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River Song: A Love-Hate Relationship

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Guest contributor K-Ci Williams examines the divisive nature of the character.

Nowadays in Doctor Who, there seems to be a pattern of female characters in Steven Moffat’s scripts. Arguably, they are the only type of female character Moffat is strong at writing for. In recent years, there have been flirts, seductresses and teases, and then there’s River Song, claimed as Doctor Who’s femme fatale. We all know her story: her timeline runs back to front with the Doctor’s. River Song was conceived on a bunk bed in the TARDIS on the Ponds’ wedding night, raised to execute the Doctor and somewhere along the line, she fell in love with him. Her timeline and relevance to the story arc is complicated, and her recurring involvement in the show has angered many fans, who are now tired of her storyline. So, in anticipation of River Song’s return in The Name of the Doctor, I will explore the character and along the way will work towards answering the question – Is River Song a character beyond redemption?

Regular readers of DWTV may know that I absolutely adore the character of River Song. Right from the off in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead (2008), she stood out to me. Her mystery was what made her so interesting. A woman who knew the Doctor’s name and was supposed to be in the Doctor’s future. At this point, she was intriguing as the stories would never be told. Then, hello! Steven Moffat is the showrunner and brings her back for all of his series (so far). But what is very annoying is how her storyline was subsequently handled by Moffat. Had it been slowly unfolded throughout the Moffat era, I would be fine. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the character, but the reveal of her identity was tackled in the wrong way.

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One thing I’ve always admired about Steven Moffat is how he can just utterly gobsmack me while watching an episode. River Song is his baby, and throughout the course of Series 6, he dropped that baby so many times. Many Whovians have expressed their love of Series 5 River, while discarding Series 6 River. My biggest issue with River is how obviously written she was to the Doctor. The biggest rule in fiction is “show, don’t tell”, yet Moffat’s creation and moulding of the character to be a seductress who screams “I’m slightly infuriating, we banter endlessly, I’m a psychopath, but I’m just so sexy so you have to fall for me” definitely contradicts this. I hate it when writers try to force characters down the throats of the fans, just so they become likable. Russell T Davies had just spent four successful series and a set of specials redefining the Time Lord as a peaceful diplomat who only fights if he has to, accompanied by companions who echo those qualities. So then why would he fall in love with River Song?

Series 6 is usually known as the series of ‘River Who’ as it was literally all about finding out River’s true identity. We have always seen her in a back-to-front way and rather than witnessing her development from a psychotic mess into a loving, strong-willed woman, we saw her change from that preferred River Song into the woman who would murder the Doctor. This means that we fell in love with her in the beginning, and ended up disliking the character.

Is River Song a character beyond redemption? No. The thing about Doctor Who, even though Steven Moffat’s intricate plots (that often turn to plot holes) are highly confusing, is that the Doctor can meet River Song again. It can be assumed that they can meet at any time nowadays, after the unexpected meeting in The Angels Take Manhattan (2012), in relation to the supposed ‘my future’s his past’ concept.

[Mild Series 7 Finale Spoiler]: Now that we will meet post-Library River Song in The Name of the Doctor, there is a chance she can be fully redeemed. But will she? Who knows? Well… we know who knows, but only time will tell…

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