Doctor Who: the life and times of River Song (to date)

Ahead of her return on Christmas day, we look back at the story of River Song in Doctor Who so far...

Spoilers lie ahead (but not for the Doctor Who Christmas special).

Christmas Day sees the return of Alex Kingston to Doctor Who in this year’s special, The Husbands Of River Song. Introduced in 2008’s Silence In The Library, the universe’s sauciest archaeologist hasn’t exactly had the most straightforward of times running into the Doctor – they’re forever doing it in the wrong order.

We already know how the Doctor’s timeline goes in relation to his liaisons with River – we’ve been watching it unfold on Saturday nights for the last seven years. But what does her journey look like? As a primer for Friday’s episode, we decided to stitch together the timeline of Professor River Song…

The childhood of River Song

River Song’s story technically began in 2010’s The Eleventh Hour, when the Doctor invited the feisty Amy Pond aboard his TARDIS. By the end of the year she was joined by her new husband Rory and, despite the Doctor fitting their bedroom with bunk beds, their marriage was consummated aboard the ship (ask your parents) and the pair conceived a child, whose physiology was affected by early exposure to the time vortex.

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Sensing an opportunity to gain an advantage in their war against the Doctor, a chapter of the Silence led by Madame Kovarian kidnapped a pregnant Amy from under the Doctor’s nose and began experimenting on the unborn child, using its already altered body chemistry to ensure that it was born with Time Lord characteristics – including the ability to regenerate. The child was born under the watchful eye of the Clerics on an asteroid known as Demon’s Run, and Amy christened her Melody Pond.

Despite the best efforts of the Doctor, Rory and their allies, Kovarian escaped Demon’s Run with young Melody, travelling back with her to 20th-century Earth. There the Silence set about raising and conditioning her to kill the Doctor, a process which involved placing her into a NASA spacesuit which they had modified to act as a full life-support system.

In 1969, Melody’s fear triggered a distress function within the suit, causing it to make multiple phone calls to US president Richard Nixon. This brought Melody face-to-face with the Doctor and her parents (her own future self), but from a point in time some months before her birth. Amy’s first act was to shoot at Melody in order to stop her from murdering the Doctor on the shores of Lake Silencio in 2011 – but we’ll come back to that shortly.

The Doctor and his friends defeated the Silence in 1969, allowing Melody to get out of both her spacesuit and their clutches. Alone and without the suit to protect her, Melody fell ill and died on the back streets of New York – triggering her first regeneration.

The rebellious adolescence of River Song

Much as the Doctor’s regenerations often leave him looking younger, so it was with Melody – she ended up a toddler. This somehow wasn’t enough to stop her from looking for Amy and Rory, however, and she made her way to Leadworth in the 90s where she became their best friend and (sometimes) went to school with them. Amy later revealed that she named her daughter after her friend Melody, creating a closed loop.

Melody grew obsessed with young Amelia’s tales of her ‘raggedy man’, and frequently got herself into trouble by invoking his name in lessons. Melody – or ‘Mels’ – continued with her troublemaking ways as she reached adolescence, and Amy and Rory swapped picking her up from the headteacher’s office for picking her up from the police station.

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Mels wasn’t able to make it to Amy and Rory’s wedding, as she hadn’t been cast yet. However, she finally crossed paths with the Doctor in Let’s Kill Hitler when, having stolen a car and with the police in hot pursuit, she forced him at gunpoint to take her back in time so that she could kill Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately for Melody, she ended up on the receiving end of one of Hitler’s bullets, and regenerated again – into a form which the Doctor, Amy and Rory all recognised as their friend (And Amy and Rory’s daughter) River Song.

It was at this point that Melody’s Silence programming kicked in and she killed the Doctor using a poisoned lipstick. But after witnessing the Doctor’s selflessness in his final moments, and realising that she was destined to become the River Song with whom the Doctor would gladly entrust his life, she used all of her remaining regenerations to bring him back to life. The Doctor and his friends left the new River Song at the ‘best hospital in the universe’, the Doctor gifting her a TARDIS-shaped diary in which to record her adventures with him.

The studentship of River Song

River became a student of archaeology at the Luna University, at least in part to help her learn more about the Doctor and his travels through space and time. Her own past was never far behind, however, and upon receiving her doctorate she was immediately kidnapped by Kovarian and the Silence, forced into another spacesuit and ordered to kill the Doctor on the shores of Lake Silencio in 2011 – seemingly an established historical event, and the reason why Amy tried to shoot her in 1969.

Never one to be told what to do, River managed to defy Kovarian and spare the Doctor’s life in the episode The Wedding Of River Song, shattering all of time in the process. Faced with a new reality in which all of history was happening at once, River still refused to kill the Doctor, revealing that she had fallen in love with him. In order to persuade River to set history on its correct course, the Doctor agreed to marry her, revealing his real name to her in the process (Though River later denied this to Amy and Rory).

Upon kissing her new husband, the timeline was restored and River killed the Doctor – or rather, she killed a robot duplicate of the Doctor, making it appear to all intents and purposes that he was gone.

The (sort of) incarceration of River Song

Not wanting to reveal the Doctor’s survival to the Silence, River accepted her sentence of twelve thousand consecutive lifetimes in the Stormcage, a 52nd-century prison facility whose maximum security status was made a mockery of by River and her friends – whether picked up by the Doctor for an adventure or escaping of her own accord, River spent many of her evenings gallivanting around the universe, insulting Sontarans, watching Stevie Wonder perform and generally having a debauched time.

