STORY 035: THE FACELESS ONES
The Faceless Ones is six-part story that is yet another incomplete one, with only two full episodes surviving. That being said, the two episodes that have survived are quite intriguing and have a strong pace to them. It is unfortunate that The Faceless Ones (which saw the departure of Companions Ben Jackson and Polly) is so far lost to us. However, I think the pieces we have hold up rather well.
The Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his Companions Ben, Polly, and Jamie (Michael Craze, Anneke Wills, and Frazer Hines respectively) have found themselves in Gatwick Airport. The TARDIS has been taken from the runway as they are forced to separate. Polly hides in the hanger of Chameleon Tours, and to her horror witnesses a murder. She finds Jamie and the Doctor while Ben is still missing. As the three begin to both investigate and try to convince airport officials of the crimes, Polly is taken by the killers. The Doctor and Jamie convince the airport security that there is a body at the Chameleon Tours hanger, but to their surprise, not only is there none, but Polly has somehow 'just arrived' fro a Chameleon Tour plane. This tour company caters to young people between 18 to 25, but to their surprise, she now no longer recognizes them.
Skipping about a bit, Ben is still not part of the story, but we have Samantha (Pauline Collins), a girl from Liverpool whose brother is among the young people who have disappeared. While Chameleon Tours sends postcards ostensibly from the travellers saying that they've arrived, Samantha and Jamie discover that they are really fake: having been written beforehand. Inspector Crossland (Bernard Kay) whose partner was the murder victim, is taken aboard a Chameleon Tours plane and finds to his shock that the young people have mysteriously vanished into thin air.
To wrap up The Faceless Ones (given that only Episodes One and Three are known to exist), the Doctor discovers the young people are being used as replacements by these aliens who have become disfigured after an explosion in their homeworld. The Doctor offers to help them in exchange for returning all the missing humans. To their surprise, Ben and Polly discover that the date is July 20, 1966: the very date they left with the First Doctor in The War Machines. Taking advantage of that, they decide to stay on Earth, and Samantha decides to say farewell to a smitten Jamie. The Doctor and Jamie would have left too, except that someone has just stolen the TARDIS...
The Faceless Ones, despite its incomplete status, should show the folly of giving the Doctor so many Companions. In this story, as in the three stories after The Highlanders to now (The Underwater Menace, The Moonbase, and The Macra Terror), he had THREE Companions to deal with: sailor Ben, posh Polly, and Scotsman Jamie. With so many characters, it was clear that some of them would get short-changed. In The Faceless Ones, Ben and Polly were for all intents and purposes written out, appearing in only Episodes One, Two, and Six. In other words, for half of the story, they were not there. It's difficult to say how this would have worked if Jamie hadn't come aboard at the end of The Highlanders, but it shows that he was ascending while they were descending.
The main focus was between The Doctor and Jamie, (who had supplanted Ben and Polly) and even guest character Samantha was more relevant to the story than the seaman and "Duchess". In regards to Samantha, it was because her character was being groomed as a possible Companion herself, but Collins turned that down. However, The Faceless Ones showed how well Jamie and the Doctor worked together, and here, we see how Jamie grew into becoming one of the better Companions.
It should be noted that Jamie stayed on until the Second Doctor's forced regeneration at the end of The War Games, having outlasted not only Ben and Polly, but future Companions Victoria Waterfield and Zoe Hariot as well. However, I digress.
We do see how well Jamie and the Doctor work together in The Faceless Ones, especially in how they work humor into the scenario. For example, they are too involved in their conversation to realize that Polly had been snatched from behind them. It's a credit to both Troughton and Hines that they managed to create a strong team between them.
Hines in particular, in the surviving episodes, shows a strong range: a worried friend when they are forced to separate, a frightened man whose had his first encounter with an aeroplane (a flying beastie he calls it), and even a slightly timid and smitten young man when with Samantha.
Collins, whose Samantha has only this episode to show for her work, played the character as a smart and brave girl, certainly Jamie's equal in courage and I suspect his better in the brains department (although on the whole almost all the women Jamie meets tend to be smarter).
