"Doctor Who" — "The Wedding Of River Song”: The Doctor Lies (And Cheats)
“It was such a basic mistake, wasn’t it Madame Kovarian? Take a child, raise her into a perfect psychopath, introduce her to The Doctor…who else was I going to fall in love with?”
Welcome to yet another universe/alternate timeline for the Doctor Who annals! This one might be the most bizarre yet. It is a world where Winston Churchill is the Holy Roman Emperor and called Caesar by his Silurian physician. Cars fly by way of balloon power through the skies of London, and railroad tracks connect skyscrapers. Children in public parks break the rules by feeding the pterodactyls. Charles Dickens teases us about his upcoming Christmas television special. The War Of The Roses is a current affair. Most significantly, though, the time is 5:02 p.m. on April 22, 2011, and as the clocks and calendar confirm, it is always that time.
I do not think Einstein or Hawking would agree with this depiction of how a lack of time would appear, but we’ll forgive that for the sake of a good story.
Churchill summons his soothsayer to explain to him why all of history is happening at once. The soothsayer is The Doctor, sporting a beard as evidence of the fact that he is the only being in this universe affected by the passage of time. He is the epicenter of this place, and the moment of his aborted death (we’ll get to that) produced this time traffic jam. The Doctor tells his old friend the story of what brought them into this predicament in which time is disintegrating. A woman - “hell in high heels,” The Doctor calls her - is responsible.
Picking up after “Closing Time,” The Stetson-clad Doctor decides to conduct a last-minute investigation into the motivation for his murder. The trail starts with gathering information from a vanquished Dalek about The Silence, which leads him to the Teselecta (that robotic shape-shifting dealer of justice with the miniaturized people inside that we first encountered in “Let’s Kill Hitler”) disguised as an ex-Silence operative. The Teselecta recommends The Doctor track down a current Silence operative named Gantok, who happens to be a live chess champion. In this case, “live” refers to the voltage that flows through the chess pieces and increases within each piece for every time it is moved. The Doctor bests Gantok and spares his life by conceding the game in return for information. Gantok takes The Doctor to a crypt filled with skulls taken by the Headless Monks (those spooky chanting Silence followers from “A Good Man Goes To War”). These skulls still possess a measure of sentience and watch The Doctor closely; they devour Gantok when he activates a trap while attempting to double-cross The Doctor.
In the crypt is one severed head in a box not stripped to the bone. It is our old blue friend Dorium, who is living a not terribly unpleasant Futurama-esque life with a media chip and wi-fi access that provides his brain unlimited entertainment. Is it bad that this ultimate sedentary existence does not sound too horrible to me? Would the word “sedentary” even apply if you do not have a posterior on which to sit?
Dorium lets The Doctor know that The Silence aim to kill him because per legend on the fields of Trenzalore at the “fall of the Eleventh” the question that must never be asked will be answered. It is the oldest question that is hidden in plain sight, and The Doctor is the only being with the answer. His “silence” is what this religious order seeks. At The Doctor’s slightly reluctant request, Dorium tells him as the skulls look on what the question is, but we do not learn what the question is quite yet.
The Doctor rushes to the TARDIS with Dorium in tow and seems intent on averting his death, until with resignation (and partially inspired by the news of the death of his very old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart - a nice tribute to the recently deceased actor Nicholas Courtney) he realizes that it is time for the rendezvous in Utah. He takes the TARDIS blue envelopes to the Teselecta to deliver on his behalf and thus avoids the risk of crossing his own time stream. The captain of the Teselecta tells The Doctor that whatever he might think of the Teselecta’s method, they do seek the same justice that The Doctor does. A saddened Doctor seems to ignore the request by the Teselecta to help in any way aside from the delivery of the letters.
The Doctor tells Winston Churchill that he invited his friends to his death because he did not want to be alone at the end. We revisit the events of the season opener, and finally we see inside the astronaut suit. The older version of River Song is inside. The Doctor assures her that she is forgiven and that he brought her future self here as witness to demonstrate to her that his death at her hand is inevitable. The Doctor braces for death, but River spares him by way of having drained her weapon’s power. The Doctor protests that this is a fixed point that must not be changed, and all of existence suddenly is blanked in a blanket of white nothingness, leaving only the land that time forgot.
