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The River Song Story (With Spoilers!)

River 1
My, how sporadic, out-of-sequence time does fly. It was five years ago today that the sci-fi viewing public got its first glimpse of the mysterious (and good-lookin’) Professor River Song, the pseudo-non-companion of our favorite Time Lord. On May 31st, 2008, the first episode in which she appeared, “The Silence in the Library” premiered on BBC One, back before it aired day-and-date in the US. Since then, River (played by the fantastic Alex Kingston) has appeared in 13 episodes (plus a few epilogues and stuff), effectively giving her her own series.

She is 100% a creation of writer Steven Moffat, and she’s one of the very few companions who has only ever been written by one person. She’s also the only character in Doctor Who history to have their birth and (ostensible) death shown onscreen, albeit in the wrong order. As this is her fifth anniversary, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the life and times of River Song in her own chronological order, as best we know it.

 

River 2Event 1 – Melody Pond is Born (“A Good Man Goes to War”)

While her consciousness is inside a Ganger, Amy Pond’s body is lying on Demon’s Run, preggers to all get-out, a prisoner of Madame Kovarian. Because Amy and Rory consummated their marriage aboard the TARDIS, the child comes out part Time Lord. Makes sense, right? (Does that mean all Time Lords are conceived inside of TARDISes? Boudoirs come standard, do they?) Despite the best efforts of the Doctor, Rory, Vastra, Jenny, Strax, Doriam, and a whole battalion of Silurians for some reason, Melody Pond is removed from her parents and taken to Florida in the 1960s. Why?

River 3Event 2 – The Girl in the Spacesuit (“Day of the Moon”)

Kovarian and the Silence are brainwashing Melody to become the one who kills the Doctor. Her mother, not knowing who she is, shoots her in the helmet. Eventually, young Melody escapes and regenerates in Washington, or someplace like that. It is in this form that Kovarian (or a Silent perhaps) takes Melody to Leadworth in the ’90s so that she could grow up alongside her parents.

River 4Event 3 – Mels is a Spitfire (“Let’s Kill Hitler”)

The girl named Mels grows up being best friends with Amy and Rory and is always getting into huge amounts of trouble. Even though Amy is the one the Doctor appeared to when she was wee, Mels is always the one talking about him. Almost as though she had been brainwashed to do so by an evil group of bastards. Even though they don’t know it yet, the Ponds DID get to see their daughter grow up. Melody does not go to the Pond-Williams nuptials, nor is she even mentioned by anyone, but she eventually tricks the Doctor and her parents to coming to a corn field whereupon she kidnaps them at gunpoint and wants to go on a TARDIS trip to kill Adolf Hitler.

River 5Event 4 – Adolf Hitler Kills Mels (“Let’s Kill Hitler”)

It’s not everyone who can say they were shot by the most evil vegetarian painter to have ever lived, but Mels has this distinction. She begins to regenerate, completely befuddling Amy, Rory, and the Doctor, until she emerges as the frizzy-haired vixen we know. She attempts to kill the Doctor with poison and, upon believing she has done so, decides to make a real mess of things in Berlin in 1938. Luckily (or unluckily) there’s a Tesalecta there as well, to kill/capture Hitler, but they turn their focus onto Melody, as she’s the one who kills the Doctor. Through some Teselecta trickery, Melody realizes that she’s River Song, this important woman everyone keeps talking about, and she realizes that she sort of likes that Doctor fella. Sacrificing all of her regeneration energy, she bestows it upon the Doctor to save his life. He gives her a blue, TARDIS-looking notebook full of her spoilers and she goes off to study archaeology to be able to find him throughout history.

River 7Event 5 – River Kills the Doctor Anyway (“The Impossible Astronaut”)

It wasn’t her fault, really. She was compelled to do it by Kovarian and the Silence. Why it had to be in an Apollo astronaut suit and why it had to be in Utah in 2011 is anyone’s guess. Mine, for example. I think the Silence just like to have a bit of fun. They like to make people go “Wha?!” Since nobody can ever remember looking at them unless they’re looking at them still, confusing people must just be their way of having fun. Or, Steven Moffat had an image in his head and couldn’t really be bothered with the why. At any rate, this is what gets River sent to Stormcage prison, from which, of course, she can easily escape. But she always goes back, out of guilt most likely. And so the Doctor can always find her. Oh, but the Doctor didn’t die, of course. It was just a Teselecta. And there was the whole aborted timeline thing where the two of them got married. She never really shakes that.