It is a clever twist (if one wants to call it) to make the Chameleons/Faceless Ones not real monsters but more desperate beings doing questionable things to preserve their people. I don't know if making them sympathetic at the end takes away from doing such things as kidnapping or murder, but on the whole the idea holds well. The idea of bringing Ben and Polly back on the exact same day similarly works.
If I were to fault David Ellis and Malcolm Hulke in their screenplay is that one feels the story is stretched a bit. Even in its incomplete manner, one gets the sense that The Faceless Ones is a couple of episodes too long. Granted, I find lengthy stories (anything over four episodes) a bit difficult, and on the whole it takes a great story to accept being of such a massive length. Some stories, like the seven-part The Daleks or six-part The Dalek Invasion of Earth really build on the preceding episodes. The Faceless Ones does have some of that, but on the whole it appears to be making the effort to make the story longer.
This really is something that tends to happen with longer stories, and apparently the only times a story can go beyond five episodes is whenever a Dalek is involved. We have yet to have a brilliant four-plus episode story that didn't involve them, and The Faceless Ones isn't it.
Would I like to have seen all the episodes and have a complete story? On the whole, yes, if only to see Ben and Polly make their farewells. However, while we have good elements with The Faceless Ones, I can't say I'm passionate about it or desperate to have in my collection. Truth be told, I thought The Underwater Menace was slightly better...but then again, it was shorter. Still, The Faceless Ones holds well and has a good, though not great, story.
In the end, it's worth giving it our attention and keeping our full face forwards.
Next Story: The Evil of the Daleks
Sunday, May 20, 2012
As I got through Doctor Who Series/Season Six, I couldn't help think that something was amiss. Is it me, or has Doctor Who suddenly gone off the rails? I know Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith is more goofy than the borderline-nihilistic David Tennant, but somehow...this...is not amusing. Even worse, Smith is...horror of horrors...beginning to annoy me. Yet even that is not what I think is at the core of the problem with this latest series/season of the Adventures of the Time Lord. The BIG problem is that Doctor Who is no longer about Doctor Who even if the entire series/season involves the name of Doctor Who himself. Isn't that ironic, don't you think...
As evidence, I give you this:
When I was a little girl, I had an imaginary friend. And when I grew up, he came back. He's called the Doctor. He comes from somewhere else. He's got a box called the TARDIS that's bigger on the inside and can travel anywhere in time and space. I ran away with him, and we've been running ever since...(emphasis mine).
There it is in a nutshell what I consider the biggest flaw in the NuWho. As Ellery Queen would say, "Did you get that?"
If you didn't, allow me to spell it out. The big problem is the decision to have an introductory opening where Amy tells us about her 'mysterious friend'. I'd argue that it's a mistake to have a cold opening in the first place, but more on that a bit later.
Imagine, if you will, that you'd never seen an episode of Doctor Who, neither the classic or revived series. You even managed to skip Series/Season Five, so your first encounter with the series is Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 (The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon). Right from the get-go, if we went just by the intro, we get the idea that Doctor Who isn't about the Doctor at all...it's about the Companion, in this case, All About Amy. It makes Doctor Who the series into something Companion-centered, not Doctor-centered. For the new viewer, it would make things confusing (this show is about Amy, right?). For long-time viewers, we already know all this, so why are we told over and over about when Amy met the Doctor for the first time? Moreover, neither in the classic series or for five series/seasons did we need this little intro about Amy and her encounter with her 'mysterious friend', so why start now?
I am at a loss to understand the thinking behind this decision. If you're a long-time viewer (especially before Rose), you know all this. If you're not and are just starting out, all the "I"s indicate that the series is more about Amy's journeys with her 'mysterious friend' than they are about him.
Perhaps this is how Steven Moffat wants the show to go. When I kept watching this episode after episode, I kept thinking, 'why are we getting this information?' Moreover, I kept wondering why we were going into the Doctor's adventures from AMY'S point of view. Would we do this for every future Companion?