Back in that place, The Doctor completes his tale, and he and Winston Churchill realize that they are being stalked by the Silence, as The Doctor has left the telltale tallies on his arms to remind himself to remember the danger. Amelia Pond arrives with a host of soldiers, and they subdue the Silence in question. Wearing an eyepatch Madame Kovarian-style, she shoots The Doctor unconscious, and we are left wondering if Amy in this universe is an ally or not.
The Doctor awakes on a train with Amy in her moving office, and he discovers that this Amy has in fact tapped into her alternate universe knowledge of him. (Again in this second half of the season we are reminded how extremely resourceful Amy is given the opportunity.) She and others have been working on trying to solve the problem of unmoving time, and inside the destination of their train ride, the Pyramid Of Giza, The Doctor meets her cohorts (all wearing eyepatches), who include River Song and Rory. (Amy is seeking her alternate universe husband, but she is appropriately oblivious to the fact that this soldier underling of hers is the guy.) They hold Madame Kovarian captive, and innumerable captured Silence are contained throughout the pyramid as well. The eyepatches are actually devices for keeping The Silence in mind to counteract the effects of induced memory loss.
After a round of flirtatious banter, The Doctor attempts to touch River, as contact between the two of them can restore the correct flow of time, but this is the last option in River’s mind. She and Amy place The Doctor in handcuffs for his own protection.
The Silence escape from their holding tanks, and Madame Kovarian reveals that they were never being held in the first place. They were simply waiting for The Doctor to arrive, at which time they cause all the eyepatches to attack their wearers. Eyepatches are removed by all but Rory, as he wants to keep his memories to fight most effectively and protect Amy. The Doctor, River, and Amy retreat to the top of the pyramid, where River and Amy plan to show The Doctor their final plan to save him. Amy, however, finally realizes who Rory is and goes back to save him. Before attempting to kill him, The Silence taunt him, referencing the number of times that he has died across history and universes. Amy guns them down, and then leaves Madame Kovarian to die by way of her own eyepatch despite pleas for mercy. Amy is in a vengeful mood for being robbed of the chance to raise her child properly, and she quips that Madame Kovarian’s psychopathic conditioning was not the only source of her daughter’s violent streak.
Atop the pyramid, Amy and River reveal that answers for a distress call they have sent to help The Doctor have arrived from all over the universe. This is irrelevant to The Doctor and does not change the fact that he must die, if for no other reason than to keep the existence of all those that appreciate him intact and not render all that he has done in vain. River remains too stubborn to give up The Doctor, claiming that her pain exceeds that of everyone else in the universe put together. (Self-centered much, River? The Doctor is a great guy and all, but…)
The Doctor’s solution is to marry her with her parents’ consent. With the handcuffs removed, he uses his bowtie to bind their wrists. Alternate universe Rory is still not up to speed on how he could be River’s father and Amy’s husband, but he consents. Making the request as her husband, The Doctor asks River to let him die and save the universe. He whispers something in her ear and says that he has just told her his name. They kiss to seal their matrimony, and with the touch of their lips history is rewritten as it was before. This universe frozen in time disappears, and The Doctor is shot in Utah and given a funeral by his friends.
Afterward and back home, Amy shares a bottle of wine with River from her past and River’s future (River has just finished the Weeping Angels adventure from last season in her camouflage fatigues), and she lets her daughter know that The Doctor has just died. Amy wants to talk to The Doctor about the disturbing cruel streak she exhibited toward that alternate universe Madame Kovarian, but more importantly she simply misses him. River reveals that The Doctor is in fact alive. The secret that he told her was not his name. He simply asked her to look into his eye. The Doctor that was shot in Utah was instead the Teselecta (a Doctor in a “Doctor suit”), and she saw that The Doctor was safe inside.
The Doctor returns Dorium’s head to the crypt, and Dorium marvels at the scam that The Doctor has pulled. The Doctor acknowledges that he needs to keep a lower profile going forward to maintain the illusion of his death, thus condemning River to her prison sentence, although he will be springing his alternate universe wife from time to time. Dorium reminds him that the all-important, ancient question that is in plain sight still awaits him, along with the revelation of its answer that The Silence dread. As The Doctor strides away, Dorium bellows it: “Doctor Who? Doctor Who? Doctor Who?!?”
