Doctor Who (6.13): Hell in high heels… and spoilers (naturally)

If you value your sanity you will stay away from Doctor Who internet forums for the next week or so. Those things will be frothing, hissing and spitting with venomous bile and fizzing adoration in (probably) equal measures.

I suspect for many people it won’t have been an entirely satisfactory ending. It works, when you’ve mulled it over, on many levels, but it works better on second viewing (especially without a six-year-old child noisily worried that there will be no more Doctor Who ever). Naturally the residents of  Hat Towers are delighted that Matt Smith will be back for Christmas.

I could sing the praises of Steven Moffat for hours on end, but one thing that stands out as I rewatch these episodes is that they have been written with rewatching in mind. This man has two versions of the story running in front of you, and you will never see both versions on your first pass. The first line we hear after the recap is a reference to a heartbreaking conversation we’re not going to hear for another 40 minutes or so, but there is no way you could know that until it’s explained.

Steven Moffat will use every trick in the book and then a few new ones he’s invented while on the train to Cardiff to deliver brilliant surprises, and I love him for it. (Sorry, made the mistake of reading the Grauniad’s Is Doctor Who becoming too complex? article, and I’m still a bit tetchy.)

So, back to the matter at hand. Time is broken, and only one man can fix it. And there’s only one way he can do that; by dying on the edge of Lake Silencio at 5.01 on April 22 2011. This is both true and untrue. And the path to most of the answers is a typically twisty one.

Considering how much story there is to cram in here, it’s done remarkably well with both the soothsayer Doctor and our Doctor laying it out for us in two separate tales. And we’re still kept guessing right to the very end.

There is probably some frothing going on somewhere about the Doctor’s first words in reply to Churchill’s question: “What happened to time?” (A: “A woman”). Here’s (briefly) why I don’t think this is sexist. 1. You could insert ‘a giraffe’, ‘a Dalek’ or even ‘a cucumber’ in it’s place and (if you wrote the rest of your story appropriately) it would be fine. It is an accurate description of the reason for time being broken. 2.In River Song and Amy Pond, Steven Moffat has written two exemplary female role models for the girls (and women) watching this. 3. Women frequently get to save the day in the Whoniverse, so I think occasionally one can break all of time too.

We get most of the answers we’ve been waiting for. Why the Doctor invited his friends to see his death (“I had to die. I didn’t have to die alone”),  who River Song is to the Doctor (though we still don’t know what she whispered in his ear in the library – perhaps that was his name, she might now it after all that time),what the eye-patches are for (an i-something that Apple won’t be making just yet), how River could murder the Doctor and how the Doctor avoids his certain fate.

What we don’t know is who blew up the Tardis at the end of series 5 – or what the fields of Trenzalore are going to bring.  If the Eleventh is going to fall there, I hope we don’t find out for a very long time.

And the multiple callbacks – too many to list in full – the penmarks on skin, Malokeh the Silurian, a shooting that isn’t what it seems, a monster begging for (and expecting) mercy from a Doctor’s companion – but not getting it, the Teselector, the power of love saving the day…

The only really bad thing here is that we now have to wait until Christmas to get another fix of the Eleventh Doctor. Never a time machine around when you need one…

The best bits of The Wedding of River Song:

