Friday, November 30, 2012

A Companion's Guide: River Song

Name: River Song
Portrayed by: Alex Kingston
Number of episode as a companion: 5
Catchphrase(s): Spoilers!, Hello Sweetie
Home Planet: Earth
Doctor(s): 11th Doctor

First Impressions
River Song might be the singular most interesting character on Doctor Who besides the Doctor himself. Almost always two steps ahead of everyone, including the Doctor, she shows up in the nick of time with some answers, a deliciously red lipsticked smile and usually a heap more problems. Before River Song, the companions have always been smart and resourceful but she brings these qualities to an entire new level.

In the 4th season when Professor River Song first appears, I thought she was cool enough and the way her story concluded broke my heart but I didn't really get her appeal. Enter River Song in Season 5 with her sizzling chemistry with the new Doctor and enough secrets to write an entire tome and I'm sitting up in my chair. She instantly became my favorite character of the new set of companions and as her story began to unfold, I went from fascinated to enraptured.

Going Backwards
What is so fascinating about River Song is the first time we meet her is also the last day she's alive. In "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead", River Song is this wonderful woman who speaks to the 10th Doctor like she knows him even though he's never met her a day in his life. Donna even comments that it's as if they are married. Now, the Doctor is sort of used to this since his life is never really linear and things might have happened to people that he hasn't lived yet but will. But when he decides to sacrifice himself to save all those people inside the library, he is not prepared to get knocked out by River Song so she can replace him.

When the Doctor comes to, he is locked to a pillar and River Song is sitting at the computer terminal which the both know will kill her. The Doctor begs her to let him switch places but she refuses saying it will create a time paradox because then he would never meet her in her past. She goes as far as to tell him it's worth it to have him in her life and she wouldn't trade their time together for the world but when he asks again who she is, all she'll say is "spoilers". Her death is more poignant after you know her later but even right then as I watching, tears leapt to my eyes. You could see how profoundly it affects the Doctor that a complete stranger is willing to save his life and it makes her death so much more beautiful that she does it against her wishes. Knowing that we'll see River Song again makes these episodes all the more haunting because no matter how much you like her and how much she grows on you, we know she's going to die right there, like that and we get the sense that the future Doctor does too. So far, we haven't seen the present Doctor hand River Song his sonic screwdriver but if we ever do then we know she is going off to die. If I ever have to watch that, and knowing this show, I'm sure I will, it's going to kill me.

River the Thief
The next time we see River Song, we have a brand new Doctor (the 11th) and some new companions as well. River shows up dressed in a long slinky black dress, some super high heels and some seriously matte lips in "The Time of Angels". She knows that the Doctor likes to go "look at his accomplishments" in museums and leaves a message with her coordinates and a time. He can't resist a mysterious message for him and shows up just in time to catch River Song as she exits a ship and comes onto to the Tardis. She tells the Doctor to follow that ship and sets them off on a grand adventure with The Weeping Angels. But while River Song is on the Tardis, she tells the Doctor he's driving it wrong and seems able to navigate it better than him. He comments that this can't be the case since it doesn't do it's classic noise but she tells him he's just been leaving the breaks on all this time.

What is interesting about River Song in this episode is how well she knows the Doctor and how clueless the Doctor is about her. This is the same man who always knows what he is doing or is quick enough to improvise when he doesn't and he's reduced to a fool by River Song's quick wit, knowledge of him and that catchphrase you love to love "Hello Sweetie". Even more interesting is the fact that she appears human yet she can drive the Tardis the way no human or Doctor has before.

We find out in this episode that River Song is has stolen onto the first ship to confirm that a Weeping Angel is on board and that she is considered a high profile criminal, currently serving time for murdering "a great man" and tells both Amy and the Doctor that she'll see them when the Pandorica opens. Again, she knows more than the Doctor and tells him when they will meet again. But even more, we always get the sense that River isn't telling the whole truth, that her secrets are greater than we can imagine and the fact that she is serving time for murder really ups the ante. She has never done something bad as far as we've seen her and she has risked her neck several times to save people so what could have driven her to kill someone else?

