The Many Lives of River Song, or, Thinking Too Much About Doctor Who

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With all the hand-wringing about whether "Let's Kill Hitler" was going to make too light of Hitler or not, I doubt anyone expected that he would be locked into a cupboard for the entire episode (note to Moffat--please continue with Roronicus Pond, action star).

I definitely did not expect an entire episode about our River Song, least of all that we'd get to see her first meeting with the Doctor so soon. So, while I literally shouted in surprise at least 5 times throughout the episode, it's now time to think more logically through the episode's implications (insofar as one can think logically through any product of Steven Moffat's brain).

THE MANY LIVES OF RIVER SONG

How many regenerations has River had?

Mels/River showed no surprise or discomfort about the regeneration process...so how many times has it happened? We know it happened once with the girl in the astronaut's uniform, but that was back in the 1960s. So she had to have regenerated at least one more time in between, to have been a child in the 1980s. Or does she? We do learn, after all, that River can program herself to age in reverse if she wants.

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I propose this timeline of sorts:

1st Melody: spans from birth of Melody Pond to regeneration on the streets of New York City. It's during this time that Madame Kovarian (or whoever) train Melody into becoming a weapon to kill the Doctor.

2nd Melody: I'd like to think she regenerates back into a baby after the incident in NY, and Amy and Rory actually get to raise her this time.

3rd Melody: For Melody to demonstrate such knowledge and control over the regeneration process when she regenerates into Alex Kingston, it stands to reason that sometime in between Melody 2 and "Mels," she regenerates into an adult form and runs off and has adventures.

4th Melody: Perhaps Madame Kovarian or the Silence catch up to her, knowing that Amy and Rory are the keys to finding the Doctor, and thusly they plant "Mels" into their Leadworth lives.

So, the penny's in the air...and the penny drops:

5th Melody aka River: Dare I say the greatest Melody of them all. We don't yet know why she changes her name to River (but this could just be one of those ontological paradoxes, where the she learns that she will become River Song, therefore she becomes River Song. Now repeat after me: WIBBLEY WOBBLEY TIMEY WIMEY. That's better.).

Really wacky but totally true observation: I believe that after she's let out of prison, River is under house arrest on Earth for a time, much like the Third Doctor, and forced to work for the government. During this time, she becomes a public defense attorney. If you do not believe me, allow me to remind you that Alex Kingston had a recurring role on Law and Order: SVU. The name of her character? MIRANDA POND!! Moving on now...

If we take "Let's Kill Hitler" on its face, then we are left to believe that River has used the remainder of her regenerations on saving the Doctor. However, I think the construction of the dialogue suggests a Moffatrick:

Amy: "Apparently you used all your remaining regenerations in one go. You shouldn't have done that..."

River: "He said no one could save him. But he must have known I could."

Doctor: "Rule 1: The Doctor Lies."

For the Doctor to have said that at that particular moment means one of two things: either River did not actually use all her remaining regenerations in one go, or River did not actually save him. It's also possible that both are true.

ETA: Re-reading this post, I found that I ignored one super-glaring contradiction. Mels/River explicitly says this is the first time she's meeting the Doctor, but surely the first time she meets him is as Melody 1, when she kills him?

And let's not forget one essential part of River's parentage: the Tardis. Perhaps if the Doctor returns to the Library, he can take River's essence out and combine her with Tardis energy and make her real again (ok, now I really am just guessing).

But let's be honest. A Doctor Who world without River Song in it scarcely bears thinking about.

OTHER RANDOM NOTES:

-One rarely thinks about directorial flourishes in Doctor Who, but this episode had a few neat references to classic film. The best one, of course, being "Hello, Benjamin." Though, admittedly, it's odd that the Doctor doesn't get the reference in this episode when he actually introduces River as Mrs. Robinson to Nixon...

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-Flipping River's gun for a banana hearkens back to two Steven Moffat works: "The Empty Child" and "Curse of Fatal Death". The manner in which the Doctor kept faking out River and the gun was almost identical to how the Doctor keeps foiling the Master's dastardly plans and replacing them with a "sofa of reasonable comfort."