For all the faults Doctor Who may have, at least we knew that the stories would center around the Doctor. In the beginning, we did get a bit of the background information of the Companions when they came in, but once inside the TARDIS is was Companion and Doctor, period. Once the revived series began, we got more about the Companion's lives than we have before. That in and of itself isn't all that bad. However, now we've gotten to the point where we are being led to think Doctor Who is not about the Doctor, but about the Companion.
I would remind Mr. Moffat et. al. that the show is not called Amy Pond, or even River Song (although Moffat is damn well determined to make it all revolve around his Galatea). It is STILL called Doctor Who.
This bizarre plan to make Doctor Who appear centered around the Companions, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Allow me a few more thoughts.
In the nearly fifty-year span that I am making an effort to cover, I have completed only three full Doctor retrospectives: the First, the Ninth, and the Eleventh. In that time we can say that there have been some good and some bad Doctor Who stories. Take for example this gentleman, William Hartnell as The First Doctor. The First Doctor has had 20 stories, both complete and missing, released on DVD. In that time, he had two stories that won a perfect 10/10: The Aztecs and The Time Meddler. Three other stories: Inside the Spaceship, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and The Romans, all scored a very respectable 9/10. Granted the good Doctor had his share of clunkers (no one ever bats .1000), and two of his stories: The Gunfighters and The Web Planet, earned the overall low score of 2/10.
This is the Ninth Doctor. He is the shortest Doctor, not in terms of height but in terms of stories, lasting only one season/series. Even with only ten stories (I count two-episode stories as one, hence my count), he still managed to hit a few home runs. Both The Unquiet Dead and Father's Day won a perfect score from me, with The End of the World at a good nine of ten. However, he did get two lousy stories: Boom Town and The Long Game getting him the lowest Ninth Doctor score of four. It is hard to say how good or bad future Ninth Doctor stories would have been, but on the whole, his tenure was successful, with more hits than misses.
We now move on to the current Doctor, the illustrious Eleventh. In two seasons, his stories have stubbornly refused to break beyond 8/10. There's been some good, even great Eleventh Doctor stories: The Eleventh Hour, Victory of the Daleks, Amy's Choice, Cold Blood Parts 1 & 2 (the only two-parter so far to rank so high) and Night Terrors. However, note that with the exception of Night Terrors, all of the 8/10 stories were a year ago. In two years the Eleventh Doctor has yet to have an undisputed masterpiece, a perfect story.
Instead, he's been scraping the bottom of the barrel. Two stories at 5/10. Four stories at 4/10 (one a two-parter). One at 3/10, FOUR at 2/10 (one a two-parter), and one at 1/10. Let's consider this for a moment: there are lost/incomplete stories (Marco Polo, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Celestial Toymaker, The Crusade, The Underwater Menace, and The Moonbase) that ranked HIGHER than most of the Season/Series Six stories. Even if some of their episodes are missing (and in the case of Marco Polo, no frame is known to exist), they still are better than some of the NuWho adventures.
How can this be? Well, I have a theory...
|Oh my GOD! RIVER SONG IS THE IMPOSSIBLE ASTRONAUT! WHO KNEW?!|
This damn bitch is the cause of the Doctor's troubles...in more ways than one. I know that Moffat as a writer (like all writers) gets attached to their creations. I don't begrudge him that. Therefore, I don't blame him for being enthralled with River Song, whom he created for Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2 (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead). Where things started going wildly wrong is when Moffat got it into his head that River Song was not merely a guest character, or even a Companion. It was when he decided she was THE Companion, the Greatest Companion of All Time, an Icon in the Doctor Who mythos. He decided unilaterally that River Song, a woman who does nothing save say "Hello, Sweetie," and "Spoilers", who shows off just how 'smart' she is (especially how she is smarter than the Doctor--she for example, knows how to land the TARDIS better than the Doctor, a task accomplished only once before, by Romana, who WAS an ACTUAL Time Lord, not just one because her parents got in on inside the TARDIS), would be the most important character in Doctor Who.
