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.