Doctor Who isn’t really short on companions, as there are plenty of them throughout the show. However, throughout the Classic Era, the Doctor lacked “the companion.” That wasn’t much of an issue, considering that the series established the Doctor as someone above the matters of heart and romance.
But the new series doesn’t follow that rule so strictly. We saw Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor kiss Rose, and the TARDIS even witnessed some hanky-panky (the Doctor wasn’t involved). And on top of everything, we found out that the Doctor has a wife — River Song.
Who is River Song?
Professor River Song, sometimes referred to as Doctor River Song — portrayed by the talented Alex Kingston — is one of the Doctor’s closest friends and confidantes. But most importantly, River Song is the Doctor’s wife, more specifically of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor and Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor.
However, she also had encounters with David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, as well as with the Doctor’s previous incarnations, but unfortunately, their memories were later redacted. Still, she keeps track of their lives together in a journal that contains records of their every encounter.
It’s also worth pointing out that River isn’t quite human. In fact, she’s known as the “child of the TARDIS” as she was conceived by her parents, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), aboard the TARDIS whilst traveling through a Time Vortex. And to think that Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor promised that there won’t be any hanky-panky aboard the most iconic police box ever.
This affected River’s DNA, and while she’s mostly human, she’s also a part Time Lord. Born Melody Pond, River was stolen from her parents as a newborn baby by Madame Kovarian, who made Melody into the first of several Proto-Time Lords.
As a part Time Lord herself, River is actually Melody’s third incarnation, who shaped a long-lasting relationship with the Doctor, killed him, and brought him back to life. She’s also one of the very few who know the Doctor’s true name.
Abilities of River Song
Considering that she’s partially a Time Lord, River has regenerative abilities similar to the Doctor. However, she exhibits a greater level of control and manipulation over her regenerations compared to the Doctor. However, the series hasn’t explored whether she has any other abilities or physiological similarities to the Time Lords.
Keen Sense of Smell
Several audio accounts, however, have confirmed that she has a keen sense of smell which allows her to detect any living or dead entities in her vicinity. According to the same accounts, she also has a respiratory bypass system, which is a part of Gallifreyan physiology.
Considering that she’s only part Time Lord, this would imply that all Gallifreyans are Time Lords, which most certainly isn’t the case. Said audio accounts are a part of the Big Finish audio adventures, which many consider canon. But for the sake of this discussion, we’ll focus on the Doctor Who series as the only canonical source.
Being the “child of the TARDIS,” River was actually taught how to fly the TARDIS by the time machine itself. She’s a very fast learner, and she quickly learned how to control the machine more proficiency than the Doctor. She indicated this in the episode Husbands of River Song, stating that she’s so good at it she stole and returned the TARDIS multiple times without the Doctor noticing.
She also seems very well-versed in temporal theory and advanced sciences, possibly credited to her Time Lord genetics. Her genius-level intellect provided her with the ability to achieve fantastic academic results; she reads and writes Old High Gallifreyan and speaks French.
On top of that, she has exceptional physical strength, as demonstrated in The Impossible Astronaut episode. She’s also an exceptionally skilled escape artist and only remains in prison if it serves her end goals. In The Husbands of River Song episode, she even stated that she has a “significant history” of escaping.
Key Appearances of River Song in Doctor Who
River Song was specifically created by Steven Moffat as an experienced future companion of the Doctor. The character was introduced during David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor in Season 4 of New Who and Steven Moffat’s time as the show’s writer.
However, after he assumed the duties of Russell T. Davies, the show’s previous exec. producer, Moffat decided to expand the character, depicting adventures earlier in River’s timeline. This also made Alex Kingston a recurring actress in the show and not just a guest star.
River made approximately 20 appearances in the Doctor Who television show. Here are the top ten:
Silence in the Library/Forest of the Damned — Season 4
The episode that introduced River Song to the series, and to the Doctor himself, though she already knew him, and to his surprise, his real name. She sacrifices herself to save David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, Donna Noble, and some 4,000 people.
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone — Season 5
This is the first time audiences saw River after her 2008 debut in the series and the first time River meets Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. The episode was also memorable for its first return of Weeping Angels.
Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang — Season 5
Matt Smith’s first tenure ends with him and River rebooting the universe. She also left him a message at the dawn of time, which became the first message recorded in history — Hello Sweetie! Oh, and she shows up at her own parents’ wedding before she’s born.
