It’s River Song Day – But Will You Miss Her?

Alex Kingston as River Song

“River Song Day” is the name given to the fifth anniversary of River Song’s first appearance in Silence in the Library, back in David Tennant’s final full season of Doctor Who. It’s possible that we won’t ever see her again, but what I want to know is: would you miss her?

Now, I’m of the opinion that she started out extremely well, a fascinating, mysterious woman, nicely pitched by Alex Kingston who looked pretty stunning in just that spacesuit.

Since then, however, River Song/Melody Pond has gone downhill as her needlessly convoluted storyline and origins collided with performances so camp they would make Servalan look on in envy.

I’ve just been browsing through a few articles about this and found Dan Martin’s post in The Guardian. He claims that “River’s detractors are the people still clinging to the notion of a sexless Doctor.”

I say this is crap. River started brilliantly, but it wasn’t old school Doctor Who fans who turned her into a controversial and divisive character. That was the work of a single old school fan, the one running the show. Even if the above was true, it doesn’t cover the Doctor’s relationship with Romana. Or Jo. Or Sarah Jane. Or Rose.

As someone who has recently bought a cable TV package, I was fortunate enough to be surprised byΒ  Silence in the Library on Watch the other evening. Absolutely brilliant stuff from Moffat with a great guest cast. This was the promise of a mysterious, The Time Traveller’s Wife-inspired future – one that has sadly (in my opinion) developed into a slightly creepy Mrs Robinson-esque releationship thanks to David Tennant’s decision to leave with Russell T Davies.

Matt Smith never looked comfortable opposite Alex Kingston until The Name of the Doctor, an element of self-awareness perhaps nagging him even beyond the portrayed physical awkwardness of his incarnation.

But I’ll tell you what – I’m sad to see the back of River Song. Not because I liked her, but because I feel that Steven Moffat ruined a potentially great character with some truly lazy characterisation. My podKast colleague James McLean has repeatedly bemoaned her metamorphosis into a Mary Sue, and after watching the original River Song of the 2008 run, I can only agree.

What do you think?

58 thoughts on “It’s River Song Day – But Will You Miss Her?

    1. I was disgusted by this article.
      Firstly, do you have any compassion for the doctor? He has had a series of good girlfriends, but i stress that river was his most suitable mate. She challenges him so he won’t get too bug headed, but makes him special in a different loving sort of way to his companions. She is fun and adds a streak of comedy and colour to the whoniverse.
      And you are forgetting she is AMY’S daughter. We all love Amy so we can really grow to stick along side the fun melody pond timeline.
      She is a wonderful character so WTF is wrong with you?

  1. Personally I think a lot of this is harsh.

    The River Song story is much more interesting and fun than The Time Traveller’s Wife either in film or prose, which is really just a load of hokum wearing literary clothes anyway, and doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny or repeat viewing or reading.

    I think Matt Smith has played the relationship well, moving from unease and distrust to affection and playful banter. Love? I think there’s still a level of Olympian Detachment there though.

    The end of The Name of the Doctor implies quite strongly she’s due a return (why does River still appear when Clara’s in the Doctor’s time stream? – spoilers!)

    1. I think it’s possible that she’ll return – but ferociously unlikely. It seemed to me that she said “spoilers” again for old times sake. Her “Goodbye, sweetie,” farewell seemed pretty final to me.

      As for the article, I agree that it was harsh. First of all, I think your opinion is influenced by the fact that she’s no longer a mystery – but mysteries have to be solved. I enjoyed watching her character develop. There was nothing Mary-Sue-ish about her at all. I have my criticisms, but none have to do with River Song. I thought she was a brilliant, heart-breaking, lovely, bad-ass, original character that people could relate to and still be an anomaly in her own right.

      I’ll miss her. A lot.

