In case you were unaware, I really quite like Doctor Who. Science Fiction in general actually, from The Twilight Zone TV series to the novels of Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov, but especially Doctor Who as a current, long running series with its loose science and repeated appearances of the Doctor creating a modern would where something pretty fantastic is always happening in the background. I can’t confess to watching much of the older series’ or in fact much of Christopher Eccleston, but the Doctors of David Tennant and Matt Smith really have entertained me over the years. It’s sincerely a pity that I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about Doctor Who in my dissertation on Science Fiction.
As a forewarning, this post is going to contain a review of the most recent Doctor Who episode, and some of the earlier episodes in the previous series’. So if you’ve yet to watch last night’s episode, I suggest you hook yourself up to BBC Iplayer for about 40 minutes, and then come back, or wait until you’ve caught up before reading, since you have almost three months to do so.
Let’s get this out of the way: Melody Pond being River Song was not a surprise. The idea of Pond and River being related has been theorised since Amy Pond first appeared in the ‘Eleventh Hour’, so the entire build up to the last scene where it’s revealed is dampened by the fact that most long running Who fans were already aware of it. My girlfriend can testify to the fact that as soon as she was named Melody, I shook my head in despair that it was true. Finding out who River Song was actually wasn’t as interesting as it should have been because we’d already guessed. I’m not going to blame the internet and communities, as is the trend in this day and age, because with a show this popular, you expect people to go and talk about it. You actually want them to, because if someone sits down and watches a show, is entertained but doesn’t talk to anyone about it then it was either too simple, or not interesting enough. Steven Moffat, writer of the current series, has done a good job in getting people to talk about the show, but it’s unfortunate that the people talking figured it out so easily.
Perhaps however, there’s a certain amount of dramatic irony going on, because for once we’re one step ahead of the Doctor, just as his antagonists are this time. It’s not as though the final scene has no prominence for the informed watcher either, because it is nice to know where the name River Song actually comes from, (apparently a bunch of forest folk think a Doctor is a warrior, all ponds are rivers and all melodies are songs) but nothing can stop this character from being absolutely tragic. The first time we met her, all the way back in the Tenth Doctor’s venture in The Library, was the first time that The Doctor met her, and the day that she dies. Well, sort of. At any rate, there’s a certain amount of panic in River’s voice when she realises that this Doctor doesn’t know her, and perhaps it isn’t until the Eleventh Doctor that we understand why. It’s as River says, their lives are in reverse, and River has always known this, so reaching a day when he hasn’t met her surely means the end for her. River Song’s first appearance also marks a number of recurring motifs that will pop up in Moffat’s series, and it seems an unlikely coincidence for these to pop up in this two part episode that he also wrote. Among the motifs are River Song showing up in an astronaut suit:
She would later do this again in ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ and ‘The Day of the Moon’, and the conspicuous name of the episode, ‘Silence in the Library’. The title refers to the literal silence of the library due to the presence of Vashta Nerada, but might it also be foreshadowing to the presence of the alien race? The Silence themselves have mentioned having an influence over history; so it seems that this event may also have been orchestrated by the Silence to remove River Song, especially given that she slaughters a whole roomful in ‘Day of the Moon’.
Looking back, we can see what is actually really quite fantastic about Moffat’s writing that wasn’t exactly present in that of Russell T. Davis’ series. These stories aren’t simple series arcs forming from premiere to finale, but his story completely encompasses the Doctor’s travels, from incarnation to the complete rewriting of time. The closest I remember Davis coming to this level was with Rose, and the Bad Wolf omen, and still I think Moffat’s writing has succeeded him. Yet, if it has one downfall, it is River Song. At times, I feel as though the series has become less about the Doctor and more the great quest to find out who River Song is, until finally she just becomes his companion and they travel around for a series or two, and then he sends her off to die. Amy has no plot other than being pregnant and giving birth to the ultimate weapon, and Rory dealing with his two thousand year memories seems to be sidelined to sparse scenes in every other episode. The closest we come to a parallel running plot line seems to be the growing recognition that the Doctor’s actions are not always in line with his namesake. Given that the Silence were repeatedly mentioned in the 2010 series and dealt with in two episodes of the current series, I’m also thinking that the whole ‘Pandorica opens, Silence will fall’ tag line was less of a cause and effect, and more a list of events leading to Demon’s Run, the Doctor’s darkest day and the moment that River Song’s identity is finally revealed. Everything Moffat has done since ‘Silence in the Library’ has been building to this moment, and honestly, I’m just a little sick of River Song. I’d be quite happy if she disappeared until the season finale, but I know that’s not going to happen.
To me, the increasing darkness of the Doctor is far more interesting, and it’s also something that has been evident as far back as the creation of the new series. Since the moment where he committed genocide of both Dalek and Time Lord, the Doctor has never quite been able to give up his habit of completely erasing an alien species if they push him enough, as seen in ‘The Family of Blood’ and the almost events of ‘The Runaway Bride’, as depicted in ‘Turn Left’. On one side we’ve got the fun and lovable raggedy Doctor, ready to whisk you away to adventures of the unknown, and on the other side, there is the warrior-tactician, with allies in every square of the universe and an anger that you do not want to incur. It is even suggested by Davros in ‘Journey’s End’ that he shapes his companions into soldiers. I feel like this is something that this series is going to expand upon, possibly accumulating in the finale, due to the existence of the Dream Lord, his ability to swiftly build an army, having turned Rory from a nurse into a warrior which is emphasised by the Sontarian nurse, and of course, the fact that to create the ultimate warrior, River Song was composed of Time Lord DNA. Again, everything comes back to River Song.
How River Song became a Time Lord is actually interesting. The Eleventh Doctor mentions that the people of Gallifry became Time Lords after prolonged exposure to the time vortex, which took billions of years. Even conception on the TARDIS seems unlikely to produce this effect, but considering that their wedding night took place after the complete reformation of the entire universe, that seems more likely to have produced the desired effect. She’s not on the same level as the Doctor, but seems similar, yet this situation suggests that the creation of the ultimate warrior to fight the Doctor hinged on the completely circumstantial event of the world collapsing. I guess the Big Bang should come with safety warnings.
All that said, I did enjoy the episode, and despite all the serious and grim events, there were light hearted moments. Seeing Rory try to be tough and end up crying anyway was amusing, and learning that title of the next episode is ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ was more than enough for me to want it to be September already, but when you sit down to write a review of a show called Doctor Who and end up writing a thousand words on a recurring character called River Song, it leaves a bad taste. The Doctor should be the focus of the show, and I do feel that, in spite of an enjoyable episode, he was sidelined when he should have been at the forefront for his darkest day. I don’t entirely dislike River Song, but I don’t feel like we the audience have any real reason to care about River other than the fact that she’s always present during important events of The Doctor’s life. The not so shocking revelation that she is Amy and Rory’s child doesn’t help this situation because it only emotionally bonds the characters to her, not the viewer. All in all, the feelings I’m left with are that it is a good episode, but seeing a good man go to war could have been so much more.