-Is it just me, or did the Tesselecta make no narrative sense whatsoever? But as with most Moffat things that make no sense, that usually means they'll be coming back later. But they've definitely been watching too much Star Trek.

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-A lot of people seem pissed off that Amy and Rory don't act more parental about Mels/River, but I thought it was beautifully underplayed. Karen Gillan's delivery of "Why are you a psychopath? You're not a psychopath" was one of the most beautiful moments I've seen on the tv, a genuine moment of angst that doesn't overwhelm the imminent danger they face.

-River easily wins the best line of the episode: “Well, I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled when I suddenly thought, ‘Gosh, the Third Reich’s a bit rubbish. I think I’ll kill the fuhrer.’”

In the comments, James linked to an interesting post which offers a potential explanation to the Doctor's sudden wardrobe change. I highly recommend it.

Anyhow, so long and thanks for stopping by! As always, feel free to hash things out in the comments. Tell me YOUR favorite line of the episode, etc.

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40 Responses to “ The Many Lives of River Song, or, Thinking Too Much About Doctor Who ”

  1. I loved the episode, but all i have to add is favourite line.
    Rory "it was a minurature ray"
    Amy "how can you know that?"
    Rory "there was a ray, and then we were minituraised"
    Althouhg, how he know where he was i am not sure?
    Next line straight after was good too.
    "I am a minituraised man trapped inside my wifes head. I am trying not to see this as a metaphor!"

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  2. Haha that was absolutely brilliant. Everything Rory did or said was pretty awesome (but it's no secret that I consider him my husband, not Amy's)

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  3. I keep being mildly annoyed (ie not enough to spoil the episode) by the fact that Steven Moffatt appeared to spend a very large amount of time setting up his frankly unnecessary idea about River and the Doctor living in opposite directions from each other, and now he's milked the odd bit of poignancy out of it (like River realising that that's the last time she'll kiss him) he has sort of discarded it.

    Either that or that is the last ever time this doctor will see River Song, which seems unlikely.

    At least if the living in opposite directions thing isn't so strict as it was made out to be by river in the first half of the series, her having a diary to work out when in time she and the doctor are makes sense again.

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  4. Personally I'm quite glad that he's abandoned that "strictly in opposite directions" thread, as it gave the whole thing an air of inevitability that I was not a huge fan of.

    That said, you're right that it erases the poignancy of River's sadness that she'll never meet him again. Moffat has said repeatedly that he's planned the whole River Song arc out from the beginning, but I do wonder how much that's actually true.

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  5. Reading my comment again I realise it makes me look like I'm sad to see it go... Actually I'm completely in agreement with you!

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  6. I really enjoyed this! Thanks for the post and the comment on my own:

    http://ravereader.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/doctor-who-series-6-8-lets-kill-hitler-by-steven-moffat/

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  7. "I danced with everyone at their wedding. The women were all brilliant. The men were a bit shy."

    <3

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  8. I especially like this: "But let's be honest. A Doctor Who world without River Song in it scarcely bears thinking about."

    I'm happy to trade links too!
    http://tvgeekarmy.com/post/viewPost/doctor_who_lets_kill_hitler_this_lonely_traveler/

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  9. 2nd Melody: I'd like to think she regenerates back into a baby after the incident in NY, and Amy and Rory actually get to raise her this time.

    I think not. At least, not until that's going to happen in Amy and Rory's future.

    River easily wins the best line of the episode: “Well, I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled when I suddenly thought, ‘Gosh, the Third Reich’s a bit rubbish. I think I’ll kill the fuhrer.’”

    No, no, no. Rory's peremptory "Shut up, Hitler" was the best!

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  10. Lol. There were many great lines in this episode. Thanks everyone for stopping by!

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  11. "ETA: Re-reading this post, I found that I ignored one super-glaring contradiction. Mels/River explicitly says this is the first time she's meeting the Doctor, but surely the first time she meets him is as Melody 1, when she kills him?"