River 8Event 6 – The Doctor Takes River to See Stevie Wonder in 1814 (“A Good Man Goes to War”)

We don’t see it onscreen, but when Rory goes to River to get her help in the Demon’s Run victory/debacle, she says she’s just come back from the Doctor taking her to see Lil Stevie in 1814. Rory implores her to come, but she says she can’t yet.

Event 7 – River Explains Who She Is (“A Good Man Goes to War”)

After everything bad happens and all hope is lost, River finally appears (and gets screamed at by her mother, rightly so). It’s at this point that she reveals to the Doctor, via TARDIS’ translation circuits and a thing sewn by a fallen cleric, that the translation in some alien tongue of “Melody Pond” is “River Song,” as the only water in the forest is the river. So, even though Melody’s been taken, Amy and Rory know she’s all right since she’s clearly standing right in front of them.

River 6Event 8 – River Goes Cowboy (“The Impossible Astronaut”)

The next thing we know River does is travel to Utah in 2011 to meet up with the Doctor, Rory, and Amy after the Doctor’s very long (couple hundred years) absence. They make their way to Lake Silencio for a picnic. The Doctor knows what’s about to happen, but River also knows what’s about to happen since she’s already done it. She’s good at pretending she’s seeing something for the first time, though. Once the Doctor “dies” she and the others (and old Canton Deleware III) burn his body in a boat in the middle of the lake. They then go back to the diner and the Doctor (from not long after he dropped the Ponds off post-honeymoon) appears. They travel to 1969 for the moon landing, meet President Nixon, fight and defeat the Silence, and then she’s brought back to Stormcage, where she kisses the Doctor for the last time… sort of.

River 9Event 9 – Cleopatra Song (“The Pandorica Opens”)
After receiving a panicked phone call from Winston Churchill regarding a peculiar painting done by Vincent Van Gogh, River escapes from Stormcage again, the dickens, and steals a vortex manipulator from poor Dorium Maldovar. She uses this to travel to Spaceship UK to meet briefly with Liz “The Bloody Queen, Mate” 10, whereupon she sees the painting for herself. To get the Doctor’s attention, she writes a message at the zero point of the universe, the oldest written message in recorded history, which of course says “Hello, Sweetie” with coordinates. She goes to the year 102 AD and, using her hypnotic lipstick, convinces a Roman legion that she’s Cleopatra. (This is LITERALLY all in the pre-credit sequence to this episode.) Showing the Doctor the painting (of the TARDIS exploding), she takes him and Amy to Stonehenge under which is the fabled Pandorica, which houses the most hated thing in the universe. She gets trapped in the TARDIS timeloop of constant explosion after finding out that Amy’s memory is what created all this stuff.

Event 10 – River Sort Of Brings the Doctor Back (“The Big Bang”)

The universe is imploding due to the TARDIS exploding, so the Doctor flies the Pandorica into it to throw himself into the crack and reverse the bad stuff. Effectively, he’s erased from existence. However, River brings the blue diary the Doctor gave her to Amy and Rory’s wedding so that she will remember the Doctor back into existence, which, of course, she does. After the wedding, River tells the Doctor he’ll soon find out about her and she gives him even more cryptic information about their relationship.

River 91Event 11 – The Crash of the Byzantium (“The Time of Angels/Flesh & Stone”)

River is brought out of Stormcage by a group of military clerics. A ship called the Byzantium, which was transporting a Weeping Angel, crash-landed, and they need her help in making sure it doesn’t get all zappy. She gets the Doctor’s attention via some crazy-go-nuts heist movie stuff involving the black box of the ship as it’s crashing, which he sees in a museum 12,000 years in the relative future, and he arrives just in time to save her as she flies out into space. Together, she, the Doctor, and Amy make their way through a whole horde of Weeping Angels until they can be sucked into the crack in space and time.

Event 12 – Dinner with the Folks (“The Wedding of River Song”)

Immediately after dealing with the Angels, River goes to see her mother directly after the Doctor has died, as far as they know. Post-“Closing Time,” I’m thinking. She tells Amy, and eventually Rory, that the Doctor isn’t in fact dead and that she was privy to him being in the Teselecta. They dance around in the garden.

