My, how sporadic, out-of-sequence time does fly. It was five years ago today that the sci-fi viewing public got its first glimpse of the mysterious (and good-lookin’) Professor River Song, the pseudo-non-companion of our favorite Time Lord. On May 31st, 2008, the first episode in which she appeared, “The Silence in the Library” premiered on BBC One, back before it aired day-and-date in the US. Since then, River (played by the fantastic Alex Kingston) has appeared in 13 episodes (plus a few epilogues and stuff), effectively giving her her own series.
She is 100% a creation of writer Steven Moffat, and she’s one of the very few companions who has only ever been written by one person. She’s also the only character in Doctor Who history to have their birth and (ostensible) death shown onscreen, albeit in the wrong order. As this is her fifth anniversary, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the life and times of River Song in her own chronological order, as best we know it.
While her consciousness is inside a Ganger, Amy Pond’s body is lying on Demon’s Run, preggers to all get-out, a prisoner of Madame Kovarian. Because Amy and Rory consummated their marriage aboard the TARDIS, the child comes out part Time Lord. Makes sense, right? (Does that mean all Time Lords are conceived inside of TARDISes? Boudoirs come standard, do they?) Despite the best efforts of the Doctor, Rory, Vastra, Jenny, Strax, Doriam, and a whole battalion of Silurians for some reason, Melody Pond is removed from her parents and taken to Florida in the 1960s. Why?
Kovarian and the Silence are brainwashing Melody to become the one who kills the Doctor. Her mother, not knowing who she is, shoots her in the helmet. Eventually, young Melody escapes and regenerates in Washington, or someplace like that. It is in this form that Kovarian (or a Silent perhaps) takes Melody to Leadworth in the ’90s so that she could grow up alongside her parents.
The girl named Mels grows up being best friends with Amy and Rory and is always getting into huge amounts of trouble. Even though Amy is the one the Doctor appeared to when she was wee, Mels is always the one talking about him. Almost as though she had been brainwashed to do so by an evil group of bastards. Even though they don’t know it yet, the Ponds DID get to see their daughter grow up. Melody does not go to the Pond-Williams nuptials, nor is she even mentioned by anyone, but she eventually tricks the Doctor and her parents to coming to a corn field whereupon she kidnaps them at gunpoint and wants to go on a TARDIS trip to kill Adolf Hitler.
It’s not everyone who can say they were shot by the most evil vegetarian painter to have ever lived, but Mels has this distinction. She begins to regenerate, completely befuddling Amy, Rory, and the Doctor, until she emerges as the frizzy-haired vixen we know. She attempts to kill the Doctor with poison and, upon believing she has done so, decides to make a real mess of things in Berlin in 1938. Luckily (or unluckily) there’s a Tesalecta there as well, to kill/capture Hitler, but they turn their focus onto Melody, as she’s the one who kills the Doctor. Through some Teselecta trickery, Melody realizes that she’s River Song, this important woman everyone keeps talking about, and she realizes that she sort of likes that Doctor fella. Sacrificing all of her regeneration energy, she bestows it upon the Doctor to save his life. He gives her a blue, TARDIS-looking notebook full of her spoilers and she goes off to study archaeology to be able to find him throughout history.
It wasn’t her fault, really. She was compelled to do it by Kovarian and the Silence. Why it had to be in an Apollo astronaut suit and why it had to be in Utah in 2011 is anyone’s guess. Mine, for example. I think the Silence just like to have a bit of fun. They like to make people go “Wha?!” Since nobody can ever remember looking at them unless they’re looking at them still, confusing people must just be their way of having fun. Or, Steven Moffat had an image in his head and couldn’t really be bothered with the why. At any rate, this is what gets River sent to Stormcage prison, from which, of course, she can easily escape. But she always goes back, out of guilt most likely. And so the Doctor can always find her. Oh, but the Doctor didn’t die, of course. It was just a Teselecta. And there was the whole aborted timeline thing where the two of them got married. She never really shakes that.
We don’t see it onscreen, but when Rory goes to River to get her help in the Demon’s Run victory/debacle, she says she’s just come back from the Doctor taking her to see Lil Stevie in 1814. Rory implores her to come, but she says she can’t yet.
Event 7 – River Explains Who She Is (“A Good Man Goes to War”)
After everything bad happens and all hope is lost, River finally appears (and gets screamed at by her mother, rightly so). It’s at this point that she reveals to the Doctor, via TARDIS’ translation circuits and a thing sewn by a fallen cleric, that the translation in some alien tongue of “Melody Pond” is “River Song,” as the only water in the forest is the river. So, even though Melody’s been taken, Amy and Rory know she’s all right since she’s clearly standing right in front of them.
The next thing we know River does is travel to Utah in 2011 to meet up with the Doctor, Rory, and Amy after the Doctor’s very long (couple hundred years) absence. They make their way to Lake Silencio for a picnic. The Doctor knows what’s about to happen, but River also knows what’s about to happen since she’s already done it. She’s good at pretending she’s seeing something for the first time, though. Once the Doctor “dies” she and the others (and old Canton Deleware III) burn his body in a boat in the middle of the lake. They then go back to the diner and the Doctor (from not long after he dropped the Ponds off post-honeymoon) appears. They travel to 1969 for the moon landing, meet President Nixon, fight and defeat the Silence, and then she’s brought back to Stormcage, where she kisses the Doctor for the last time… sort of.
