The Kat’s Character Guide: River Song (MAJOR Spoilers!)

Aside from the Doctor himself, Steven Moffat’s creation, River Song (Alex Kingston), has been one of the most enigmatic characters on the show. Thankfully, as the show went on, viewers were able to learn more about her at the same time the Doctor did, and as of now, Moffat has finally been able to come full circle and conclude River’s story on screen with “The Husbands of River Song”, in a fun and satisfying manner. Now that River’s story is done (with a few Big Finish Productions audio dramas here and there), we can now talk about the enigmatic woman with space hair, who always comes with a spoiler warning.

River Song was created by outgoing “Doctor Who” show runner Steven Moffat, and made her debut appearance in the Series 4 episode “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”. Of course, as that episode ended with a bang, many were left wanting to know more about this enigmatic character who seemed to know a lot about the Doctor than he ever did, which bothered the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) a lot, and that she, somehow, was a time traveler. And it was seen written all over his  face, especially when it was revealed that she knew his real name.

Viewers didn’t have to wait long to learn more about River, though, as Moffat took the opportunity during his tenure to slowly reveal who River is, and what her relationship to the Doctor really was.

Of course, as these two characters “never meet in the same order”, many viewers scratched their heads in puzzlement as they tried to figure out River’s timeline.

In preparing for this post, I actually went back and watched River’s timeline in order. Once you understand her timeline, you get to fully appreciate more how much depth and story Moffat gave to River, and everything makes a little bit more sense than it did before. I will be sharing an infographic on her timeline and the watch list order after the spoiler warning that is coming up.

Kingston, who was the primary actress for the character, gave stellar performances every time she stepped on the screen, and gave the character enough depth and nuances each time, even though she sometimes fully didn’t know everything that her character had gone through yet. However, Kingston never upstaged the Doctor during their scenes together, whether the Doctor be Tennant, Matt Smith, or Peter Capaldi.

As I cannot really talk much more about River Song without spoiling a lot of things… is your warning.


(I used the TARDIS wikia for this timeline and watching order).

If you ever want to watch River’s entire timeline, this is the best way to do it.

Doing a rewatch of River’s timeline, in order, allowed me to see events as they happened to her, and it also allowed me to see a better progression when it came to her character. Also, I was able to pinpoint the fact that “A Good Man Goes To War” is the moment in which both the Doctor and River are finally in sync, and he knows more than her in the progression of his own personal timeline;  and that she knows more than him from “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang” onwards, with the exception of the knowledge of the circumstances of her death, and the Twelfth Doctor.

At this point, we know that River Song is Mels and Melody Pond, the daughter of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill); and the Doctor’s actual wife. This, of course, means that during Series 5, 6 and 7, the Doctor had actually been traveling with his in-laws. However, when the “parents” are sleeping, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), and River often go out on dates that, more often than not, are adventures that most of the time, doesn’t go as planned. Also, we do know that she is part Time Lord as the Silence and Madame Kovarian probably enhanced the existing Time Lord genes that were there due to the fact that she was conceived on the TARDIS and in the Time Vortex.

However, the two only actually were truly a married couple during the twenty four year night she and the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) had on Darillium.

The biggest loophole that many scratched their heads about was the fact that the older version of River didn’t really recognize who the astronaut was in “The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon” at first, and went so far as to fire her pistol  at it.

Later on, in “The Wedding of River Song”, the Doctor mentions to her younger self that her older self probably doesn’t really remember that part of her past. I think, though, that this can be explained by looking at the fact that the War Doctor (John Hurt), and the Tenth Doctor didn’t remember the events that happened during “The Day of the Doctor”, and even the Eleventh Doctor had a hazy memory of it, until the event actually happened.

My guess is that since there were two versions of herself present, the same principal worked, and she later on figured out that it had been her younger version, when she said “Of course”, after emptying her gun at her younger self, and completely missed.

Acting wise, all of the actresses that portrayed Melody/Mels/River, did a great job in portraying her at each particular stage of her life.

Kudos however, goes to Kingston, especially as she was able to give such history between her and the Doctor during her first ever appearance, even though the actress herself didn’t know the entire story yet. And yet, when you do the watch through in order, the performance still works.

As a character, River inherited a lot of the dominant traits of her parents. River was stubborn, determined, feisty, faith in the Doctor,and daring like her mother; and had the strength, devotion,  and the resilience of her father.

Little Melody was a strong survivor, who was also very practical. Mels, on the other hand, was a little bit more headstrong, reckless, and had a penchant for always getting into trouble. The younger version of River was more selfish, feisty, daring, and would do everything and anything to save the Doctor.

After the events of “The Wedding of River Song”, River still maintained her sense of adventure and feistiness, but had already learned from the Doctor the importance of saving others as well. This version of River began to show her quiet strength and resilience more and more, as I am pretty sure that it was hard to keep on lying to her parents and the Doctor all the time.

“The Angels Take Manhattan”, I think showcased this the most, because she was the one who encouraged her mother, Amy, to take that risk of being zapped by the Weeping Angel so that she can spend the rest of her days with Rory in the past.

However, these events hardened her a little bit, because she had to be the stronger one especially as she had to be able to rein in and keep her husband in check.

At this point, she had also been on many different adventures without him, so by the time “The Husbands of River Song” came around, we saw a River who was more mercenary than before, even though she was doing it for a good cause.

I have always thought of River’s days with Smith as the “dating phase”, and Kingston and Smith played off well against each other, especially when they were really flirting with each other.

However, I thought that she and Capaldi were just magical together in “The Husbands of River Song”, and that phase on Darillium is what I call “the married years”. During that period of time, they were able to actually live with each other as a married couple, and were able to hash out all the little problems they have as well.

So, by the time she met the Tenth Doctor at the Library, she is more empathic, more mature, and better at hiding her emotions so that she can focus on the task at hand, up to realizing that she had to sacrifice herself to save him, as he still has a lot to experience with her younger self.

I loved the fact that he was able to save her, and it is just a head cannon of both me and a friend of mine that when the Twelfth Doctor gave her the sonic screwdriver and demonstrated it by scanning her, he had actually done that to save a data copy of her so that the Tenth Doctor could save her in the data core in the Library.

As usual, I also made a playlist for River, and in doing so, I realized that most of the tracks that Murray Gold made that had a connection to River, whether it be her theme or not, were always tinged with hints of melancholy.

Here is the playlist:

Of all of Moffat’s original characters, River Song is definitely one enigma that many are glad was given the chance to be fully developed, and many are glad that her story has finally come full circle. Aside from this, her love story with the Doctor is probably one of the greatest love stories ever told on the show. We will definitely miss River and Kingston, and many are glad that we are still getting Big Finish stories to fill in the rest, but as we all know, stories do come to an end, and we are glad to have been witness to the story that was River Song.

What did you think of River Song? Are you looking forward to the Big Finish audio dramas? What were your favorite and least favorite River moments? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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