The Wedding of River Song

NTSC Region 1
DVD box set

PAL Region 2
DVD box set

6-episode volume
See below for Blu-Ray options
(Doctor Who Story No. 229, starring Matt Smith)
  • written by Steven Moffat
  • directed by Jeremy Webb
  • produced by Marcus Wilson
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 45 minutes
Story: The Doctor seems resigned to meet his fate, but what is he discovering about the Silence on the Docks of Calisto B? And what has created a time bubble that has all of Earth history happening at 5:02 pm on April 22, 2011, while no clock can move forward? And what plan is being hatched in the pyramids of Area 52?

DVD Extras (box sets only) include:

  • Audio commentary by writer Steven Moffat, actress Frances Barber (Madame Kovarian), and director Jeremy Webb.
  • Doctor Who Confidential featurette: When Time Froze (9 min.) with Moffat, Webb, Matt Smith (The Doctor), Alex Kingston (River Song),
    Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Emma Campbell-Jones (Dr. Kent), and armourer Liam Burne.
  • Prequel Scene / Trailer (1 min.)

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.

So... if I wake up in the morning and remember my dream, does that mean it really happened?

Here we have another fast paced, densely populated, mystery episode from Steven Moffat to add to the convoluted River Song saga and tie up the issues surrounding the season's high noon confrontation. Though delivering highly entertaining and riveting material all the way through, it's all too easy to sift the events of this story into two piles: those that are solidly real and tying up the season arc, and those that exist in their own fictitious fantasy bubble and have little relevance to anything.

If "The Impossible Astronaut" (story no. 219) felt like "The X-Files", and The One at Demon's Run (story no. 223) felt like Star Wars, this story definitely seems to have taken a cue from "Indiana Jones" for much of its imagery. With River Song being an archeologist, some crossover imagery is inevitable, but the Doctor's investigation of an alien crypt with the big Viking-looking guy also independently adds to the same motif.

Well, it is interesting and different to resolve the arcs of the season in a single episode instead of a two-parter, although in this format perhaps it was best that one of the biggest reveals (although slightly obvious by now) bled backwards into the end of the previous story to become a cliffhanger.

Perhaps the move was really worth it though. After all, we got four previous episodes with River Song this season, setting up the events we will resolve and introducing many of the major players of the story. I still would have preferred more two parters in the season, but this story didn't necessarily have to be one of them. Also, when you think that both "Bad Wolf" (the season 27 finale) and "The Sound of Drums" (the season 29 finale) might have worked better if the best bits of those stories had been condensed into one episode, perhaps this story is the result of a similar move after some excess has been removed. If so, good.

I like the early portions, where the Doctor really gets around in the galaxy, and acts like a major player. Very nice. Why aren't other writers creating interstellar mysteries and writing scenes in places like the docks of Calisto B? It's out there, yet doesn't break the budget anymore than an equivalent Earthly setting would. Here, we get to see the Doctor doing the same kind of setting up of masterplans that only gets talked about as backstory in most Sylvester McCoy stories, while bringing back the chess motif that was popular in that era and in "Enlightenment" (story no. 128). Super. These are actually the sections that contain all the solidly good events.

But of course, he needs to explain it to the audience via another character, and I'm not as keen to see that Winston Churchill gets to be that character while the Doctor gets a goofy soothsayer look. It still works okay, and Ian McNiece plays Churchill very entertainingly. It's just not close enough to my tastes for me to rave over it.

The second part of the story sees the Doctor pretty much reduced to the McGuffin for Amy and River and Rory to fuss over. There are a lot of interesting bits for these characters throughout the sequence, making it entertaining, but everything here has developed too quickly out of nowhere, diluting the stakes for any of them. The Silents return, now predictably reduced to the threat chasing the protagonists as they struggle for more clues. I'd say they work better than the half-dead Dalek from last year's finale, but they are still only a shadow of what they had been in the opening story of the season. And with this all being some kind of alternate reality that the Doctor wants to nullify anyway, should we worry about who buys the farm here meanwhile? The no-time / frozen-time idea depletes the usual stakes considerably.

Although Madame Kovarian is a great character and I enjoy having her perspective in this story, her presence is a bit of a waste from a plot point of view. Moffat has the lead villain tied up for her entire time on screen? Come on! Of course Marcus Wilson is going to be dead right thinking that her end isn't big enough - how can it be after that? Plus, she only appears in the fake time bubble, so nothing that happens here counts for anything anyway. Out in the intergalactic spheres, she's still just as present and scheming and deadly as ever. This story is such a waste in so many ways.

