Doctor Who: River Song – Why I enjoy her much more on audio


From her very first story, River Song proved to be an extremely popular character in Doctor Who. But is it in the audio medium that the Doctor’s wife works best?

Earlier this month, Big Finish released the sixth series of the Doctor Who audio spin-off The Diary of River Song. So far, I haven’t been able to listen to it, but I’m certainly eager to check it out. In the meantime, however, I’ve been relistening to earlier box sets in the series. Because I really do enjoy listening to this series a lot. Honestly, perhaps more than I enjoyed River on television.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the character. Especially in her first story, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. From her first appearance (or should that be last, at least in the land of the living?), River Song was clearly a brilliant character in her own right. She was witty, intelligent and it was clear that she was used to handling situations herself. It was also clear that she had a close relationship with the Doctor in his future, which added an intriguing element.

Of course, over time, the focus began to shift from River as a character to River as a mystery. This was especially true in Series 6. Now, I do genuinely love the series (admittedly, I might be one of the few fans that do). Moffat had a lot of ambition with it, pushing both his arcs and the development of both the Doctor and the Ponds forward. But while it was fun to explore River’s origins, the focus moved too much away from what made her so fantastic in the first place.

While she might not be as ruthless as the Master, River is certainly more pragmatic than her husband.

(Image credit: The Diary of River Song/Doctor Who/Big Finish Productions.

Image obtained from: Big Finish Productions.)

River’s pragmatic side

This is why I love Big Finish. Along with her final on-screen appearance in The Husbands of River SongThe Diary of River Song really helped to remind us exactly why River is such a great character in her own right. Husbands worked for the same reason that much of Diary does – because River’s husband isn’t around (or at least in the former, so she thinks), we’re given a good glimpse of what makes her character tick. And it’s clear that she doesn’t share her husband’s morals.

Oh, she will do whatever it takes for the greater good and to save as many innocent people as possible. But she has no problem with using or even getting others killed if it helps her to achieve that. She’s not evil, but she is extremely pragmatic.

And this is something that Diary explores brilliantly. Even when different incarnations of her husband appear throughout the series, she’s undeniably the main character because the universe she deals with is a more morally grey one. Sometimes, the Doctor is too idealistic to save the day, and it’s up to River to handle it. While that shouldn’t happen in his own series, it definitely should when she’s the lead rather than the supporting character.

This image features River in a nun outfit. You’re welcome.

(Image credit: Doctor Who/Big Finish Productions.

Image obtained from: Big Finish Productions.)

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Supporting role

Speaking of which, River was also handled well in Eighth Doctor series Doom Coalition. What made that series work is that she had to keep her distance from the Doctor while continually trying to help him in ways that didn’t involve amnesia (because when there’s a doomsday cult threatening the existence of the entire universe, it might be important to remember everything that’s going on). So she helps this early version of her husband, but has to be secretive instead of arrogant or cocky, and it works very nicely for her.

River Song is an excellent character, even on television. But I feel that, whether she’s the lead or in more of a supporting role, it’s through the medium of audio that we’ve truly been able to see (or rather hear) her at her best. It’s why I’m a big fan of The Diary of River Song, and why I’m eager to listen to the latest series.

Next. Clara and regeneration – Why did she have a problem with it?. dark

Have you heard River in her very own spin-off series? Do you think she works better on audio than on television? What do you like most about the character? Let us know in the comments below.