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River’s Stormcage years are difficult to put in a precise order, but it seems likely that her first major encounter with the Doctor was prompted by a phone call from Winston Churchill in 5145, with the prime minister wanting to warn the Doctor of the impending destruction of both his TARDIS and the universe. River managed to acquire a vortex manipulator (of the kind worn by Captain Jack Harkness) and used it to transport herself back to Stonehenge in the second century, where she posed among the Romans as Cleopatra.

River found herself caught up in the TARDIS explosion and subsequently rescued by the Doctor, but it was too late; the Doctor knew he would have to sacrifice himself to restart the universe. The universe was rebooted and the Doctor erased from history, but in spite of this River was somehow able to retain her knowledge of him as well as her diary (though its pages were now blank), which she gave to Amy as a wedding present to prompt her to remember the Time Lord and restore his existence.

It was whilst imprisoned in the Stormcage that River was asked by an unknowing Rory to return to the place of her birth in order to help the Doctor rescue Amy and her infant self. Knowing she couldn’t be there, River declined to help, much to Amy and Rory’s anger. She turned up once Kovarian had left with the baby Melody, and for the first time revealed her identity to the Doctor, Amy and Rory, noting that ‘River Song’ is an alien translation of the name ‘Melody Pond’.

River was then summoned to Utah in 2011, where she watched her younger self kill the robot version of the Doctor – though she couldn’t let on to Amy, Rory or the younger version of the Doctor accompanying them. She then travelled back to 1969 and helped the Doctor defeat the Silence, but was careful not to encounter her child self or alter her own timeline in any way. It was at the end of this adventure that River kissed the Doctor as he returned her to the Stormcage – before realising that from his perspective it was their first kiss.

As River got older the Doctor got younger, and in The Time Of Angels both the eleventh Doctor and Amy met her for the first time. Placed in the custody of Father Octavian, River enlisted the Doctor’s help in tracking down a Weeping Angel in the wreckage of the crashed Byzantium starliner in an attempt to earn her pardon. However, they ended up facing not only a full army of Weeping Angels but also a massive crack in space and time (Caused by the prior TARDIS explosion), and only the Doctor, Amy and River make it out alive.

Though River was returned to the Stormcage, very soon after the events of that story she dropped in on Amy and Rory following the events of The Wedding Of River Song and let them know that the Doctor hadn’t really been killed on the shores of Lake Silencio, finally spending some time with her parents with all three of them on the same page.

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The dotage of River Song

With the Doctor having faked his death and later erased himself from every database in the universe in the mini-episode The Inforarium, suddenly those responsible had no evidence that the man River had been accused of killing had ever existed, and as such she received a pardon and was freed from the Stormcage. She returned to her archaeological studies, becoming a professor in the process.

River’s final encounter with Amy, Rory and the eleventh Doctor also marked Amy and Rory’s last adventure with the Doctor, when a Weeping Angel sent Rory back in time to 1930s New York in The Angels Take Manhattan. River was already in New York investigating the Angels, and after teaming up with the Doctor and friends to defeat them in 1938, she was also present when Amy made her fateful decision to join Rory in the past to live out the rest of their lives. River later wrote these events down in the form of a novel, Melody Malone: Private Detective In Old New York Town, which she gave to Amy to publish so that the Doctor would know where to find Rory in the first place.

It’s immediately after The Angels Take Manhattan that Steven Moffat has stated that The Husbands Of River Song takes place for River – but you’ll have to wait until December 25 to unwrap that one…

At some point after leaving Manhattan, the Doctor and River visited the Singing Towers of Darillium, where they spent their final night together. These events were first mentioned in Forest Of The Dead, in which River also reveals that the Doctor gave her his sonic screwdriver. In the mini-episode Last Night, the eleventh Doctor met an older eleventh Doctor and River, who were on their way to Darillium, both Doctors knowing what this meant for his time with River.

Finally, River met the tenth Doctor on an expedition to the Library in the 51st century. River knew that this would be the last time she saw the Doctor, even though for him they had never met before. In order to save over 4,000 people who had been ‘saved’ by the library’s computer system, River connected herself to the computer core, knowing that it would kill her. The Doctor was forced to watch on helplessly as she died.

The afterlife of River Song

Realising that he wouldn’t have given River his screwdriver without a good reason, the Doctor opened it up to discover a neural relay containing River’s ‘data ghost’. Though the signal was degrading, he reached the computer core just in time to transfer the copy of River’s mind into the Library’s computer, where she found herself in a virtual afterlife alongside her archaeology team, who had been killed by the Vashta Nerada.

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This version of River appeared to the Doctor once more, in The Name Of The Doctor. In a mental ‘conference call’ with Clara, Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, she pooled information with them to establish the location of Trenzalore, the planet on which the Doctor was supposed to die.

Retaining a mental link with Clara, she travelled to Trenzalore with the Doctor, who eventually revealed that he could see and hear her. After sharing a kiss, River explained that her echo had been hanging on for a proper goodbye from the Doctor. However, she insisted that his goodbye contain the possibility that they would meet again. Was this the final end of River Song?


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