  • Better even than pterodactyls in Hyde park, is the ‘Do not feed the pterodactyls’ sign.
  • The Christmas special gag – Charles Dickens on the BBC Breakfast sofa. Also recognition that TV is exactly what Dickens would have been writing for if it had existed in his time (or, perhaps, more accurately, if he lived in our time).
  • That in the broken version of reality Winston Churchill is a Roman Emperor.
  • The Doctor flicking through ‘Knitting for girls’ while he waits for the Teselector to turn up.
  • You have to (unwillingly) proofread chess magazines to really understand how much I love the idea of 4million volts running through a chess piece. If live chess was really like this, I might like it a little more.
  • The Indiana Jones vibe to the Headless Monks’ storage vaults, not to mention the nod to Indy’s ophiophobia with the “I hate rats” line, the horrifying carniverous skulls, the trap and the excited trumpets.
  • Dorium is still with us. Sort of. And still blessed with a sense of humour.
  • We have the fields of Trenzalore to look forward to – ‘at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature could speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. A question that must never ever be answered’.
  • The Doctor’s response to Dorium telling him to stop running away: “Things to do, people to see, there’s always more. I could invent a new colour, save the dodo, join the Beatles! I’ve got a time machine Dorium. It’s all still going on. For me it never stops. Liz the First is still waiting in a glade to elope with me. I could help Rose Tyler with her homework. I could go on all Jack’s stag parties in one night.” Dorium: “Time catches up with us all Doctor!” The Doctor: “Well, it’s never laid a glove on me!” And then the suckerpunch… his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has died. Stupidly I was even more moved by the passing of this fictional character than I was by the death of his actor Nicholas Courtney.
  • The Doctor forgiving River by the lakeside. Such lovely acting from Matt Smith and Alex Kingston and such wonderful writing too. It’s not everyone who can segue from tragedy to comedy in one beat…
  • Amy’s James Bond moment (again with suitable matching, soaring strings for those who like a musical joke.)
  • The Doctor’s earnest, and completely unnecessary, attempts to convince Amy that she’s his friend.
  • The drawing of her missing love, Rory, that looks nothing like Arthur Darvill, and more like a composite of several boy band members.
  • The Doctor (changing clothes): “You can turn round now.” Clearly Amy wasn’t averting her eyes. Again.
  • The Doctor’s well-meaning but utterly terrible attempts at matchmaking Rory and Amy: “She said you were a Mr Hottie…ness and that she would like to go out with you for texting and scones.” It’s a chat-up line I might actually use…
  • … if I can find a man to flirt with like River and the Doctor flirt.I think without the predilection for handcuffs though.
  • A gentle dig at us from River: “There are so many theories about us…”
  • And the idea that the Doctor considers archaeology to be idle gossip.
  • Rory’s saving Amy again. And she’s saving him right back.
  • Amy, leaving Madame Kovarian to her fate: “River Song didn’t get it all from you … sweetie.”
  • Steven Moffat’s love letter to the Doctor moved me to tears. Twice.
  • The wedding using a ‘piece of cloth – about a foot long’ (aka a bow tie) for handfasting. The subtle sleight of hand that’s so much fun to watch second time round. The being no closer to understanding how he’s getting out of this…
  • How Amy’s joy after River explains the Doctor’s last secret to her makes me cry all over again.
  • My joy at being duped to expect one doppelganger (a Flesh one) and getting a different one – the Teselector with a beaming Doctor waving from inside.
  • And the Doctor’s tiny smile as he contemplates the answer to the question that must never be asked… Doctor who?

Posted by Jo the Hat


Filed under Dr Who

15 responses to “Doctor Who (6.13): Hell in high heels… and spoilers (naturally)

  1. Tim

    Great write-up, Jo, as ever. Hope Hat Jr enjoyed it too!

    I think you’re definitely right that this is a real love-it-or-loathe-it episode (I’ve just been writing the exact same sentiment in my season review).

    I loved it. Not as much as Pandorica/Big Bang, but definitely I-want-to-have-Moff’s-babies-even-though-I’m-a-bloke type love. With hindsight, the Teselecta was such an obvious solution, and yet everyone was expecting the Ganger Doctor.

    Loved the dedication to Nick Courtney. (I think I spotted a couple of other subtle nods to the Brigadier – more on that elsewhere.) Loved all the continuity references. Loved the fact that River’s desperate plan was to show the Doctor how much he is loved by the universe, only to reveal just how much she loves him. Loved the expression on Amy’s face when she realised she is now the Doctor’s mother-in-law.

    I’ll drop in a link to my season six (or season 32, whatever) review in a bit. But I’m currently at 6,000 words and in desperate need of serious trimming. See what the Moff has done to me?!?

    Bring on Christmas. In the meantime, my weekends just got a whole lot duller.

  2. Tim

    If anyone’s interested, here’s my somewhat less concise than intended review of the whole of season 6 …

  3. anneris31

    Pretty much my thoughts exactly. I loved this episode and it more than made up for what I consider to be the low points of the rest of the series (Let’s Kill Hitler being the highest one on the list). This episode just felt like a Doctor Who episode. It had references to the Brigadier (Moffat gets 10 extra awesome points just for that), Rose, Jack, and even Queen Liz; answered a lot of questions (in just 45 minutes, too–major kudos), gave some great dynamics between the Doctor and River, and finally gave Amy a moment to truly shine. I felt this was a great episode for all the characters. Rory wasn’t given as much to do as he was in episodes like The Girl Who Waited and AGMGTW, but his lack of activity didn’t take away from his character at all. And the way that the Doctor escaped death (which we all knew he would) was just brilliant. And that ending…genius.

  4. .::Big.Bang::.

    5:02 and Teselecta.

    And I was totally right about The Question! YES!!!! 😀 😀

  5. Richard

    If the Doctor was inside the Teselecta, why did River touching the Teselecta make anything happen?
    How did the teselecta start the regenerating process?
    If the Doctor needed to die at a fixed point in time, how did the Doctor not dying make time start up again?
    Why did Captain Williams keep his eye-patch on when it was clearly going to hinder his protection plan?

