Wed
Aug 10 2011 4:01pm

Doctor Who Theory Time: How Many River Songs Are There?

With the return of Doctor Who about two weeks away, we’re certainly not alone in feeling a considerable amount of anticipation as to what the rest of this season has in store. As usual, the previews don’t answer any of our big questions and, if anything, create more. (Why is River Song wearing that particular eye patch?) But one event seems likely to take place at some point before the end of the season: River Song/Melody Pond will regenerate into a new actress who is decidedly not Alex Kingston.

Here’s why I think this is a foregone conclusion.

When taken together, the various River Song timelines and infographics floating around the net can lead to one conclusion: nothing is entirely clear. The River Song we meet in “Silence in the Library” was the furthest into her own personal future, and as such, the predominant version of River Song in the Doctor’s present timeline, in terms of what has been depicted on screen. This episode has River mention a “new suit” and a “new haircut” that the Doctor is sporting on the day he gives River the sonic screwdriver. A new suit and a new haircut could mean just that, but it could also indicate a new incarnation, a different regeneration of the Doctor. River has a spotters guide to the Doctor’s different faces which indicates she’s met more than one version. If the 10th was one and the 11th another, we’re lead to believe she’s met at least one of the other (future) versions. Then again, her concern over the death of the 11th Doctor might indicate the opposite; maybe he is the final version she’s known.

In the mid-season finale, we don’t actually see which version of the Doctor River Song is hanging out with when Stevie Wonder plays for her at the Thames in 1841. It could certainly be the 11th, but it might be a 12th, a 13th, or 400th! Further, the notion that they have a romance that might span at least more than two incarnations of the Doctor seems to indicate River Song has been in the Doctor’s life for a while. Sure, some of this implied history is slightly paradoxical; their temporally incongruous meetings seem to create ontological (or bootstrap) paradoxes and closed time loops. Did the Doctor develop the power to open the doors of the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers inherently, or did he only do so because River Song suggested that he could? Much of their romance is likely to be just like this.

But the only point I’d like to harp on here is that it’s not exactly “back to front” like River says. It’s not inverted; it’s just out of order. The River in the Library is the last River, because she dies. Then the River we meet in “Time of Angels” is a post-“Big Bang” River. With the “Big Bang” River being pre-“Time of Angels.” Is the River from “The Impossible Astronaut” aware of both of these events? Rory does mention the whole Pandorica situation, but this doesn’t mean River totally comprehends the meaning. Let’s get serious; the Doctor has probably almost blown up the universe a ton of times in River’s experience. But then again, this River might be post-everything. The point is, it’s just not as clear as we might want it to be, and I think that’s by design.

And that’s because she’s about to regenerate into a new actress. Now that we know River is also Melody Pond, Amy and Rory’s daughter, we have way more information as to what is going on. On top of the notion that the Doctor ends up becoming the lover of one of his best friend’s kids, we’re also basically told outright that Melody (River) might be able to regenerate. It’s also heavily implied that the child inside of the space suit is Melody. At the end of “Day of the Moon” we see that same child begin to regenerate. Why was she regenerating? Amy freaking shot her! The events of what exactly happened after that moment aren’t shown on screen and it’s possible that through memory-erasing shenanigans perpetrated by The Silence, no one is really sure. What we do know is that the kid in the astronaut suit managed to get from D.C. to New York (Chinatown bus?) where she regenerates.

Now, why would we have two children in this narrative that have the ability to regenerate? We don’t. The child in the astronaut suit is Melody Pond/River Song, and she regenerates after Amy (her mom!) shots her. And you know what? She’s not going to regenerate into Alex Kingston. Instead, she’ll regenerate into a different actress, an earlier version of River Song who might be the one who has the majority of the “unseen” adventures with the Doctor. It’s already been established thematically that River is in a position to understand the Doctor more than any other character because of their intimacy. What better way to ramp up that intimacy by having her also share in the experience of regeneration? But beyond just thematic consistencies, the logistical advantages to this are clear: the story of River Song and the Doctor could go on and on without Alex Kingston or Matt Smith. Everyone already gets excited about each new regeneration of the Doctor, but now, if River Song regenerates once every couple of seasons the show could have another changing component for everyone to totally go bonkers over.

So what do you think? Will the next River Song/Melody Pond be a teenager? A young woman? And if so, who should play her? Discuss!


Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com. He votes for the next incarnation of River Song to be played by Lady Gaga.

