Why I Love River Song
Guest contributor Andrew Gledhill-Carr gives a positive take on the divisive character.
Professor River Song. I think it’s fair to say that she is very much marmite in the show. Fans hate her. Fans love her. Some fans just don’t care. I’ll start by saying that I am far across the loving side and I’d like to explain why I feel she is a great addition to the show and speculate on her future in Doctor Who.
When the Series Four two-parter, Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead, aired back in 2008 I was sold on the character. Instantly. When it was revealed she knew a future Doctor, I wondered whether it would be a mystery pushed to the back, never to be revisited again. So it was to my delight to later learn that she’d star in several episodes during Matt’s reign as the Doctor.
In her fantastic early episodes River Song certainly stole the show. I think, at the time, what made her rather alluring as a character was the knowledge she held about the Doctor. Initially, the simple fact she was from his future, in that this was a person who had seen a Doctor we had not yet seen, was incredibly mysterious and exciting. But Moffat managed to elevate his game even further by allowing her to know the answer to a question turning fifty years old in just over a months’ time – the Doctor’s name.
I believe that River Song merely knowing this fact is very clever. Not only does it address something that the very core of the show is built around, but it relights the mystery that had once surrounded it into a huge flaming bonfire. Forgive me on this next quote as I have not followed every episode of the classic series, but I don’t believe anyone in the history of the show has had access to this secret. So it is incredibly tantalising to know how very close we are to knowing an answer that, no doubt, we will never actually be told. This alone, for me, has made her character incredibly interesting. She told the Doctor his name, and with that fact, alongside that the Doctor trusts her, it makes us trust her as a character without her even appearing for very long. This makes her believable, which is incredibly important in a character on the show. Strangely, such a thing would only work on Doctor Who, with the titular mystery serving as such a powerful plot and character development technique.
Then there are also her actions around the Doctor. River from the get-go has always been the very definition of flirtatious. She taunts, talks back to the doctor, and in several occasions knows more than the Doctor himself. Now, her flirting appears to be one of the dividing reasons among fans. Some are put off by the behaviour, but I believe it boils down to what people find hilarious and acceptable on the show. I personally find such scenes have me rolling with laughter, especially with the Doctor’s reactions. It is a modern idea, in a modernized show and while it might not sit well with certain fans, it is a nice move in making the show accessible and not exclusively childish. I think this trait sits hand in hand, in being effective for me, with her authority over/with the Doctor.
For any other companion who has not even seen a full series of screen time, these traits would seem out of place, but with River, all her design choices work together in creating a believable character that is so interesting to watch, and that interest stems from how unique those traits are to the show. To see the Doctor up against a woman who can loom right over him, show superior knowledge with cheeky and borderline naughty remarks -disarming him completely on many occasions – is such fun to watch because it is new. It shakes the formula up and throws it out of the window, but most importantly, it is delivered by one of the most brilliant actresses to grace the new series, Alex Kingston.
To a much lesser extent, my enjoyment of River Song is attributed to her story. While the alternatives for her to be Amy and Rory’s daughter can prove more exciting, it still holds a nice place in my heart that the character has grounding in the show. We didn’t have to wait for an eternity to discover her mystery, which was incredibly well developed, and it just feels like she’s been woven nicely into the show’s ever expanding web. But I think there is another aspect to why I feel she is a great character, in that she bridged a gap. The gap between two Doctors, Ten and Eleven. It has been noted many times that Steven Moffat and Matt Smith had a very difficult job at the start of their tenure. They virtually had to start from scratch – new Doctor, new show runner, new companion, new directors, new effects, new producers, new theme tune, new opening. But River was there to add a little bit of consistency to the bygone era of David Tennant. In establishing her as a somewhat trustworthy character the series before, in just one episode, I feel that she really did help in getting to know the new Doctor than say Rose did when Nine regenerated.
To finish, I’d like to bring up an interesting topic of debate – the professor’s future. I think it is fair to say that the scene in The Name of the Doctor could be taken as an ending. The final end for her character. It would certainly sit well with me if that was truly it and that we wouldn’t see her in the near future.
However, I feel the character still has so much more potential left. Especially when you consider that her appearances are not linear. We could meet the very young River again. We could meet older River. Gosh, we could even meet the post-library River once more.
With Kingston’s recent comments opening up the possibility of more returns, I think her interaction with the upcoming, Capaldi-driven; Twelfth Doctor could be incredibly interesting to watch. I’d love to see yet another Doctor’s dynamic with her, we might see a different side to her completely.
I would definitely love to give her a whole series where she’d be the Doctor’s companion. We could yet the flirting die down, or worst case scenario for some fans, explode with flashing colours, and I think it would be really interesting to see her again. She would once more serve the bridging purpose in that she eases the transition between Eleven and Twelve, especially if Twelve proves to be as difficult as Moffat has made him sound. I can certainly imagine the professor slapping him back into reality, but I also think it would do her character well to see at least one more Doctor, in that she had been established as someone who knew several faces of him.
There is also the question of a spin-off, which I could imagine working quite well alongside the main show. I think, when you consider River Song as the closest we would get to a female Doctor, it makes her all the more interesting, as well as being an intelligent way to tackle a question posed many times without insulting anyone’s beliefs for the show.
River Song, to me, truly is a delight to watch and her time on the show has been in nothing but great episodes. Whatever Moffat decides to do with her, or even future show runners, I truly do look forward to.
I’d love to hear your own thoughts on River Song!