I suppose I should apologise for how late this post is, coming as it does nearly a fortnight after the final episode. Partly, this is because I’ve been ill recently and unable to write. But also, it’s because I couldn’t beat Illogical Volume’s summation:


When I was a kid, there was a famous TV magician called David Copperfield. He once famously made the Statue of Liberty disappear.

Unfortunately, that’s not the full performance, but the performance itself followed a standard set of rules. He said he was going to make the Statue of Liberty disappear and reappear. He said it wasn’t going to be a camera trick, and he did it in front of a live audience, and then he (or rather Jim Steinmeyer and Don Wayne, his illusion designers – with a few exceptions stage magicians often have little or nothing to do with the actual trick) made the statue disappear.

In this, he played fair. The statue disappeared, there was no camera trick. Therefore it was an effective magic trick. Of course, he didn’t actually remove the statue and then replace it, but he never said he was going to. The fun is figuring out how, within the rules he set out, he got the effect.

(It’s never been officially revealed how, but the general consensus is that Copperfield and his audience were on a rotating platform, which turned a small amount while the curtain was up, so when it came down again they weren’t looking at the statue. All the best magic tricks are very, very simple at their heart).

So in The Impossible Astronaut, on April 22 this year, in between ripping off a lot of Lawrence Miles’ stuff, Steven Moffat included the following dialogue following the Doctor’s death:

“Maybe he’s a clone or a duplicate or something?”
“Let me save you some time, that most certainly is the Doctor and he most certainly is dead.”

Mystery stories work the same way as magic tricks, they’re all about sleight of hand. You’re meant to think, when you’re told who the murderer was, “Oh, that’s obvious now!” (this is why, for all her myriad faults, Agatha Christie is still so popular. You read, say, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd and you can’t help but admire the sheer construction of it, the way the murderer is hidden in plain sight. In that one, of course, she does a Penn And Teller and shows how the trick was done afterward.) But you don’t lie to the reader.

In all these cases, we know there’s a trick, we know we’re being tricked, but we don’t know what the trick is. We want to see if we can figure it out, and if we can’t we want to be amazed at a trick well done.

So when David Copperfield disappears Lady Liberty, we know she isn’t really going to vanish. When we read an Agatha Christie novel and read about a man in a room locked from the inside, dead from a gunshot wound, with a gun in his hand and a suicide note we know he’s a murder victim.

In the same way, we knew, all along, that the Doctor wasn’t going to be killed off for good. The question was “How is he going to get out of that one?”, because Moffat had tied himself down pretty well:

It was definitely the Doctor.
He was definitely dead.
He wasn’t ‘a clone or a duplicate or something’.
It was a fixed point in time so no amount of time-travelling shenanigans could alter it.

But then jump forward to the end of this episode, and the resolution? It was a robot double. So it wasn’t the Doctor. He wasn’t dead, and it was ‘a clone or a duplicate or something’.

This is like if David Copperfield had pulled down that curtain and the statue was still there, and he’d tried to defend himself by saying “Of course it wasn’t going to vanish! None of you thought it would! You all knew it was going to be a trick! You can’t vanish the Statue Of Liberty, that’s absurd!” or if you got to the dramatic denouement at the end of an Agatha Christie, and Poirot called all the suspects into a room to announce that he didn’t have a clue who’d done it. It doesn’t play fair with the audience.

If you’re given a mystery to care about, the mystery is dragged out over six months, and then the reveal at the end is “You didn’t actually care about that mystery did you? What a nerd!” then one has to question why we’ve been bothering to watch at all, especially if the episode it’s the climax to is packed full of ‘Mad Ideas’ (as opposed to actual ideas, mad ideas seem to involve putting together some combination of pirates, dinosaurs and steam-powered technology or airships, without any logical coherence) and sexism.

Of course, there is one very good reason for continuing to watch the programme for the moment, and that’s Matt Smith. When Smith was first cast, I was horrified, but the more I watch him the more convinced I am that he is, if not the best actor ever to have played the part of the Doctor, certainly second only to the Mighty Trout himself. Look at that photo. That’s the Doctor advancing on a dying Dalek, one that he’s about to torture for information, and telling it it’s seeing “the face of the Devil himself”. A lesser actor, one say with the initials DT, would have scrunched his face up in a pantomime of anger and roared the words out. Smith, on the other hand, plays it gently, speaks softly, shows concern, and is utterly horrifying as a result.

