I was in a good mood but then ignorance on the interwebs came through. People occasionally (usually) suck. But this is my source of happy, well one of them anyway. Today’s topic is one of my favorite characters to ever grace the screen, occasional bad writing aside, River Song.
River Song, for my non-Whovian audience members, is one of the many companions, but a very one of a kind companion, of the Doctor on the longest running science fiction show Doctor Who. I am a huge Whovian; currently in mourning because of the loss of Twelve but very excited for the first female Doctor.
River is played to perfection by the enigmatic and absolutely stunning Alex Kingston. We are introduced to her in the Steven Moffat penned two-parter “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” in season 4 of the newest Doctor Who series. River shows up knowing the Doctor but he doesn’t know her. This is not an entirely new concept for the show, for instance in the episode “Blink” in season 3 of the new Doctor Who one of the characters meets the Doctor out of order as well but this was different though because it is very clear that River knows him very well.
In these two episodes we fall in love with Dr. River Song, archaeologist, who is whip smart, adventurous, brave, self-sacrificing and loyal. She has all the qualities that make us love the Doctor, they make a great team right off the bat. I honestly wish we had more episodes with her and the tenth Doctor or Ten (played by David Tennant). These two episodes were actually part of my Doctor Who supplemental education when I taught English abroad and my students loved them. It is a great two-parter, filled with great character beats that Moffat does excel at when he is writing individual episodes.
When Moffat took over from Russell T. Davies as the showrunner River’s story was expanded and she became a recurring character during Eleven’s run as the Doctor. As it turns out River Song is a time traveler as well, meeting the Doctor all out of order. River was only a sometimes companion for Eleven whose main companions were the awesome Rory and Amy, who end up connected to River in a surprising way. I would say more but as River would say “Spoilers”. Watching River and the Doctor synchronize their trips through River’s TARDIS notebook filled with all of her stories of her trips with the Doctor, and the Doctor trying to figure who exactly she is to him, was so much fun that kept the viewers guessing. It was great to see the Doctor so off-kilter, River was the one with the upper hand so much of the time and it was nice to see. An off-kilter Doctor became the theme, and honestly overdone, once Clara, a companion introduced after Amy and Rory’s time with the Doctor came to an end, showed up but that’s a whole nother story for another day.
River has popped up several times in the show since and has appeared in Christmas Specials and in radio programs. Apparently she was initially meant to be a one-off, the character created purely for the season 4 two-parter and later expanded. I love characters like that, ones that essentially come to life for you and you can’t put them away. That’s definitely River, she sticks with you, I find myself constantly hoping she’ll pop up again and then she does so I imagine the writers feel the same about her as well. One of coolest things that I have recently learned about River is that she was inspired by the main character in The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenenger, a book I adore whose film adaptation I despise without even watching. And it makes sense, the excitement and bittersweet of life lived out of order, where the person you love and who loves you, doesn’t quite love you yet because they don’t know you is present in both the book and the show. For me the saddest bit of River’s story was that this person she loved knows a little less each time, it is part of the reason why I have loved River’s (multiple) swan songs since her origin, the fact that she gets to see the Doctor who knows all of her. The other thing that I love about River, that I wished we had seen play on screen, was that she was canonically bisexual. Who knows though, may still happen, the beauty of a show about a time traveler.
P.S. If you know me and love me and ever want to get me something, I want River’s book.