I often semi-jokingly refer to the show as River Song (formerly known as Doctor Who) because she has been given a primary role in the series. So much of Season/Series Six has revolved around River that it's a surprise that the cold opening doesn't feature Alex Kingston speaking rather than Karen Gillan. While she was featured in two two-part stories in Season/Series Five (The Time of Angels Parts 1 & 2 and The Big Bang Parts 1 & 2), she somehow ended up in three stories in Series/Season Six (including again, two two-parters, both of which revolved around HER identity).
Again and again I am at a loss to understand why River is considered so important to the series. Shockingly, the show managed to survive nearly fifty years without her, and I fail to see why it can't do it again. Even more horrifying to me is why so many NuWhovians, those who do think the series began with Rose and have only the vaguest idea of what came between An Unearthly Child and Survival (or Doctor Who: The Movie...I won't split hairs) think she is such a great character or brilliant Companion.
She's horrible: a self-centered slut who throws around silly catchphrases and behaves as though she is the most important character in the series. On that point, perhaps she may be proven correct, given how many of the stories she was part of did indeed revolve around her. One might as well have made River's Secret (A Good Man Goes to War/Let's Kill Hitler) a Doctor-lite two-parter, given that the stories revolved around River and her "regeneration".
REGENERATION?! SERIOUSLY?! Up till now, only Time Lords regenerated, but Moffat has become so fixated on River Song that he has literally given her the power to regenerate as if SHE were a Time Lord herself. His explanation as to how this was possible: that she gained Time Lord DNA because she was conceived in the TARDIS, is absolute nonsense. If that's the case, then let the Doctor turn the TARDIS into a brothel, collect all the children who were spawned within it, and voila! A New Gallifrey.
I won't go over how illogical it is to think that the little girl who regenerated at the end of Day of the Moon Part 2 could possibly be the same girl who was Amy and Rory's childhood friend Mels in River's Secret Part 2 (Let's Kill Hitler) because the little girl who regenerated in 1970 somehow managed to stay that age for almost twenty years in order to be around her 'parents'. I can say that by putting so much emphasis on River, Doctor Who was basically turning an iconic television show over to the whims of a writer/producer more interested in his creation than in the main character.
Curiously, while seven of the ten Season/Series Six stories ranked Five and Under (with an average score of 4.2), the three highest (the 8/10 Night Terrors and 7/10 The Doctor's Wife and The Girl Who Waited) did NOT feature River Song. Her highest rankings are 6/10 for Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 and The Big Bang Parts 1 & 2. Her other Series/Season Six stories (The Wedding of River Song...no surprise at that title...and River's Secret...my own title given her prominence and importance to the series) were at 3/10 and 2/10 respectively.
In short, whenever we focus more on River, we instantly lose focus on the Doctor in Doctor Who, which leads to worse stories.
Finally, I'll touch lightly on what I see as a growing flaw in Doctor Who. Again, I'm at pains to say that I don't object to humor if it is well done (ie. The Romans). For my tastes, though, the Eleventh Doctor is becoming too comic, too goofy, to be seen as a real hero. How else to describe his goofy wedding dance at The Big Bang Part 2 or coming as though he were about to try out for a Fred Astaire impersonator in River's Secret Part 2? I'm finding it harder and harder to take him seriously.
When you can't take a character seriously (even if it is in silly situations) any program/film begins to lose credibility. One of the things that hobbled the Sixth Doctor was his idiotic costume, and despite some good stories in his time (Revelation of the Daleks and Vengeance on Varos), the kitschy outfit got in the way. Likewise the 'jelly babies' and more and more ridiculous monsters from the Fourth Doctor.
Sadly, I'm getting the same feeling with the Eleventh Doctor, which is especially sad given we're coming up on the 50th Anniversary since two schoolteachers went into a junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane. I once gave up watching NuWho after the disaster that was and is Love & Monsters (and not-fond memories of Doomsday Parts 1 & 2: Army of Ghosts/Doomsday). It was only David Tennant's eventual departure that brought me back to the series, beginning with The Waters of Mars onwards. Now, I'm beginning to despair again, and I think that My Mysterious Doctor is bound to be a bigger parody than The Curse of Fatal Death.