River 92Event 13 – Goodbye to the Folks (“The Angels Take Manhattan”)

This is the one that’s not necessarily easy to pinpoint. Still, it seems like she has memories of everything we’ve seen up to this point at this point. River, under the alias “Melody Malone,” is the subject of a series of pulp detective novels that are actually a way of trying to get the Doctor to find her in Manhattan in 1938. Seems there’s a guy who is being menaced by the Weeping Angels because he’s got one of them chained up in his study. In an old hotel, they find Old Rory, who’s been trapped by the Angels as a source of food-energy. Their attempts to stop it results in a paradox that spits everybody back out in the present, only for Rory and Amy to be zapped again by the Angels to the ’30s. And apparently, the Doctor can’t just go get them. It’s here, in the graveyard in NYC, that River and the Doctor see the graves of the Ponds. The Doctor, lonely and despondent, asks River to come with him, but she says no for seemingly no reason. She should have, in retrospect.

River 93Event 14 – Who Turned Out the Lights? (“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”)
River helps an expedition by a jerky rich guy to reclaim the universe’s largest library, a planet full of books. She calls the Doctor, who arrives with Donna Noble and no idea about why the planet is entirely devoid of humans. Well, dummies, it’s because the Vashta Nerada, flesh-eating shadow mites, have ravaged everyone and are slowly doing the same to the small band who are there. The computer in the library is smart, though, and saves people to a virtual world, which it does to Donna. River is crushed when she finds out that this Doctor is younger than she’s ever seen before and has no recollection of her at all. The Doctor attempts to hook himself up to the data core of the library to free all of those “saved” within it, knowing it will likely kill him. River knocks him out and does it herself, because if he dies here they will never have met. And, to be fair, it means River won’t exist anymore because her parents would never have boned in the TARDIS to create her. Big picture, Song. Anyway, she dies, but her data ghost is saved and the Doctor is able to upload her to the mainframe where she hangs out with all the other dead but “saved” people.

River 94Event 15 – You Were Always In My Mind (“The Name of the Doctor”)

River’s mental image is brought in to assist Madam Vastra with the quandary of the Doctor’s name, the Whisper Men, and the Great Intelligence. The mental conference call connects their minds and she doesn’t sever hers with Clara Oswald when the others are kidnapped by the Whisper Men. It seems as though only Clara can see River, who helps guide them through the fields of Trenzalore, but when Clara sacrifices herself to save the Doctor’s time stream, River’s “ghost” is still there and the Doctor, it turns out, can both see and hear her. He didn’t want to say goodbye, the selfish man that he is, but he finally does and River’s image fades away, perhaps never to be seen again.

Now, it’s quite possible they could bring Ghost River back, or show us River from a point earlier in her life that hasn’t been televised, but this really felt like a good place to end the River Song story, allowing the character a true finale instead of the one we all saw first. Love or hate her, Mary Sue that she often is, it’s inarguable that River Song is singular in Doctor Who canon and an integral part of the Eleventh Doctor/Steven Moffat tenure.

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40 comments

  • Sorry to be late for the party on this, but there are several things wrong with this timeline. 

    River was definitely married to The Doctor in episodes The Pandorica Opens, Big Bang Two, The Time of Angels, Flesh and Stone, Silence in the Library, and Forest of the Dead prior to their marriage in The Wedding of River Song.

    So the timeline should go in this order based upon the script I recall:

    A Good Man Goes to War
    Day of the Moon
    Let’s Kill Hitler
    The Impossible Astronaut
    A Good Man Goes to War
    The Impossible Astronaut
    The Wedding of River Song
    The Pandorica Opens
    Big Bang Two
    Angels Take Manhattan
    Time of Angels
    Flesh and Stone
    Silence in the Library
    Forest of the Dead
    The Name of the Doctor

    Still subject to some debate, but it does seem more than evident that the Angel Assassin episodes are post Song/Doctor nuptials. 

