Monday, April 2, 2012

And Their Child Shall Lead Them

STORY 226: RIVER'S SECRET PARTS 1 & 2 (A Good Man Goes To War/Let's Kill Hitler)

It is truly difficult to write about River's Secret Parts 1 & 2 for me because of many reasons.  One: I simply have never warmed to River Song as a character the way I did with other Companions such as Romana, Ace, Rose Tyler, and Sarah Jane Smith (who, to my mind, is the Citizen Kane of Companions).  In the various episodes River was in, I always thought she was was the appendix: something that could be removed and not be missed.  Two: I always thought she was just a bit TOO clever, TOO smart, for her own good, as if she was given an almost divine quality to be, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.  Third: I am hampered by the fact that as of this writing, I have yet to see Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2 (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead)

It isn't because I knew River was going to be there, it's just that after the disaster that was/is Love & Monsters (and if anyone can defend that pile of shit, I'd like to meet that I could whack him/her upside the head) I quit watching Doctor Who, not resuming viewing until The Waters of Mars (and that was only because I knew David Tennant was leaving).  Even worse, the Fifth Season was pretty good, but this one...oy vey have I found it "must-skip TV". 

In all her adventures with The Doctor, it just seems that River Song becomes the dominant character, reducing the Doctor to merely a supporting player in his own series.  To my mind, it's become such a problem that at times I (sometimes) in jest refer to the program AS River Song (formerly known as Doctor Who).  They might as well change the name of the show given how much build-up her creator Steven Moffat has done into pushing the idea that she's this gigantic ICON of Doctor Who, surpassing such characters as the Daleks, the Master, Romana or Sarah Jane, perhaps even The Doctor himself.

Now that I've seen A Good Man Goes to War/Let's Kill Hitler (which I have retitled River's Secret), I can see that perhaps I am finally relieved of this "icon" once and for all.  That to my mind, would be a great service to a television program that functioned surprisingly well long before she first uttered, "Hello, Sweetie" and will live long after she slips out one last "Spoilers". 

Part I: A Good Man Goes To War

Having seen in The Gangers that Amy (Karen Gillan) is being held prisoner and about to give birth, we find that she is on the asteroid Demon's Run.  The Doctor (Matt Smith) recruits a series of aliens from the past (Silurians, Sontarans, Captain Henry from The Curse of the Black Spot, and Centurion Rory among others) to get Amy back.  Only the Legendary Legend of Legendness, Dr. River Song (Alex Kingston) declines, stating she can't see the Doctor until the very end. 

On Demon's Run, the Eye-Patch Lady, now known as Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber), takes the child, known as Melody Pond (we'll get to why she's not Melody Williams in good time), for her own nefarious scheme which involves getting rid of The Doctor.  Meanwhile,  the asteroid is being guarded by the Headless Monks and the Church Army, all awaiting the Doctor's attack.  The Doctor and his ragtag army quickly overtakes Demon's Run...too quickly and too easily in fact.  A sympathetic Cleric, Lorna (Christina Cheung), who once met the Doctor, tells him that this was all a major trap.  While Amy IS rescued, little Melody was secretly replaced with Folger's Crystals coffee...I mean, with a Flesh duplicate. 

After being tricked twice and having little Melody Pond taken, River FINALLY shows up and does what she does best: show up the Doctor.  She finally reveals her identity, first to a delighted Doctor (who flies off on his TARDIS), then to Amy and Rory (Arthur Darvill).  Where she was raised, there is no word for "pond", with the only water being "river", and since Melody is a type of Song, and both a Pond and a River have water...well, you get the idea.

Part II: Let's Kill Hitler

The Doctor gets back to Amy and Rory, now who contact him via crop circles.  Crashing the party is Amy and Rory's childhood friend Mels (Nina Toussant-White), a bad girl from the moment they met as children.  Running from the law, Mels pulls a gun and demands the Doctor take her into the past so, as she puts it, "let's kill Hitler".

As it so happens, this idea isn't a new one.  A janitor appears to be planning the same thing, only it's not a real janitor.  It is the Teselecta, an advanced ship that looks human which is populated by shrunken people.  They are there to kill Hitler, but they realize they are too early to merit out justice.  Fortunately for them (and for Hitler), the TARDIS crashes right at this time (something to do with Mels having shot the TARDIS).

Soon, the Teselecta finds that one of the people in that room is one of the greatest criminals of all time.  Obviously, it's not Hitler.  We find that Mels has been shot, but of course, that would be too easy, and to their shock they watch Mels being The Legendary Legend of Legendness, the Single Greatest Character in Television History, the Best Idea Ever to come from Doctor Who, the most important creation in all of science-fiction, ladies and gentlemen...Doctor----River-----Song!!!

Now, she must complete her mission...kill the Doctor.  They have their banter, they outwit each other, but River does manage to strike at the Doctor.  He has to flee to the TARDIS to find a way to survive, while Amy and Rory have to pursue their erstwhile daughter through the streets of Nazi Berlin.  They do find her, as does the Teselecta.  The Teselecta crew takes Amy and Rory aboard where a lot is explained: how the crew is there, what their purpose is, who and what River Song is.