Monday, May 14, 2012
STORY 231: THE DOCTOR, THE WIDOW, AND THE WARDROBE
Perhaps a better title would have been "Always Winter, Never Christmas", seeing how the revived River Song (formerly known as Doctor Who) has an almost pathological obsession with thinking Christmas is in no way/shape/manner of sort even close to a religious holiday (hence the constant referrals to 'winter solstice' rather than Christmas). After all, it wasn't until A Christmas Carol that we had even a small suggestion that the evening of December 24-25 somehow had anything to do with something called a "Jesus" (at that was when the carol Silent Night was being sung by those aboard the doomed ship). I can't truly fault people like Stephen Moffat for that: they, I imagine, live in a society that doesn't want to offend the Richard Dawkinses of the world by putting anything remotely theistic in their programs (even if it means being disingenuous with the actual 'reason for the season' as it were).
However, you can't call a Christmas/Winter Solstice River Song episode The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe without evoking memories of the C.S. Lewis story The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (a Christian allegory if ever there was one). Now, Lewis' story does have a Christmas tie-in (Father Christmas himself pops up), but how Lewis himself, the Granddaddy of Christian Apologists, would react to all this 'winter solstice' business I can only guess (but I'm guessing he would take a rather dim view of it).
The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe is meant to have us think of Lewis because the story is almost shameless in its taking of certain elements. If one knows the Lewis story, you get some idea of what DWW is. That in itself isn't bad. However, the Winter Solstice Special is to my mind, wearing out its Yuletide welcome.
It is Christmas, 1938. The Doctor (Matt Smith) has just blown up a spaceship and managed to escape but in his rush got his spacesuit on backwards. Onto Earth he crashes, to be found by Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner). She leads him to the TARDIS, and a grateful Doctor promises he will repay this kindness.
It is three years later, and a war is going on. Madge's husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong) is an RAF pilot, but alas, Madge learns that on the 20th of December, 1941, her husband was lost at sea. She decides to keep this news from her children Cyril (Maurice Cole) and Lily (Holly Earl) so as to not spoil their Winter Solstice. She decides that they need to get away from the bombs, so it's off to a dilapidated home in the country, where the Caretaker ends up being...the Doctor. He has set up a veritable wonderland for the children to celebrate the equinox (formerly known as the birth of Christ), but Madge finds him hopelessly irritating, saying that she finds the man "quite ridiculous".
Join the club.
In any case, the Doctor has prepared a special box that is not to be opened until Christmas, but Cyril, being hopelessly curious, opens it. This blue box, all wrapped like a giant Winter Solstice present, allows him entrance into a fantastical world where it is literally always winter and never Christmas. However, something is dangerously off: the trees have a life of their own. Quite literally: the trees are alive, and they're looking for a host.
The Doctor and Lily (whom I kept thinking was called Lucy, but I digress), follow Cyril to rescue him, as does Madge. The Doctor and Lily come across a Dark Tower (with a lion's face as a doorknocker) where they find Cyril virtually held hostage. Madge, meanwhile, finds three Harvest Rangers who inform her this forest is to be melted for fuel via acid rain. We learn that these trees, the Androzani trees, are seeking to escape before the rains, and they look first at Cyril as a vehicle, but he won't do. Lily is a slightly better candidate, but in the end, it is Madge who will be the literal mother-ship. As they fly off through the time vortex, with the spirit of the trees within Madge, she is forced to see her life relived, including the death of Reg. Once the Androzani trees are deposited safely somewhere, we return to Christmas, 1941.
We then a real Winter Solstice Miracle. It was a moonless night when Reg's plane went down, but through their meeting in the time vortex, she WAS the light. She gave him the stars to guide him home. To Reg's surprise and confusion, he finds himself landed just outside the country home. Madge, thankful, invites the Doctor to stay for Winter Solstice dinner, but he declines. She does persuade him to stop by his old friend's home to let them know he really isn't dead. And he does, going to Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), and the Doctor now has happy tears at last...