      1. everything was mary-sue-ish about her. she had no flaws. she knew things that the doctor didnt and in many ways was smart than him which would make her the smartest person ever. not only was she brilliant but also a badass. she was written with pure awesomeness oozing out of the pen. which is why she’s so annoying. she the worst. moffat knows only one kind of woman as cool and its the river song types. fuck “strong” women. give me diverse women. “strong” women aren’t surprising anymore. maybe if we were in the 70’s she would be revolutionary but we’re not so shes 40 years behind schedule. she sucks.

  2. I really like River, I haven’t found her storyline confusing or annoying at all and I still think she’s a wonderful character. As for creepy, I’ve always thought that if there was any creepy it was a 11 regenerations old Time Lord marrying a 3 regenerations old one!

  3. I will miss her a lot, in case she won’t appear again.

    I like her mainly for her briliantly written “convoluted and complicated” (not really) story, not because of her first quite random appearance.

    I hope we will keep seeing her “forever”.

  4. I agree with this post. I loved River with Tennant. She was a more tamed character too. She was the Doctor’s equal. And then Moffatt morphs her into this crazy, sexual character, which made me feel uncomfortable when she was with the Doctor. Not because the Doctor is asexual but because, as you said, it became a Mrs. Robinson sort of thang. And her story became so strange and convoluted and her character seemed to change at the whim of whatever Moffatt needed her to be at the time.
    The Doctor’s Name was great with her, however. She was like Tennant’s River again. Also, 11 also seems much older now and it was more believable. Their parting was beautiful and I felt that we had a great goodbye from her. At least Moffatt did that right.

  5. I will definitely miss her. I enjoyed her storyline, and I think Alex Kingston & Matt Smith had great chemistry.
    Plus, after so many years of watching 40-something men paired off onscreen with women 20 years younger, it’s been nice to see the reverse.

    1. Yes, men have gotten to do that creepy 20 year gap thing for centuries in literature and film, Alex and Matt pulled this reversal on the theme off brilliantly. I wonder sometimes if it’s mostly straight guys who are made uncomfortable by it? It seems like my gay male friends and gay/straight female friends love her and the straight guys not so much. If that’s true, it says a lot about the state of attitudes about sexuality in the current world. Kind of cool. Keep on shaking people up, River!

  6. I will miss River , I like the way she keeps The Doctor off-balance. I am not sure the balance was turned in “The Name of the Doctor” – Alex Kingston is talented and HOT – we lose a realm of possibilities. Alex Happy Day!

  7. I largely agree with Christian’s article and the thing that bugs me the most is that despite the Wedding of River Song up until the Name of the Doctor the show never really made it explicit that the Doctor loves her in that way. To me it cheapens the character and makes him too human, I like my doctor Gallifreyan not human. In short it’s a bit soapy.

  8. I will miss River. I liked the character and the stories so much better than Rose. Rose was never the Doctor’s equal and the ‘love’ story of that just didn’t seem right.

    1. Oh please. At least their relationship was developed over time without endless plot holes. The writers have even been quoted to explain about how in love they were.

  9. I dont understand the problem. In Lets Kill Hitler, River is not yet in love with the doctor, she was just convinced he didnt deserve to die; and even that was more because Amy begged her daughter to calm down.
    We havnt seen her fall in love with him… and who knows which regeneration he was on and how old he ‘looked.’ He loves her as a baby-faced doctor, but also with the history of his first meeting as a 40 yr old himself.

    This limiting concept of age shows how constrained we are by human norms… timelord of 900 years, dating a time travelling woman born in capitivity thousands of years in the future of her own parents’ timeline. We dont even know how old she actually is?! All we know is Alex Kingston’s age.

    But if the stuff we have seen so far is anything to go on, Melody could have become River at 26 with an older body (with aging on reverse to confuse people (lets kill hitler))

  10. I quite liked almost all of River’s appearances. My only problem with the “arc” is that I just didn’t think “The Wedding of River Song” was a very good episode. It was designed to be the lynchpin of the whole story, but it just didn’t work out. Both of her appearances in S7 were great, however. The big S6 arc episodes, “Good Man” and “Wedding,” are a couple of my least favorites, but that’s hardly River Song’s fault – she was hardly even in “Good Man,” and in “Wedding” she was a crappy desperate plot device wearing a River suit.