The story appears to make some kind of sense if you only look at its superficial levels while letting it zip by quickly. But scratch beneath the surface, and most of it falls apart fairly completely. One of the biggest questions is why the Doctor bothered to marry River Song when he did. It doesn't look like it happens for love, or as a natural consequence of his relationship with her, whatever that bizarre relationship really is. In fact, he even has a line at an earlier point, where he says "I don't want to marry you." Yes, he did get tricked into making a promise about marriage five episodes ago. But surely other things were more pressing during this adventure. Yes, the Doctor has a plan, and he needs to convince River to cooperate, which he does with a judo-like move of giving in to her argument that people love him, and then using that momentum to his own advantage. But it still feels like an unnecessary shortcut to go from that idea to marriage, since a simple "look deep into my eyes" could have sufficed, and there are only artificial scripting considerations for keeping that a secret from anyone. Perhaps Moffat is unhealthily obsessed with the idea of marriage - indeed he's now put it into two season finales. Or perhaps he's just bagging some unwanted rumours about River into a fantasy bubble, which the audience can choose to believe in or not. I choose not to. I think it's an unfortunate compromise, where those who just want good sci-fi are wondering why it's here at all, while those like Alex Kingston who look forward to her character's wedding thought it fell far short of what they hoped for. In the end, it looks like the Doctor is just manipulating River, much the same as he did to Cameca back in "The Aztecs" (story no. 6), only this time it's more deliberate and less forgivable.

More importantly, the complications of the second half of this story are grossly lacking in mechanisms that we can invest in. How does River Song override the controls in the suit to discharge her weapon instead of shooting the Doctor's Tesselecta? I understand the mechanics of his plan, but I understand nothing of hers. And how the hell does this create that wonky bubble universe of 5:02 pm Greenwich time forever? (Which incidentally would be about 10:02 am in Utah.) I'm not buying that crap about fixed points in time... which just sounds like fairy tale jargon used to prop up a pretty shaky theory of time in the first place.

Indeed, the entire scene atop the pyramid is so problematic. It wants to show a big important debate, yet the emotions poured into it feel so out of place and redundant because the stakes are intangible and ridiculous - who can really follow the temporal babble about fixed points, disintegrating time, and the planet in peril of fatal death that attempts to support those emotions? Who in the audience really has beliefs that match those that are paraded on screen? Moffat even admits it's guff on the commentary - so how can we get worked up over it? This is probably the biggest mistake of the finale, boiling all the events in the frozen time bubble down to another "Adventure That Didn't Really Happen".... all part of some psychopath's deluded dream, whether that be River Song's or Amy's dream, or one they shared together. This is all making Rory seem like the only sane companion the Doctor has lately. It's actually been a good year for him.

I love the location on top of the pyramids though. Very cool idea, resulting in excellent eye-candy. It's also a nice way to use architectural energy to boost the signal to the rest of the universe - I'll believe it more than the Master calling everyone from a radiotelescope in "Logopolis" (story no. 116).

The coda's not great, but will do. I went through this season counting ways that the Doctor could fool people into thinking that he had been killed. The doppelganger flesh was an obvious early candidate for the process, while the Tesselecta seemed a slightly less appropriate way to go. At first, I was startled to see the Tesselecta's crew going along with the plan. Didn't they want to see the Doctor truly meet his end? Were they not nice to him because he seemed to be accepting it? They seemed to be a bit daft in their extreme viewpoints while waffling on it at a bizarre moment. Then, on closer examination of the Vulture's Circle / Hitler episode, I realized that one of Moffat's red herrings had made a more permanent first impression on me than the later tidbits meant to twist their motivations to something that actually does work out well here.

Music by Murray Gold
A full suite of music from the story
is available on the 2-disc audio CD album:
Doctor Who: Original Music from
Season 32 (aka "Series 6", 2011)

More info & buying options

So.... we come to the end of another Steven Moffat season... and we still don't have a clue why the TARDIS exploded last year which is the lynchpin of all the temporal mechanics and ultimate credibility for last year's stories. This is not a good thing to use to create long-term suspenseful questions. This year's stories have also handled time quite badly, and we still don't have enough answers to be able to say that we've been watching science fiction instead of fairy tale fantasy.

