The Many Tales of River Song

This is my second post about female time lords in the Doctor Who universe.

River Song and the Eleventh Doctor

River Song and the Eleventh Doctor

River Song, the Human Time Lord:

River Song is a time lord. She is also fully human, proving that becoming a time lord is more about exposure to the time vortex (apparently even in utero) than what planet you come from. Take that, you snobby Gallifreyans!

River Song (born Melody Pond) is the daughter of Amy Pond and Rory Williams. She was conceived on the TARDIS. It’s hard to make a strong argument for the “background radiation” effect of the time vortex on River, since at some point early in her pregnancy Amy was snatched by the Silence, and a clone put in her place, but somehow, River’s singular beginning gives her time lord abilities because the “void stuff” that fills the time vortex changed her DNA.

(If no words except the articles and prepositions made sense to you in that paragraph, you can read up on River Song here.)

Unlike Jenny Who, River can time-travel because she has a vortex manipulator that doubles as a bracelet, and she uses the Doctor’s TARDIS now and then (usually without him knowing). It’s okay, though; she and the Doctor were/are married and she still has a key.

I like a lot of things about River Song; her smarts, her confidence and her irreverence, her risk-taking and her devotion to the Doctor. I especially like the actor who plays her. Alex Kingston is a top-drawer actor and she makes River funny, sexy and dangerous. River is a character who exudes sex appeal and would also make a fun friend… the crazy kind who would say, “I can top that! Here, hold my drink.” I think it’s Kingston’s voice as much as anything that makes River Song come to life.

Hands; River Song holding her TARIS colored diary.

Since the Doctor’s timeline and River’s run in opposite directions (his future is in her past) periodically they get together and update their diaries.

River Song’s story is wrapped up in the television Who-verse, and I don’t think Alex Kingston is free for another series even if anyone were interested in creating a spinoff. River is a character who draws fire from a vocal group of fans for many reasons. For many it’s simply that she is the equal of the Doctor. There are whole sites devoted to hating River Song; and lots of them throw around phrases like, “I hate her attitude,” and, “She thinks she’s the most special girl in the universe.” (No, she does not. That’s Clara Oswald.) Many fans ground their teeth when River delivered one of the funniest lines on Doctor Who ever… telling the Doctor that the TARDIS is not supposed to make its famous wheezing/grinding sound; it does that because he left the brake on. Another fan whined, “River says she knows the Doctor’s name! Why is she so special?” As the UK Guardian put it, “Some fans find River too smug and theatrical.”

For the people who wonder why “River Song is so special” one reason might be that the Doctor married her. The story-arc of the Doctor and River Song is a tragic love story, and for all her quirks, her flippancy and her amorality, there is no doubt that River Song loves the Doctor. She sacrificed her regenerative energy to save his life after she tried to kill him (it’s a long story) and let herself be sentenced to the infamous prison known as the Storm Cage for killing him a second time (it’s a long story) even though he wasn’t dead, (it’s a… yeah, you get it). If mere actions weren’t enough to convince you, you should watch Kingston’s face in several of the River/Doctor episodes, most recently in the 2015 Christmas special “The Husbands of River Song.”

River Song is the only other person we've seen with her own sonic screwdriver. Journal with sonic screwdriver on top.

River Song is the only other person we’ve seen with her own sonic screwdriver.

All that said, River’s story on Doctor Who has been brought to a satisfactory close. Plot-wise, we knew the ending of her story from the first episode we saw her in “Silence in the Library.” The emotional arc of the story played out fully in the last ten minutes of “The Husbands of River Song.”

There is quite a bit of River Song fanfic. Most of it includes the Doctor and some of it’s erotic. They are, after all, married.

I wonder what stories about River solo would be like. River is an archaeologist (we are first introduced to her as Professor Song). She is a mercenary at times; stealing artifacts to sell the highest bidder, but then it also seems like she always has an agenda beneath that, and that she is, although she would laugh at the idea, a chaotic force for good. Or do I mean a force for chaotic good? She is a little bit like Indiana Jones with her skill-set and her disdain for the rules that govern common folks. And River is a character of relationships, so a series of stories where she lone-rangered it, unless it was part of a long con, would probably not be satisfactory.

River needs a team and a purpose, but her stories could be caper stories, like the TV show Leverage. River could use her smarts, cunning and courage to get justice for people who have it denied to them any other way. But… who would she have as a partner? If only there were some other 51st century person who shared her moral code and could understand her history; a character who started as a scam artist, became a hero, and then became a broken hero –someone like, oh, I don’t know, maybe Jack Harkness.

Captain Jack Harkness

Captain Jack Harkness

Harkness (played by John Barrowman) was the team lead, a daring, irreverent hero on the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood. When we first met him on Doctor Who, though, in “The Hollow Child” he was a con artist. His contact with the Doctor changed him, and eventually he took over Torchwood. In “Children of Earth,” Jack is forced to make a terrible decision in order to save Earth. Confronted with this choice, and grieving over the loss of lover and partner Ianto, Jack leaves Torchwood.  Harkness is, I think, forbidden from traveling in time (he can only teleport geographically) but River Song isn’t. There’s no reason she can’t time-flip back to join him, or even grab hubby’s TARDIS, nip back to the 21st century to pick up Jack and pull him forward into the 51st again.

River and Jack are a little too much alike, so this team would need a serious, grounded person to act as 1) a conscience, 2) a voice of reason and 3) a viewpoint for the audience. Who might this be? An earnest young 51st century social worker? An out-of-time social reformer from the 19th century, or the 20th, or a passionate social justice warrior from the 21st? A scholar from the 30th century, from some completely different star system? The possibilities go on for days.

I’d even enjoy reading or watching a story where River confronts, or is confronted by, a group of Gallifreyan Time Lords, angry and fearful that their monopoly on “time-lordness” is being challenged by a human woman. She’d set them straight, and probably get a TARDIS out of the deal, even if she did have to “borrow” it.

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