  11. My issue isn’t the Doctor should be sexless, but I think in the same way if you’re to develop a proper love interest for a character like the Doctor, whose interest in love has been kept ambiguous, dropping him into a full blown relationship backward, will be abrasive for many watchers. The backward aspect, while timey wimey, is frustrating for viewers who don’t click with River because its cemented before it starts; its something that you won’t watch nurture and perhaps even enjoy, no, it’s done before you’ve had a chance to even know the character.
    That’s my big issue with River as a concept, there’s a reason why chemistry and narrative play highly in romances – we like to see the nurture, the reasons and the connections between characters. We got none of that, even at the end, we STILL didn’t see where the Doctor fell for River, just he was meant to.
    That’s before we get to the later Mary Sue application of the character who offers not, like, brilliant at everything, she sorts out plot twists when it suits (Big Bang).
    So yeah, issues with River Song are threefold, initial application, use and as Christian said, lack of chemistry.
    Is it a surprise some people don’t like her with that massive bundle of possible problems (and if you do love her, good for you – I’m jealous, would have made my watching far less grumpy!).

  12. I agree with James. I liked the character at first but she quickly became a easy way for Moffat to explain away or ignore plot holes. “First rule the Doctor lies” I also feel that we missed out on seeing when River falls for the Doctor.

  13. I’ve always loved Alex Kingston. And I’ve always thought she did an excellent job in this role. I think any awkwardness between River and Matt Smith’s Doctor is due to the fact that the Doctor has already seen her sacrifice her life for him. It’s perfectly understandable, given the circumstances.

  14. Agree with Christian 100%. I also feel this compulsion to eventually explain everything that is coming through with Dr Who is going to kill the show (this is very much an American trait). The art of enigma is extremely important with any story – not everything has to be explained. With River at the start we had someone who was clearly very intelligent, resourceful and who had done something very wrong – and for my mind that’s where her character
    should have stayed. The way River has unfolded fom there has been a great disappointment.

    1. Totally agree… Fairly early on the 900 year-old Doctor learns that his best friends baby is the woman he’s locking lips with… how does this make River too old for The Doctor?

      Besides, I think the whole Mrs. Robinson concept was brilliant for Smith’s Doctor.

  15. Interesting comments. I never saw the Mrs. Robinson thing – maybe because Doctor Who has never been about age. I mean most of the stories featured an older man with a younger woman. If that isn’t t old man creepy, why does River fall into the older woman creepy category?

    I will miss her greatly as her sass and wisecracks lent levity to otherwise grim situations.

  16. To me, the River Song romance is a WHOLE lot more believable and real than the Rose “romance”. I find it perfectly understandable that the Doctor would fall for someone quick-witted, sassy, and is more than her own person.I always find it confounding how some fans believe that the Doctor was in “love” with Rose, who was dim, manipulative, and totally dependant on the Doctor.
    So yeah. I’ll miss River Song. Wish it was HER in the 50th and not Rose.

    1. Compared to River, whose entire life revolves around the Doctor? Strange way of thinking.
      Rose got to work the instant she was trapped in the parallel world, I’d hardly call that “dim and totally dependant”. And surely River is manipulative as well?

  17. No i wouldn’t miss her. Series 6 wore out her welcome real quick, she became the Poochie of Doctor Who ( “When Poochie isn’t on screen, everyone should be asking “Wheres Poochie?”” – Homer Simpson).
    So now i wouldn’t be sorry at all to see her go.

  18. I actually like River Song! The changes in characterization didn’t bother me, they made sense – we are seeing River’s life backwards, so it makes sense that the younger versions of her would be more obnoxious, flirty, brash, etc. Although I do prefer the older River seen in the Library episodes, Name of the Doctor and in Angels Take Manhattan, I enjoy watching the younger River as well! I also find the love story between her and the Doctor MUCH more believable than Rose. River is a strong, independent, capable woman. With her, you get the feeling that you’re only seeing a small fraction of her adventures (which I would love to see more of, without the Doctor). Rose….isn’t.

