lol because promised: My River / season 6 rant / essay-type... thing
River Song is a terrible character and an even worse plot device. Season 6 was basically all about the origins of River Song, which, if you weren't a fan of the character, was mostly an unsatisfying season to put it mildly. From the jump-hop-spring from plot to plot, skipping over character development and established personality traits entirely, and timey loopholes that, when you think about it for a while, really don't hold up (apart from ~*~timey wimey~*~) and the dependency on these timey-wimey 'puzzles' (they're not really puzzles if you can solve it by handwaving it, but I can't very well call it an egocentrical pat on the back from the writer to the writer himself) to make up for the lack of weight and danger that this entire season encompasses, season 6 has definitely been a low point in my Doctor Who watching history. But the worst part was definitely River Song - not even Alex Kingston's brilliance can make me like this shoe-horned in 'heroine' (or is it sympathetic villain?) who we are all supposed to fall in love with. Moffat gives River Song such qualities and paints her with these EPIC GLASSES (which are cool, of course) that the character in reality can never really live up to it.
I'll start with her timeline. This is the first thing we learn about River Song, and it does its job in attracting our attention; she and the Doctor's timelines are opposites, and an older Doctor will always meet a younger River. Don't ask me how this even works - I assume the Doctor keeps traveling to her previous time to pick her up, which I'm sure isn't meant to be weird but ~*~romantic~*~ because they're star-crossed lovers this way. LITERALLY! However, it's also incredibly manipulative writing, by which I mean we're supposed to care about River Song because she is important to the Doctor, and knows about his future, and even knows his name! Clearly she is an amazing character, and so ~*~deep~*~.
I didn't mind this so much at first, because it was a clever mirror on what must be a lot of people's first impression of the Doctor himself, plus, she sacrificed herself for the Doctor! She was kind of epic, and spunky, and didn't take the Doctor's crap like most people who meet the Doctor do. When 10 meets her, she's just an enigma trapped in a mystery and she remains that until we see each other the next time. I like it when writers do that, kill a character before their story is told. It's a sure-fire way to get people interested in what the hell the character was really about.
However, that is at the end of River's life (Well, not really, but I will get back to that later), so it was rather inevitable that we would meet her again, right? I wasn't too enthused by her but I didn't mind learning more about her. But as we see more and more of her timeline, the events unfolding just make me more and more disturbed by how her entire character was written. It's so problematic in so many different ways, none of which are more than just fleetingly, if at all, touched upon. I know that her tragic past and lack of agency about anything in her life (because since she apparently goes time-backwards, all of this has been seen by every other person in her life and thus they... make it happen for her, I assume? I'll get on that later) is supposed to make me feel sorry for her and is supposed to be the 'soft' side to her quirky and at times psychotic personality... but it really doesn't succeed at making me feel for her.
So, in season 6 we find out that River Song is (sort of) a Timelord (Timelady? Although I've been told that this is actually a title you have to study for, like Professor or Doctor. But I digress - clearly that doesn't matter to Moffat since it sounds cool so WHATEVER). Also, she is the Ponds', his current companions, future daughter. Who was necessary to kill him to keep the Doctor quiet because he knew the answer to the universe's first question. And apparently everyone in the Universe knows that the Doctor is meant to die at a certain spot on Earth, at a certain date, except the Doctor himself (Who knows how that works when he has a TARDIS and should've presumably at least met someone with that information before, let alone come past a date PAST that event and found out through that way? Never mind). So she's trained from birth in ways how to destroy the Doctor. Apparently, by being forced to wear an astronaut suit(?). Except she escapes from the Silence (I mean the aliens, not the order... this will get confusing really fast because they never officially gave us a name for these aliens you forget once you look away from them) and somehow, despite her escaping on Earth in the 60s as a child, she is still a child (regenerated in the meantime, so she doesn't look like Amy and Rory) once she meets up with Amy and Rory in the 90s. And then she grows up alongside them. And she knows she will meet the Doctor through Amy and Rory because she knows they will become his companions in the future because she knows she's their child... Are you keeping up? Because I sure am not.
