/FAS have been seen since. The Angels Take Manhattan brings back the original Blink version, while amending the one weakness of that - the "killing you nicely" thing, which was obviously quintessential to the story but nonetheless undercuts the menace a tad, was reconfigured into a way of killing you very nastily indeed.]

It's a frustrating thing about Moffat generally - he has an absolute genius for creating superior monsters, but he tends not to get full value out of them because he plonks them down in stories that are not primarily about them, so that they get bent out of shape or pushed to the sidelines. Again, I love Silence in the Library, but it's always marred by the way that it burns up a monster idea as superb as the Vashta Nerada in a story that effectively dumps them in part 2 and ends up waving them away with "Look me up". Blink flies as high as it does because for once one of Moffat's majestic monster ideas gets the chance to express itself fully without being subordinated to some larger design.

And yes, I know people may be reading this and thinking "intellectually and morally superior people prefer sophisticated character-driven stories about the finer feelings of squashy humans to stories about bogeymen, which are for children and anoraks". Well, you know, I like all that stuff as well, but it's not a zero-sum proposition. You can and should find room for both in the space of a series of Doctor Who - you just have to organise things so that the quality monsters have room to do their own, and leave it to the interchangeables to play supporting roles in stories about something else.

Well, that's used up about three stories' worth of thoughts from me. Going for a lie down now.

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encyclops 3 years, 4 months ago

Aylwin, my defense mechanism against being disappointed by the phenomenon you're so eloquently and correctly dissecting here -- which again matches up perfectly with what some people complained happened to the titular Aliens -- is simply not being all that enchanted by the original concepts.

I mean, yes, they're very clever, and I appreciate that they are "proper, quality monsters, the kind of monsters that represent ideas, that fire the imagination." But the problem with them for me is that they do fire the imagination, and as I try to imagine where such a creature could possibly have come from and what kind of life it could possibly have apart from harassing the Doctor and his friends, I typically fail. You're quite right that they fare poorly outside the stories created around them, because they're not really alive; they're primal fears and videogame sprites walking around. I want to view this as an expansion of possibility -- Doctor Who takes us to places so weird that we get to see species that are both thoroughly implausible and also real! -- but usually, unless I turn off my brain, it's just a step too far.

So I turn off my brain, and it works. Sure, OK, the Angels can move, and reproduce using my eyes, and have a conversation with me through a dead guy. I didn't believe in them in the first place, so this new stuff is just less fuel for the fire.

That said, I absolutely agree with your assessment of them in terms of why they give diminishing returns. "Care less" isn't a critical approach so much as a coping mechanism.

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encyclops 3 years, 4 months ago

How did I cope with this in Aliens, I hear no one asking?

I saw Aliens first. To be accurate, I read the novel first, since I wasn't allowed to see the movie and had to wait until I was sleeping over at another kid's house, but I still experienced sequel and original in reverse order. So for me the sequel established the rules rather than breaking them.

Plus, both Aliens and "The Time of Angelic Flesh and Stone" are extremely entertaining. That covers a plenitude of sins.

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Pen Name Pending 3 years, 4 months ago

Some episodes got rearranged (including "Night Terrors" being filmed first with intention of the first half, hence why it appears jarring after "Let's Kill Hitler"). And then you have usual rush in production, especially on Moffat with Sherlock, I would assume.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 4 months ago

I've added the tag "river" to all the River Song posts to make this easier, as it's a reasonable complaint.

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Jarl 3 years, 4 months ago

Right! I remember what I was going to say, all the way back from the Father's Day entry:

***

Actually, thinking of it, it would probably be more sensible to wait for The Wedding of River Song to come around to get into this, but I guess it's too late to stop now.

Speaking in terms of how paradoxes occur in the series, Father's Day's specific circumstances are most closely mirrored by the events of The Wedding of River Song and if we are to... how to make this fanboy rambling sound more serious... if we interrogate the text with The Wedding of River Song serving as our panopticon, then the presence of the Reapers makes a great deal of sense in the earlier episode. The absence doesn't, but I'll get to that.