I thought he was this extremely curious and knowledgeable bloke from Gallifrey, the planet of the Time Lords, who absconded with a time machine to go on a little joyride along with various companions throughout the universe with extra focus on the planet Earth. He likes to do good deeds, witness pivotal moments, meet historic folks, and avert destructive alien influences. He uses his brain instead of weaponry to solve problems, although he does lean on the technological advantage of his TARDIS and his sonic screwdriver. If he has enemies, he strives to always give them a choice before vanquishing them. Sometimes he has a tin dog with him, and sometimes he has Mickey with him, but he is always dressed somewhat eccentrically. Recently he has acquired the extra baggage of bearing witness to the destruction of his people in the Time War against the Daleks, a conflict that had an extremely limited number of survivors.
So is there more to it?
Suggesting there is some sort of dark secret behind The Doctor’s identity that would make a religious order quake in fear and attempt to engineer a conspiracy across all of space and time is an intriguing element to add to the mythos. I did not see the “question in plain sight” (a slightly “meta” description due to lack of a television show within the Doctor Who universe that tacks on those extra three letters save for the occasional joke), so that end beat was satisfying. I thought for the oldest question we were looking at something along the lines of the meaning the life, the universe, and everything. Perhaps this new mystery that Moffat has created for us that will be revealed at the time that I assume Eleven will regenerate into Twelve per the legend’s verbiage is nothing more than The Doctor’s actual name. I understand why that is a significant event for the program’s audience, but I do not see yet how its revelation will be so critical to that universe’s denizens. Is The Doctor named “42”?
There is one other detail about The Time Lord With No Name: he is now married. Well, he was married in an alternate universe that no longer exists in a very quick informal ceremony, and the nuptials were performed under duress out of a desire to satisfy the woman who loves him so that she would consent to satisfying his wish of rescuing the universe from destruction. Thus, this Doctor that we know was married in an alternate-universe mind that he can access by memory but not by the letter of law in his actual universe. This is an effective way of explaining how River could play so coy in the past about the prospect of their being married: they are, and they aren’t.
Of course, you would not need a solid justification for River or The Doctor to play coy. One could argue it is their shared defining characteristic, whether their hedging be in the name of avoiding spoilers for their time-traveling friends or simply because they enjoy being the smartest people in the room. To put this coyness in more blunt terms, as rule number one says: The Doctor lies. As I add above, The Doctor cheats.
I previously thought it was too simple to use a double in solving the problem of The Doctor’s death. Over the course of this season, we were handed a couple candidates that could stand in for him when River shot him. He could have been a Doctor made of the flesh we encountered in “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People,” or he could have been the Teselecta. I thought that the regeneration energy that accompanied his apparent death indicated that was not the case, but the Teselecta theoretically could simulate green electronic effects, or even The mini-Doctor inside might be able to conjure up a light show. Given Moffat’s penchant for timey-wimey paradoxical acrobatics and the show’s continued insistence that The Doctor was headed for his actual death, I did not think he would take the story in that direction. Is it a cheat to do so? Perhaps it is, but I thought it was a satisfying cheat from a narrative standpoint. We have had more than our share of the timey-wimey tampering as of late, and keeping it simple reminds me that at heart Doctor Who is a show for kids. I imagine there were at least a few children watching the finale that thought putting The Doctor inside the Teselecta was very cool. As a kid at heart and fan of the show, it was a relief to me; obviously I did not want The Doctor to die.
Going forward with the series, The Doctor must turn down the volume on his adventures to maintain the appearance of his death. It will be interesting to see how this style of traveling differs for him, given that The Doctor tends to create a substantial level of historical noise. I would think he would be difficult to track given that his presence (or virtual omnipresence) across his ten prior incarnations spans time and space from beginning to end.
This season was a fun one in my opinion, and I look forward to more Matt Smith, more Steve Moffat, and perhaps new companions for the TARDIS. Thank you for accompanying me on the Doctor Who journey through these columns once again!
C. Robert Dimitri thinks it is fitting that this show has been part of his life since way back in his youth and that the timing of The Doctor’s marriage roughly corresponds with his own that is imminent this spring.
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