Now, after seeing the end of season 6, how necessary was it for River to be Amy and Rory's daughter? I'm only questioning this from a writer's point of view, because it just felt, once again, like I was being manipulated to care for this baby because she mattered to Amy and Rory. In fact, the half-season finale revolved solely about the 'shock' of River being their daughter. And after she was kidnapped and revealed to have been their child all along, the baby Melody is oddly lacking from the script. Some of the episodes got reshuffled and placed before the reveal rather than after and vice versa, but that still doesn't excuse the ridiculous lack of concern Amy and Rory have for their baby. Not even a mention of her! Clearly, they know she's going to be fine, and because River is in such a consctricted timeline (lack of agency coming into play again), they can't do much more than accept that they grew up with their baby thinking she was their friend, and that's as good as they're gonna get. Oh well, let's not mention her anymore then, shall we? Even though season 6 was obviously written with a specific parents and children theme in mind. There was such a disconnect of emotions for me (no, the trailer for the back episodes of season 6 doesn't count) and it was hard to remember Amy and Rory were even parents. If you are going to make River Amy and Rory's daughter, you should at least be able to follow-up with that in your writing. Even though they knew River would be fine, making the danger of the show once again lackluster if it was there at all. Now, if River had just been a random baby which somehow had Timelady... abilities ready to be awakened, then I would've understood the lack of concern Amy and Rory had for this baby so much more. And it wouldn't have made an ounce of difference.
Now, granted, River supposedly was picked as the Doctor's killer for being a Timelady, which is why they needed her to be conceived in the Tardis (let's do the handy-dandy timey-wimey handwave!). But why was it necessary for River to be a Timelady in the first place? Apparently the Silence wanted River to be the perfect killer so... how does being a Timelady fit into that? In fact, River 'kills' the Doctor because she was placed in an astronaut suit that was automated. So couldn't the suit have done it by itself? Why did we need a Timelord killer for this? Why did we need a person for this at ALL? Did it somehow magically run on Timelady energy? Was it because it was already known River would kill the Doctor, so they just needed to complete the circle of her timeline and in order to stop time from collapsing in on itself they HAD to kidnap her? I am completely lost on this point. In fact, they never mention her being a Timelady again, apart from when she gives him all her regeneration cycles... and that's where her Timelady plot point ends. I maybe understand needing the regeneration cycles from a writer point of view so that Amy and Rory could grow up with Mel without realizing she is River, as well as River going from wanting to kill him to wanting to love him (really? What? I guess it makes sense because River is quirky right? A 180 is totally believable from her!) but from an organisation who supposedly cares about nothing but keeping the Doctor quiet about this so-called dangerous answer, there is no logical reason to jumpstart her Timelady abilities.
To me, the worst part of River, despite her special snowflake origins and general Mary Sue-isms, is her awful dependency on the Doctor. I know, people (read;everyone but me) find this romantic, and it was kind of inescapable with her life being what it is, but to me, it made the River Song I watched originally become nothing more than a front to hide the woman inside who wanted to be with the Doctor so badly she was happy destroying the rest of the Universe. I know, I know, the River we see when she meets 10 is the old, wisened River, who grew up a bit, but knowing River comes from a mindset like that makes me feel disgusted by the writing. The writing of her character, the writing of her story, and she's nothing more than a pawn in her own plot point. It's frustrating, because when we see River have fun, she is actually pretty damn cool, but then the plot intervenes once more. Right from the beginning of season 6 we're told that River doesn't fear death, she fears the day the Doctor won't know who she is. Apparently, her entire life and identity is so zero-focused on the Doctor that she literally has no reason to live without him and his regard for her. I mean, I get it, it's sad, but really? That's how you're planning on writing your kickass and capable archeologist professor who doesn't take crap from anyone, not even the Doctor? That was the big fat warning sign for what was to come for the rest of the season.