  • No offense, but how is River Song in any way “good-looking”? From her wild bushy untamed hair to unflattering body figure, she’s nowhere close to being that. Amy Pond on the other hand… GORGEOUS. Anyway, the objective wasn’t to critique her outward appearance, but to applaud Moffat for a brilliant story written indeed. Whether I liked her appearance or not, River Song grew on me and I’d be so, so sad if she never comes back into the story. Season six mostly gave me the mind-blown feeling hours after finishing the last episode because of River’s story. Overall, a great job well done, Moffat! Now, if they only manage to delve into Clara’s character better now with Capaldi… of course, I’m not about to watch season 8 any time soon, because, if it weren’t obvious already, looks matter just a bit more than a good storyline–not in Song’s case though.

    P.S. Please don’t tell me the Doctor really has a granddaughter and if they elaborate on that, please don’t tell me he’s got a whole extended Time Lord family he’s killed off himself…

  • Just got done watching all Doctor Who shows. Yah, all of them on Netflix, and then some on my laptop.
    I would love to see River Song come back. The most interesting partner I’ve ever seen in Doctor Who. Plus, she’s got that spark that I like more than any other partner in Doctor Who.
    On regards of looks her hair is marvelous! I wonder what kind of time paradox she is using to keep her hair so dam vibrant.

  • Thank you for this article. I find the character of River Song to be incredibly interesting and just a joy to watch. Alex Kingston did a great job playing her. I also really love the First night/Last night episodes.

  • I don’t think that it’s as simple as the Doctor and River Song going in opposite chronology. If it were River wouldn’t have to reference her diary so often. It seems to me that River shows up randomly in the Doctor’s timeline, and we have yet to see them on equal footing. That would be an incredible season of the Doctor and River interacting as equals, partners in all ways. I can only hope that within that season Captain Jack show up and gang up on the Doctor with River.

  • So i love River. She is probably my fav companion the doctor has had. But what I don’t get is how as Mels she grew up with Amy and Rory. Cause aren’t time lords supposed to regenerate and not get old? and i know she is half human but so is the clone of ten and he says that he won’t ever regenerate he can just grow old with Rose. So how did River grow up and regenerate? I am so confused. Anyways I hope she is on many more episodes to come because she is one of the most interesting characters on the show.

    • I am not sure where you are confused since you know even the doctor said he could grow old with Rose.
      Time lords do grow older if they do not regenerate, they age in the body they possess so sometimes they can even end up dying (and then regenerating) from old age.

  • I have never been able to figure out why some ppl profess to hate River Song and think I will give up trying. She has done more and sacrificed more to save and help him than any character in his extensive life and they “hate” her anyway but will never specify why. Go figure…

  • Alex Kingston is already signed on for series 8, River song will return, her book has the drawings of 10 of the 11 doctors, in clock of eternity there are entries about having met the first 9 doctors, and a to-do list of things to do before the library, the game was suppose to be her last adventure with the doctor prior to the Library. The only doctors she’s never met were the Warrior, and the 10th Doctor, in theory she’s never met the 12th doctor, which she will, and they might be a linear pair, who knows, and if he mentioned his granddaughter, there are who theorists saying that River might be the grandmother of Susan Foreman, and that she kept the births of a child or children secret from the doctor or anyone, except the ponds, because of the huge number of enemies wanting to get revenge on the Doctor.

  • Quite a few points of this timeline are wrong. First of all, she didn’t first regenerate in “Washington, or someplace like that”- she regenerates in New York City. It even says it right there on the screen during the scene. She regenerates as a toddler (effectively making her the same age as her parents), and finds her way back to Amy and Rory. The Silence did not take her there. The Doctor does NOT give her a “Blue notebook full of her spoilers.” At the point he gives the book to her, it is empty. This is the beginning of her journey as River Song, and she fills the notebook in as she goes through her life seeking and finding him, as well as events that lead up to their meetings. The Reason the Doctor was killed in Utah was not “anyone’s guess.” It was explained by Dorium Maldovar that it happens in Utah in 1969 because it is a still point in time, making it easier to create a FIXED point in time. River continues to return to Stormcage because she made a promise- that promise was made to The Doctor. She had to do this to keep the illusion up that she had actually killed the Doctor. The Doctor knows all languages. He didn’t need the TARDIS to translate the prayer leaf. Amy, on the other hand, did. River did not remember killing the Doctor. This was also pointed out when past River looked over to present River, and the Doctor explained it to her that the reason he brought her to watch was to show her that she will always be forgiven. She doesn’t steal the vortex manipulator from Darium- she blackmails him for it.