  19. River and eleven? Still a better love story than Rose and ten.

    I would be sad to see her go, because we are missing important parts of her relationship with the doctor.
    We saw him to start knowing her, and whe saw them say goodbye (two times). We saw how she first met him too. Now all that’s missing is the middle part in which both know each other.
    Seeing them in the name of the doctor, I guess that must take place between Angels take manhattan and snowman. if so, crap. It’s what we need to make her character work in retrospect.

    1. I completely agree! As much I loved RIver (Both in their relationship AND as a stand-alone character), I really truly wished that we wold have been able to see more of them falling in love. Seems like a bit of a waste to thorw her away so quckly. (Well, 5 years, but it felt short). I will definitely miss River! Though I do believe it’s possible for her to come back. Possible, but definitely not probable.

  20. I’m still maintaining that even though it seemed like The Doctor was saying goodbye to River, and he was saying goodbye to the River that died in the library and was ‘saved’ in CAL… River is not gone.

    For example: in River’s first appearance, as she was getting ready to sacrifice herself, and they were alone, and no reason for anyone to be lying, The Doctor specfically states that River whispered his name to him, and that there is only one time that he could have told her his name.

    We’re led to believe that this happens in The Wedding of River Song, except it doesn’t. 1) Alternate timeline. 2) At the end of the episode, River specifically states that The Doctor didn’t tell her his name, he told her to look into his eye, which was actually the eye of the Teselecta, and The Doctor was standing in the eye, which gave River the understand that she could let go and proceed with her mission of blasting him to “death” at Lake Silencio.

    Therefore, River still has yet to learn The Doctor’s name, therefore, we have seen how all this actually gets started yet, therefore River is going to return. Moffat is a tricky trickster.

    1. Of course he’ll make her return, he invented the character. He’ll milk it for as long as possible.

  21. I enjoyed her to start with but as times gone on I found her to be a bit like a menopausal aunt, I don’t know if that’s the writing or the performance. I think she just hasn’t gelled as well as its gone on. It’s difficult because we see her at different points in life which is a bit jarring as its all out of sequence. I also wasn’t a fan of how Amy and Rory seemingly got on with the loss of their daughters whole childhood but all these ideas ive just knocked are imaginative and interesting and I respect Steven Moffat for trying to present the audience with unconventional ideas. I think Steven Moffat admires women and thinks they are generally more savvy than men, a quick look at his track record in Press Gang and Coupling illustrates this. I can see why some fans have not enjoyed seeing this type of character in Doctor Who but once again I admire Steven Moffat for creating assertive female role models, especially in a show like Doctor Who which is watched by little girls. There’s so much pink princess and celebrity crap targeted at girls on particular it’s good to see Doctor Who showing them that yes you can be glamorous or sexy but you can kick arse, be a professor and use your brain as well.

  22. River Song is the sexiest woman on Dr. Who, she is positively brilliant, a major intellect in a great package. All of you haters go away.

    1. “River Song is the sexiest woman on Dr. Who, she is positively brilliant, a major intellect in a great package. All of you haters go away.” – I’m glad that’s sorted, then. If only everything were so cut and dried – we wouldn’t need a comments page or a forum.

  23. Doctor Who has always been a risky show to do, because there’s so much change and the DW team have to keep the fans happy. Steven Moffat took a gamble with River Song and I think it paid off.

    If you watch the episodes in order of River’s time stream her character development is amazing, because we see becoming a less and less well rounded person. She gets less experienced and aged the more we meet her (GREAT acting on Alex Kingston’s part). In TV shows usually the more you see a character the more you come to understand them and accept them, with River this is hard, because each time you meet her she’s a little less than the one you saw the time before.