I should clarify what I mean by the circumstances of the paradox. In Father's Day, we witness Wilderness-era-villain Grandfather Paradox in action, as Rose saves her father's life, thus removing the impetus to have gone back in time to witness his death, thus removing the impetus to save her father's life. Such events happen infrequently in the series without major downside, with the exception of a few stable time loops being formed as a result here and there. But, crucially, both the Doctor and Rose are present for the events multiple times. The Doctor's physically present and watching closely twice, and Rose likewise, but she's additionally within proximity a third time, as baby Rose being carried by young Jackie Tyler, fresh off her guest appearance in Survival. The Doctor informs us this makes that particular point in time "vulnerable", and thus a simple grandfather paradox results in time being so broken that time dragons enter the universe to sterilize the wound.

(As an aside, I like to imagine such events were common during the Time War, as time paradoxes of cosmic scale piled up out of the Time Lords' control. Perhaps the intriguingly named Nightmare Child was some maximized form of time dragon, capable of devouring entire planets whole...)

Notably, we see this sort of event happen only one other time, and that's... well, two, if you count A Christmas Carol, but that's damaging to my case so I'm consciously ignoring it for this precise moment, no doubt to explain it away later. We later see a very similar event occur in The Wedding of River Song, where a stable time loop is broken, thus creating a grandfather paradox. If the Doctor doesn't get summoned to his faked death, he cannot learn the particulars of the event, and thus does not get involved in the adventure that sows the seeds of his faked death.

And again, we find the physical proximity involved. The Doctor is within a short distance, geographically speaking, of Lake Silencio twice (three times if you want to assume Dalek is taking place at the same time underground somewhere nearby, but oh wow that needlessly complicates things, and doesn't make much sense anyways). And again, his female companion River Song is present multiple times: twice in her third incarnation, and if you want to be cheeky, once as the ganger duplicate of her unborn fetus, which I guess is her way of out-doing Rose.

(Man, that's a meet-up we should be so lucky to see some day, River Song and Rose Tyler, the missus and the ex in a whole new scale...)

Now, the effects of the paradox in Wedding are seemingly different than they are in Father's Day, but not nearly so different as they might first seem. In Father's Day, human history begins to collapse upon itself: phones pick up nothing but Alexander Graham Bell, Rick Rolling occurs in an episode set 20 (and produced 2) years before such a thing was common place, and the hit-and-run driver is caught in a very peculiar time loop. The Doctor points out that this is all the result of time dying, and the time dragons are here to sterilize the wound.

(1)

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Jarl 3 years, 4 months ago

Therefore, and this is the point I've been laboriously approaching, The Wedding of River Song is what would happen if the time dragons had failed to sterilize it. Earth's history has completely collapsed. The Silurians and Humans share earth, Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill arrives at Westminster Palace on his personal mammoth, there's "don't feed the pteranodons" signs at parks, it is complete chaos (and my personal favorite cold open in the show's history). The Wedding of River Song is the consequence that Father's Day was spent trying to avoid, much in the same way The Caves of Androzani is the consequence that The Doctor Dances was spent trying to avoid. And ultimately, the way to repair the web of time is the same: the person who wrongfully lived must properly die, and then turn out to still be alive, be it through robotic duplicate trickery or alternate universe hijinks.

I don't think all of the parallels between the stories are necessarily 100% intended. Wedding was probably going to have a wedding in it no matter what happened in the first series, and "anachronisms as a result of a time crash" hardly seems like an actively poached concept. The focus on how time travel affects your perception of death, and of dead friends and family, is most likely the main core that both stories were built around, and the weirdly specific setup and result of the time paradox in each of them was probably coincidental.

Then again, this is Doctor Who, darnit. If we can't speculate that inconsistent gibberish in fact follows an eerily coherent code of logic, then what can we speculate on? Which actors were banging? Okay, I can do that too.

***

As for the huge question deferred above, "why no time dragons in Wedding?"
I dunno.

I figure they got eaten by the cracks in time, or something. Maybe got exterminated by the Daleks who got sucked into the void, or destroyed by the reality bomb that happened and then un-happened twice.

***

As for the other big question hanging over this comment, "What about A Christmas Carol?" good god, I can't even speculate. The Doctor's only physically present once, and Kazran only twice, but Kazran's younger self has yet to go on all the adventures that older Kazran has experienced leading him to this point, both originally via being there and again via watching the video and looking at the photographs, and then the two touch which would get Professor Blimovitch really angry if he wasn't so busy erasing Jack Harkness's memories and then there's a flying shark and a happy ending with a repeating refrain about Silence and oh god, I love that episode but it's so fairy tale that trying to follow it in sci-fi terms is an actively incorrect task. It all works because sometimes, things just work.

