Sunday, October 02, 2011

Married Bliss

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, in the sight of blog, to witness The Wedding Of River Song. If anyone here knows just cause or impediment as to why we shouldn’t consider this an entirely fitting and perfect finale to the season, they should speak now or forever hold their peace.

Well, there’s the title, for one thing. I remember back in the golden age when we had ‘Of’ titles, they’d be like Planet Of The Spiders, The Hand Of Fear, Horror Of The Daleks, The Evil Of Doom, The Curse Of Fatal Death, all that sort of thing. Now we get The Wedding Of some woman or other. Honestly, I ask you, where’s the unbridalled terror in that?

But, in the modern TV fashion of overstating the obvious, this is not a serious complaint. There are, yes, a few little gripes here and there and doubtless more will occur when the honeymoon period is over, but in the context of everything it had to achieve, this was as perfect a season finale as you could ask for.

As much as I was entertained by Let’s Kill Hitler, it didn’t feel like a follow-on from the mid-season closer and that’s because it wasn’t. This, but for a few details to join the dots, is the other half of the excellent A Good Man Goes To War.

There’s a huge amount of common ground in tone and its early stages involve something like A Good Man’s planet-hopping vignettes, with the Doctor here, instead of roaming time and space in search of a maginificent alien seven, doing his utmost to track down the Silence. It’s not quite as magical as its precursor, but what can you expect when you don’t have a lactating Sontaran nurse, a lesbian Silurian adventuress and a fat blue man among your guest characters. In their place, you have a couple of strange geezers with eyepatches, a shape-changing robot crewed by little people and, oh yes, a fat blue man’s head. In a box.

Dorium’s return is welcome – even though the poor chap has lost a lot of weight – and the various settings we’re treated to – the ‘live’ chess tourney and the ‘cave of skulls’ – are more evidence of Moffat’s twisted imagination on overdrive.

And of course, it’s all preceded by that fantastically madcap opening set in London, April 22nd 2011, 5:02pm. Where all of history is happening simultaneously, but time is stuck in the same single moment. It’s all utter nonsense, of course, and would take a better temporal physicist than me to analyse, but (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again) Moffat’s a magician. An illusionist. It’s all sleight of hand and keeping the show moving so, crucially, you’re not generally asking too many questions at the time. You’re more frequently hanging on the next scene, too intrigued by what’s going to happen next.

The only question I recall in my head at the time was “WTF?” But in a good way. In fairness, at the very start, I wondered if I was watching a car ad – there’s one with cars suspended from balloons – but when you’ve thrown in steam trains chuffing out of the Gherkin on viaducts, Do Not Feed The Pterodactyl signs in the park (ha! you think those predators are bad, you should see the seagulls preying on unsuspecting holiday makers in some of our Cornish resorts), Charles Dickens (Simon Callow, yay!) on BBC Breakfast, and Churchill, the Holy Roman Emperor, presiding in Buckingham Palace, you kind of have to just nod, accept the madcapness of it all and say, okay, Steven, you’ve got my attention.

The construction of having the Soothsayer Doctor relate events to Churchill could have slowed things up, but the bouncing between storytelling and past events was skilfully handled and what’s more there’s a wonderful progression in the Churchill scenes where the Doctor’s been making tally marks on his arm. A signal of the Silence’s presence that we should all have remembered from the season opener, The Impossible Astronaut/Day Of The Moon. Deftly done and culminates in that fantastic reveal with the Silence hanging vampire-like from the ceiling.

Followed swiftly by the arrival of Pond, Amelia Pond on the scene. Brilliant, laugh out loud moment, and eyepatch or no Karen Gillan looked, if possible, better than ever. And on a less superficial level, she, like pretty much everyone here, was on top form.

First eyepatch geezer was a bit bland, maybe, and second eyepatch geezer was little more interesting than a Buffy demon-of-the-week cast-off, appearance-wise, but they did their part in adding a touch more colour to the whole Silence mythos. I will say that the shot of eyepatch-demon being consumed in the pit of skulls struck me as dead dodgy. A spot of CGI trickery that wasn’t quite up to the task set by the script. Still, it’s over and done with shortly enough and the jarring effect is fleeting. The captain of the Tesselector is still dull. Sorry, but there it is and it’s only the way many a captain in Doctor Who has gone before. Dorium’s great. And it’s a pleasure to have Iain McNeice back in the role of Winston, a reminder of one of the best aspects of Victory Of The Daleks.

The regulars are all deserving of a far grander label than ‘regular’. I believe I may have mentioned how much I’ve enjoyed the chemistry of this team and I’m still steadfastly clinging to the hope that Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan will be rejoining the Doctor on his travels next year. This goes double now. No, screw that, go ahead and multiply it by the average Sontaran birth rate. The alternative reality Amy and Rory were wonderfully written, beautifully played, with the notion of their love as a constant throughout different realities – Amy will always find her Rory – providing a terrific balance of romance and out and out laughs. Loved the artist’s impression sketch Amy had done of her fella and then Rory’s ready acceptance of her suggestion of a date and marriage. Hilarious and touching at the same time. The darker, harsher edge the story gives Amy is very real and there’s tremendous power in the revenge she visits upon Madame Kasabian (Frances Barber). Wow. Brave, ferocious stuff. Her return to save Rory with a hail of gunfire is pure gung-ho grandstanding action but for such an ostensibly violent scene there’s also a smidgen of rom-com about it. Moffat’s something of a matchmaker like that, able to mix these conflicting ingredients freely and somehow concoct a bizarre kind of harmony.