    As for Eleven’s attitude toward River. A) He’s wary at the start of who she is and what she means to him and B) Would you want to get close to someone if you knew you were definitely going to lose them, especially when you’ve lost everyone you were ever close to?
    That’s why their Dynamic was so great in The Name of The Doctor … because he’d already lost her, he couldn’t lose her again, and he’d come to terms with that.

  24. I agree. I think, though there are kidn fo similar characters, or at least get the same kind of hate, that River was the stronger character. She just fit better with her Doctor (11) than Rose fit with 10. Now Rose fit beautifully with 9, but with 10, it jsut started feeling like a young girl with a misguided crush on a teacher. For me, it always felt one-sided between 10 and Rose, and River and 11 just clicked better IMO

    1. Well, up until The Angels Take Manhattan, River and 11’s relationship was pretty one-sided too:

      Look at “The Wedding of River Song” – the Doctor married River out of necessity so that time would reset itself, not because he necessarily loved her.

      Before then, River was doing all the chasing and was far more openly affectionate. Her secrecy also made the Doctor far too suspicious of her.

  25. I’m definitely a River Song fan, and I adore Alex Kingston, but I believe that her story should end here. The character’s been taken as far as she can, and I don’t really see any good reason to bring her back.

  26. I wont miss her, I always felt Alex Kingston was miss cast in the role, although I do think she is a good actress, the character of River Song is sassy and clever and yet I felt her portrayal was too hammed up. I also never felt that the chemistry between her and Matt Smith was there.
    She also had the most irritating catchphrase of ‘spoilers’.

    1. The catchphrase had a purpose so I’m not sure what’s irritating about that. Easiest way to convey “I can’t tell you, that would screw up your timeline.”

  27. River Song is the reason I watch Dr Who regularly now, as opposed to on a whim. If it’s truly the end of her it may be the end of my diligent fanship. I miss her , more than any other character and want very badly for her to be in the 50th anniversary. I only wish the doctor returned her affection more believably , but in the finale we see it better. the love of an actual husband. anyway, her character could gain regenerations and continue to guest star sporadically as semi-estranged wife indefinately. different actresses could play her eventually. id like that.

  28. A Mary Sue is a self-insertion of the author into the story. Unless there’s something Moffat is not telling us, like he’s actually a drag king or he has the hots for Tennant and Smith, River Song is not a Mary Sue.

    It is wish-fulfillment for the AUTHOR, not for the fans.

    There’s a whole world out there in Google-land just waiting to be dug up. If you don’t know what a term means, look it up before you write with it.

    1. I advise you to do the same. There are alternative definitions for things and I find it odd that you’re not familiar with the most common one.

  29. I don’t get why everyone’s hating on River Song, or comparing her to Rose. I think River is an amazing character and she makes the series just that much more fun to watch. I love her sass and the way she converses with the Doctor, especially Matt Smith. I think they’re a great pairing. It’s pointless to compare her to Rose. Rose’s relationship with the 9th/10th Doctors was completely different to River’s with 11. Rose’s innocence in matters surrounding the universe was what pulled the Doctor to her in the first place– he could re-invent himself with her. She took away his anger. River was there to keep the Doctor from getting too arrogant.

  30. I have to agree with this article. A potentially good character gone to waste. She’s been around for 2 and a half seasons even devoting season 6 only for her but it’s still unsure who and what exactly is her purpose. Even “the Doctor’s future wife” is supposedly an understatement but I think that’s all she is. She’s supposed to be badass but no, she carries guns and all-knowing but at the end of the day she’s useless in a prison cell only always waiting for the Doctor. That sucks.

  31. I love River Song and I know she has signed up for season 8 so we will see her again!
    The day River leaves Doctor Who is the day I stop watching. I just can’t imagine a Doctor Who without a River Song.
    I have watched the show since it began so I am a true fan but River changed the series for me and made it something special. He finally had an equal in River and I loved seeing them together.
    As for people saying that he is sexless, they clearly had sex! She even said so in The Silence episodes! ‘I’m quite the screamer’.
    I love the episode of the Doctor being in love with someone and physical with them. It gives the show a sort of romantic magical feel to it.