***

As for the third question, regarding actor shipping, some part of me feels, almost elementally, that Capaldi and Alex Kingston are going to have better on-screen chemistry than her and Smith. It doesn't look like their real world marital statuses would allow that chemistry to go off-screen, but reality doesn't occupy the same thoughtspace as gossip and shipping.

***

This was probably the wrong place to air these ideas, but they've been bouncing around and needed a better outlet than Doctor Who threads on certain imageboards which must not be spoken of. Whenever Wedding comes up in the rotation (I'm guessing after Let's Kill Hitler but before The Forest of the Dead), I'll probably just repost this pair of comments.

***

Emergency Temporal Shift achieved!

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JohnB 3 years, 4 months ago

Fabulous posts!

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Aylwin 3 years, 4 months ago

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Aylwin 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh, indeed. I am tremendously fond of the story in all sorts of ways. It's only my gripes about the Angel business (which I was obviously playing up just a smidge for theatrical effect) that stop it sitting squarely among my all-time favourites.

Perhaps I am missing something here, but what were the differences in Aliens? I gather that there was a deleted scene in the original film that took the biology in a different direction from the sequel, but that hardly counts in terms of the story as received. I can't think of anything that actually appeared on screen that didn't match.

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evilsoup 3 years, 4 months ago

One of the problems with the Tesselecta trick is that it completely undermines the ending of Angels in Manhatten.

(Actually, I think that's a problem with Moffat's style of puzzle-box storytelling: because normally anything can happen & be waved away with a flick of the wrist and the magic words 'timey-wimey', those instances where that can't happen feel very arbitrary. If now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call, everybody lives, then that's pretty triumphant. If the Doctor is the Time Lord Victorious, an angry god who can bend the laws of reality and narrative to his will, but every once in a while something goes wrong and he suddenly can't be all clever and whatnot for... some reason... then it just feels unsatisfying, unfinished, and not in a good way. You can see the strings.)

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Spacewarp 3 years, 4 months ago

I'm honestly happier sometimes when one Doctor Who episode undermines another, because I see it as Doctor Who being freed from the strait-jackets of continuity. To a certain extent a lot of Series 4 undermines the ending of "Doomsday", and "Journey's End" certainly does. But I wouldn't change Series 4 for the world. "Turn Left" absolutely needs the certainty of Rose played against the desperation of Donna, and I'm OK to sacrifice the poignancy of the closing minutes of "Doomsday" for that.

Mainly because I'm not sacrificing them. I rewatch "Doomsday" and I still feel the Doctor's wrenching loss of Rose. I don't think "ooh that's crap now 'cos I know she comes back in two years time."

The narrative changes because the Doctor changes, hence we get the 10th Doctor behaving in a way that the 11th wouldn't behave, because it serves the story to have the 10th confidently snogging Elizabeth I, while the 11th is embarrassed when his TARDIS calls herself "sexy" while there's other people around. Matt Smith spitting up wine could be said to undermine Jon Pertwee guzzling it, but I don't worry about that, because it's different Doctors and different stories. The behaviour of the Weeping Angels in "Flesh & Stone" contradicts "Blink", but it serves the story and the alternative is some convoluted explanation that would be even more unsatisfying than just seeing the Angels move even though they can all plainly see each-other. I don't care. It's Doctor Who and as far as I'm concerned as long as the story's enjoyable, anything goes.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 4 months ago

Well the main reason he probably doesn't tell Amy and Rory about the Tesselecta substitution is because there's Silence all around and he doesn't want the secret getting out. Remember there's actually two things going on here: firstly he's seen a future he can't and mustn't avoid (him getting - or appearing to get - killed), but secondly he wants to see an end to the Kovarian plot. They want him killed...or at least to think he's been killed...so they'll leave him alone. The Universe has to thnk that the Doctor is dead, so he can get on with his quiet life under the radar. If he tells everyone in the middle of what amounts to a battlefield, that he's actually not dead, and it was a robot what did it, then although he may have fulfilled what was observed at Lake Silencio, the Silence will then know that it was fake.

He tells River the truth, because she has to shoot him, and since she's already proven that she isn't prepared to do that (by actually, you know, not doing it), he has to let her in on the secret at that point, so he does it in a secretive manner. Amy and Rory eventually have to know, because they continue to travel with him. The Tesselecta crew have to know, obviously. But Canton doesn't, so the Doctor lets him continue to believe (probably to his dying day).