Curiously, while watching The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe, I thought just how awful it was that Reg should live. It isn't that I wanted him to die, it's just that Steven Moffat's story would have been both predictable and a bit of a cheat if he'd been allowed to return, safe and sound, unaware of how his wife brought him home.
For the longest time I struggled about how this non-twist would affect my grade for The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe. On the one hand, it IS a happy ending, and one doesn't like arguing against them. On the other, I found that in my notes I actually wrote, "No, No-he didn't come back". I'll leave aside for a moment what appears almost a casual dismissing of so many widows and widowers and orphans who won't have the Doctor to bring back their parents from war, and instead think about how this situation isn't all that unexpected.
Would I think that the widow in a story called The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe should have remained a widow? Well, a lesson could be given about how in times of war, one has to accept that perhaps people die and as much as one might want them back, they just cannot do so.
There were, however, other elements that brought DWW down for me. First is the opening that has the Doctor blowing up a ship and flying out into space while trying to slip on a spacesuit in outer space. Again, I won't focus on the logic (or lack thereof) of this: after all, we are dealing with the Doctor. Perhaps it is because I have been in the midst of a James Bond retrospective, but the entire opening sequence reminded me of a pre-title Bond film scene (something that is barely related to the overall plot).
Further on the points of logic, this is suppose to be 1938 (given that it is three years later, the United Kingdom is at war, and Reg is reading a newspaper that says "War is Imminent"). I can say that despite the headlines, war was not officially declared for another nine months, so it was still a ways off. What did bother me was that Madge, middle-class housewife 1938, knows what a helmet is and doesn't appear a bit fazed at seeing a man in a spacesuit going out and about. Granted, she did think he might be an angel, but I couldn't shake the idea that they were stretching the point of believability.
Having him have the helmet on backwards, something played for laughs, did not help. I know it was so that Madge wouldn't recognize the Doctor off the bat when he came roaring back as the manic and goofy Caretaker, but I couldn't get into how jokey a lot of DWW was. The entire tour the Doctor gave them made the Time Lord look downright bonkers, and Smith's interpretation of the Doctor is really beginning to grate on me.
At first, I thought we needed some levity after how morose David Tennant had been in his final episodes, but now I don't think I can defend him as much or as well as I used to. He now is slipping into parody, given to run around and move as if he no longer was in control of his body.
For all the originality DWW tries for (apart from drawing on C.S. Lewis), some of Moffat's lines evoked other stories. When one of the Rangers tells the other "There's no crying in military engagements", perhaps because I'm an American, I couldn't help thinking to one of the most memorable lines in American film (as voted by the American Film Institute): from A League of Their Own, "There's no crying in baseball".
The environmental message in DWW reminded me of both The Lorax (I speak for the trees) and even Lewis' best friend/spiritual mentor J.R.R. Tolkien. Seeing those trees, ancient and wise, fighting for life made me wonder if Treebeard and the Ents were going to go after the harvesters and lay siege to their stronghold (wherever it might be). Somehow, the idea of preserving the trees IS a positive message that doesn't crowd out the overall story, so much so that I wasn't bothered by it. I suspect but cannot prove that a message was sent about the importance of saving the forests was in there.
However, I won't begrudge them that.
I also won't begrudge a good performance by Skinner as the Widow Arwell. She brought both the sadness of loss and the false front for the children, making her forced recognition of her loss all the more sad (and her determination to save the children all the more compelling).
What I found in The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe is that one might be tempted to think well of the story if one has no knowledge of the C.S. Lewis story it draws inspiration from. However, the trees escaping weren't interesting, having Mr. and Mrs. WILLIAMS pop up just seems a quick way to get them into the story a la Closing Time, and despite the best efforts, I don't have any interest in opening this box again.