River Song tells the truth when she tells the Doctor the next time they meet. She gets herself a nice little army ready while waiting for him to follow her clues to 102 AD posing as Cleopatra. There she helps the Doctor find the legendary Pandorica. When they are under attack, the Doctor tells River to bring the Tardis to him but it is controlled by outside forces and lands in Amy's house present day. She finds a bunch of clues that lead her to believe the Pandorica is a trap, warns the Doctor and then gets trapped in the Tardis.

It is so fitting for River Song to once again be a step ahead of the Doctor and I found it to be particularly funny that she decided to pose as Cleopatra. I thought it was an interesting development in their relationship that the Doctor handed over the keys to the Tardis and trusted her to get it to him.

The Tardis traps River in a time loop to save her life and the first thing she does when the Doctor saves her is to shoot off the fez he's been wearing all episode. This speaks volumes about her character. No thank you, no needless words, just straight to the point River Song. For me, these are the last two episodes when River Song knows more than the Doctor. From here on out, she has her secrets but she doesn't really know him as well and can't always anticipate his movements. This makes sense considering the longer he knows her, the shorter she's known him. The timeline for their romance is all out of sync with one always knowing the other a little bit more.

Having Faith
When River Song, Amy and Rory all get Tardis blue colored envelopes in "The Impossible Astronaut", they know exactly who they are going to meet. River is excited to see her Doctor again. All this time she has had a little blue notebook with her adventures in it so they can sync up their lives with the Doctor keeping one as well. They sit down at a table and talk about their adventures and this Doctor has done most of them already. They laugh over the things they experienced together and the Doctor treats them all to a little picnic. Then an astronaut shows up from inside the lake, the Doctor says to stay there and not interfere. There his three closest companions watch him get shot at point blank range and see him try to regenerate only to be shot again.

Amy tries to go to him but it's River who hold her back. I was surprised since River is alays the one changing the rules. She never obeys what the Doctor asks and never does what is expected of her but she holds Amy back even though she is just as horrified as Amy is about the Doctor dying. She has faith that the Doctor knew what he was doing which allowed her to hold back.

The Guns of This Operation
Also in this episode, we see one of the key differences between River Song and her Doctor. She is never happier than when she is standing back to back with him pointing her gun at the baddies while he uses his sonic screwdriver. River Song is a lot more hardened than the Doctor, willing to use lethal force if she seems it necessary. While the Doctor will kill it is almost never with a gun but River Song thrives with a weapon in her hand.

In this episode they get surrounded by The Silence and it is River who unleashes a barrage of bullets that kills most of The Silence and allows them to get out safely. She does this with a smile on her face and with the deadly accuracy of a trained assassin. This lends some credence to the fact that she is in jail for killing a man.

Everything Is Revealed
River Song's bag of secrets is mostly emptied in "A Good Man Goes To War". The whole point of this episode is to get Amy and the baby back from a force of aliens intent on stealing child. Though they succeed in getting Amy, the child is taken and Amy and Rory are devastated. River Song appears at the end of the fight, the only of the Doctor's allies who refused to join him. She does the only thing she can to show Amy and Rory that everything is going to be okay, revealing that her name doesn't translate in all languages. In the Gamma Forest, there is no word for "pond" only River and Melody is a Song. She knows that their baby is okay because she is their child all grown up.

Because she was conceived on the Tardis, she has Time Lord in her allowing her to time travel, regenerate and explains why she understands how to control the Tardis. Her ability to regenerate allowed Song to look different than her parents and even be a little older than them. If truth be told, I was suspicious from the beginning and as soon as the baby was stolen, I turned to my husband and wondered allowed if River could be their kid in some timey-wimey way. That's not to say that when the truth was revealed and she said the words that I wasn't elated because I certainly was but I think it speaks a lot to the writing and Kingston's performance that I was able to follow the clues that were being laid out.