Or Melody, even. Yes, I’m biased, but Alex Kingston gives another star turn as Melody/River Pond/Song. Never mind the absurdities of the monochronological clashing histories, the fact that it’s her selfish passions and her love for the Doctor that’s brought this all about is utterly credible. She sells it completely. And while my poor mind will never quite get around the idea of Alex Kingston as Karen Gillan’s daughter (that’s time travel for you), she sells that relationship too. Moffat gives the character the appropriate closure - with the added option to have her return – and while we know that, in proper Pulp Fiction style, her life ends in The Silence (no relation?) In The Library/Forest Of The Dead, she’s left here living the dream, adventuring with the younger Doctors. Strewth, no wonder poor old Billy Hartnell’s Doctor first showed up with white hair and not long for this world.

The kiss that restores time to normal could have been so dreadfully corny, but wasn’t. The one thing that does, unfortunately, nudge it ever so slightly in that direction is that irksome and totally unnecessary LCD digital clock caption slapped over the money shot. What the hell was that for? An annoyance and a distraction at an otherwise magical moment. Even if someone (writer or director?) was concerned we wouldn’t get that time marched on without some visual cue, there had to be a better way. A shot of Churchill at his desk, the clock ticking onward? Whatever. Embed it in the scene, don’t emblazon it across the bottom of the screen.

Like the duff CGI in the skull pit, it’s a minor grumble, but it’s one of the few flaws that struck me at the time of viewing and hence worth a mention.

Meanwhile, a word about the groom. Matt Smith delivers a Doctor who, despite being given to the occasional maudlin self-absorbed speech, manages to engage in a way that, for me, the TennantDoc didn’t. He has an eminent likeability – the avuncular quality that Terrance Dicks always spoke of as an essential characteristic of any Doctor - and his misery in the face of impending doom is nowhere near as pervasive as his predecessor’s. (And just to clarify again, this is no reflection on Tennant’s excellent performance, but rather on the direction in which the character was driven by the writing.) Smith and Moffat work fantastically well together as a couple, actor and material complimenting each other perfectly.

The absolutely note-perfect homage to the passing of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart – as moving a tribute to any past character and the actor who played him as the series has ever done – is an exquisite piece of writing that has the beneficial side-effect of reminding us that the death of the Doctor is as much about others – all the lives he has touched during the course of his own - as it is about himself. It’s the brilliant flip side of the message from A Good Man: heads, there’s the figure of fear and hatred the Doctor has created among his enemies; tails, there’s the man who’s loved by so many.

His resolution here is a wily one and although in essence a ‘cheat’, you don’t feel cheated. Fixed point or no, you know the Doctor isn’t actually going to die, but Moffat – for all his ‘time can be rewritten’ standard – is not about to simply undo what he’s shown us. Rule 1: the Doctor lies. And so does Moffat. But it’s in the manner of an illusionist, you know he’s not showing you everything and there’s going to be a trick up his sleeve. You have to read between the scenes, is all.

This season handed us two shape-shifting herrings of varying shades – the Flesh and the Tesselector – and it was always going to be something along the lines of a copied Doc getting shot and torched there at Lake Silencio. In that sense, the resolution is a predictable one, but it is – like a wedding dress that needs no alteration – a perfect fit. The ‘look in my eye’ reveal is a triumph, no matter if you did see it coming.

The question of The Question was predictable too. Doctor Who? Hidden in plain sight, it was the only question it could be. The main danger Moffat presents for himself is, in setting that up, he may be faced with the task of answering it and I’m naturally wary of anything that perhaps promises to lift the veil on our beloved hero. Ultimately, it’s a matter of degrees though, and so far Moffat has demonstrated a talent for subtely in amongst all the marvelous madcappery. And I’m encouraged by the Doctor’s resolve, in the wake of his fake demise, to withdraw a little, to play a quieter role. It’s the reining in that the character perhaps needs.

A less powerful Doctor – or a Doctor who is less given to exert that power – leaves more room for the universe – and those all-important threats and menaces – to grow around him. The next time a million – or even fewer – Daleks or Cybermen show up, we need to fear them, instead of them fearing the Doctor quite so much.

A satisfactory tying of several knots, hand in hand with a lot of promise for the future. Can I just slightly unsweeten these heaped spoonfuls of praise by requesting a teeny bit more attention on some of the individual stories in between all the brilliance?

All in all a memorable event. And there was a beautifully decorated, multi-teared cake. I’ll have another slice of that, please.



iCowboy said...

Is it too late to ask Joss Whedon to reshoot the whole of the Avengers, but this time with Karen (sigh) Gillan as the Black Widow? Sorry Scarlett, you've been out sultry-killered by our favourite Scot.

I like to think that Mr. Moffat had me in mind when he wrote that part of the script. None of the rest of you. Just me.

Amethyst Greye Alexander said...

I'm so glad you agree.

Also, TIERED, TEARED cake. Because who wants salt-water on her cake?