TV talk

Here’s Why I Hope River Song Doesn’t Come Back to Doctor Who

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.

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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.

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9 thoughts on “Here’s Why I Hope River Song Doesn’t Come Back to Doctor Who

  1. I think I kind of agree with you – mostly – with the arguments you presented. However, even in her appearances, it was in addition to the human companions. Her appearances kind of made Dr Who a little more human because he had a wife – of sorts. Now that being said, it seems to me that we have seen where she left the Dr’s life in the library, and if I am remembering right, didn’t we also see where the Dr first met her? Not sure how Moffat can make that work. But being a Time Lord – even though she has given all here regenerations to the Doctor – I guess anything can happen. However, if we must have a Time Lord type individual show up again, I would like to see The Doctor’s Daughter. What has she been up to since she flew off into the universe?

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  2. The only way I would accept River coming back is the episode where he gives her the screwdriver she has in Silence in the Library, and sends her off to her death.

    It’s time to move on, and I’m starting to think it’s time for Moffat to begin handing control to someone else. He’s done a brilliant job in taking the Doctor across the world and to new audiences, but he’s starting to repeat himself and not be original.

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  3. OMG Yes. ALL OF THIS. I was never a River fan, although I liked Silence in the Library, everything past that felt like dragging out a mildly funny joke for YEARS. I actually cringed when she was mentioned in this last episode. I’ve been hoping that storyline was laid to rest with Matt Smith.

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  4. I can understand most of what you said except for one thing. River Song is not a hero and never was, and she knows it. (Unless you count giving all her regeneration energy to The Doctor to save his life, but I’m not sure I do.)

    She is a time traveler whose fate has been pre-decided. Often, she has no choice in what she does and her bravado is an attempt to pretend she actually has a choice. Her wrist must be broken, so she breaks it. She must not arrive at Demon’s Run until it is too late, so she arrives when it’s too late. When WE first see her, in The Library, she takes The Doctor’s place to be killed, not because she is sacrificing herself, but because she must. If The Doctor doesn’t reach Tenzalore, then “River Song” never exists and she will become “Melody Williams” the geography teacher. She must die then so that the Doctor can live and create the timeline that gave birth to her. In that context, all of her “Hello, Sweetie” and “Spoilers” are less about calling for help and more about trying to pretend that her fate is her own.

    I’ll let someone else figure out how being a psychopath affects all of that.

    I don’t love River Song because she is a hero. I love her because she is not, and CAN NOT be a hero, because she knows it, and because she still keeps going.

    “When one travels time, free will is often moot.” – Daniel Keys Moran

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    • YES TO ALL THIS.

      Sorry, but I love River and found myself shaking my head at most of the article. I believe she’ll be back. I can’t wait, because as the Twelfth is right now, we need River to slap some sense into him.

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  5. I have to agree with the post as well as most of the comments. “Silence in the Library” is one of my favorite all time Doctor Who episodes, and in that episode I actually really liked River Song. However, I also agree that her appearances in the Matt Smith seasons just fell flat.

    Maybe it was the difficulty of writing a character backwards, or of bringing that character to life in reverse order, or maybe it was as JM6 mentioned the fact that she was both an anti-hero and trapped within a series of events that she could not alter.

    I suspect we will eventually have more Timelords returning, and the Doctor’s daughter would definitely be a favorite of mine. Since “The Day of the Doctor” special I have been drooling over the potential in a quest to find Gallifrey!

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