The other thing to note about this episode is that it featured the death of the Brigadier, off-screen, after the real-life death of the great Nicholas Courtney. In fact, given that the Doctor finds out about this on the 22nd April 2011, is told it was ‘a couple of months ago’, and Courtney himself died on the 22nd February this year, we can assume that the Brig died on the same day as Courtney.

But the way he finds out makes it clear that the Doctor never visited the Brigadier during his last illness, and the Brig may well have died alone. That’s just not right, and to be honest a better tribute to Courtney would have been to have the Brigadier an unseen presence in future stories, so the thirteenth Doctor one day would be told he’d just missed the Brig, who’d gone off to visit the Moon Base just that morning. But the Doctor whose adventures I love would have visited his old friend on his deathbed (thankfully in real life, Courtney seems to have died knowing how much he meant to people and with friends and family visiting him).

So Season 6B is over, and I won’t be writing about any new Doctor Who here until shortly after Christmas. But in a few weeks I’m going to be starting a new series of reviews of older Doctor Who stories. In Fifty Stories For Fifty Years I’ll be looking at one story from each year from 1963 through to 2012. Look out for it in a couple of weeks – for those of you who think I’ve been too negative in this series, I’ll only be looking at stories I enjoy…

19 Responses to “Doctor Who Season 6B: The Wedding Of River Song”

  1. Latest Doctor Who review on the Mindless Ones « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Says:

    [...] I didn’t like The Wedding Of River Song Rate this: Share this:PrintEmailTwitterMoreStumbleUponDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  2. Simon BJ Says:

    Re the Brigader’s death. It’s constructed like that deliberately as a slap at the Doctor’s hubristic assumption, just before that he can always go back and visit people through time travel, that “time has never laid a finger on me”. Now, you may not like the ending of the story, and there’s an argument that aside from any other issues it also undercuts this powerful scene -but this scene itself was astonishing, and [to my mind]a more fitting tribute, than imaginary offstage future meetings. Because Nick Courtney is dead.

  3. Andrew Hickey Says:

    I can see what you mean about the hubris actually, and I get what it was trying to do… but the idea that the Brig would have died without the Doctor saying goodbye, that just seems too cruel.
    I do think that if the Brig had to die, tying his death that firmly to the date of Nick Courtney’s own death was precisely the right thing to do. The man and the character are, in this case, utterly inseparable.

  4. Papers Says:

    I had a really strong dislike for this episode, because it felt so messy and Mad! Ideas! Without! Cohesion! As well as my misgivings about how Moffat has been approaching River Song as less of a character and more of a plot point until any of my initial interest in her–after “Silence in the Library” and her appearances last season–has dwindled to nothing.

    Season 5 felt like a much stronger season all around, in particular because Amy and Rory are feel to me like they are more present as fully-fleshed characters. Now they’ve diminished for me.

  5. Bill Reed Says:

    No, the episode didn’t really work, but at least it made more sense than Let’s Kill Hitler, or at least had the *illusion* of making more sense.

    David Copperfield waved to me in the mezzanine once, I swear to God.

  6. Phil Says:

    While I enjoyed the episode in itself, I did think it failed in its duty to make the rest of the series retroactively better.

    Last year, we didn’t find out what caused the TARDIS to explode or why, but this wasn’t particularly relevant to the story that was being told, and I was quite happy for the issue to be shelved and presumably revisited later.

    This year, it would have been nice if some answers had been provided to questions like “Who actually are the Silence?”, “What do they want?”, “Can they time travel or not?” or “Given we don’t know the answers to these questions, how are we supposed to see the justification for the Doctor to subliminally program humanity to commit genocide?”

    Under Russell T Davies, I didn’t mind that the plots frequently made no sense whatsoever, because it was clear that they weren’t the focus, and I was quite happy to overlook the details that threatened to tip the whole thing into incoherence.

    Under Moffat, plotting has been foregrounded, and paying attention to the details has been encouraged (and rewarded, last year). Having trained his audience to actually think about this sort of thing, Moffat has then proceeded to completely ignore it. It’s not serial storytelling, it’s just sloppy.

    This was long, sorry. You’re absolutely right on Matt Smith, though; he’s absolutely phenomenal, and I could watch him do anything.

  7. Zom Says:

    Bill, do you think he was casting a spell?!? I mean, the guy can fly.

    Amazing!

  8. Jason Pilley, one-man cockstorm Says:

    Yeah?

    …My review contained the word “Baphomet” more times than yours did.

  9. PMC Says:

    I think Moffat may in fact have thought he was pulling just that sort of sleight of hand you expected, but a bit too subtly:

    That is most certainly The Doctor. And HE is most certainly dead. (HE not referring to the doctor). Clumsy and stupid, but a possibility.