  32. I adored River Song. She is smart, brave, complicated, loving, sassy, witty, filled with fire, independent, a rogue. She really knew the Doctor and accepted him completely. She sacrificed everything for him and saw more than a body, which many of you seem unable to do, she saw him. River Song loved unconditionally and retained complete independence. She said she would travel anywhere with him but not continuously. She didn’t need him. She loved him. I don’t understand how people can say she was pointless or disappointing. She was enveloped by the Doctor and retained her sense of self. She will always be “the woman who married the Doctor” and even though we the audience didn’t see it, he came to love her- obvious in “the name of the Doctor”.

    The arguments against her confuse me, because it seems those arguments come from people who are passionate about Doctor Who and don’t understand the show. Rose and 10 yes. Doomed though and a simple love. The Doctor is over 1200 years old, and regenerates, him but not him. and his heart continues to love and show kindness. Of course he finds love over and over. Rose has her Doctor. River has hers. He is theirs. I am an avid River Fan, I will really miss her. Her story was brilliant, her characters reversed development wonderful and her relationship with 11 dynamic and fun and heartbreaking.

    She was an asset, a brilliant story line I NEVER saw coming and I defy anyone to tell me they did. Melody Pond. HOLY.SHIT. If I had my way she would be there always or they would at least make episodes of their mentioned adventures together. Rose was special. River was special. I want River back. BUT I know Doctor Who and I accept timey whimey, hundreds of years of travel and adventures and new faces. Do you? I can’t wait to see the new seasons. I loved Rose. I adore River. For goodness sake the show is amazing, be kind to one another, do you think the Doctor would approve of fans attacking each other because of different opinions? That attitude doesn’t get you invited on the damn TARDIS πŸ˜‰

  33. I really had mixed feelings about River. She started out as an amazing character, perfectly cast, with a great deal of potential but I think a lot of her exposition and development were badly mishandled. Aside from Moffat using her as a sort of get out of jail free card, which was mildly annoying but still bearable, she was fine in terms of her presence in the plot. As the series rolled on many questions were answered about River concerning her origins and past, but some big issues concerning her character have not.
    The audience gets no opportunity to really see much development between her and Doctor because their relationship is established from the get-go; the chemistry I believe is there but two characters swapping banter and flirting does not make a marriage, and Moffat’s failure to display almost any of their real relationship (outside of the hamminess and crises and comic relief) I think has alienated a lot of fans because it just feels like they magically know each other really well without ever having gotten to know one another.
    Another problem which seems to be present for some fans and not others is her personality. Personally, I loved River’s first appearances. She was competent, funny, and mature, and seemed genuinely care about the Doctor — and as her timeline regressed she grew sassier, more reckless, and less compassionate, and in my opinion more childish and abrasive. This made sense plotwise as she was getting younger, but it took a toll on her likability for fans who aren’t into Moffat’s usual female archetype of the overconfident, flirtatious and clever bombshell (who, incidentally, rarely has to deal with any consequences when her behavior grows questionable). She also had a bit of a tendency toward showing the Doctor up, which turned some fans off (along with possibly breaking continuity, which is a habit of Moffat’s… if the TARDIS sound is him leaving the brakes on then why did Romana and the Master do it too?).
    I also have to say I didn’t really like how River was so oversexualised, but that’s both a personal qualm and a complaint more against Moffat (who, sadly, has also been guilty of this with the Doctor) than River herself.
    I guess I’d say it’s time for her to go. Even for those who love her absolutely, she’s had a good run and I think 12’s arrival is the perfect time for a fresh start.
    As for the comments about River being better than Rose — they are completely different characters and, as Ellie said, have entirely different relationships with the Doctor. Whether you like Rose or not, she has no place in this discussion, and claiming River is better than Rose as a defense of her character is not a valid argument.

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