“The Wedding of River Song” had a lot riding on it. It’s the last proper Doctor Who episode (excluding specials) that we’ll see until next fall, and it comes at the end of a harrowing two part season that may have been the most convoluted and mysterious of anything in the series’ history. The episode itself is dense with plot, so much so that it almost seems that one viewing isn’t enough to absorb everything it contains, but by the end we find a healthy portion of what we’ve been craving for 13 episodes now: satisfaction.
Warning: There are, as River would say, “spoilers” ahead.
The world the episode opens in isn’t one we recognize, and yet it contains everything recognizable. It’s present day, but a present day where steam powered trains run on elevated tracks, hot air balloons carry cars and Winston Churchill is the emperor of the still surviving Roman Empire. Except it’s not still surviving, it’s happening at the same time Churchill is happening, who is happening at the same time 2011 is happening. The world has frozen at 5:02 p.m. on April 22, 2011, the time when The Doctor died at the beginning of “The Impossible Astronaut” at the start of the season.
Something’s gone wrong, of course, and that is that The Doctor didn’t die. We don’t know why yet, but he does, and he sets about explaining. He didn’t die, and because of this all of time has merged together into one big mass. Everything is happening at once, and if it isn’t fixed it will all unravel.
This is the backdrop, all of time and space (almost) literally crammed into one minute, where Steven Moffat takes his storytelling stand. It hasn’t been easy for him this season, but that might have been the way he wanted it. His first season as head writer was convoluted, but his second season has been at times almost deliberately obscuring. It might seem like an experiment, but “The Wedding of River Song” proves that Moffat knew what he was doing all along, and with more than a few fans waiting for him to deliver the goods, he swings for the fences with 45 minutes of reality-altering television.
Like any Moffat episode, you don’t really know what you’re seeing until the last 10 minutes or so. It’s all about the payoff, about tying together all the strange and beautiful elements just as they seem most unraveled. In this case, it’s all about how The Doctor escapes the death that he’s known about for weeks now, but it’s also about how The Doctor escapes a self-destructive funk. He’s convinced that he’s done nothing but harm to people, and that his death is something that’s best for the universe. With time and space collapsing around him, he’s got all the evidence he’ll ever need, but still his friends and companions resist this. The way they solve it all (and no, I’m not going to tell you that part) is not only a clean and fair resolution free of cheating, but also something true to the character of this particular Doctor.
Though that one little nagging question remains unanswered at the end (you know, the question), “The Wedding of River Song” is a solid resolution to the chaos that was season 6. Though he’s often accused of being deliberately and infuriatingly strange just for the sake of being strange, he proves here that he still knows how to end a story and keep it going at the same time. Last season’s finale might have been more ambitious in terms of single episode storytelling, but “The Wedding of River Song” proves more impressive as the conclusion of a season long story. We have a year to wait for the next season of Time Lord adventures. At the very least, we can be grateful that – after a good deal of uncertainty – this one ended well.