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reservoirdogs 3 years, 4 months ago

I think he might be referring to the post where everyone was talking about something and it got so bad that he had to shut that thread down.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 4 months ago

Wonderful, Spacewarp. Knowledge of Doctor Who's history helps understand that the show is only harmed by attention to continuity across eras. The Ian Levine influence on the show from 1982-6 demonstrated how story quality nose-dives when its purpose becomes filling continuity gaps rather than delivering properly thoughtful adventure yarns. The Cartmel era's rewriting of Doctor Who continuity produced Remembrance of the Daleks, one of the greatest stories in the show's history. And during the Wilderness Years, we got even more examples of stories hurt by reliance on continuity or the drive to repair or precisely fix continuity. Gary Russell's Legacy and John Peel's War of the Daleks are the most egregious offenders in this regard. So Doctor Who viewers should get used to the fact that the show constantly rewrites itself. It was never supposed to have a canon, and imposing one only hurts and constrains it.

Part of what I love about the Moffat era is how meta this hostility to continuity has become. Even though the story-arcs of seasons are so immensely detailed, they effectively are about the erasure of continuity within the larger arc of the show. In particular, I like how Moffat has used the nature of the 'fixed point in time' to show how the ontology of time, what happens, is made a function of its epistemology, what and how we know of happenings.

Davies introduced the concept of the fixed point largely as a Maguffin for Tennant to say so that the audience knew the Doctor faced a constraint on what he could do. Ultimately, as Phil pointed out in his End of Time II post, this introduces a principle of historical determinism to Doctor Who that constrains the show within its own world. Doctor Who becomes a tragedy and loses its redemptive power.

The Wedding of River Song introduces a consistent ontology of just what that fixed point is: it's a function of people's knowledge of an event. The fixed event itself was not the Doctor's death itself, but the witnessing and historical recording of the Doctor's death. The Doctor's cheat with the Teselecta and River essentially left the historical record intact while letting him escape his supposed death alive. And the implosion of time demonstrated that the historical record of the event itself had ontological consequences on the time stream.

Essentially, Moffat's metaphysics of time travel is that the consistency of the timeline depends not on the causal connections of events themselves, but on the memory of those events. It's exactly the same trick he would later use in The Day of the Doctor to heal the tragedy of the Time War.

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John 3 years, 4 months ago

The Phantom Menace is a terrible movie. I don't even fathom what good things there are about it that people didn't notice at the time. Good things: impressive visual effects; some decent action scenes; Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine (although he's more fun in the later films); umm... I honestly can't think of anything else

Bad things: the whole idea of Anakin being a small boy in the film; the actual performance of Jake Lloyd; Jar Jar Binks; the Gungans in general; too much CGI; a completely pointless plot that is entirely a red herring; a number of terrible, wooden performances from actually good actors (pretty much everyone else in the movie besides McDiarmmid); terrible dialogue; etc. etc. etc.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 4 months ago

Exactly Adam. I'm old enough to have seen the entirety of the Star Trek franchise right from the original series at the tail end of the 60s, so I've seen the cast-iron shell of continuity grow as each new series appeared, until by the time of Enterprise you look at the hoops they had to jump through just to satisfy past canon. ST is an example of mid-80s Doctor Who taken to a logical and disastrous extreme.

As for the Doctor's cheat with the tesselecta, it's a bit like Schrodinger's cat. There's no way of proving whether it was always the tesselecta, or whether the Doctor actually died "first time around", because in a self-contained time loop there is no first time around, so the distinction is irrelevent.

Like the Doctor arriving in front of Rory carrying a mop in "Big Bang". He's only carrying it because later Rory tells him he was when they first met. And of course the sonic in Amy's pocket. Before he went back to ask Rory to leave it there...was it already there in her jacket? The question is irrelevent because up until that point when he reaches out and takes it...it isn't needed.

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encyclops 3 years, 4 months ago

I suppose there aren't that many biological differences in Aliens. That deleted scene was in the novel, which I read first, so I was surprised when I finally saw the film and it wasn't there. I agree, though, even if it were there it doesn't make that big a difference, nor do the superficial differences to the Alien skull. The more relevant differences are in the role played in the story, with the Aliens serving as (quite frankly, still terrifying) hordes rather than one unstoppable beast striking from the shadows.

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encyclops 3 years, 4 months ago

Knowledge of Doctor Who's history helps understand that the show is only harmed by attention to continuity across eras. The Ian Levine influence on the show from 1982-6 demonstrated how story quality nose-dives when its purpose becomes filling continuity gaps rather than delivering properly thoughtful adventure yarns.