Finally, I leave with this. We've done A Christmas Carol. We've now done The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. If we get to the Doctor's version of It's A Wonderful Life, consider River Song (formerly known as Doctor Who) to be officially over...
|Rory Williams Death Count|
In Episode: Zero
Next Story: Asylum of the Daleks
Monday, May 7, 2012
THE WEDDING OF RIVER SONG
Truth be told, I thought we'd forgotten all about her. Alas, River Song, like all monsters, have to have one last good riddance appearance before going off to hopefully never be seen again. Thus is the case with this Legendary Legend of Legendness, who not being satisfied with being a bane of my Doctor Who-watching experience, now has finally achieved her true goal. No, not killing the Doctor, but having her name in the title. The Wedding of River Song wraps up Series/Season Six. I can only ask those NuWhovians who think Doctor Who began with Rose to explain WHY IN GOD'S NAME YOU THINK SHE'S SO DAMN IMPORTANT AND BRILLIANT. She's a horrible, useless creation, one that has been an irritant ever since she left guest-star status from Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2 (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead) and was inserted as this mythic creation that was vital, VITAL, to the Doctor Who mythos. The Wedding of River Song is nothing more as the triumph of the NuWhovians over those who look to the classic series. It is a dividing line between the original series and creating something different under the same name as Doctor Who.
The world is a curious place. It is April 22, 2011, 5:02 p.m. Pterodactyls are a menace in the parks. The War of the Roses is entering its second year (I think that technically, it should be the WARS of the Roses, but why be picky). Charles Dickens is on television, promoting his new Christmas Special. The Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill has just returned from Gaul after a conference with Cleopatra to Buckingham Palace, and he notices that time never changes. It is not just April 22, 2011, 5:02 p.m. It is ALWAYS April 22, 2011, 5:02 p.m. He calls for his soothsayer, imprisoned in the Tower. Enter said soothsayer: the Doctor (Matt Smith).
The Doctor now tells his story. He was suppose to die at Lake Silencio, killed by River Song (Alex Kingston). He has been on a chase through time and space, trying to find the reason WHY he has to die. The Teselecta from River's Secret Part 2 (Let's Kill Hitler) gives him some clues, leading to Dorian Maldovar (Simon Fisher Becker), now a Headless Monk after the events of River's Secret Parts 1 & 2. He tells him that the Silence, which is a religious cult, cannot have The First Question asked. The Doctor believes he can outrun time, until learning of the death of the Brigadier. With that, he opts to face his own death.
However, River, so deeply in love with the Doctor, simply cannot do it. She does not kill him, and as a result, time is collapsing. Events in history are colliding upon themselves (hence having Churchill and Cleopatra be contemporaries), having unofficially frozen on the exact time and place of the Doctor's death. The Doctor and Churchill are menaced by the Silence, until rescued by an eye-patch wearing Amelia Pond (Karen Gillan).
She tells the Doctor that she has managed to remember the real history along with the world as it is now. She whisks him on the train to Area 52, deep inside an Egyptian pyramid. The eye-patch (or as I call it, iPatch) contains a drive (an iDrive) that helps people remember the Silence after seeing them. In Area 52, there are over a hundred Silence captured, along with Madame Kevorkian....I mean, Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber), prisoner, as well as our be-hated River. The Doctor attempts to get time going by touching, but nothing doing. However, all this was an elaborate trap by Kovarian and the Silence, with them waiting for the Doctor to come so as to kill him. Thanks to Captain Williams (Arthur Darvill), or as the Silence call him, The Man Who Dies and Dies Again, they escape, but Madame Kovarian meets a gruesome end when her eye-patch goes bonkers.
River has set up a distress signal to all space to help the Doctor, but he refuses help, telling her he must die. With that, they get a quickie marriage, allowing them to kiss and get time started. We see the Doctor die at Lake Silencio, but not before he whispers something to River, which he says is his name. Now Amy and her daughter reunite, where River tells Mommie the truth, a joyful truth: the Doctor Faked His Death. It was the Teselacta that took the bullets for him! The Doctor returns Dorian to his Headless Monk chamber, with him shouting the First Question...
I figure Steven Moffat, when writing The Wedding of River Song, was having a jolly good time. Whovians, in particular NuWhovians (those whose first story was Rose and anything after), would be thrilled and shocked by all the twists and turns in the story. NO ONE, he I think he thought, would figure out that the Doctor did not really die.