    Nice attempt at bringing her timeline to light, but a horrible execution. Not to mention the fact that you didn’t even mention the mini-episodes, which help fill in some of the gaps in her (and the Doctor’s) history.

  • I finally found a good website! I hate going and rewatching random episodes, as weird as that sounds. So I decided to look up the episode order of River’s timeline so I can rewatch the episodes for a specific reason! XD

  • I’m thinking something similar Megan. But I do think it is before Angels Take Manhattan as I’m pretty sure she is out of prison by that time, however we see her still in prison during her first appearance in A Good Man Goes to War. I think it might fall towards the end of her time in prison as I too think that it is later in her timeline than her appearance at the end of the episode. Probably after the Crash of the Byzantium and her last appearance in The Wedding of River Song where she is returning from the Crash.

    And I’m thinking of a River marathon too Melissa. I think it would be heartbreaking to watch her slowly see the Doctor know her less and less. </3

  • I actually think that A Good Man Goes to War is after Angels Take Manhattan. I know for the most part she’s supposed to be moving backwards to them, but it’s not completely concretely so (think The Wedding of River Song, which takes place both at the time of the Impossible Astronaut (#5) and right after the Crash of the Byzantium (where he lists it at #12)). Anyway, back to A Good Man Goes to War – watch her face when Rory first appears. I think the only explanation for the way she reacts to seeing him is that it’s the first time she’s seen him since he got angel-zapped. She also says she can’t go yet, which could be because of overlapping her own timeline, but let’s face it, she’s done that before (Impossible Astronaut has what, 3 ages of River?); so it may also be that she knows she doesn’t go yet in their timeline because she’s already been in her own timeline and knows she only went at the end, making two places in the timeline for a good man goes to war. These are my theories. :)

  • The beautiful thing about river is that she is married to the doctor , who is a time traveler. So even though we saw her death in the library and her birth on demons run, and even the supposed farewell on trenzalor. There are so many episodes of river that can be written in. Lots of spoilers ( in my mind ) have already been given in the series. The impossible astronaut river felt sick to her stomach as did Amy when Amy was pregnant. On the rings of akhaten Clara asked the doctor if he had been there before and he responded ” once with my grand daughter ” that’s all the spoilers I’ll reveal so you’ll have to go and watch your entire doctor who video archive and find the spoilers yourself. ( to steven moffat ) I hope you have the same ideas to keep river’s story going because you’ve opend all kinds of doors to new stories with river in them .

  • some great memes have been popping up with River and the twelfth. Also, someone commented on one of my Pinterest pins with this bit:
    “Well she said it started with a man she didn’t know who came knowing everything about her, we still haven’t seen that”

    I also think River’s final “Spoilers” might have us seeing her again… at least I hope so.

  • You left out the minisodes, the references to River’s escapades mentioned in her diary entries in the game Eternity Clock (oh, and the diary was empty, apart from a business card tucked into it with a com-link code), also she mentioned several other adventures that were never explored on-screen.

  • A good summary, the only change I would make is that Pandorica has to come before all the other episodes where she is in prison because it is there she gets the vortex manipulator.

    I love the character, and love all the stories she has been in, I think River is the best drawn character in the whole history of Drho after the Dr himself. And no, she is not in any way shape or form a “Mary Sue”.

  • You’ve left out the “First Night” and “Last Night” mini episodes. In one of those, we see the Doctor in a fancy suit taking River on that last date before the events in the Library.

  • I’m not going to be content until we see the Doctor give River his sonic and tell her his real name. I don’t want to hear the name mind you, but during the wedding in the alternate reality all he did was whisper to her “look into my eye.” I know that she eventually has to go, seeing how the first time we see her is the last time we see her, but I hate to think my favorite companion will eventually be gone.

  • Thanks for this history with
    spoilers – I loved River Song. I think the Doctor loved her. This was a lovely relationship, brilliantly told. Thanks Mr. Moffat!

  • I think the whole story arc of River Song is BRILLIANT storytelling, unbreakably linked with the other fabulous story arc of Amy Pond. These stories are different in nature than the stories with Rose, Donna and Martha in that they show the characters from beginning to end and how the Doctor affects their entire lives. As I said, Brilliant storytelling.

  • I stopped reading at “good looking”…

    Then after a quick chuckle I continued. I always hated river song but the history is interesting so good work.