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43 comments
Emmet O'Brien
1. EmmetAOBrien
I suggested this a few weeks ago, but it was on a rather old thread and got no response, so it seems worth mentioning again:

Given that both the First and Second Doctors met humans who were exact duplicates of themselves, and Romana regenerating into the image of Princess Astra back in the Fourth Doctor era, it's always seemed to me that a regenerating Time Lord definitely can, and maybe must, derive their appearance from another living being. I think it's possible some of the River Song we have seen is Melody Pond, and some is Twelve. Given the occasionally fractious nature of some of the earlier attempts by diffferent regenerations to work together, compared to Ten and Five's interaction in Time Crash, I can see the Doctor ending up delighted to have the sort of interaction with an earlier regeneration that River has had thus far.

(Twelve rather than Thirteen because I am kind of hoping the Thirteen/Merlin connection in the Seven story Battlefield might eventually be picked up on.)
Foxed
2. Foxed
I think you have it BACKWARDS.

We're going to meet a brand new character played by a new actress, who is secretly River... who regenerates into Alex Kingston!
Foxed
4. Nick Smale
I've believed for some time that River would eventually join the TARDIS crew full time - the logic of her history with the Doctor seems to demand it. But given that Alex Kingston is unlikely to want to spend 100% of her time in Cardiff, I'm guessing this will be in the form of a younger 'teen River', someone who will accompany the Doctor for a season or two, only to suffer a terrible mishap and then regenerate into the woman we know...
Foxed
5. Casey J
I got the impression from the season premiere that young Melody regenerated after living homeless on the streets of New York for six months or so-- there's any number of things she could have picked up. When Amy shot Melody in the suit, she missed her by a few scant inches.

Why do you think that River's about to regenerate? The eyepatch? I suspect that's a mislead, but I won't be disappointed if I'm wrong. Recall that nothing physical remains from one incarnation to the next. Tattoos, hair color, old injuries. A Time Lord missing an eye in one incarnation would conceivably grow it back for the next.

I'm fairly certain that the Alex Kingston incarnation of River Song is also the last. Things are timey-wimey enough knowing that River dies looking like Alex Kingston, without her regenerating and then regenerating *back* to Alex Kingston. Again, not disappointed if I'm wrong. I love the Grand Moff and will follow his narrative into the depths of hell, if need be.

I *am* intrigued by the idea of other actresses playing younger incarnations of River/Melody. Just because Alex Kingston plays her doesn't mean she's the *only* one to play her as an adult.

I like the points you raise here, and I'm keen to see what else you think about the rest of the series. Cheers.
Foxed
6. Dr. Thanatos
I think that it would be a plot twist worthy of our current writers if Alex Kingston regenerates into Tom Baker. Hilarity ensues...
Ashley Fox
7. A Fox
Id like to raise a point. River Song did not die in the Library. There were hints that the (Its been awile since i watched it so cant remember the exact names) com units held not only the ghost of the person, but their soul. It was clearly shown that River's unit was turned off before it completely ran out of juice, essentially trapping part of her in it. It not then, inconcievable that if she can regenerate, and there is still a part of her outside of the Library, that this can be used, in some sort of timey whimy situation to 'bring her back'.

And our RS doesnt have to die and regenerate into eye patch lady, she could just grow old. The two women look similar enough for this to be a posiblity.
Foxed
8. BeautifulMonster
I still need an explanation as to how River could be at Rory & Amy's wedding to give Amy the TARDIS notebook. If Rory and Amy never were on the TARDIS, Melody/River was never spacey-wacey-TARDIfied, even if she was born. How does she get to time traveling later? (This has probably been discussed to death somewhere else, but I caught up late with that season) Timey-wimey I guess.
Foxed
9. sofrina
interesting but sad. i'd hate to lose the knowing, flirtatious ingenius river song. i'd expect them to go with a young teenager, someone wide-eyed and ready to learn from the doctor with the intellect to really roll with him. then they get together in one of her later incarnations.

(i still don't get how she could show up to amy's wedding with her journal. if the doctor's existence was erased, how does river remember him or have a tardis journal?)
Ashley Fox
10. A Fox
I think that will be looked at further in the up and coming. Amy is a special girl and all that, the cracks, her living with all that time and space affectin her in unknown ways. James Cordons character also lived iwth a cack for awhile and is coming back. Think those cracks yet have a role to play.
Foxed
11. Roger E
I was under the impression that River Song/Melody Pond was the Doctors mother. Therefore making Amy the Doctors grandmother.