    I believe you are assuming far too much there. It's been so heavily implied that River/Melody was the one in the suit. It was outright stated by the crew in this episode. This leads me to believe that's not the case. After all we know The Doctor will find a way around his "death", so why would the create a mystery and then leave nothing but obvious clues?

    The less obvious clues, however, are more interesting.

    1. The statement that this was her first meeting with The Doctor.
    2. She shot at the astronaut.
    3. Her angry reaction to the younger Doctor in the Diner.

    These all give the impression that River had not experienced any of these events before.

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  12. Somehow Mels needs to get to be a baby (or five years old) and be in Ledworth 15-20 years ago.

    She can't have lived too many lives before that or she'd have been even more bored (clearly she was quite bored).

    The aliens who kept erasing minds (they really weren't The Silence, right?) couldn't have been with her to much or she'd have gone cRaZy like the guy running the orphanage, right?

    Don't for get that River said, "The Doctor lies and SO DO I". There is going to be a whopper somewhere.

    We don't know for sure the age of the person in the astronaut suit that kills the doctor in 2011. And we don't really know that it's Melody/River in the suit.

    It's River Song in jail for killing a good man, they don't call her Melody Pond. It's a minor distinction, but possibly quite relevant...

    When Mels is in Amy's bedroom and says Amy has a guy. And mutters "It's got to be you two", she wasn't really sure it was Rory that was he father until then. At least that's how I read it.

    Can you drive a motorbike? "The way today has gone, I'd suppose so" (or some version of that, I liked that); the plot requires me to, so therefore I must...

    And Amy at the beginning, "you've been gone all summer"!!!

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  13. You're totally right. "Well, I was on my way to this gay gypsy bar mitzvah . . ." IS this best line of the episode. And the best line of your review? "WIBBLEY WOBBLEY TIMEY WIMEY." It explains so much! :P

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  14. "ETA: Re-reading this post, I found that I ignored one super-glaring contradiction. Mels/River explicitly says this is the first time she's meeting the Doctor, but surely the first time she meets him is as Melody 1, when she kills him?"

    Just because we see Melody 1 in the astronaut suit doesn't mean that was actually her in the astronaut suit when the Doctor is killed. Could be River. Could be anyone.

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  15. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, and for posting a link over on my blog! Your blog is one I will definitely add to my subscriptions.

    I've been giving a lot of thought to the religious elements in the last episode, and coming across an interesting Star Wars posted sparked a blog entry reflecting on redemption in Star Wars and Doctor Who which you may enjoy.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this - interesting insights!

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  16. I think the quick scene with Melody/River dressed as Madame Korvarian is interesting (we saw this in a preview for the second half of the season) Was she ACTUALLY Madame Korvarian, or disguised as her?

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  17. "We don't yet know why she changes her name to River (but this could just be one of those ontological paradoxes, where the she learns that she will become River Song, therefore she becomes River Song."

    Except we do. Melody changes her name to River because Amy and Rory tell her she's River, via the Tesselecta. So you're right, that is an ontological paradox.

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  18. Hm, nice review. But I highly doubt River had as many regenerations as you assume here. She does have plenty of knowledge about the process, that's true. But she mentions being a girl in NYC before she dies, and not any other lives. If we take the three forms we've seen, there's a clear progression from younger to older.

    Also, why the hell would she want to regenerate into a baby? Why would Amy and Rory necessarily want to raise a child who was insane, often broke the law, and had been brainwashed into a killing machine? Why wouldn't the Silence just plant Melody in Leadworth in the first place, as opposed to waiting and then stealing her back?

    Also, not to rain on your speculation, but Moffat has stated multiple times that if River could be taken out of the Library somehow, Ten would've done it. I suspect Amy and Rory might visit her there, but she ain't coming back.

