Eight, yes EIGHT years ago today, the Doctor met River Song for the first time in the Library. Her story only really came to an end a few months ago, even though she died in the Library. But even that confusing fact is probably the easiest thing to understand about one of Steven Moffat’s most complex inventions.
When River Song first met the Doctor, there was immediately a lot of intrigue surrounding her character. She knew the Doctor, the Doctor didn’t know her, a brilliant concept for a show that deals with time travel on a weekly basis. Her debut in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead was in my opinion her best for the show. Not only was that the best story she appeared in, she was also written at her brilliant best. She led her team of archaeologists into the Library to confront what turned out to be the Vashta Nerada. Throughout the story, River was brave, a terrific leader of her team and resourceful. While she remained all of those things throughout her time in the show, a lot of the focus was taken away from her tough side and shone on to her relationship with the Doctor. In the Library, River’s flirting was kept to a minimum. The odd “sweetie” or “pretty boy” in the direction of the Doctor was as far as it went. Maybe this was because the tenth Doctor gave her nothing in return to work with, he of course didn’t have a clue who she was, but with so little flirting she was a much more enjoyable character to watch.
In Steven Moffat’s first series as head writer, River literally flew back into the TARDIS in dramatic style. The two parter, The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone saw River return and again she was a very entertaining and mysterious character. The eleventh Doctor still didn’t really know who River was so she still came across as a hardened woman who was great in a crisis. She again shows great leadership skills as well as taking well to Amy (who of course didn’t know who River was either at the time). When River returned for the series five finale The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, it felt a bit rushed. She did have a few moments where she was important. She was the only person inside the TARDIS when it blew up and it was her wedding present to Amy that brought back the Doctor. But did River really need to play such a prominent role? Anyone could’ve been in the TARDIS when it blew up. Moffat could’ve easily altered the script for River not to be present. A cameo at the end to see her give Amy the blue diary would’ve been just enough. She was beginning to become overused by this stage. Just seeing her at Amy’s wedding would’ve maintained the aura around her perfectly.
At last River’s identity was revealed in series six and fair play to Steven Moffat, what a surprise he had in store. The opening story was superb. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon saw a mysterious figure in a spacesuit emerge from a lake and shoot the Doctor dead, or so it seemed. River was terrific in this story. As the Doctor was getting to know her and probably work out who she was, he was flirting with her too. Admittedly this did lead to some horrendous lines from the pair, that did put me off her character quite a bit. Her appearance in A Good Man Goes to War was stunning. This is how she should’ve appeared in The Big Bang, only fleetingly at the end. The reveal she was Rory and Amy’s child was jaw dropping and at the time it seemed as though Moffat had created one of the best characters ever. Nobody could’ve saw this coming and it all made perfect sense. Unfortunately after that, River’s character began to decline, along with the quality of the show. Her performance in Let’s Kill Hitler was unbearable. Trying to murder the Doctor while flirting with him was so uncomfortable to watch. And the kiss scene at the end just topped off how bad the episode was. River went from murederous to desperate to save the Doctor, just because the Doctor still cared. When she gave him some of her regenerative energy she could’ve just touched him, as she still didn’t really know him. Instead we got something that belonged in a Disney film and I couldn’t stand how she brought back the Doctor. Throughout the second part of series six, one of the songs that played sang “River kills the Doctor”. I don’t really know why this was included. Yes, you could’ve probably worked out it was River in the spacesuit by now, but it still took some of the drama out of the scene where we saw River in the suit for the first time. The finale, The Wedding of River Song is another poor episode for River. Moffat had already delivered the huge shock that she was the Ponds’ daughter, so why did he have to try to continue to develop the character. River had already peaked. The reveal of who she was was stunning. Anyone could’ve been in the spacesuit and killed the Doctor though. The mystery was how the Doctor survived, not who shot him. That was the fundamental error Moffat made with the finale. Although the Teselecta was a valid and ok way for the Doctor to escape, he rushed explaining that, while River and Doctor’s completely unnecessary marriage took centre stage. The Doctor could’ve told River to look into his eyes at anytime, why did they have to get married? If it was Moffat’s plan along for the two to tie the knot, do it properly, don’t ram it in the season finale in the year the Doctor got shot. For me, River was again slightly overused in series six. She was good in the opening two parter and A Good Man Goes to War, but that should’ve been her character over with after that. There was no need for her to have killed the Doctor, or to have married him and it was as though Moffat was trying to cram her in at every opportunity he got.
River only appeared twice in series seven and again, they were two utterly pointless appearances. The Angels Take Manhetten didn’t need her at all. Amy could’ve easily written the book River had written. Without River physically being there, the plot would be no different, and again her flirting with the Doctor was a major turn off. She returned in The Name of the Doctor and I have no idea why, she was written terribly. She could only initially communicate with Vastra and co. through a conference call where you need to be asleep in which to participate. The fact she could communicate with a conscious Clara made no sense. River telling Clara her tomb was a secret passage and then opening the TARDIS doors was just a way of Moffat avoiding falling into plot holes. The scene where the Doctor grabbed her hand as she was about to slap him, despite her not actually being there again, was just annoying and unnecessary. This was a greatly intense episode and was slightly spoiled by the moment of romance between the Doctor and his wife.
In fairness, River’s last appearance in The Husbands of River Song was excellent. It was very clever of Moffat to allow us to see her character come full circle and receive the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver so she could be saved in the Library. I’m glad we saw flirting and romance kept to a minimum. The moment where River worked out that it was the Doctor was lovely and was the best moment by far of the two’s relationship. They actually seemed to admire and adore each other rather than tacky flirting which was a poignant end for her character. If A Good Man Goes to War was River’s previous appearance before this Christmas special, I would say she was one of, if not the best and most cleverly created character of the modern era, maybe all time. Moffat tried to stretch her too far though. Her storyline through the second half of series six and into series seven got boring and was a case of Moffat wanting to be too clever. Some of her appearances served no purpose other than to please fans which put me off her character too. It’s a shame because I could’ve really loved River Song, but there are only certain episodes where she is bearable. If she was written more similarly to the way she was in the Library; strong, domineering and quirky, then her time in the show would’ve been more enjoyable. All of the cheap, childish innuendos written for her took away from the character that she should’ve been.