Please correct me if I am wrong.
Foxed
12. Dr. Thanatos
Roger,

Amy is the Doctor's mother-in-law. Isn't that bad enough?
Foxed
13. ChrisG
Two theories based on who River kills:

#1 River kills Rory

The entire first half of the season they have been hitting us over the head with "you think I'm talking about the Doctor but I'm talking about Rory" moments. That would be the gun on the mantle. River killing the Doctor seems the obvious choice, this would be a bit of misdirection. Additional supporting evidence: 1. The Bishop said that the person River killed was a "hero to many", which Rory as the centurion was (assuming people still remember that, it's easy to lose track). 2. River is apparently staying in prison willingly. She might do that for the Doctor, yes, but for the shame of killing her own father, it would be even more believable. 3. The whole Rory dies thing has also been coming up again and again for a season and a half, most recenly in the "Doctor's Wife" I believe.

Pros: non-obvious, consistent with what we've seen and had hinted to us, emotionally powerful (as we've already seen and somewhat internalized the Doctor's death in "Impossible Astronaut", as much as we don't really believe it). (It's also consistent with the rumors about the actors' playing Amy and Rory having obligations, but that's meta and unreliable.)

Cons: motive?, possible cheap dodge, seems tangential to the main mystery.

#2. River Kills the Doctor

Seems like the obvious choice, and now she can do the killing in any of her past regenerations. Given River and the Doctor's long acquaintence, I think the idea that River can regenerate is necessary for the same reason the Doctor's is -- they can swap actors. I don't think it's necessarily likely that Alex Kingston will leave after this season. But we might see other incarnations of River as the author suggests.

Here's one (tenuous) theory along these lines: River is the eye-patch woman; she arranges her own kidnapping and attempts to kill the Doctor (succeeds?); and regenerates at the end of that plot for whatever reason. We see Alex Kingston with the eye patch because even though she doesn't need the eyepatch anymore (regeneration), she is still *wearing* it. That would be a nice cliff-hanger at some point.

Pros: fits the facts we have and the trailer, timey-wimey
Cons: River would have to cross her own time line (but what the heck), perhaps a bit obvious (then again having River impersonate eye-patch woman is also a bit obvious)


What do you think??
Foxed
14. TomT
I like the River Song regenerates meme. That works very well.

As for which good man she kills, I'm in the River kills Rory school of thought. I think you need to only look at the fact that she stays in that prison because she wants to and also watch her reaction when she meets Rory in "A good man goes to war." From her timeline at that point the last time she met him she killed him. And now she is infront of her asking her to do the impossible. Go back into her timeline and rescue herself.

Alex Kingston does a tremendous job of emoting there and I think one of the things she is emoting has to do with that conflict, she killed her father and here he is coming to ask her for help. Showing her that she will meet and work with him in the future.

Can you imagine the hope and horror of that moment for her?
Foxed
15. mutantalbinocrocodile
Just a point of fact. The little girl didn't just have to travel from D.C. to New York. She got there from Cape Canaveral. That's where the space suit and the funny equipment were. (Just above the secret tunnels that, as any actual Floridian could have told the writers, would be below the water table.) The orphanage was also in Florida, though we're not told what town. So we're talking Greyhound.
Foxed
16. beerofthedark
re: regeneration appearances - In the original series The Master could control his appearance when he regenerated, and usually looked as close to Roger Delgado as possible ;o) I vaguely remember that the Doctor is radically different each time because his regeneration usually occurs in moments of great stress/injury/danger. That may have been from one of the early novelisations however, so I'm not sure it's canon.
Ryan Britt
17. ryancbritt
@15
Good catch! Maybe a Bolt Bus? Megabus? Or do those not run from Florida to NYC. I should check, really.

@13 and 14
I like this notion of River killing Rory at some point. Intially it seemed cheap to me, but I see how it could be actually awesome. It still doesn't tell me if it's River in the spacesuit who shoots the Doctor. (Ganger Doctor or otherwise)
Foxed
18. Mike Poteet
#5 -- "Recall that nothing physical remains from one incarnation to the next. Tattoos, hair color, old injuries." -- Actually, didn't this season's Neil Gaiman episode establish that some things can remain consistent between regenerations? Didn't the Corsair have that tattoo every time (even when a woman)?

No grand theory here, just thought I'd point out the possibility. (And unable to log in with Facebook at present!) I am not 100% persuaded we even know for certain that River/Melody is the girl in the spacesuit. I do know I can't wait to see what Moffat has dreamed up for us.
Foxed
19. SeeingI
Ugh, all of a sudden I have a horrible suspicion that the little girl will regenerate into Karen Gillan as "Young River" and this whole damn plot has just been an excuse to give the Doctor a hot young ginger chick as a girlfriend/companion.
Foxed
20. Casey J
#18-- No. The Corsair "never felt like himself until he had the tattoo put on again." Each regeneration had to have that ouroboros tattoo re-applied.