Just when things are looking bleak (except for the torturing of River Song, which thrilled my heart), the Doctor shows up in top hat and tails, asking, "Doctor Who?"  The Teselecta tells them something about how the Silence (which is not a race but a religious order) believes that "Silence will fall" when the First Question is asked...said question unknown.  As the Doctor lays dying, River (who is unaware of who she is), is moved to go against her lifelong training and saves the Doctor...conveniently giving up all her remaining regenerations along the way.  Now, she is restored, and we end at what we see is River Song's beginning of her career as an archaeologist...where she is looking for a good man.

I feel overwhelmed with my feelings of sorry disappointment at River's Secret (and the whole of this season of River Song).  For me, River's Secret was a parody, a spoof of Doctor Who.  I know I fight a lonely battle, for River's Secret is highly praised.  I, however, can only offer up my own conclusions as to why River Song and River's Secret is a mess. 

As I watched Part 1, I thought that it was going to be a Doctor-lite episode, given how director Peter Hoar (Richard Senior directing Part 2) kept holding the Doctor's appearance back...and back...and back, until having his big reveal.  That aspect was one of the few good ones, but everything else in Part 1 was so jumbled that I felt that a lot was thrown in just for kicks.  It was a cavalcade of guest stars, guest characters, and guest events from previous episodes that one wondered if it was suppose to be a nostalgia trip, as I called it, The Doctor's Greatest Hits

That wasn't the worst aspect about having a Silurian or Sontaran or the intergalactic R.A.F. buzzing about Demon's Run.  The worst aspect is that this being the case, we see the Doctor didn't solve the situation of rescuing Amy on his own...all he did was call in some favors.  If one wants to go back to the past, I thought it was rather generous of the Doctor to go and get help from creatures that one year earlier had all conspired to lock him up in the Pandorica.  In fact, I couldn't help but think River's Secret Part 1 WAS similar to The Big Bang Parts 1 & 2 but with one twist: this time they were helping rather than incarcerating the Doctor. 

You have great villains introduced, these Headless Monks, and you really don't do anything with them.  They don't take a large role in the proceedings in Part 1 (and are nowhere in Part 2) so I wondered what point they had in the story.  Add to that, when they do appear to be menacing, they have what appear to be lightsabers.  Seriously, they looked like lightsabers (or am I again, the only one who thought that?), and with their robes, one couldn't help think Obi-Wan was hiding under there. 

When we're introduced to The Big Twist, it isn't either particularly original or shocking.  The names Melody=Song, isn't too hard to work out.  However, and here's where I would argue Stephen Moffat got it wrong, it only works if you diminish Rory to a mere sperm donor.  River Song and Melody Pond being one and the same only works if the child is given the mother's name rather than the father's. 

Yes, it is probable that Amy never took on her husband's name (although sometimes I refer to her as Amy Pond-Williams), but how is it likely that their child would bear her mother's maiden name and not her husband's name?  It's almost amusing how quick Amy is to dismiss Rory's idea that his daughter should not bear his name.  I think Moffat, like most writers, has a set pattern, and he likes water-themed names (Pond, River).  He wrote Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2 (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead), so when the chance came to put his creation River Song into his series of Doctor Who, he hit on the fact that his other creation had another body of water in her name. 

Stephen Moffat looks upon River Song for the first time.

Stephen Moffat had fallen in love with his own creation.  River Song was going to be beloved, the Icon of Icons, but some of us have built up stiff resistance to her.  My biggest beef with River Song is that whenever she's on screen, she dominates to where the show starts revolving around her.  I'm old-school in that Doctor Who should be about The Doctor, not about his Companions, and certainly not about a secondary character like River Song.  In Part 1, the Doctor waits for HER!  He can't do it without HER!  She, River Song, is at the center of everything, and I still won't accept that Doctor Who is not about the Doctor.  I could take an episode around Romana, or Sarah Jane, but River Song?

My second point of contention with River Song is the fact that she is now part-Time Lord.  It's not because she is the Doctor's daughter (been there, done that), but because she was conceived on the TARDIS.  I was, granted, unaware the machine had THAT much power, but am I the only one who thinks the whole idea absurd?  If that's the case, all the Doctor has to do is turn the TARDIS into a brothel and he can bring back the Time Lords back from extinction. 

It is amazingly difficult to embrace Part 1, but Part 2 (if thought of as a stand-alone episode) is not only a disaster, it's downright laughable.  The little people inside the big human-sized robot?  Didn't Eddie Murphy do that in Meet Dave?  While watching Part 2, I was dismayed to see Moffat decided to do a spoof of Doctor Who.  Why do I call it a spoof?  It has to do with the "witty banter" River and the Doctor have in Hitler's office.  When River finally comes out to kill the Doctor, they constantly up the other:

I knew you'd do XYZ, so I did ABC.

I knew you knew, so while you did ABC I did DEF.

I knew you knew I knew, so while you did DEF I did GHI.

I knew you knew I knew you knew, so while you did GHI I did JKL.