I'm still going to maintain that the problem here is the absence of "properly thoughtful adventure yarns" rather than the presence of attention to continuity. I really think it would be incredibly easy for a writer to do appalling violence to continuity in a way that you would have trouble coming to terms with.

The problem with "Attack of the Cybermen" isn't that it makes reference to Telos or that the Doctor lands in Totter's Lane; it's that it doesn't do anything interesting beyond that. If Sarah Jane had returned in "School Reunion" in Leela's outfit talking about how the Doctor had dropped her off on a space station in 3045 before he headed off to Gallifrey, escorting a robot ferret along with her husband Biroc, with no explanation or story justification, I imagine we would not be effusively praising the groovy let-it-all-hang-out lack of continuity.

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Jesse 3 years, 4 months ago

If Sarah Jane had returned in "School Reunion" in Leela's outfit talking about how the Doctor had dropped her off on a space station in 3045 before he headed off to Gallifrey, escorting a robot ferret along with her husband Biroc, with no explanation or story justification, I imagine we would not be effusively praising the groovy let-it-all-hang-out lack of continuity.

I'm generally in favor of keeping an eye on continuity, but that would be kind of awesome.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 4 months ago

Even though I feel like I'm repeating myself from the argument I got myself into on the comments for The Impossible Astronaut, I want to respond to your straw-man-ish point, encyclops. Because you misinterpret me as saying that continuity, in general, is bad. The problem is precisely that a fannish concentration on getting every detail of continuity correct across the totality of a franchise's canon often interferes with and subordinates what should be the priority of telling solid stories. My point wasn't that running roughshod over continuity makes for good stories, which seem to be the words you put into my mouth. It was that continuity fixing is always going to be a secondary concern for a writer of good stories.

The problem when you're writing for a sci-fi world with the kind of thick and complicated (and multiply contradictory) continuity that Doctor Who (or Star Trek) has, is that letting continuity constrain the content of the stories you can tell will prevent you from telling good stories. And the more extreme version of the Levine/Peel model where your story is developed as a means to fix hazy continuity firmly in place will result in an aesthetic disaster.

What I find interesting about the Moffat approach is that he takes the notion of canon and applies it to the metaphysics of time travel in his approach to the show, where time travellers have the ability to rewrite their own history and their world's histories for the sake of making the story better, whether aesthetically or morally.

The sketchy quality of The Wedding of River Song itself is a function of Moffat having two flagship level BBC shows to produce while the logistical half of the Doctor Who production team turns into a revolving door over this season, as we've established through Phil's examination of the production from Let's Kill Hitler onward. Without a Julie Gardner of his own to rely on for the physical aspects of the show's production, both for Doctor Who and Sherlock (because Gatiss works on Sherlock more as a creative partner than a logistical producer), the production of his television shows have made Moffat quite grey over the last few years.

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David Anderson 3 years, 4 months ago

I feel there is a difference between School Reunion and Flesh and Stone. There's little to no point in reusing Sarah Jane without referring to her specific history with the Doctor. On the other hand, monsters that don't move when you can see them work as a concept whether or not they're exactly the same as the monsters that don't move when you're looking at them from an earlier story.

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encyclops 3 years, 4 months ago

Jesse: it kind of would be. Damn it. :) But my point is that you'd want to explain it somehow, or at least make sure that in knowingly departing from continuity (and sanity) it was in the service of a story that's much better than anything you could tell any other way. What raises the bar on that more than anything else is emotional content: how Sarah Jane left (was left) carries emotional weight within the show, and particularly within that episode, so the circumstances can only be stretched so far without losing that emotional weight and thus, probably, telling a weaker story.

Adam, I certainly didn't intend to put words in your mouth, but you did say "Knowledge of Doctor Who's history helps understand that the show is only harmed by attention to continuity across eras," and I'm not sure how else to take it. I think the sentence immediately following is a better statement of the problem, but that sentence seems to be saying "continuity, in general, is bad." I think we do agree that what you refer to as the "Levine/Peel model" is almost inevitably a terrible idea, and that it's wise to subordinate continuity concerns to story concerns. Where we might disagree is that I think some continuity concerns constitute story concerns, and what you should preserve and what you can safely contradict is a case-by-case decision. My sense is that preserving emotional throughlines and contradicting historical and technical minutiae is the right way to look at it, but that might be a prejudice based on the fact that I'm terrible with historical and technical minutiae (I'm a nerd, but not that kind of nerd).