I don't want to say that I am highly intelligent, but it is the only logical solution to this conundrum would be to have a doppelganger take his place. Given that in The Gangers Parts 1 & 2, the Doctor first learns that he is to die, he would be wise to find someone to take his place, and with River's Secret Part 2, what better source than the Teselecta? I always thought a robot would be the one to fill in for him at Lake Silencio. I had that suspicion even during Day of the Moon Part 1 (The Impossible Astronaut).
Maybe it is because Moffat was unconsciously channeling Back to the Future. For those of us who've seen it, we recall that Doc Brown appeared to have been killed again even after Marty had tried desperately to give him warning when they met in the past. Doc insisted that if he was to die at that time, he had to do it because he could not change history. We find of course that he did indeed survive (having worn a bullet proof vest) because he did indeed read Marty's letter and thus came prepared.
Likewise like that Doc, our Doc has A.) had prior warning about his death, and B.) came prepared. I'm sure Moffat would say he had this all thought out long before the cameras rolled and it was all original, but to me, that is what I saw: a repetition that left no real suspense. It was all introduced to us, and while it is logical it is also so obvious that it defies logic to think anyone would be surprised he had a double in Lake Silencio. It is shocking to think that anyone would say, "WOW! It was the Teselecta that took the bullets for the Doctor!"
Also, as with River's Secret Parts 1 & 2, is it me or does The Wedding of River Song leave some points of logic unanswered? If the Doctor never told River his real name here, what exactly does River tell the Doctor in Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2? As I understand it, she knows his real name here, but now she doesn't? Well, I leave it to the NuWhovians to answer that question for me.
There were also some issues I had with the actual story. The endless race to get to the reason why the Doctor should die appeared to be a bit of padding: going from the Mos Eisley Cantina to a Death Chess Match to the Headless Monk could have been trimmed (unless we had to have the Death Match to allow a character to die by being devoured by skulls, rather gruesome at most). Also, we revert to the tried-and-true of having Rory be the idiot we've grown to love (although there is a reason why he doesn't realize he's River's father). Madame Kovarian still doesn't appear to have a real reason to be so murderous.
As a side note, I don't have too much trouble with Amy allowing Kovarian to die, although there might have a been a way to have her die. It is a bad thing to have a Companion basically kill someone, but given what she did to her daughter, it might make it more a rash decision than premeditated murder. Still, it does make one a bit wary about Amy's actions.
There are however, some good things in The Wedding of River Song. The opening where time has folded on itself and all of history happening at once is an eye-popping start. Even though the death of the Brigadier takes place off-screen, it still has an emotional impact (Jeremy Webb's directing of the scene making it more sad). The skulls of the Headless Monks are appropriately creepy, even scary. It is good to see Darvill take a more heroic role as Captain Williams, showing he can play tough characters as opposed to the generally wimpy Rory.
We also get nods from Moffat to the fans. While in the Pyramid in Area 52, River tells the Doctor that there have been many theories about their relationship: is she the woman who marries him or murders him (it's really a bit of both, but I digress). I think this is a smart line given that for the longest time fans sans moi did discuss what exactly their relationship would be.
However, why do I keep thinking that The Wedding of River Song would have been better as a two-parter? Like most NuWho episodes, a lot of information is slung at us with not much payoff. I truly think that if more time had been devoted to how the Silence and Kovarian brought the Doctor and River together rather than everything in Closing Time we might have wrapped up the season/series much better.
I also don't believe that River was acting when she was at Lake Silencio (or this timey-wimey deal of her being in two places at once) or that she always knew she was Amy and Rory's daughter (a plot point that I've never believed and found stretches things).
On the whole, The Wedding of River Song has in its favor a logical (though obvious) solution to the problem we found in the opening (namely the death of Doctor Who). However, the emphasis for River over the Doctor hampers the script. The fact that The First Question almost appears to be spoofing the series (or a set-up for the 50th Anniversary next year) does it no favors. I figure NuWhovians love River and think highly of this episode. However, this is one wedding I have no interest in crashing.
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