Dear Steven Moffat: The Wedding of River Song


Dear Steven,

I’m certain that you’ll know my reputation as a party monster. Throughout London and several other provincial areas within the United Kingdom, my name has become a byword for outrage; a synonym for fun, and that reputation was built at a thousand and one wedding receptions.

Yes, that’s right Steven, I’m the same Ed Whitfield who used telekinesis to ruin the after party of Mr and Mrs Ben Steinberg; I am the man who drove a Lamborghini Jalpa into Maggie Swire’s cleavage; I’m responsible for the breakup of Tyrone and Loretta Cock, just 36 minutes after they said ‘I do’, though Tyrone later told me that he was grateful and was genuinely sorry to hear about my injuries and the year I’d spent in a home for emasculated husbands.

As I write this it’s the morning after the wedding of Neil Gaiman and Jodie Schwitzer. I’m told Jodie desperately wanted me there, though because Neil and I fell out back in May following his refusal to admit he’d penned The Doctor’s Wife, an incident that precipitated the mashing of my genitals when I wouldn’t let the matter drop, the bride to be felt it would be better if I came using the alias “Saggy Membranes’ plus one”.

She didn’t tell me this directly you understand; she couldn’t in case he learned of it, thus Saggy was forced to maintain the fiction that his girlfriend was eight months pregnant and ill, and was drafting me as an eleventh hour companion. I gave a lot of credit to Saggy for keeping up the pretence before, during and after the ceremony and yet more to Bernadette, his woman, who looked both pregnant and unwell when I arrived for my lift to the church.

As I sat in the reception hall, studying the sedimentary layer of vomit that had settled at the base of my glass of fruit punch, eyes flicking up to watch Saggy lead the floor in the dance to Superman by Black Lace, and trying to remember which bridesmaid I’d sexed behind the giant speaker 40 minutes earlier, I reflected on the season finale of Doctor Who, a title that now has more urgency than it once did, and the direction you’ve taken the series this year. My conclusions may surprise you, though if you’ve read any of the other letters I’ve sent, probably not.

Time Head

It’s been an unusual year, Steven; you’ve had the audience chasing their own shadows. It may have ended with all of our initial suspicions confirmed and few cast iron, copper bottomed surprises, but to your credit, if the destination was known, the route was far from clear, and you’ve certainly managed to take the long way round. In fact, if this were a car journey, it’s fair to say we’d have all been reported missing several months ago.

I was dreading tonight’s episode, I won’t pretend otherwise. I saw it all before me and imagined only fudge, bullshit and whimsy; I’d developed a condition you inadvertently named – Time Head, a degenerative mental disorder characterised by fear of non-linear storytelling. I wanted this episode to work so badly that my fingernails looked like splintered wood; my balls were in my stomach; I hadn’t eaten in half an hour.

In the event I should have trusted you, you did fine. My big fears didn’t come to pass. River wasn’t a version of The Doctor, you didn’t reveal his identity (yet)– in which case the series is over; you didn’t employ an ontological paradox to save his life… Well, maybe you did in the sense that it was only foreknowledge of the event that allowed him to save himself, but there was a bigger picture here and once understood, I began to remember why I’d felt so hopeful when you were appointed as head writer. The Doctor had to die, or rather his legend had to, and this was all to the good, because as you’d intimated, he was getting too big for his TARDIS and his long history, the show’s long history, was becoming an albatross around the writers’ necks. His enemies knew him too well. He in turn, knew everything. I can understand why you wanted to bury all of that.

What we learned

The Wedding of River Song wasn’t a story in its own right of course. This year you’ve eschewed those, while enforcing that constraint on your other writers, in favour of what was essentially a five-part story spread throughout the season – an old Doctor Who serial in fact. Kudos Steven, we like those, but you took an awful risk, spread betting like that. Individual episodes that dealt with “the arc” felt like idea stacks, rather than stories, because, like the proverbial River Song, we were forced to leave the chain of events for eons at a time. What sustained us in the interim felt slight by comparison – Neil’s episode notwithstanding. So how might you beat this problem next year?

Well for a start you might try changing the structure of the season. Stand-alone episodes don’t work very well in your vision of Who, so why have them? Instead, give other writers the chance to spin epic yarns and be playful. How about a season of two and three parters? Make every episode unmissable. The second thing you could do is focus on making your two or three part stories more self-contained – stories in their own right; pin your ideas to a tale that is thematically linked to but can survive independently of, the series arc.

You can link your stories – sequelise them even, as you have done this year, but don’t write episodes that are just a series of teases and character revelations, underpinned by conceptual masturbation. People remember your two parter from the 9th Doctor era because you told a story as well as introducing characters; ditto for the Tennant library two parter, but no one is going to remember Let’s Kill Hitler’s story for example, because there wasn’t one. They’ll remember the revelations. Tell stories next year, don’t be content to join dots.

This was my fear, that The Wedding of River Song would be a join the dots episode, but somehow it felt more coherent than that; it rewarded attentive viewers who’d suffered severe Time Head in previous instalments. I thought I’d hate the idea of The Doctor getting married but somehow you made it work; it was a necessary part of The Doctor’s plan and had a function. I can live with it. Besides, we know he’s a bigamist, as he’s already married to the TARDIS anyway.

