But executive producer/head honcho Steven Moffat's inability to stop adding bells and whistles sometimes gets in the way of emotionally resonant moments on this show. By the time the finale rolled around, there was so much business that had be dealt with that much of the running time of 'The Wedding of River Song' consisted of extremely clever but nonetheless exposition-y exposition.
As for the wedding of the title? Well, that was emblematic of what didn't quite work.
Though the scene was very well acted by all parties, it didn't really work because the Doctor getting married -- to anyone -- should be a very big deal. But this was, as I said to my husband, one more ornament on an already crowded Christmas tree.
The entire time that the Doctor and River were getting married, I thought, "This is a strategem, part of some plan to save the Doctor." And indeed it was. If you think about it, at that moment, the Doctor and River didn't even kiss, it was River and the justice vessel kissing, with the Doctor hidden somewhere inside.
It was all about getting the Doctor out of time jail (or him getting the Earth out of time jail) on a technicality. It wasn't romantic, it wasn't epic, and for the Doctor to get married, that should be mega-epic. For him to kiss a woman who has followed him through time and space to save him -- that should be a moment. But even after River told the Doctor about all she had done to try to save him, I never really thought he was in love with her.
Of course she's been in love with him for years and years, but can you honestly ever think of a moment in which you looked at him and said, "The Doctor is besotted with this woman"? For this ancient being to wed, it must be a love that is written in the stars, and though of course River and the Doctor have met many times and have a deep bond, I've never thought he was in love with her. They've always had a playful flirtation, but there's always been some kind of distance between the Doctor and everyone around him.
Of course, that distance itself is tragic, and Matt Smith is spectacular at communicating how lonely this old, old soul is at times (his brief scene of mourning Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, one of my favorite-ever 'Doctor Who' characters, was a lovely grace note and a welcome tribute to actor Nicholas Courtney). But him marrying River wasn't really him letting down his guard. He cares about her a lot, but he wasn't truly letting her in. The whole thing was just one more trick he had up his sleeve.
No doubt he was moved by the fact that she could not kill him and by the fact that she had assembled an armada of beings who wanted to help him. Of course it had to be moving for him to realize, thanks to her efforts, that he was a force for good in the universe. But there's a difference between gratitude and love, and who or what in this episode had time for love? Certainly the Doctor didn't appear to be a man who was marrying for love. If the story of the season was that he can be a feared presence in the galaxy but that ultimately he's a force for good, then OK, that worked.
If one of the goals of the season was to convince us that the Doctor (who allegedly already has a "wife" in the form of the TARDIS) was in love with and wanted to marry River Song, then it didn't work.
In that moment, I think he wanted to marry River because that would be the only way she would kiss him. The moment felt like it was mostly about a ploy, and that's more than a little .... unromantic.
Having said that, I enjoyed the callbacks to past episodes, I enjoyed seeing Churchill talking with a toga-clad Doctor, and it was hard to resist the generally frisky imaginative energy that was on display. It was fun to see another badass alterna-Amy and another alterna-Rory (who, of course, was awesome, as Rory is in all versions of time and space). Now there's an epic romance to make you go "Awwww."
And I liked the fact that there was a callback to the pain that Madame Kovarian had caused Amy and Rory by stealing their daughter. After a long period of the show only obliquely referring to their very real loss, we got to finally see how much Amy had missed raising her daughter, but again, the episode had to get to so many different things that it didn't spend much time on her decision to murder (one version of) Kovarian in cold blood.
The more I think about 'Doctor Who,' the more I wonder about the British model of showrunning. In that mode, you get one supreme writer who farms out scripts to individuals (whose scripts are often rewritten by the head writer). There's no writers' room in which ideas get batted around by a group; there's no group taking a hard look at whether the show is repeating itself or falling into ruts. In the American model, with the majority of writers meeting regularly to debate where the season and the characters should go, in theory, there's a chance for a greater variety of ideas and for certain hobbyhorses to get ridden a little less frequently.
What you end up getting with the British model, in which one writer rules supreme, are shows that very much reflect the proclivities and interests of one person, and that can make for a more coherent vision, but it can also be dangerous, because that grand supremo's ideas don't get questioned nearly as much. If a writers' room is working right (and I don't claim that it always does), people will raise their hands and voice concerns about a particular set of moves or creative directions that tend to come up again and again. Having other writers around is a form of self-editing; it's probably tougher on the ego, but I think it's often better for the creative process.
But that model hasn't made much headway in England, so we get shows that indulge the creator's vision quite heavily, for good and for ill. The Russell T Davies era of 'Doctor Who' had some fantastic emotional moments and interesting ideas, but it also featured some dull, lazy, repetitive plots about the dangers of capitalism and some sloppy plotting (all of which was further indulged in the highly inconsistent 'Torchwood,' and to a frankly toxic degree in 'Torchwood: Miracle Day').
Moffat loves time shenanigans and puzzle plots; he loves things that double back on themselves and structures that contain dizzying dopplegangers and memory manipulation. But when all of that cleverness becomes a form of baggage and gets in the way of human (or Gallifreyan) emotions, then maybe there's just too much of it.
I think Moffat's a very clever writer, but I think at times he uses cleverness as a shield. I appreciate the fact that he's clearly no fan of mawkish sentiment, but if his stories continually avoid swimming in deeper emotional waters and confronting pain and love and knotty emotions in a more direct way, then, well, that's a little disappointing. All the timey-wimey stuff is good fun but sometimes the Moffat era leaves me wanting less of that, or it leaves me wishing he'd use his intellectual rigor to shape stories that draw on our compassion and our empathy. By adding Rory and Amy to the TARDIS, he's added relationship complexity to that brave little vessel -- but that doesn't necessarily mean he's explored those complexities in rich or rewarding ways.
Overall, I am glad that the guy who wrote 'Blink' is now running the show, but part of me thinks he's one of the few people on the planet who could write something like 'Lost's' 'The Constant.' I frankly expect more of Moffat because I think he's capable of it. Imagine that intellect used to create a story designed to go for the emotional jugular. Wouldn't that be epic?
As for 'The Wedding of River Song,' it felt like a buffet dinner that I eventually realized contains only desserts. Nobody likes frosting and chocolate more than me, but at some point, you want a substantial main course. I love the current cast of 'Doctor Who' and quite enjoy Moffat's dizzy imagination, but this cast is capable of nailing epic romance and epic tragedy. I hope they get a chance to do that in the future.
I'm hungry for more than fish custard.
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