Professor River Song is among the best characters ever to grace Doctor Who.
My brother complains she is essentially a renamed Bernice Summerfield from the spin off books from the 1990s . But the on screen coup of getting Alex Kingston to play a recurring character in the series cannot be underplayed.
From her first appearence in the Library she was a force to be reckoned with. The constant use of wibbly wobbly timely wimey to show what would really happen to time travellers who cannot possibly meet in the right order.  River’s last chronological lines before she dies are that through everything they have been through he has always known how she is going to die. At that point she is basically a stranger to the 10th Doctor.
The 11th Doctor then slowly gets to learn more about her as they meet again and again all the while more mystery being revealed as we discover who River is and how she fits in to the lives of the 11th Doctor’s other friends.
The way she gets to know more than the Doctor is a refreshing change for a show which has run, with a break, since 1963. Previously the only characters who have got anywhere near him have been other timelords.
Her entrance into the 11th Doctor’s life involves some pretty awesome shoes followed by psychic lipstick and a cameo from Mike Skinner of The Streets fame.
The Weeping Angels, one of the best baddies of modern Who play second fiddle to her.
The juxtaposition of transformation is one of the funniest elements of the show in recent years. The Doctor doesn’t recognise himself when Prisoner Zero takes on his form, but the first thing River does is find a mirror.
Rule number one is the Doctor lies, which River oft repeats. But she is a liar too and this is clear when she sees Amy just after she has defeated the Weeping Angels, but much later on in Amy’s timeline.
The definitive moment of River Song is when facing a dalek in the pandorica story, where the dalek predicts she will let it live and she says: “I’m professor River Song, look me up.” It’s response after looking her up sums up why River is so unique in Doctor Who.

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Today the BBC is celebrating 50 years of Dr Who (no one is dwelling on the decade and half (ish) when they did not make the show for TV (aside from the under rated US pilot).

Why has the show endured for so long, especially during that TV show blank period (altho I understand the continuation books flew of the shelves during this era). There are countless audio books available and fan sites, blogs and the British tabloids go properly nuts for any snippet of Dr Who news.

But why is this the case?

Well, certainly domestically, the Doctor is very British. An eccentric, intelligent gentleman (so far – am personally very pro a female Doctor as that would be within the (modern) show’s ethos of refreshing itself). There is a bit of Sherlock Holmes in there and as quoted in the BBC dramatisation of the genesis of the Doctor a bit of HG Wells, CS Lewis and father Christmas. British quirkie-ness, British geekie-ness (before the term geek probably existed).

Outside of the UK, why has the Doctor endured? Well in the US he is so that lone hero character so popular in Westerns and beyond: think Clint Eastwood in the Dollars trilogy, Batman or Superman or the Lone Ranger. Even Buffy – which I remember reading somewhere the 2005 return was particularly influenced by, in terms of the companion element of the narrative. Buffy was that lone hero who had friends, but walked a path they could not ever fully understand. The Doctor walks a path like that too.

And what has contributed most to the longevity of the Doctor on TV? The genius idea of regeneration – or what to do with your TV show when the star wants out. This sci fi way of dealing with the problem is completely genius and works so well within the narrative universe of the Timelords. This also gives the producers a way of refreshing the show every so often and, in theory at least*, allowing it to go on and on. What is not to like: a little blue phone box; new Doctors every now and then; endless new companions; adventures across all of time and space.

 

* There is that lingering plot device about the Master being on his last regeneration (13th, if memory serves) but I am sure some genius already has that covered (spoilers alert) – I expect River Song gave him all of hers when she saved his life that time, or maybe he has all of the Timelords regenerations ever, assuming it was he who wiped them out during the Time War.

 

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