You get the picture, but in case you don't, I have one for you:

The Comic Relief special The Curse of Fatal Death played hilariously with this one-upsmanship convention, but that was MEANT to be ridiculous (if endearing).  In Part 2, it doesn't have the same effect.  Upon learning that Moffat wrote The Curse of Fatal Death, was he merely recycling old jokes in order to be funny?  If he meant Part 2 to be a comedy,  I'll be the first to admit I didn't get the joke.

If we go over Let's Kill Hitler, I think that, in hindsight, nearly everything about it was meant to be one long joke.  From the poisoned lips of Poison Ivy...I mean, River Song, to the aliens inside the Teselecta being 'beamed up' a la Star Trek, the identity of 'Mels' (it has to be too obvious to not get it), and the killer's reluctance to complete her mission (which made me think of The Naked Gun), as a drama the thing is a disaster.  As a comedy, it does much better.

Still, was it all meant to be a comedy? 

If one thinks about it, the second part is worse than the first.  Hitler is irrelevant to Let's Kill Hitler.  Mels could easily have had us go kill the Kaiser or Torquemada or Genghis Khan or Augusto Pinochet.  It might be funny to have Hitler thrown into the cupboard, but somehow, again, the whole second act could have taken place anywhere in time and space.  There was no point to Hitler (a statement more true than anything here), so Let's Kill Hitler is really not a truthful title, merely a catchy one. 

That isn't to say that River's Secret does indeed have some good things.  As much as I deride River Song, that does not extend to Alex Kingston, who in her last moments, recovering in the hospital, almost moved me (although I confess to being thrilled to see such an obnoxious character being tortured).  I also thought Arthur Darvill as Rory has grown from being the bumbling idiot from The Eleventh Hour to someone Amy might possibly leave the Doctor for. 

Smith, on the other hand, has now almost completely annoyed me as The Doctor.  I was one of his champions, and while Part 1 showed the angrier side to the Doctor, Part 2 only reinforces two things about the Smith Era: 1.) the Doctor's a bit of a joke, and 2.) he isn't the most important character in Doctor Who.  Appearing in top hat and tails (and all but singing Puttin' On the Ritz) was already silly.  Having him say, "Doctor...Doctor Who?" is just groan-inducing. 

As a side note, if we find that the First Question is either "Who is The Doctor?" or "Doctor Who?" or any variation thereof, I might just never watch another Doctor Who episode post The Wedding of River Song

I won't object to the idea that River Song doesn't know who she is after her second regeneration, but I do wonder how the little girl who regenerates at the end of Day of the Moon Part 2 in New York City 1970 ended up in Scotland and in the early 00s.  Here's where things are getting a bit tricky:

IF Amy is seven in 1996 when The Eleventh Hour starts, that would put her birth year as 1989 (which is close to Gillan's year of 1987.  Rory could be a little older, and given Darvill's birth year is 1982, it can work).  HOWEVER, when the little girl regenerated (and it's established in Let's Kill Hitler that the little girl from Day of the Moon Part 2 IS indeed River Song), the year is 1970 (since it takes place six months after the lunar landing of July 20, 1969).

In order for us to believe any of this, we have to believe that River Song I would not only regenerate from American to British but that somehow River Song II would be able to suspend her aging process to where she could easily pass for someone nearly twenty years younger.  For all this to work, the little girl from Day of the Moon (as played by Sydney Wade, I peg somewhere between six to eight) would have to have remained somewhere around six to eight to have that lifelong relationship with Amy and Rory.

In a purely technical issue, if River Song I were, at the youngest, six, when she first regenerates in 1970, wouldn't it stand to reason that by the time Amy is born in 1989 River Song II would be about twenty-four?  That, therefore, would mean that River Song II (who is revealed to be Mels, Amy and Rory's lifelong friend), would be old enough to be Amy's mother!

Timey-wimey indeed.

Also, if I remember correctly, River Song I knows she'll be all right because she knows the process of regeneration.  When I first watched it, it made me think the little girl had perhaps regenerated before.  So we have a case where the final River Song could be River Song IV rather than III.

Timey-wimey double indeed.

I know this may all sound so idiotically nerdy, so maddenly super-specific to where I appear to forget that it's all a fiction (like those Trekkies obsessed over the number of horses on Kirk's ranch), but somehow I'm not buying any of this.  It may be that I may be the one mistaken by the time frame, that maybe I am getting myself hopelessly confused, and that the smarter set will put things right.  However, I'm going by what information I got from both Day of the Moon I & II and River's Secret I & II, and that makes me think that everything about River Song is illogical. 

For me, River Song is at the heart of what is wrong with River's Secret and with the first part of Doctor Who Series/Season Six.   SHE is the focus of the story (and perhaps the season), SHE is the center of attention, and somehow, despite Moffat's best efforts, I can't bring myself to watch a series about THAT WOMAN.   River's Secret, especially Part 2, almost appeared to play as parody.  Again, maybe it was the intention to make this two-parter into a comedy, something to laugh about. 

It's obvious then that I didn't get the joke. 

Rory Williams Death Count
In Episodes: Zero
Overall: Four


Next Episode: Night Terrors

Damn This River!

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