Now we know that Melody was kidnapped and placed on Earth in the 60s and that the Doctor failed to rescue her. Probably because he already knew they saw and freed her in the 60s so he can't interfere before that. But, from what we know of Mel, her entire scholarly focus was on the Doctor. The Doctor was the answer for everything. Her entire storyline from that point on is that she was indoctrinated to kill the Doctor, which she does indeed try once she finally meets him, and seems to succeed at before she gives him her regenerations. But when Amy and Rory convince her that the Doctor is worthy of being alive (and I guess, worth living for?), she drops her entire raison d'etre and becomes determined to be the River Song the Doctor said is his friend. I guess it's a good change, and a healthy one for her, but her enormous focus for the Doctor doesn't fade at all and in fact just gets worse.
Which is why I was yelling at my television when the Doctor married River in the finale. I have to admit, I was holding onto the faint hope that the title of the finale, 'The Marriage of River Song' was going to be a clever misnomer and it was going to be something entirely unexpected. Sadly, this was not the case. River is kidnapped by the Silence (she never escaped!) and put in the astronaut suit and shoved into Lake Silencio, where she (read: the suit) will kill the Doctor. However, she refuses to kill him, but because it was a fixed point in time and it had to happen, she caused time to collapse in on itself. Myfanwys roaming the parks! Dickens on television! Cleopatra being around! Now, only River and the Doctor remember what really happened in the 'real' timeline, but River doesn't want to reverse it. She instead calls for help from the entire Universe, because the Doctor believes he's better off dead and River wants to show him that he's loved (by nobody more than by her). I believe the dialogue goes
"I can't let you die without knowing you are loved. By so many, and so much. And by no-one more than me."
"Billions on billions will suffer and die."
"I'll suffer if I have to kill you."
"More than every living thing in the universe?!"
Which, okay, is definitely a sign that she's way too co-dependent on you, right? I know millions of fangirls of this show/pairing erupted in estatic glee, but this is just so incredibly disturbing to me. But the Doctor's reaction to this is not saying GURL COOL YO TITS but instead MARRIES HER.
I didn't believe it when I saw it at first. I mean, the Doctor has always been pretty aromantic and I know 11 is a very different person than 10 and 9, but it still struck me as weird. And I know the Doctor marries random people all the time, so it's not that I object to the Doctor marrying her, but the fact that he chooses to do it at a time like that, after a conversation like that. Way to encourage her entirely unreasonable fixation on you, Doctor! And from the Doctor's point of view, does he even love her, really? Let alone be his TRUE LOVE (like Moffat is portraying she is)? I know River didn't want to kill him and the Doctor didn't want to marry her, so I guess it was meant to be more symbolic and doing what the other didn't want to keep it even, but it was still so agonizingly wrong. I'm not going to say it didn't happen because it was in an aborted timeline, or River doesn't remember it (presumably doesn't, because the Silence make her forget...? I will get on this later!), but this just seems like Moffat took his Mary Sue five steps too far and went onto marrying the Doctor. Whelp.
And then the entire death and timeline was retconned and none of it ever mattered. Nobody was ever in danger, and the season was just a giant timey-wimey puzzle dedicated to portray Moffat's great IQ (read: ego). Whelp x2. And people really liked this season finale and thought it was amazing and romantic and Doctor/River OTP forever. Triple whelp, my boy! Let me get my cane and wave these fans from my lawn, because I am officially an unhip old fogey who complains that Doctor Who used to be good (cool).
