The wait between June 4th and August 27th has seemed to be a long one. The day after ‘A Good Man goes to War’ I posted Shock where I praised the episode in some situations but was overly critical of the fact that River Song’s long history took up too much of the episode. Has the break changed this? Well, no not really, since we are immediately introduced to the fact that The Doctor has been searching for the Melody Pond but still hasn’t found her. Even when the situation is about the baby, River Song is still the centre of attention, because they are the same. The Doctor, played exquisitely by Matt Smith, is either dealing with the adult River Song, or talking about the baby Melody Pond, or, as with the case of this episode, we are immediately introduced to a seemingly random character who, ‘huge revelation’ is actually Amy’s child.
This reminds me of the initial episode of the season, ‘The Impossible Astronaut’, where the child is introduced and then introduced as being Amy’s baby. Of course, this resparked theories about the relation between River Song and Amy Pond. That has long since been talked about among fans if purely only for the concept that both Pond and River are water based, and so fans assumed that there was some relation relating to the naming theme. In this episode, we weren’t introduced to a baby, but the adult friend of Amy called, Mels. I’m sorry, but who?! It’d be easier to believe that Mels was Amy’s best friend, the third member of the trio and such a influence that Amy would even call her baby after her if she had ever been mentioned before in the series at all. It was a really strange element to introduce, and also kind of felt as though they were really only trying to get from A (that the Doctor had ran off to find the baby) to B) that we are introduced to the current incarnation of River Song. The Doctor has often been known to run off on a whim to strange places, so did we really need to arbitrarily create a situation for the Doctor to get to Berlin? The only real benefit I can see of introducing Mels and having her regenerate into River Song is the fact that we now know that she does have multiple possible regenerations, or at least she would have if she hadn’t used 10 to heal the Doctor.
Honestly though, the rather heavy handed introduction of Mels is a rather minor criticism compared to the number of paradoxes and contradictions that pop up throughout the episode. The obvious one is the contradiction that David Tennant’s doctor managed to heal himself with only one regeneration in ‘Journey’s End’. In that episode the possibility of whether it took up a full regeneration isn’t even addressed, but in this episode River Song, the so called child of the TARDIS, heals the Doctor from standard poison and it takes the energy of all twelve potential regenerations. Is there a reason for this? Does healing another time lord require more energy? Or is it simply that conjuring up the regenerations rather than letting it happen naturally take more energy? None of these questions are addressed, but we are meant to carry on with the show anyway. The show desperately wants us to accept River Song. Part of the problem about that is that we are not introduced to River Song gradually and naturally, like we initially did with Amy Pond or Rose Tyler. As River Song once said, their lives are in reverse, she enters the show knowing so much more than the Doctor, so moments such as ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, where the Doctor does know more, are rare.
Mels regenerates into a new body, completely unaware that her name is River Song. We the audience, already know that the name River Song comes from the Gamma Forest, where there apparently is no word for a Pond. The only water in the forest is the river. Um, what about rain? Regardless, we are introduced to the name by River Song, but when River Song appears, she is informed of the name by The Doctor. It’s a strange form of bait and switch, to suggest to the audience that the name comes from the Forest, when actually the name is from the Doctor. It’s an information paradox. Although we understand the source, the name is given to River Song by The Doctor, who later tells it to The Doctor in ‘The Silence of the Library’. The name is actually conjured from nowhere, regardless of what Pond might mean in a forest somewhere, because that isn’t where any of the characters retrieve the name from. The forest translation is an afterthought.
Once again however, River Song’s presence demands far too much attention of the audience and too much time from the episode. One of the more interesting revelations of the episode is actually that The Doctor now knows for certain the date and time of his death. The same death we have already witnessed the Doctor confidently and securely walk towards. Then he was set alight. Now that the Doctor knows about this event however, it gives him a chance to plan in advance; a plan which may not include Amy, Rory or River Song. Delaware the third may know of the plan, but let’s remember this isn’t the first time a time lord has been killed and burnt, and returned. The Master’s resurrection in ‘The End of Time’ may have been sabotaged, but as we learned in ‘A Good Man goes to War’ the Doctor has a lot of friends; A lot of friends with a lot of reasons to keep him alive. The Amy, Rory and River Song in the first episode of season 6 were in the present, whereas The Doctor was from the future. In this case, we have to ask, where are future Amy, Rory and River Song? Preparing the resurrection ritual for the Doctor? Only time will tell.
For a returning episode, it wasn’t as big a bang as I’d have imagined. The episode was really only helpful in revealing a little more about the Doctor and River Song. The villain, a robot piloted by shrunken humans, taking out people at the end of their time stream was completely ridiculous. The Doctor has often said that there are fixed points in time, and there is no evidence that all major historical figures simply disappear. Many are actually killed with their bodies identified and then buried. I prefer the episode as revealing information, but in terms of actual plot it simply felt confusing and contrived. Steven Moffat recently addressed the concept of answering the lingering questions surrounding River Song:
“Answers will be given. We’re not playing at really being Lost. You will know what’s really going on on that beach [and] you will know the truth about River Song, which you don’t know yet. It’s pretty much answer, answer, answer in a way…By the end of episode 13, new things will have begun,” he hinted. “The great thing about the River Song conundrum is that every time you get an answer, it makes you ask another question.”
When you answer a question and only raise more, that is a problem. I like a good mystery as much as the next guy and I actually liked Lost. The problem with this kind of writing is however, that when you set up so many questions, the answer better be worth it. Eventually, people might get tired of asking the questions when the answer causes them to ask more. I for one hope that after this season, we can move on from the River Song conundrum.