In General: We've seen nothing to prove that *isn't* River in the space suit, zapping the Doctor. Yes, it could still be anyone or it could even be empty, but it could still certainly be River. I *am* keen on the notion that the Great Man she killed is Rory. That's downright Shakespearean.
Laura Stiers
21. onfairystories
@5: "I love the Grand Moff and will follow his narrative into the depths of hell, if need be."

Well put! I'm totally aware that Moffat is only human, and that his stories have plot holes (some bigger than others!), but I enjoy his narratives so much that I just don't care. To the depths of hell and beyond! Love the Moff, fear the Moff, trust the Moff.
Foxed
22. tkThompson
I think we can take it as being true that the girl regenerating at the end of the Day of the Moon was in fact Melody Pond/River Song. Given the conversation regarding when Melody Pond was conceived in A Good Man Goes to War, I think that's a safe conclusion that that's who she is, maybe the mystery of who the regenerating girl is isn't supposed to really go beyond the mid-season finale, I mean, there's certainly been enough hints that we can easily guess who they are. We might be seeing a second incarnation of River Song though, in River Song's personal timeline, i.e. we might be seeing the version the little girl regenerated into at the end of the Day of the Moon.

@7. River Song effectively died at the end of Forest of the Dead. But she "lives" in the computer of the Library (in a sort of virtual reality, I suppose) because the screwdriver the Doctor gave her held her consciousness long enough for the Tenth Doctor to upload it, but her physical body is gone, and while she might live forever in the Library's computer, she's not regenerating into anyone.
Foxed
23. BFG
Additional support for killing Rory: I'm speculating that the Good Man who Goes to War is Rory, not the Doctor, based mostly on the Doctors (to paraphrase) Good men don't need rules. You really don't want ot find out why I have so many.

Unfortunately the space suit killing the doctor, seems pretty clear evidence for the good man she killed to have been the Doctor.
Foxed
24. Dr. Thanatos
tk@22,

I would not think it beyond the scope of Whovian science to devise a way to incarnate a disembodied soul in, for example, a ganger, an auton, or even a plastic Roman centurion. See "Lord of Light" for a literary example. Besides, if we wants more of our River, who are wee to tell Moffitt what avenues are closed to him?
Foxed
25. Muteen Hussain
As we know River Song is half Human and half Time Lord. So she will regenerate but not into a new body but the samebody without the damages lol
Ryan Britt
26. ryancbritt
@Everyone.
Let's just say that this Rory getting killed by River thing is going to happen. You're all awesome and smart.
Amy G. Dala
27. amygdala11
My concern is that we're opening boxes more quickly than we're closing them:

Why did the crack in space-time appear?

Why did the Universe blow up?

Who is the Impossible Astronaut, and which Doctor did they kill?

When will we answer any of these questions?

Totally agree that River Song will have to regenerate at some point, but I hope it's later. Alex Kingston is awesome.
Foxed
28. daz
I just want River Song to go away and never be mentioned again. She is the most tedious and annoying character Dr Who has ever produced, and she brings out the worst in the writers.

And of course River's going kill Rory. Moffat likes repeating himself and he's pulled the 'you're-expecting-the-Doctor-but-it's-actually-Rory' at least a couple of times. And he's pointing so hard at it being River in the space suit that it *has* to be misdirection. He's that kind of writer.
Foxed
29. daz
@16 "In the original series The Master could control his appearance when he regenerated, and usually looked as close to Roger Delgado as possible"

That's not correct. After Delagdo's last story (Frontier in Space), we didn;t see The Master again until The Deadly Assassin at the end of his 13th and final body, looking rather like a decaying corpse. That look continued into his next Story, The Keeper of Traken, where he steals the body of the Traken scientist Tremas (Anthony Ainley) who does look rather like Delgado, but that's explicitly *not* a regeneration. He's cheating death by stealing bodies. We only see two incaranations of The Master in the original series: Delgado and 13 (who's played by two different actors under heavy makeup).
Foxed
30. daz
@20 "The Corsair 'never felt like himself until he had the tattoo put on again.' Each regeneration had to have that ouroboros tattoo re-applied."