I'll refrain from beating a dead horse over season 6's general awfulness for a bit longer to get back to River Song. Now, her entire character has been kind of written terribly, and I have to admit her backwards timeline doesn't endear me to her because despite knowing she evolves into this wizened River who knows better than to mess with the timelines, we now see a River who petulantly wants to let the universe implode for a few more moments with the Doctor. It's not a very positive look of her character. The thing that frustrates me most about River is that she has no agency. Her timeline is almost preordained and she just has to fill in the blanks by being there. She's literally dragged from birth to where she needs to be, presumably because people... knew that's where she needed to be? The Silence knew she had to become a professor, because the Doctor told her she was a professor (and mistakenly assumed she already was one)... There are many times in her life in which we can assume River needed to be there so she was. Even her actions which she chose voluntarily... How many of her trips were free will? Presumably all of them (since she enjoys them, right? And we see her do missions alone before meeting the Doctor, so it's not like she travels WITH him every time?) but even then the events she causes put a future Doctor on a path to a younger River, ad infinitum. River and the Doctor's lives are like an intricate puzzle and none of it can go out of line. It must be maddening, knowing you're acting out of free will yet knowing the other person has already lived it and knows you were going to do it before you do? And we're told that the Doctor often travels with River by picking her up in his Tardis from her jail cell... is that how she keeps getting out? So does the Doctor literally point here where she needs to go? So many questions unanswered, but I don't think I even want to know the answers. I guess River doesn't know any better and for the Doctor it would be an interesting way to romance someone, but I personally wouldn't care for it. That's just me, of course, so not a legit bitching...
A lot of what went wrong with the writing of River Song was just that, the writing. Many of my complaints about Moffat's writing is that he doesn't show, he tells. It's especially true in the case of River Song, who he claims is a powerful, smart woman who even puts the fear of God in Daleks... (looking back, that should've been a warning enough that River was going to be his baby. Really, Daleks? That is a tiny bit over the top there, Moffat). For instance, at the battle in AGMGTW, we're told that there is going to be a great battle, and the Doctor will rise higher than ever only to fall so much further than ever before, and, don't get me wrong, AGMGTW was neat, but it wasn't a super dangerous all-out war. The Doctor gathered some peeps and went YO WASSUP DUDES GIMME MELODY. Yes, he got angry, but was the rhyme and lore really necessary? It seemed so over the top to make it seem more epic than it actually was. That's basically River in a nutshell to me. We keep being told that she's a hardass, and an evil murderer(!!11), and she can even fly the Tardis better than the Doctor (don't even get me started on that one, sigh), she is just more ruthless than the Doctor in that she doesn't mind killing people who get in her way. But whenever we see River, we see the Doctor kill the Silence just as eagerly as River does, and she's sassy and flirty with the Doctor, but she's in no way the unstoppable nightmare we've been told she is. We were shown, look, she's in jail, she must be awful and fierce, but then we find out in the finale that she was just trapped in that suit and doesn't even remember killing the Doctor, for fuck's sake. River can't battle her hype, even with as big a personality as she has. There's no way she would compare to someone who would strike fear in the Daleks even if she loves shooting at the Doctor (to destroy his hats). Not to mention the time the Doctor has spent running away from his supposed death, around 200 years? And he was still the same person, although presumably he spent these 200 years with River...? (Spoilers: it's a sign of pacing beating writing when some viewers don't even realize 200 years have passed for the Doctor. He hadn't changed a bit, still the exact same personality.) This show never shows us the development of their relationship (apart from the very key points) and thus the relationship becomes so jarring and unbelievable because we never see the Doctor show River much affection (in my opinion). It's all 'You are embarrassing me' and 'Just do what I say', which, fair, he does with all his companions, but since River has been portrayed as the Doctor's equal and nemesis it just puts her back on uneven footing with him.
River's existence is somewhat of an impossibility. It's never more clear as when team Tardis tells her something she would then tell... them. Like the Doctor saying the dreaded SPOILERS after River has been using it on him for season 4-5. Or Melody being named after Mel, who turns out to be Melody. Or Mel hooking Amy up with Rory, which in turn causes them to have Melody who turns out to be, yep, Mel. Or Mel finding out who River Song is by seeing her in the future database and wanting to be her instead of... her name being a wonky translation (like even the TARDIS had suggested, and was shown on the handkerchief sown for baby Melody. I don't understand what the point of her name in the first place is then, if River is named after the data saying her name is River and the translation from Melody Pond = River Song never coming into it apart from being the DRAMATIC CHIPMUNK MOMENT (dun dun duuun)). It's all enough to break my brain. I know Moffat does this on purpose and to troll the viewers, but logically it makes about zero sense. But these are really just minor nitpicks.