The Best Man She's Ever Known
Now that we've learned River's past, we get to know why she's been serving her time in a prison cell and why she continues to turn down the Doctor when he asks her to come travel with him. In the episode "Let's Kill Hitler", Amy and Rory get the Doctor's attention by drawing in a corn field and their wacky childhood friend Mels stoles away on the Tardis with them by holding the Doctor at gunpoint. We learn that Mels has been with Amy her whole life and heard tales of the Raggedy Doctor and even helped set Rory and Amy up. We also learn that Mels is the woman they named their child Melody Pond after. When they get to the past, Mels tries to kill the Doctor but ends up getting shot herself and regenerates into the River Song we know and love. She still tries to assassinate the Doctor after being stolen from Amy and raised by a group of people who want the Doctor dead. She succeeds, kissing the Doctor with poison.

Watching this angry, violent version of River Song is something completely new. We've always seen the one that's still very unpredictable but she's also wise and calm and in control. This form of River Song is just angry. Angry at her parents for letting her live that life, angry at the Doctor and angry at the world. Even though she does some awful things I still could sympathize with her because of the life she's lived. I love how she could be so moved by the person she'd become that she is willing to sacrifice her remaining regenerations to bring the Doctor back to life. It's hauntingly beautiful that it is by her hand that she kills the Doctor and it is also by giving up one of the most useful traits in the world that she can bring him back. It is because of this faith in her future and her willingness to believe that she will one day love that man even though she's been trained to kill him, that I realized how truly invested I was in River Song. Her figure has always been tragic, from the moment we met her and becomes sadder every detail we get from then on.

The Wedding of River Song
From the moment River Song gives up her regeneration to save the Doctor and they place her in a hospital with her Tardis look-alike journal, she beings her long journey through archeology school to get back to the Doctor. Upon looking at eye witness accounts in the future, she finds out the date the Doctor dies and is kidnapped back by The Silence (the group that took her in the first place) and forced into the astronaut suit that we now know kills the Doctor back in "The Impossible Astronaut". The suit is too powerful to stop and the Doctor tells River she will serve time in jail for killing him and he forgives her. But River won't accept this, draining the suits energy and stopping time, sending the world into an alternate time line. Things get wibbly wobbly in London and the Doctor finds his way back to River and demands she touch him to restore the right time line but River refuses. After the Doctor explains that the universe will be destroyed and asks River to marry him, she finally agrees. Before they kiss, he whispers something in her ear and kisses her, restoring the time line.

In this episode, River Song is again forced to keep secrets for the Doctor. She appears on Amy and Rory's front lawn in her suit from "Flesh and Blood" and is surprised to find both of them upset. They still believe the Doctor is dead until River explains that it was a decoy and the Doctor is still alive and fine somewhere out there.

A Lonely Life
For me one of the most interesting things about River Song is her acceptance of this abnormal life with her Doctor. The Doctor was never going to have a normal romance and it was always going to take an extraordinary woman to truly be with him and that is exactly the type of character River Song was created to be. Because she could regenerate, she was able to understand about the Doctor's life and how time works. Even though her childhood with a mother and father was stolen, she able to go back into her parents' life and grow up with them, even playing hand in helping her parents come together. She is different enough from the Doctor to accomplish things that he can't but can always understand him.

Hers is always going to be a tragic story because she and the Doctor can never have a normal life. She says in the series something along the lines of "I dread the day that I look into that man's eyes and he has no idea who I am". Since their story is always going backwards from each other, they both face this moment and we get to see it happen on both occasions. Though River had the ability to hop through time for a while, she has always lived a lonely life. But it because of her independent life that she has been able to accomplish so much and become the character she is in Doctor Who. Fierce, independent and always right around the corner with a "hello Sweetie" for our Raggedy Doctor, River Song is easily my favorite character of the 11th Doctor's era.

Want the full River Song experience? Check out these episodes:
  • Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead
  • The Time of Angels
  • The Pandorica Opens
  • The Big Bang
  • The Impossible Astronaut
  • A Good Man Goes To War
  • Let's Kill Hitler
  • Closing Time
  • The Wedding of River Song
What did you think about the tongue and cheek Professor River Song?

1 comment:

  1. I love River Song!! She is without a doubt my favorite female character of the whole series. She adds so much to the episodes she's in and has some of the best lines.


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