    @qob: That was my thought upon seeing the preview, that River could have been Kovarian as well - but in retrospect, kidnapping and brainwashing HERSELF to be a killing machine seems rather illogical. Currently I think the eye patch was just there to show her obedience to Madame Kovarian.

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  19. @Anonymous, it's true that there may not have been quite so many regenerations, but it's shown very clearly that Mels grows up with Amy and Rory from a very young age, so at some point she would have had to regenerate back into a child, surely.

    Also, rule #1 is that Moffat lies :)

    I will refrain from judgment on the eyepatch, because as we all know, River loves to play dress-up. It could just be a trick.

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  20. You're forgetting she said the last time she regenerated, she ended up a toddler in the middle of New York. That means she went from orphanage girl to Mels at the end of "Day of the Moon".

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  21. "For the Doctor to have said that at that particular moment means one of two things: either River did not actually use all her remaining regenerations in one go, or River did not actually save him. It's also possible that both are true."

    Actually, the first time I heard it, I read it differently.

    "River: "He said no one could save him...

    Doctor: "Rule 1: The Doctor Lies.""

    The "obvious" interpretation, to me, was that he said nobody could save him but he lied.

    Of course, given that it's seemed obvious it might very well be wrong - maybe River has regenerations left, maybe the Doctor isn't saved, maybe something else. Really, given that the Doctor lies and Moffat lies, we don't know much at all :(

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  22. It's opposite, except for exceptions.

    When Rory went to get her (A good man goes to war), she had to consult why Rory was there. But if she'd just been with A doctor for her birthday and had to consult (but then that was really Rory interfering in her time-line).

    I think other than this episode, they'll stick more with the back to front.

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  23. I'd say she was lying about the number of regenerations left, but we know she dies in this form...

    If she was a toddler in New York in 1969, then she'd have been 25-ish by the time she finally found Rory/Amy.

    If she grows up to be Kovarian, it'd be very paradoxical to kidnap Amy to give birth to herself. Plus, we know what she looks like when she dies (unless she regenerates twice, once back into River).

    Besides, I think she grows up to be Amy's mother....

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  24. @noybusiness Fair point. It's all so confusing...

    @Gary LaPointe if she grows up to be River I think my head will actually explode. Also, there were a number of out of order interactions in A Good Man Goes to War. Also, we know that there were out of order interactions in Flesh and Stone, since there were two doctors of different ages there.

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  25. @James Thanks for linking to a great post!

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  26. I'm sorry that I'm not as knowledgeable about Dr Who as all of you obviously are, and I am very confused how River can actually regenerate - i.e., have I missed something/episode that explained this? Surely to be able to regenerate she would have to be a product of Amy and the Dr and not Amy and Rory? How come she has these powers reserved for timelords?

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  27. Hey anonymous, don't worry, the show hasn't fully explained this.

    The explanation offered thus far is that since River was conceived in the Tardis, she has elements of Tardis energy in her, allowing her to regenerate (this makes a sort of sense since the Doctor ended up with the entirety of Timelord power in his Tardis when Gallifrey was destroyed).

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  28. Great article. Thanks so much. Just a couple things I would like to throw out.

    1. River says in the impossible astronaut that the first time she meets the doctor is when she is a little girl. How does this now fit that this is the apparant first meeting?
    2. What does he whisper to her? Are we just assuming he tells her he loves her?
    3. Brillant observation about the tux and the wedding. Totally missed that. River gives amy the diary at her wedding and it was blank. At the end, doctor gives it to her and it was full. Maybe river at the wedding is from this point as well. Also, is it possible that the doctor read about the poisoning at this time and traveled there to put on a show as it was. In other words, he was already dead in the tardis and the tux doc comes in to fill the gap.

    Hey, it all made sense in my head at the time! Lol your thoughts...

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  29. The kiss at the end of that episode is what River thinks is her last kiss with "her" doctor.
    But in Silence in the Library, she says "her" doctor came in, unexpectedly, they had a grand time, and he gave her a sonic with red screens or whatever, and a hidden memory thingy. So they meet at least one more time.