    Another thing I thought of – the audience was never let in on how Canton was so sure of this, and how he knew to bring the gas can. The doctor could have lied to him easily. Again, not playing fair with the audience but it makes sense.

    Whether the ending satisfied me or not remains to be seen. I can accept that the fixed point in time that could not be changed was always the robot-thingy getting shot and not the actual death of The Doctor… IF they could deliver on their promise and continue next season with a Doctor who keeps to the shadows so that most of the universe accepts that The Doctor is dead.

    Since he revealed himself already to the blabbermouth blue head, I have my doubts.

  10. Jason Pilley, one-man cockstorm Says:

    The sleight of hand was that everyone watching assumed authority and omniscience on the part of the FBI!

  11. Tim O'Neil Says:

    My question is, if Moffat hadn’t made such a big deal of specifying exactly what the story wasn’t going to do, would you have been so bothered by the reveal that it had actually done those things? I’m not saying it wasn’t vaguely unsatisfying, but still, I have to question how our perception would have changed if he hadn’t been so adamant.

  12. Jason Pilley, one-man cockstorm Says:

    Amy’s lack of affect regarding her gone baby wasn’t a flaw of the anthology format, it was a warning-sign.

  13. Rick Says:

    It actually has even more holes within than that, nitpicks I am sure but whatever. In the opening episode the Doctor was shot a few times and then he went to Regenerate and then was shot again mid change over. In the finale there would be no final shot because robot spaceship Doctor wouldn’t start regenerating.

    Morbid curiosity is what will keep me watching Season 7 at this point.

  14. Prankster Says:

    Well, now I really want to see a mystery novel where the detective calls everyone into a room at the climax to announce that he has absolutely no idea who the killer is. Sounds a bit like a Monty Python sketch actually.

    Oooh, wait, thinking about it, Futurama did it, sort of, in one of the “Tales of Interest” episodes, with Dr. Zoidberg. “The crime is UNSOLVABLE!”

  15. ThinBaldWizard Says:

    Don’t worry about the Brigadier. Nothing that happens in this febrile shennanigans can overturn New Adventures canonicity!

  16. Jason Pilley, one-man cockstorm Says:

    “Morbid curiosity is what will keep me watching Season 7 at this point.”

    An excellent use of your time, sir; afterwards you could perhaps go to a pub, funnel your funds to the breweries in exchange for a sleazy inebriation and talk tough about What Is To Be Done, slipping off at intervals to the toilets to pen Anarchy signs onto the walls – for you are a Revolutionary.

  17. Terry Gilliam Says:

    Well fuck me with a bag of rusty wool, turns out a man can’t snark his way through a once-beloved TV show these days without being branded a rebel.

    In my day you had to range out in the desert with Johnny Depp strapped to your chest for four days before anyone would start making jokes about you scribbling anarchy signs on all the furniture, but I guess I’m just part of an older, tougher generation, which is why I made Brazil – the movie that both saved christmas and revolutionised personal grooming back in the eighties – while you were all making peace signs and praying for war.

  18. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Tuesday Reviews: Advanced D&D: Meth vs. Chef (“vers’ Chef”), part one: Fear Itself Says:

    [...] You’re right though, Matt Fraction’s just a nice guy, doing his bit to bring the joys of endless god death to the children. I still keep coming back to his idea that superhero comics are “escape fiction — not escapist fiction”, because reading Fear Itself #7, the question I found myself asking was: where are we supposed to be escaping to here? If you want to talk about arbitrary plot twists and fait accompli endings, fuck, Fear Itself #7 is built on these disappointments! The news feed switches from pessimistic to optimistic, and the narrative tilts with it for no other reason than that’s what’s supposed to happen at the end of this sort of story. Which is always the way it goes with this sort of fiction, but there’s an art to making this sort of shit convincing. [...]

  19. Michael Says:

    I agree with Andrew Hickey.
    I basically hated all of the big plot related episodes. I.E all the ones written by steven moffat.
    The other seven were good.
    I think when your a real fan and truly loyal to the series, far from slavishly defending everything that happens your really harsh when writers let you down. I mean lets kill hitler was just the worst.
    River Song attempts to kill the doctor, he whispers something in her ear and she changes her mind and becomes miss lovesick sugarpie.
    What the heck did he say. My body can do amazing things? I have a fourteen inch sonic screwdriver you can play with and it extends?
    I don’t buy it, I don’t think I’ll ever buy it. Steven’s destroyed the potential of a quite fascinating character.
    So yes I’d like to boil him alive in tar and feed him to cockroaches.

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