  6. Tammy

    River had to touch the opposite pole of the time glitch, to short out the glitch and set things right. The death of the Doctor, the fixed point, was never the actual Doctor, but had always been the Teselecta. It was recorded in history, reported by eyewitnesses (the Silence were there, remember?) that the Doctor died. Therefore, that is what history knows. But it was always the Teselecta, never the Doctor alone. There’s no problem with that.

    The Teselecta would have been quite capable, I’m sure, of venting some glowing discharge to simulate a regeneration. After all, it could morph a motorcycle out of its legs, why couldn’t it put on a lightshow?

    It wasn’t the Doctor not dying that restarted time, it was River completing the fixed point action that she had somehow managed to wrench off-course — which, I think, would have been impossible for anyone without Time Lord DNA. When the Doctor told her to look into his eye and she saw him there inside the Teselecta, she knew everything would be all right, and she was able to fulfill her ‘destiny’ and shoot and ‘kill’ the ‘Doctor’.

    Captain Williams kept his eyedrive on so that he would be able to remember what he was fighting, so that he wouldn’t bolt when the Silence came through the door, so that he could buy a few moments longer for Amy to escape with the Doctor. He said it himself, he’d be no use to her if he forgot what he was doing there. Of course he kept his eyedrive on, and damn the pain and agony — he was protecting Amy!

    Any more questions?

    I thought this was a brilliant end to a highly enjoyable series. I think that the people who are analyzing all of the joy out of the episodes have lost sight of how to enjoy the show for what it is, and instead are now decrying the show for not being perfect.

    • Tim

      Exactly. Exactly, Exactly. There is a plausible explanation for just about every plot-hole. And if there isn’t, who cares? Show me any series – especially a sci-fi one – which doesn’t contradict itself and contain errors on a pretty regular basis. Entertainment is what matters, and the odd mistake is forgiveable.

      I am amazed (actually, I’m not really) at the outpouring of negativity in some areas of the fan community. Not liking the finale is fine – everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But there seem to be too many ‘experts’ out there who nitpick every possible ‘error’, confidently stating that Moffat is wilfully disregarding continuity and breaking the laws of time. (As if anyone actually knows the laws of time! As recent events have indicated, even Einstein’s Theory of Relativity may be wrong.)

      If some people are to be believed, Moffat is an idiot of a writer who is single-handedly killing the series. O-kaaay. If you don’t like the arc-heavy, time-wimey stuff, fair enough. Doesn’t make the man an ignoramus, though. I get the impression that, to some, Moffat’s single biggest crime is that his vision of Who doesn’t conform to THEIR vision. Which, of course, is the only vision that counts.

      Shut up and take time to smell the roses, people. A bit of analysis is fun. Paralysis by analysis for the sake of showing how ‘stupid’ the show-runner is and therefore how ‘clever’ you are does nothing but achieve the exact opposite.

      Thank God kids aren’t like this and simply enjoy the series for what it is – rollocking good fun.

      *climbs off soapbox*

  7. The Doctor’s Wife remains one of the best stand-alone pieces of TV drama I’ve seen in my 49 years. I found the whole thing completely uplifting and hugely emotive, beautifully acted and simply presented.

    Dr Who will always througth up controversy because it deals in the realms of imagination and wonder. The ritual hating of the new doctor has lingered longer than usual this term. Remember the initial opprobrium over Dave Tenant? But the writing continues to improve as the characters flesh out (pun intended).

    Looking forward to the December (too early for the C word) special.

  8. guest

    Sorry, have to disagree about the sexism. This was one of the most sexist episodes I’ve ever seen in a modern series. Plus, Amy and River are not good role models, particularly River. She’s a classic case of histrionic personality disorder. She’s also verging on psychopathic. They behave nothing like most real women.

  9. Jamie

    I enjoyed the episode! I do have a bit of a problem with the way Moffat portrays women. Particularly how he played out River. She started out strong, confident, unique, and ended up selfish, weak and completely out of her own character like a badly written fan fiction. She would rather destroy everything in creation, even her own family and every innocent life out there, just to NOT have to feel guilty for being forced to kill the Doctor? Really? She is driven by her love for the Doctor and no logic prevails with her. That isn’t the sort of woman the Doctor would ever really love. Pity, yes, love, never. That isn’t the kind of role model I want for my daughter. Someone who would throw away everyone else’s life for her own selfish reasons? That’s frustratingly awful character development. And Amy? Amy travels all over time and space and then goes back to be a perfume model…Yeah, that isn’t exactly making a difference in the world the way Sarah Jane, Martha, Rose, and other women have gone on to do in the Doctor Who universe. I tried to give Mr. Moffat the benefit of the doubt when he said the ‘I’m sexist’ rumors were false, but he keeps playing them out over and over again.

