I know, River Song is the one of the most beloved characters on Doctor Who. But hear me out before you judge my argument. In the most recent episode of the current season, the Doctor mentions River in passing and that got me thinking about how much I hope she doesn’t return to the new series.
River leans on tired tropes I’ve seen in female protagonists countless times: pulling off heists in a dress and heels, a cheap and shallow attempt to impress the audience, and charming prison guards into falling for her hallucinogenic lipstick (a woman can use her sexuality to get what she wants? You don’t say!). Her relevance depends entirely on her supposed romantic relationship with the Doctor, a relationship that the audience never even gets to see. Is her backstage relationship with the Doctor supposed take precedence over already well-established dynamics between companions the audience is emotionally invested in? Add that to the fact that her lines are so often trite and tacky — chiding everyone with a breathily whispered, “Spoilers,” as though she knows everything and has nothing to learn and her infamous catch phrase “Hello, sweetie,” a sappy, sugary cry for attention. I find her unbearable next to the likes of Amy Pond, who outshines the Doctor and River by so many degrees because she manages to shatter audience expectations about how a young woman in a relationship should behave without resorting to a tangled storyline or melodramatic cliche.
Worse still, she has tricked Doctor Who‘s viewership to thinking she’s badass. And sure, before you say it, she’s a Doctor herself (she attended university on the Moon—even I have to admit that’s pretty cool), she works for the military, she steals ancient artifacts—which could be considered badassery, on any other show but Doctor Who.
Stay with me, here. Because according to the rules of this universe, what makes a woman — no, a person — badass is when she risks the safety and security of a traditional role (being a spouse or a parent, or a mindless worker) to do something unexpected and dangerous. What makes characters like Rose and Donna so heroic is that they started as shop girls and office temps, no special education or skills. They didn’t need some silly catchphrase, an army contract, not even need a doctorate from the Moon, just simple human courage and confidence. River Song does not fit in with this world: She’s a lumpy amalgamation of sexy-prisoner-archeologist-possible-murderer-and-also-improbably-a-Timelord, that ends up taking on no shape at all. In the alternate world of Doctor Who, the real heroes subtly and poignantly give agency to regular people who feel helpless and invisible in a world of River Songs, characters screaming for attention and recognition, but in the end have no emotional resonance, no reason to be there other than to file a archetype.
That is why I implore Stephen Moffat to not resurrect her. All River adds is messy subplot that adds nothing but misplaced sex appeal and messy theatrics. Doctor Who a show about aliens sure, but the real main character is not the Doctor at all, but humanity. Let the Doctor do what he’s best at: Reminding humans to keep being human. Be human more, as much as possible and for as long as we can. The Doctor’s humans always seem to rise to the occasion – that’s why we love them. So please Moffat (the fist-shaking memes are practically writing themselves) keep humans in the spotlight. It’s what the Doctor would want.