Moffat's writing is riddled with fast-paced timey-wimey scenes so we don't get to think too hard about these scenes and figure out just why they don't really make sense. On the surface, it's all there, but when you think about it, just like with River's impossibilities, it really falls flat on its face. For instance, I figured in season 6 we'd find out why in season 5 the Tardis just happened to blow up. Did the Silence do this? To what end? I mean, the timeline's been retconned (how was River in that timeline when Rory was deleted from it anyhow?) but couldn't they at least try and explain WHY it happened? Or did the Doctor just leave the break on for too long (sigh)? Or did it just explode because of Moffat's timey-wimey explanations going too far? Why did River have to forget she killed the Doctor? Is it because the Silence knew she wouldn't remember from their future database and so just made her forget to make sure she fit into the timeline? Does she remember getting married then, because when she meets 10 it sounds like she knows she's married but she's meant to forget that event ever happening? Then why does the River who visits Amy remember the Doctor dying and how does she know he's still alive then? And then, why does she insist that she killed 'the best man she ever knew' at 10? Should we just take that as OH, RIVER LIES, THE DOCTOR LIES, whatever? I feel like there's ten more for every flaw I name, and of course, Doctor Who will never be literary genius and flawlessly put together, but these are not nitpicks, these are major flaws that prevent anything from making any sense. You can say from RTD what you like, but at least his plots made sense (even if they were sometimes less than impressive). I feel like if you're going to not focus as much on character development/likability like RTD did, you should make sure the story is damn involving... and it just feels like Moffat either didn't try hard enough, or tried too hard. It's just so convoluted.
Season 6 as a whole just seemed like an incoherent mess of all sorts of things trying to fit together and then just failing horribly. The Silence were introduced in the first episode but they still make no sense at the end of the season. Why did the Doctor even want to kill them so badly? Is the Doctor suddenly not for hearing out aliens anymore? The Silence is apparently the cause for humanity's fast evolution (wow thanks for robbing us of our entire history and accomplishments in one scene Moffat) and is involved in protecting the Universe from the knowledge that the Doctor has? And they have to kill the Doctor because they know when the Doctor is killed so they're basically making sure the timeline stays as it should be? And it's actually River and team Tardis who want to prevent this and cause the Universe to implode? And we're not supposed to be on the Silence's side why again? Oh, because you made the Silence shoot one person in the first episode to show that OMG THEY ARE EVIL REALLY LOOK!!!1? And brainwashing the human race to kill the Silence upon sight is kind of super dangerous, don't you think, especially if there's no handy dandy weapon at hand and they have LIGHTNING HANDS. Sure Doctor, this is a fool-proof plan. Also, this confusing mess of what looks like a vendetta between the Silence and the Doctor isn't even wrapped up with this finale and looks to be coming back for season 7. Maybe it'll clear things up by then, but honestly with Moffat's plotholes-are-cool writing I doubt we'll get more but more questions.
So we have the overreaching arch of the Silence and The Question (really? The question is Doctor Who? Wow Moffat, way to make the entire show's title about your own ego... This explanation cannot possibly live up to the expectations.), and then we have Melody Pond, aka. River Song. I've described in my tl;dr above how I feel about River Song's arch (increasingly disappointing), so I'll move on.
Then we have the themed single adventure episodes, which all seem to be about parents and children. Fathers giving up their reality to keep their kid safe and alive, a cloned dad wanting to get back to his kid, an alien taking the shape of a child and his father choosing to be his dad despite knowing the truth, Cybermen being destroyed by the power of love for a child (...) (WHERE ARE THE MOMS MOFFAT. Christ. You'd think this would be a subtle plot point, with absentee moms and hell, they even have a lactating alien dude. ). It's all very endearing, but it made the unfortunate implication that all of these people cared more about their kid than Amy and Rory, who seriously NEVER mention Melody again outside of in the first 5 minutes of Let's Kill Hitler. Oh, and in the finale Amy mentions that she will never see Melody again, but sadly this mention doesn't make up for the rest of the season being deathly quiet about Melody.