David: that's where I'd draw the line also. That there is a line at all supports my point, I think, though maybe it's a point no one was disputing.

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encyclops 3 years, 4 months ago

Adam, sorry, I want to be clear -- I don't want to offend you again as badly as I did on that Impossible Astronaut post (and I'm very glad we ended it on such a civilized note!):

By "the sentence immediately following" I meant the one beginning "The Ian Levine influence on the show", and by "that sentence" I meant the one beginning "Knowledge of Doctor Who's history." Hope that makes sense. Not trying to argue that you said something you didn't -- just trying to explain the impression I got, and that I wasn't intentionally strawmanning.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 4 months ago

Yes, our arguments tend to be heated, but they always end well. Just remember the entire comment stream following Let's Kill Hitler. There are still people arguing on that one. We could always turn out worse.

I find Moffat's conception of epistemically-dependent time fascinating as a sci-fi concept, and one that works perfectly for a universe where there are time travellers who are capable of changing history, and histories, including their own. And it's actually remarkably well thought through compared to a lot of Davies' ideas. I think it comes down to their differences in writing style: Davies is very intuitive in his construction of the story scene by scene, furiously rewriting himself and others to keep tone and narrative consistent after a flurry of 3am improvisations; Moffat is a very meticulous, detail-oriented, almost anal-retentive craftsman of his narratives, to the point where River's out-of-order timeline is the sort of thing that can work without a hitch, even when he's adapting the storyline to a ludicrously out of control production.

That's why the Teselecta feint can work, but the Doctor can't go back for Amy and Rory once he knows where they end up in Angels Take Manhattan. As long as none of the principals ever know the end of their stories, they're free to go where they want and do as they please. But once your knowledge of history becomes recursive (that is, you know where and what you will be yourself), you lose your contingency and become determined. The Doctor is an agent, not so much of chaos, but of contingency, the possibility of other possibilities. As all time travellers would be, until they know their futures. With his own death at Lake Silencio, there were aspects of his future that were invisible to him and to all the other witnesses (he could hide inside a duplicate robot). With the destruction of Gallifrey, it turned out that there were aspects of that event that were hidden from him (enveloping Gallifrey in a pocket universe that looks like an explosion of white light, with his memory erased until the events caught up with the Smith Doctor). When Amy and Rory ended up in that graveyard, there was no ambiguity. Just his friends, a temporal scar over their new home, and a grave marker.

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evilsoup 3 years, 4 months ago

All the Doctor knows at the end of Angels Take Manhattan is that that book has to be written, and a gravestone with Amy & Rory's names on it needs to be placed in that graveyard. It's exactly the same problem that he cheated his way out of with the Tesselecta. He doesn't even see their bodies!

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Alan 3 years, 4 months ago

Now that I think about it, there's something perversely satisfying in the idea that the Doctor had already solved the main dilemma of the season all the way back in the premiere and then spent the rest of the season continually getting blocked in his efforts to develop and then implement the plan by his own companions.

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Froborr 3 years, 4 months ago

An additional reason not to include A Christmas Carol is that the moment of paradox, in both of the stories where history collapses, occurs in an episode with a historical setting, 1960s U.S. for Wedding and 1980s London for Father's Day. (Yes, Lake Silencio itself is set in the "present," but the present is just the very recent past.) A Christmas Carol is not a historical, and therefore cannot collapse history.

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ferret 3 years, 4 months ago

"Street Corner, Two in the Morning, Getting a Taxi Home" sounds like a description of a key scene in RTD's "Bob and Rose"

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Jarl 3 years, 4 months ago

Excellent extrapolation :D

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Ombund 3 years, 2 months ago

Commenting from the future in which I've just read the Closing Time entry, can I just say: well played, sir. Well played.

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TommyR01D 1 year ago

This episode is often cited by fans as their dropping off point. Alongside Let's Kill Hitler, The Name of The Doctor, The Time of The Doctor, Death in Heaven and Hell Bent, it was a point at which a section of the audience found themselves disillusioned with the show-runner. It was the point where his spell broke.

In particular, this is the first of many poor finales. Having kept the traditional RTD grammar in 2010 to close a series with two episodes, here he tries to close two series with one episode - the result is rushed, overcomplicated and underwhelming. This set the tone for years to come.

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