  10. Tammy

    Jamie, you said, “River … started out strong, confident, unique, and ended up selfish, weak and completely out of her own character like a badly written fan fiction.” I think, though, that you’ve lost sight of one very important element in River’s story: she’s working backwards, relative to us. When we first meet her, she *IS* strong, confident, unique, and a fitting match for the Doctor. That was at the end of her life, too, AFTER she’d had all her adventures with the Doctor. Here, though, during the Wedding and in the Lake, she is still ‘young’, barely finding out who River is, as opposed to Mels. Of *course* her character development would go from strong, confident and unique at the end of her life to weak, selfish, and not knowing herself at the beginning of her life. It makes perfect sense. Look at any child, or any psychopath, and you will see a person who is utterly self centered. Most children grow out of it, thankfully. Mels was created a psychopath, and only *started* to grow up and grow out of it AFTER she had gotten to know the Doctor personally. I’d put her emotional growth at the time of the Lake and the Wedding at or around teenager — a long way from Mels, but still a very long way to go before she reaches her full, emotionally mature potential, which is what we see in the Library. So, no, I have no problem with River’s character development. I think that Moffat did it exactly right.

    And I am firmly in the camp that says that Amy *created* the Petrichor perfume. That was the first thing that popped into my mind when i saw the poster, was that she had really made good, starting her own perfume line and everything. Mere models have absolutely no say whatesoever in the naming or marketing of the things they model for, and nobody else would have known Amy as the girl who got tired of waiting, nor of how important ‘petrichor’ was to her. It was no serendipitous happenstance that she was hired to model for a perfume named that, with that tagline. No. She came up with it herself, or Rory did. And helping people feel good about themselves, like a pleasant perfume CAN and DOES do, is just one more way to make the world a more pleasant place to be. Scent is a powerful evoker of emotions and memories, and who doesn’t enjoy the smell of rain-washed earth? It’s a calming, soothing aroma, and I can see people feeling better just for smelling it. Like aromatherapy.

    • Jamie

      Tammy, thank you for your reply. You know, you’re right! And you’ve helped me feel better about this. I’ve sat back and thought over what you said. I think I got too caught up in feeling frustrated to really see it from a different perspective. River is going essentially backwards from our point of view so it does make sense for her to be less mature and not have reached her full potential even though in earlier episodes/later on her time line, she seems fully herself. This makes me feel a lot better! And a lot less hostile towards the Moff. *grin* I was thinking what about how she managed to get her Doctorate while being so immature, but then I realized, there is a vast difference between being intelligent and being emotionally mature. As evidenced by many adults in the real world who hold important positions but still act like teenagers! So, I think it’s safe to say I’ve changed my direction of thinking on this. Plus, River has been brainwashed so that likely has effected her emotional growth as well.

      As for Amy, you have a point and made me realize something. I originally thought the same thing! And I was perfectly happy with that. Because the name of the perfume I right away assumed she had invented it and that was pretty cool. I think I got upset about River’s portrayal and then started to think others were right about Amy too. (I’m not of a weak opinion, it’s just that I try to keep an open mind so that I don’t get stuck in one way of thinking.). But they really weren’t entirely right. I still think Moffat could do with a little less having the Doctor be all ‘she’s a woman’ in a kind of demeaning way, but I realize he means it as a quick joke and it isn’t intended to be sexist, but it can come over as such. It’s funny to think of the Doctor as baffled by females. All in all, I do feel better about the whole thing. Thank you! 🙂

      • remotecontrolled

        I have only watched it once and may be wrong about this but also did River not say that she simply couldn’t let the Doctor die “without knowing he was loved” rather than that she was trying to stop him from dying at all? Rather insignificant detail as the change in River’s character development has been explained so beautifully but thought I’d throw it in there anyway just in case!

        The answers (question, Teselecta) were so obvious I was kicking myself though I’m a relatively new fan so don’t fell too bad! Makes it even cleverer though. Definitely need a second watch however, just to process the genius fully!

  11. Tammy

    Jamie, I’m glad to have been of assistance. 🙂

    I do feel like the Doctor is consistantly confuzzled about women, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. I mean, look at him; he thinks bow ties are cool! But I think that, for the most part, most of the female characters in the show are written as pretty ‘real’, rather than idealized as a supreme role model. And I like that. After all, if the world were populated with role models, how boring would it be? I like having flawed characters to watch. Perfect people are just impossible to identify with. Writing ‘real’ characters, with ‘real’ relationships to other characters, and ‘real’ flaws to go with their strengths, whether those flaws and relationships be sexist or not, does not necessarily indicate that the writer, personally, is sexist in his/her views, but rather shows that the writer is good at creating real-feeling characters. And that should be, from a writer’s point of view, much more important than having your characters go around moralizing all the time.

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