The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon — Season 6
In 1969, an orphaned Melody phoned President Nixon, telling him that she was afraid of the spaceman. The Doctor, adult River Song, and her parents Rory Williams and Amy Pond track down a spaceman. Amy shoots at the spaceman, not knowing that it’s Melody wearing the suit. Six months later, Melody makes it to New York, where she begins to regenerate. Oh, and the Doctor dies in this episode.
A Good Man Goes to War — Season 6
This episode reveals that Amy Pond gave birth to a child who’s destined to become the weapon against the Doctor. The child is taken by Madame Kovarian, and adult River reveals that her parents are actually Amy and Rory.
Let’s Kill Hitler — Season 6
Mels, River’s second incarnation, forced the Eleventh Doctor to go back in time and kill Hitler. Unfortunately for Mels, she’s shot and regenerated into River. However, this doesn’t break her conditioning by Madame Kovarian, and River kills the Doctor by kissing him with poisonous lipstick.
Closing Time — Season 6
Right after she gets her first doctorate, Madame Kovarian and the Silence drug River and put her into a spacesuit, forcing her to kill the Eleventh Doctor — as seen in The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon episode.
The Wedding of River Song — Season 6
In this episode, River finally defeats Kovarian and the Silence, breaks time and resets it by marrying the Eleventh Doctor. We also find out that it wasn’t her that killed the Doctor in Closing Time/The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, but another version of him.
The Angels Take Manhattan — Season 7
This episode is River’s final adventure with her parents. Amy, Rory, River, and the Eleventh Doctor are battling Weeping Angels in New York. Unfortunately, the angels trapped Amy and Rory in the past, and she won’t see them again.
The Husbands of River Song — Season 9
This is a rather hilarious meeting between River and the Doctor, as this is the first time River doesn’t recognize him. River gives quite an emotional speech about the Doctor never loving her, only to realize she’s standing next to him, and him saying “Hello Sweetie” to her this time.
The Doctor and River Song Connection
We already mentioned that River is the Doctor’s wife, and at the time of their first on-screen meeting, the Doctor had very little idea who she actually is — due to his memories being altered.
The Doctor meets her later when she tries to kill him and succeeds, which breaks her conditioning, and she revives him, using the energy of her remaining regenerations. Through a series of adventures, she confronts Madame Kovarian and in the process of defeating her, breaks the time.
The only way to reset time is to kill the Doctor, which River refuses to do. So, the Doctor calms her down, marries her in a rushed ceremony, and whispers something in her ear. They kiss, and time moves again, after which River shoots the Doctor, resetting the timeline.
Is River Song a Time Lord/Gallifreyan?
River Song is primarily human, with some Time Lord DNA. As previously discussed, she doesn’t have any subtle Gallifreyan features that would distinguish her from humans. However, some audio accounts state that she has two hearts.
She was previously able to regenerate like a Time Lord and has exhibited a great level of control over her regenerations. Unfortunately, she spent all the energy of her future regenerations to revive the Doctor after she had killed him in Let’s Kill Hitler.
How River Song Has Changed Over Time
Well, the character has seen very little development since she first appeared in her 2008 debut. River was given more screen time only after Moffat became the showrunner for Doctor Who in 2010, and her backstory was explored through several different adventures over several seasons of the show.
This includes her past as a child psychologically conditioned to kill the Doctor in the future, which has brought some depth to the character. With that said, this transition made Alex Kingston a recurring actress on the show, and not just a guest star, like she was in her 2008 debut.
What More Can We Speculate About River Song in the Future?
Unfortunately, actress Alex Kingston hasn’t been fully involved in the Whoniverse since her departure from the series in 2015. She only appeared in a short cameo in Doctor Who: Time Fracture immersive event, but that’s about it.
With that said, Alex Kingston has stated that she’d gladly return to the series, given the opportunity.
Doctor Who River Song Quiz
In River's Chronological Pen-Ultimate Adventure with the Doctor How Long Was The Night They Spent at the Singing Towers of Darillium?
At Lake Silencio Who or What Did River Song See Under the Astronaut's Helmet?
In 'A Good Man Goes to War' What Musician Did River Say the Doctor Had Perform for Them at the Frost Fair in 1814 Without Them Being Aware
When River Song First Met the Doctor What is One of the Future Spoilers She Told The Doctor About Opening His TARDIS?
Which is One of the Ways that River Song Used to Escape from Storm Cage During Her Imprisonment There?
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Jason Collins is a freelance Pop Culture Journalist with a degree in English Literature. While he has had the distinct privilege of seeing Tom Baker up close he was not offered any Jelly Babies which was highly disappointing. When he’s not out on the hunt for the latest and greatest podcast he is lounging at home with more cats than he would care to disclose at this temporal moment.