Portrayed By: Alex Kingston
Doctor(s): Tenth Doctor, Eleventh Doctor
Tenure: 9 stories (14 episodes), from “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” to “The Name of the Doctor”
Background: River Song is an archaeologist, time traveler, and adventurer whose connection to the Doctor is only revealed slowly over time. When we first meet her in “Silence in the Library”, she has known the Doctor for a long time, and though that adventure ends up being their last together from her perspective, it is only the beginning for the Doctor.
Family/Friends: It is implied, over the course of her tenure, that River is the Doctor’s lover (and, if you count an alternate timeline ceremony, his wife) as well as the daughter of his longtime companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams. River and the Doctor, both being time travelers, never meet in the right order, so they rely on River’s TARDIS-blue diary to calibrate themselves and avoid “spoilers”. The four form an entertaining, if somewhat odd, family unit on the TARDIS. Other than Amy, Rory, and the Doctor, we meet very few of River’s friends or acquaintances, though she is also familiar with several of the Doctor’s other Companions.
Personality: River is playful, sarcastic, and incredibly flirtatious with The Doctor. She is impulsive, dangerous, and extremely useful in any situation. Though on the surface she is glib and frisky, this masks a deep well of hurt and pain that comes from her tumultuous relationship with the Doctor and her constant knowledge that there will come a day when she meets him and he does not know her at all. The tragedy of this is underlined for the audience because we have already seen it and we know that when River reaches the Library, her worst nightmare will come true.
Special Skills: Virtually everything. River is an archaeologist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the universe matched only by the Doctor. She is also a highly skilled thief, an excellent shot, and can fly the TARDIS better than the Doctor (who always leaves the brakes on), having been taught by the TARDIS herself.
Best Story: “Silence in The Library”/“Forest of the Dead” is a masterpiece, arguably the very best story since Doctor Who was revived. The tragedy at the story’s center has only grown deeper and more complex as River’s past has been elaborated over time and with every viewing, the episode gains layers. Watching River fight to convince the Doctor to trust her, watching the two form a relationship that she knows well and he has yet to experience, and then watching her sacrifice herself to save all of her times with the Doctor is beautiful, heart-rending stuff. If River Song had never returned, this episode would still be a peak for the series, but in light of her role over the last several years, it has become a touchstone.
Worst Story: “Let’s Kill Hitler”. Perhaps with all of the build-up, it was inevitable, but the final revelation of the origin of River Song is deeply underwhelming. Revealing her to be a brainwashed agent of The Silence raised to kill the Doctor is fine, but the way the episode handles her psychosis and its cure (she sees that the Doctor is a good man and then basically immediately sacrifices her regenerative abilities for him and falls in love) is simplistic and, honestly, more than a little boring. Steven Moffat has often been (rightly) accused of turning all of his female characters into puzzles for the Doctor to solve. The best of these puzzles has always been River Song. Unfortunately the solution, as per usual, proved to be far less interesting than the mystery waiting to be solved.
Highlights of tenure: River’s flirting with the Doctor is always exciting. Few people can keep him on his toes as well as she does, and the excitement both feel is palpable. Also, encountering the Weeping Angels in the crash of the Byzantium, killing a Dalek she believes has killed the Doctor, disapproving of his fetish for headware, and stopping the universe in its tracks for her love of the Doctor.
Lowlights of tenure: Everything in “Let’s Kill Hitler” and her underwhelming (and hopefully not final) appearance in “The Name of The Doctor”, where she gets another farewell but mostly appears so that the show doesn’t have to actually answer the question that has powered the entire last season’s worth of plots.
Catchphrase: River is one of the very few Companions to have Doctor-style catchphrases. A few she is particular to are, “Hello, sweetie” and “Spoilers”
– “If he dies, I’ll kill him!” “Forest of the Dead”
The Doctor: “Time can be rewritten!”
River: “Not those times. Not one line. Don’t you dare.” “Forest of the Dead”
– “I hate good wizards in fairytales. They always turn out to be him.” “The Pandorica Opens”
River is the only Companion in the entire series to know the Doctor’s true name, though we have not yet seen how she learned it. She uses his name to open his tomb in “The Name of The Doctor” and to convince the Tenth Doctor to trust her in “Silence in the Library”.