Although, we do know (or strongly suspect) that tatoos can emerge from a regeneration. Jon Pertwee's tatoo is clearly visible in the shower scene in ep1 of Spearhead From Space.
Foxed
31. Jerome Chan
So why didn't River regenerate in the episode at the library? (I didn't catch her death there.)
Foxed
32. Elayne
@31 River told the doctor in that episode that the electric shock would stop his hearts so fast he wouldn't have time to regenerate (or something close to that). Same would go for her.

I agree with #2 that we will run into a character that will regen into River. As much as I love Alex Kingston, River is supposed to be getting younger as the doctor gets older and that isn't always going to be feasible to do with Alex playing River. I've heard there is a new character in the second half. If new character and River are never together, I'll get suspicious.
Michael Poteet
33. MikePoteet
@20 and 30 -- Oops! You're right! Sorry!
Foxed
34. JaneyJane
another option. Who says Alex Kingston has to leave the show entirely? part of what I love about Doctor Who is that it IS timey wimey, and things don't always happen in the same order. I know the show is usually chronological because it's easier for everyone to understand, but the nature of River Song is that things don't happen in the correct order. So it's possible to have two River Songs on the show, each in separate parts of her timeline? (as long as they don't meet?)
Foxed
35. nukita
I've got another theory... what about a spin-off just for River? (if she's regenerating, and I think that's a good idea for the script, that could give two advantages: 1. we could "live" the adventures with both. I've got one question in here. Will the doctor "adopt" river child and get it into the tardis? will we have a new child like in the original serie? (when the doctor was travelling with his daughter. Or, otherwise, as we see in
Day of the Moon, she will grow up by herself and in a undefined point of the time and space, he will find him?
2. they could meet, but, they won't be together, so we can see the adventures of river in a spin off, like happened with sarah johnes. I don't like this choice, cos I think it'd be like a "female doctor for female audience" or something like that, you know... Ayway, they could call it "the doctora" xD
Foxed
36. ReeceB
I think river kills the ganger doctor on the beach tbh.
Foxed
37. Tegan
So, here's my crazy-person theory. I think I spend more time theorizing about DW than I do for some university papers.

1) I don't think the Silence is really the aliens depicted as The Silence- I think The Silence is an event. Why? Even the aliens tell us that "The Silence" will fall. Should they be referring to themselves, it would be in the form of predicting their own demise. Why would they do that? The Silence was always referred to as an event in the last season.

Personally, the theory I'm favouring is two River Songs. We've established that the flesh can become independent of its original control source (River). Now, the eyepatch lady told the Doctor that they intended to raise the child to be a weapon. Isn't it strange to kidnap oneself to raise oneself to be a weapon? Isn't there a paradox issue with the eyepatch lady being in the same room as Amy's daughter if they're one in the same?

Now, suppose that there are two river songs- one is the original, and one is flesh. The River Song that we have come to know is, as far as we can tell, not a weapon. Particularly, she would have been raised to become an enemy of the Doctor. But perhaps there's a second flesh River, independent of the original, that was raised by the people who took her? It would make sense as to why the eyepatch lady (assuming the eyepatch lady turns out of the river, as we've seen River wearing the eyepatch) was able to be in the same room as herself.

Now, tie this into "the silence will fall." Well, in this scenario, we have two River Songs. Perhaps the silence is the end of a Song? dun dun dun.
tegan summers
38. tegan
ALSO! This would give some strength to the story that one of these River Songs is in the astronaut suit and does indeed kill the Doctor, but why the River Song witnessing it doesn't recall/had no idea it would happen, as well as why the astronaut could still be the girl from earlier/river song, without time paradox issues of having Adult River and Astronaut River both on the lakeshore.
Foxed
39. River Song
It's April of 2012. All sorts of neat Doctor things have
happened.
Foxed
40. Blake Bowman
In the episode Let's Kill Hitler amy's friend Melody holds the doctor at gun point and makes them travel to world war 2 era so she can kill hitler she ends up getting shot and reincarnates into River song. That is the first time she meets the doctor and infact its after amy has the baby. Amy names River melody after her best friend growing up Melody which turns out to be River Song. In the same episode The doctor gets hurt and dies for good but river gives the doctor the rest of her reincarnation power so he comes back to life River Song can no longer reincarnate.
Foxed
41. Shawn hess
River can't regenterate anymore because she used it all up at the beging of her time with the 11th doctor. this was during "Lets Kill Hitler" when she uses the rest of her regenerating powers on the doctor. Am i wrong
Foxed
42. susanpub
I guess by now, most of you (except the ones referring to "Let's Kill Hitler") know you were pretty much wrong.
Foxed
43. O'Tripp
Is it totally impossible that Melody is actually the Doctor's daughter? Why else can she regenerate?

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