I was hoping there'd be some terrible fate for Rory involved, since he kept dying. It was almost like the Universe was trying to erase Rory because he didn't belong there anymore. This would've been a more interesting plot point, and added some sort of weight and danger to the story where I seriously feared for nobody's life except the extras. Sadly, this was only made into a rhymey joke by the Silence (which, while hilarious, also felt a bit disappointing since I had been hoping for more). Or the Doctor suddenly liking apples and switching coats (I was sure there was a ganger!Doctor in there somewhere), or a sort of plot point with the weirdass rubix cube focus?
Overall, I cannot comprehend why people say they like season 6. It sort of feels like a boring and mostly nonsensical inbetween part in a movie, as the payoff is nonexistent and the explanations are still far to be found. I seriously don't understand why people don't even question season 6 a LITTLE, even if they do like it. I like 11 as a Doctor, but the things introduced in this season... Just boggle the mind. Character-wise? River, who had been portrayed as the Doctor's equal, is revealed to be unhealthily fixated on him and is said to obey him without question now. The Doctor himself is shown to be rather violence-happy himself, ordering (and brainwashing) all of humanity to kill the Silence even though he doesn't know what or who they are. Amy and Rory were mostly emotionless zombies (apart from the brief relief/fear they should feel in situations, there's no long-term consequences with them. It's like that Star Trek TNG episode where counsellor Troi loses her baby and in the next episode is just fine and never mentions it again. It's jarring and unrealistic, even though mentioning traumas may not have the lighthearted feel the show is going for), even if I liked them the most this season because of their ocassional bamf moments. Then there's the plot - the existence of the Silence ruins almost all of existing earth history and the drive the Doctor always painted humanity with for their desire and urgency to see the stars and the unknown (because that drive was mostly the Silence, yeah thanks Moffat). I'm not saying I have a raging HUMAN PRIDE hard-on, but for a throwaway line and plot that makes no sense, having the entirety of human history rewritten just feels sort of cheap. The overarching plot itself makes little to no sense whatsoever, the bad guys aren't even explained properly (I know it's a to be continued in season 7 but really there's been so little payoff for the plot we've already been having, ffs), the whole 'trapped inside an incubator' deal with Amy was absolutely reprehensible and gross and was NEVER dealt with appropriately, and most of what happened wasn't that... dangerous. I don't even mean the whole 'the Doctor was never going to die so this whole season was pointless', but even the 'small' dangers. Like Rory putting the fear of God in Cybermen of all things? And Ralph overcoming his Cybermen conversion because of love...? I know that's partially to be written off as 'oh Doctor Who is a cheesy show it's supposed to be lighthearted at times' but it just comes off as cheap (as much as I love Rory being a badass, it comes off as highly unrealistic and I know the Cybermen are sort of goofy-looking but they're never intimidating because people beat them with bamf and love). I've never been worried for a character's continued existence in this entire season. So what are the good points of this season?
I did like that everyone had their own kind of character arcs. River had Melody's, the Doctor had the moment of truth that he's dangerous and sometimes the world is better off without him (but that doesn't mean he doesn't do good things either!), Amy had to grow up and become a mom (of sorts...) and finally learned that the Doctor isn't her personal hero and he's fallable too, and Rory... well... Rory just died a lot. He was courageous for and next to Amy and he's not scared of anything anymore (I guess after losing his daughter and seeing Amy's fate in The Girl Who Waited he's seen his worst fears already).
All in all though, I really only enjoyed the Doctor's Wife and The Girl Who Waited. Some other stand-alone episodes I could take or leave, and the River episodes can just drown in Lake Silencio for all I care, and I will pray to the Silence that I may forget about them. Sadly, I don't think we've seen the end of River Song yet, and she will definitely return because now she's the Doctor's wife for real (for the viewers, in any case).