The Glass Teat


The Artificial Vanilla Wedding Cake of River Song or,

Steven Moffat and the Temple of the Lost Story Arcs

Managing Editor, True North Perspective
Originally published at Edifice Rex Online
Bye-bye, Eye-Patch Guy. This shouldn't have been funny.

Let's get the elephant out of the corner, herd it down the hall and shoo it right on out of the house. The Wedding of River Song was a dreary capstone to a dismal series, as dully static as this series' other "climactic" episode, A Good Man Goes to War.

Ostensibly meant to answer two years' worth of hints about the the ever-more tedious River Song, the episode was frankly boring. Very little happens on-screen that doesn't involved one character explaining things to another, something that seems to have become the default story-telling method in the Whonivese lately (see just about every entry in my reviews of Torchwood: Miracle Day for far too many examples).

And more, we were expecting answers as well to the mystery of the Doctor's apparent death at Lake Silencio, which we witnessed way back in the early minutes of the series opener. Well, we got answers of a sort, but they came packaged as explanatory flashbacks, like synopses delivered at a story-meeting. (I will leave for others to determine if the solutions offered makes even timey-wimey sense, but I do find it hard to swallow the idea that the Doctor can fool Causality as easily as one can fool a few enemies. It's a bit like crossing one's fingers behind one's back and expecting that an omniscient deity won't catch you at it.)

When you get down to it, the The Wedding of River Song is just lousy dramatic narrative, since almost nothing of important happens as we watch. It's the rare writer who can make episode after episode of talking heads entertaining, and Steven Moffat is neither a David Simon, nor a John le Carré.

In place of a narrative, we are offered a collage of Big Ideas — the militarized religions of the 52nd Century; Winston Churchill as Holy Roman Emperor; pterodactyls in the skies over England; the return of the miniaturized time-travellers called the Tesselecta; and of course, of the "memory-proof" Silence (whose fingers are still too fat for their slim-line suits). All this delivered in static but breathless streams of expository dialogue. We keep being told how exciting things were a few minutes ago, and how exciting they will be again a in the future, but nothing is exciting now.

And furthermore ...

Beyond the structural, a few other issues bear mentioning, if only in passing.

  • River's distress call to "millions", "The Doctor is dying. Please, please help ..." is horribly reminiscent of the infamous "Tinker Bell" solution to The Last of the Time Lords. Doctor Who, Superstar was a bad idea then and is a bad idea now;
  • River's utterly selfish declaration that her potential broken heart is of greater import than the fate of "every living thing in the universe" is every bit as monstrous as the dalek's desire to wipe out all life but their own, yet we are apparently meant to see it as romantic. (Have I mentioned that Moffat is a moral idiot? Oh yes, I have.)
  • I don't think any blackskins made the ultimate sacrifice this episode, but then again, unless I blinked and missed one, it seems that in the 52nd century there are no people of colour around.

Shades of Through the Looking-Glass! Unfortunately, Moffat is no Lewis Carroll, either.

Moffat also cheats, again and again and again. Rather than misdirect his audience, he is forever taking the easy route of muffling the sound, or of cutting away from a scene just as a secret is about to be revealed, all the better to "surprise" us later with an explanation declaimed at a machine-gun's staccato pace.

The dialogue that closes out the episode is a perfect demonstration. The Doctor is returning the head-in-a-box Dorian to his crypt. (That Dorian has proven to be less than a completely trust-worthy ally in the past doesn't matter; Moffat needs someone for the Doctor to talk to.)

"The Tesselecta. A Doctor, in a Doctor suit. Time said I had to be on that beach, so I dressed for the occasion. Barely got singed in that boat."

"So you're going to do this, let them all think you're dead?"

"It's the only way, then they can all forget me. I got too big, Dorian, too noisy. Time to step back into the shadows."

"And Doctor Song? In prison all her days?"

"Her days, yes. Her nights ... well, that's between her and me, eh?"

"So many secrets, Doctor. I'll help you keep them of course."

"Well you're not exactly going anywhere, are you?"

"But you're a fool, nonetheless. It's all still waiting for you. The Fields of Tranzelor, the fall of the 11th and the Question."

"Goodbye Dorian."

"The first question. The Question that Must Never Be Answered. Hidden In Plain Sight. The Question you've been running from all your life. Doctor Who? Doctor Who? Doc-Tor WHO!"

Classics-to-be? The Moffat Four

  1. Vincent and the Doctor;
  2. The Lodger;
  3. The Doctor's Wife; and maybe
  4. The Girl Who Waited.

It's a pretty short list, notable because each is a stand-alone episode, by writers focused on telling a single tale, and because not one is about the Doctor, but for which the Doctor was only a catalyst. (See Trial of the show-runners, my review of A Good Man Goes to War for more on this.)

And that was the climax to 27 episodes of television. One guy talking to a blue head in a box, and the blue head answering like an announcer in 1942 teasing the next thrilling instalment of a Hollywood serial.

The proffered explanation doesn't even make sense.

River spends her days in prison why? She's escaped more times than we can remember and the Doctor is "dead". Why don't the two of them get a room somewhere a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away from 52th century Earth?

Presumably so that Moffat's Doctor could indulge in a little "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" about how River's nights are "... between her and me, eh?"

O! that wicked Doctor Who!

Two years of promises and hype and it is as if Moffat threw together his denouement the night before the cameras rolled, and after a two-month bender.

You may call it timey-wimey brilliance, but I call it dramatic shite.

Meanwhile, I'm tired. I'm tired of stories that ignore character and internal logic; I'm tired of dropped themes and of morality ignored; I'm tired of stories that don't move and of dialogue that has to tell me what I've missed.

A year is a long time (and even Christmas seems pretty far off), so I'll make no promises, but those of you who have grown as weary of my "hate" as I have of Moffat's Who can at least hope you won't hear from me again until the changing of the guard.

Add new comment