Was the tessellating man ship a cosmic cheat? In the heat of the moment I’d have said yes, akin to using the dreaded ganger solution we’ve been anticipating half the year, but again, I should have trusted you. With hindsight there was a lovely symmetry between The Doctor controlling his suit and River being controlled by hers. Yes, I liked that a lot – The Doctor being the Impossible Astronaut – a man who survives his own death by taking refuge within a protective suit. This was the episode where it became apparent that you weren’t making it up as you went along, you’d thought it through after all. I’m still not sure why the suit began to regenerate after the first hit – the illusion of regenerative energy built using excess tiles, perhaps? Still, if we understood everything you’d have to take your name off it, wouldn’t you?

Doctor Who?

So, the series is over and we haven’t just looped back to the beginning of the season but the beginning of the series. You’ve dared to ask the question, the one which was, as you say, in plain sight, such is your thirst for a series tease more intense than the last. What trumps the permanent death of The Doctor? Only his identity. It was cunning to make the solution to this mystery, the series’ one abiding conundrum, the Achilles heel of your new enemy; a revelation so dangerous, as you put it, that these self-appointed sentinels of history have to exterminate our hero to keep it on the down low. My new fear is that now the question’s the story, you’ll feel compelled to answer it.

This “terrible, dangerous secret” has to remain a secret, Steven, and not for the sake of The Silence, though I respect their beliefs, but for ours. Once answered the series is over. Did you also tell us, in this final episode, that Matt Smith’s third series as The Doctor will be his last? I know we can’t afford to be too literal in a show like this, but “the fall of the eleventh” on those fields of Trensalore (presumably where lore goes to die), sounds like the end for the Galifreyian ganglinoid.

When this sentence was uttered a voice in my head said three things; ‘Put it away, she’s looking’,‘50th anniversary special’ and ‘regeneration’. Tempting as it may be to reveal The Doctor’s identity in the show’s 50th year I implore you not to do it. We’d like it to run for another 50 years; the “Who” part of the title is there for a reason; full disclosure means the end of the story and the end of the series. The show is bigger than any one actor but not that secret. Sure, you can tell me, just leave the nation out of it.

That’s it from me, Steven. I’m going to take some time out now to get a life, or something like it. I look forward to the next series, of course I do. Though the end of it may finish me, I think the journey, as ever, will be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to a set of adventures that promise to be very strange for two reasons. One, The Doctor will no longer have an intrusive legend, so will resemble his earliest incarnations and the tone of the stories may adjust to reflect this new reality but two, his past, essentially the question of who he is, will be the Cartmel-like undercurrent of the next 13 instalments. These are changes that I might have made myself were I sitting in your seat and you in mine, but full disclosure? The answer to that titular question? No, Steven. Never. Well, never say never, but perhaps only with the axe looming instead of the hiatus. Keep that in mind old fruit.

Remember, I’ll be watching.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

Series catchup:

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I quite like the way it went meta here, without being completely ridiculous: oldest question, hiding in plain sight, yadda yadda. The problem though, with the Cartmel Masterplan, was that it was bollocks. We were going to find out the Doctor was the original, first ever Time Lord- but at the same time, we wouldn’t have really cared had that come to fruition. Nobody really gave a toss about most of the Time Lords until they were made conspicuous in their absence. So it’ll be interesting to see what they do with the conceit, if it doesn’t turn out to be a massive cop out.

    Also it would be nice if they ended a season without the Universe being melted / reset / destroyed Bobby Davro for once.

    • Be fair, he was using the series finale software, CLIMAX, and only invested in the one template. It cost £500, you can’t blame him for using it more than once.

      Wasn’t Omega the original Timelord? See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega_(Doctor_Who)

      Did we spy the omega symbol on River’s uniform at the end of the episode? Maybe that’s a clue. The Doctor may not be Omega, but his secret might have something to do with him.

      Or maybe that’s all bollocks.

      • River been using Greek symbols all through, I think. That would be an absolutely wonderful troll, if Moffat revealed that, then immediately handed the reigns of the show to someone else.

        “Write your way out of this one, bozo!”.

  2. A good point about the parallels between the suits. I thought there was also a nice bit of symmetry that it is a kiss that sets everything right, just as it was River’s kiss that ‘killed’ the Doctor. It was also symbolic that an act symbolising the power of love should save the day, echoing both Night Terrors and Closing Time.

    I’ve attached a link to my thoughts on season 6 as a whole )hope you don’t mind):
    http://slouchingtowardsthatcham.com/2011/10/02/doctor-who-season-6-review/

  3. The way Moffat has handled his revelations so far, the oh-so-dreaded “fall of the eleventh” will probably simply being Matt stumbling over his shoelaces (as foreshadowed by the ever-changing shoes).

    Which will then turned out a prank played by River because ever since Moffat took over, River has to have a hand in everything. Please, end “The River Song Show” – I want Doctor Who back!

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, she needs to go.


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