Perhaps the additional scenes and Moffat's own interviews say it best though, as I suspected last year. Moffat's real concern is with untrustworthy memories, which is cool, and worthy of exploration, and I'm right there for it. Blaming alternate memories on the idea of time re-writing (or worse, fixed-points creating fantasy bubbles) isn't going to cut it though - best to reveal that as a red herring one day.

I'll give you the theory that I'd believe. All versions of time occur, and a person's doubles in each separate branch of time live through those various versions of their lives. Normally, they each only remember the one they've experienced. A person's soul, however, remembers ALL of the different possible outcomes as having happened. Presently, not too many of us humans know how to communicate with our souls on purpose, but if memories from your double's life bled through the common interface of the soul, you would start to "remember" multiple versions of events, and multiple versions of your lives. Maybe some of that is going on here. I'll easily buy that, especially if a person gets to see something of each different parallel/branching universe, as Amy often does. I just think it's a totally unnecessary hang-up to think that one version ceases to exist if you witness or create or move into one of the other versions. Wiser minds know they all continue to co-exist, and you can avoid trick questions and make better choices when you know it.

When you think of it, you could really make a version of this story that just had the early intergalactic bits, leading to the Doctor resolving his high noon confrontation at the Utah lake. And stop. The 5:02 fantasy bubble can be left out, and everything is still resolved satisfactorily - in fact it would be resolved even more satisfactorily. Of course that leaves next to nothing for River Song to do, and absolutely nothing for Amy and Rory to do at all. But since the bubble never really happens, that's essentially all this story boils down to.

For ranking purposes, it is the early intergalactic sections, the other parts of the Utah lake scenes that we hadn't had before, and the pyramid imagery that will keep this story afloat, since all are fairly worthy. The rest is pretty empty over-hyped fluff that I can't truly invest in, as pleasant and attention-grabbing as it turned out to be - and with the fluff being so plentiful and inexplicable, it will drag this story down to be the lowest ranking episode that Moffat has written this season.

Oh well. I think I like this finale better than last year's, since it does at least have those definite events in space I can hang on to. And I like this season better than last, which wasn't too shabby anyway. We can improve for next year, but on the whole things are getting better. More two-parters and saga extending entries please. Drop the backyard-alien-of-the-week formula padding. More alien planets with fleshed out cultures please. Drop the spoiler ads. And give us relevant, tasteful titles. Thank you! See you next time!

International Titles:

Deutsch: "Hochzeits-Song"

Magyar: "River Song esküvője"

Français: "Le Mariage de River Song"

Русский: "Свадьба Ривер Сонг"

Italiano: "Il matrimonio di River Song"

Season 32 Rankings:

Best Story:

  • The One at Demon's Run
  • The Almost People
  • The Impossible Astronaut
  • The One About The Doctor's TARDIS
  • The One Where Vultures Circle (with Mels and Hitler)
  • The Girl Who Waited
  • The Wedding of River Song
  • The Curse of the Black Spot
  • Night and the Doctor additional scenes
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Closing Time
  • The God Complex
  • Night Terrors

Best Director:

  • Julian Simpson (The Almost People)
  • Peter Hoar (Demon's Run)
  • Richard Senior (Vultures Circle, Night and the Doctor)
  • Nick Hurran (The Girl Who Waited, The God Complex)
  • Toby Haynes (The Impossible Astronaut, A Christmas Carol)
  • Jeremy Webb (The Wedding of River Song, The Curse of the Black Spot)
  • Steve Hughes (Closing Time)
  • Richard Clark (The Doctor's TARDIS, Night Terrors)

Best Writer:

  • Steven Moffat (Demon's Run, The Impossible Astronaut,
    Vultures Circle, The Wedding of River Song, Night and the Doctor)
  • Matthew Graham (The Almost People)
  • Neil Gaiman (The One About The Doctor's TARDIS)
  • Tom MacRae (The Girl Who Waited)
  • Steve Thompson (The Curse of the Black Spot)
  • Gareth Roberts (Closing Time)
  • Toby Whithouse (The God Complex)
  • Mark Gatiss (Night Terrors)

This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

DVD NTSC Region 1
14-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
14-episode box set
for the U.K.:

(Limited Edition)
DVD 6-episode volume

Blu-Ray NTSC Region 1
14-episode box set
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada

Blu-Ray PAL Region 2
14-episode box set
for the U.K.:

(Limited Edition)

Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes feature little more than the plain episodes.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe"

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