Event 9 – Cleopatra Song (“The Pandorica Opens”)
After receiving a panicked phone call from Winston Churchill regarding a peculiar painting done by Vincent Van Gogh, River escapes from Stormcage again, the dickens, and steals a vortex manipulator from poor Dorium Maldovar. She uses this to travel to Spaceship UK to meet briefly with Liz “The Bloody Queen, Mate” 10, whereupon she sees the painting for herself. To get the Doctor’s attention, she writes a message at the zero point of the universe, the oldest written message in recorded history, which of course says “Hello, Sweetie” with coordinates. She goes to the year 102 AD and, using her hypnotic lipstick, convinces a Roman legion that she’s Cleopatra. (This is LITERALLY all in the pre-credit sequence to this episode.) Showing the Doctor the painting (of the TARDIS exploding), she takes him and Amy to Stonehenge under which is the fabled Pandorica, which houses the most hated thing in the universe. She gets trapped in the TARDIS timeloop of constant explosion after finding out that Amy’s memory is what created all this stuff.
Event 10 – River Sort Of Brings the Doctor Back (“The Big Bang”)
The universe is imploding due to the TARDIS exploding, so the Doctor flies the Pandorica into it to throw himself into the crack and reverse the bad stuff. Effectively, he’s erased from existence. However, River brings the blue diary the Doctor gave her to Amy and Rory’s wedding so that she will remember the Doctor back into existence, which, of course, she does. After the wedding, River tells the Doctor he’ll soon find out about her and she gives him even more cryptic information about their relationship.
River is brought out of Stormcage by a group of military clerics. A ship called the Byzantium, which was transporting a Weeping Angel, crash-landed, and they need her help in making sure it doesn’t get all zappy. She gets the Doctor’s attention via some crazy-go-nuts heist movie stuff involving the black box of the ship as it’s crashing, which he sees in a museum 12,000 years in the relative future, and he arrives just in time to save her as she flies out into space. Together, she, the Doctor, and Amy make their way through a whole horde of Weeping Angels until they can be sucked into the crack in space and time.
Event 12 – Dinner with the Folks (“The Wedding of River Song”)
Immediately after dealing with the Angels, River goes to see her mother directly after the Doctor has died, as far as they know. Post-“Closing Time,” I’m thinking. She tells Amy, and eventually Rory, that the Doctor isn’t in fact dead and that she was privy to him being in the Teselecta. They dance around in the garden.
This is the one that’s not necessarily easy to pinpoint. Still, it seems like she has memories of everything we’ve seen up to this point at this point. River, under the alias “Melody Malone,” is the subject of a series of pulp detective novels that are actually a way of trying to get the Doctor to find her in Manhattan in 1938. Seems there’s a guy who is being menaced by the Weeping Angels because he’s got one of them chained up in his study. In an old hotel, they find Old Rory, who’s been trapped by the Angels as a source of food-energy. Their attempts to stop it results in a paradox that spits everybody back out in the present, only for Rory and Amy to be zapped again by the Angels to the ’30s. And apparently, the Doctor can’t just go get them. It’s here, in the graveyard in NYC, that River and the Doctor see the graves of the Ponds. The Doctor, lonely and despondent, asks River to come with him, but she says no for seemingly no reason. She should have, in retrospect.
Event 14 – Who Turned Out the Lights? (“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”)
River helps an expedition by a jerky rich guy to reclaim the universe’s largest library, a planet full of books. She calls the Doctor, who arrives with Donna Noble and no idea about why the planet is entirely devoid of humans. Well, dummies, it’s because the Vashta Nerada, flesh-eating shadow mites, have ravaged everyone and are slowly doing the same to the small band who are there. The computer in the library is smart, though, and saves people to a virtual world, which it does to Donna. River is crushed when she finds out that this Doctor is younger than she’s ever seen before and has no recollection of her at all. The Doctor attempts to hook himself up to the data core of the library to free all of those “saved” within it, knowing it will likely kill him. River knocks him out and does it herself, because if he dies here they will never have met. And, to be fair, it means River won’t exist anymore because her parents would never have boned in the TARDIS to create her. Big picture, Song. Anyway, she dies, but her data ghost is saved and the Doctor is able to upload her to the mainframe where she hangs out with all the other dead but “saved” people.
River’s mental image is brought in to assist Madam Vastra with the quandary of the Doctor’s name, the Whisper Men, and the Great Intelligence. The mental conference call connects their minds and she doesn’t sever hers with Clara Oswald when the others are kidnapped by the Whisper Men. It seems as though only Clara can see River, who helps guide them through the fields of Trenzalore, but when Clara sacrifices herself to save the Doctor’s time stream, River’s “ghost” is still there and the Doctor, it turns out, can both see and hear her. He didn’t want to say goodbye, the selfish man that he is, but he finally does and River’s image fades away, perhaps never to be seen again.
Now, it’s quite possible they could bring Ghost River back, or show us River from a point earlier in her life that hasn’t been televised, but this really felt like a good place to end the River Song story, allowing the character a true finale instead of the one we all saw first. Love or hate her, Mary Sue that she often is, it’s inarguable that River Song is singular in Doctor Who canon and an integral part of the Eleventh Doctor/Steven Moffat tenure.