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  30. One thing I hate about Moffat is how he plays with us. I see the Corvette tearing up the cornfield and say, "That's got to be River Song." But it wasn't.
    But it was. Damn you Moffat!
    He's very clever.
    The only thing I really dislike is that it seems we've just totally abandoned the idea of Amy and Rory getting to raise their child. And that seems almost like in the old serials when the car goes over the cliff and explodes, and the hero can't get out, but in the next episode, he opens the door before the car goes over? Saw it in Buck Rogers. Buck is pinned down, can't get away. Next episode, he jumps out the window. Bastarde! Seems like Moffat loved the idea of pregnant Amy and hostage baby, but not the idea of a parents and child on the Tardis. So this is almost a discard.
    I think Melody in New York Regenerates into someone of about the same age. Mels. And I think the Silence try to get her to Leadworth in another 15 to 20 years, but they end up on Aickman Road.
    No one that I've seen has commented on the big time shift. The knocks four times happens when? 2009? But when the doctor goes into space to regenerate, he ends up in Amelia's time, which is like 14 years earlier. Bouncing around a bit, Doc.
    Lastly, the Doctor met Melody when she was a little girl. On Demon's Run. She slept in his "cot." It was a flesh avatar, but there is projection. We know that, because Melody sees Madame K in "Good Man..." at the end, right before the avatar is taken.
    That's what bothers me. Amy needs to spend more time with her baby. And Rory too.

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  31. I loved this episode! River is fantastic! I have seen that many people hate how quickly River went from assassin to saving the Doctor. While I would have liked to see a little more of her trying to kill the Doctor, I didn't find it strange how quickly she changed.

    A few points to help:

    She was literally "going through hell" and her parents and the Doctor saved her even though she had "killed" the Doctor. That had to have done something to her mind.

    She saw the Doctor still trying desperately to save her parents when he was dying. Again, possibly helping the situation.

    She found out she was very special and could learn from the Tardis.

    She saves her parents and then the Doctor wispers something in her ear. Possibly along the lines of "Tell River Song I love her" or "tell her she's my wife" or his name. Something that obviously had an effect.

    Finally, she finds out that she is in fact this River Song who she has pieced together throughout the episode that River is very important to the Doctor.

    With these tidbits, I have no problem seeing her change so quickly. I also am very excited that Alex Kingston IS River Song and won't be changed.

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  32. Why do you think this was River's first meeting with the Doctor? There's no evidence to support that.

    Also, no one seems to notice that just like there's a theme of Rory getting killed over and over, Amy keeps getting turned into other things (Flesh-Amy, Motorcycle Robot, and Dollhouse Amy).

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  33. There's no evidence that this was the Doctor and River's first meeting.

    The diary River gave Amy at the wedding was full, not blank. The diary the Doctor gave River in this episode was empty, not full.

    Remember, they BOTH kept a diary.

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  34. I had a thought about this - it's detailed on my blog at http://thoughtsonmorality.blogspot.com/2011/09/river-songs-first-meeting-with-doctor.html

    Basically, how do we know that it was our doctor in this episode? It might have been the 1300+ year old one, just before he went off to the lake in Impossible Astronaut...

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  35. @SGuilfoyle But the "one last time" might have been in the 31 minutes that he had to leave. She did say he 'showed up in his best suit' or something like that.

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  36. @WhoDatMan The diary at the wedding looked used but was specifically stated by The Doctor as he handed it back to River (after the wedding, by the TARDIS) that all the words reappeared (but that he didn't peak).

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  37. Gary, the "one last time" included a grand time, but also included the Doctor giving her the sonic. He didn't give her a sonic.

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  38. I just saw an episode of Law and Order: SVU with her in it.
    Once they said Ms. Pond, my heart almost stopped.
    I was like WTH!?!?! It was awesome~ hahaha

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  39. I need more sex, ok? Before I die I wanna taste everyone in the world. Hey, i am looking for an online sexual partner ;) Click on my boobs if you are interested (. )( .)

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