What I love most about River, I will say, is her absolute fortitude and humour in the face of what is, objectively, an utterly terrible life – more or less an orphan, raised to be evil, has spent an incredible amount of time in prison, and her husband is a mostly absent maniac who occasionally looks like Colin Baker. I mean, things are really pretty tough for her.
It’s that contrast – the jolly, fearless, sexual outer shell of River, compared to what we know she’s been through, and what we always, always know she’ll go through at the end – that really appeals to me writing the character. She can’t possibly be that jolly when she’s alone. And she’s spent more than enough time in solitary confinement. No wonder she wants to let loose once in a while.
I think that’s what attracts her and the Doctor, the universe’s loneliest man. They have an amazing amount in common.
“I am never”, she broods. “As brave as I pretend to be. And sometimes I think he’s the only person in the universe who is.”
River is condemned to love someone she cannot fully have, and who amongst us doesn’t know what that feels like? But it doesn’t stop her shimmying into a knock-out gown, shaking out that glorious hair and fighting the good fight shoulder to shoulder with the Doctor whenever he comes to call; mostly by kicking the nearest ass most in need of kicking at any given moment.
After all, as she says to Amy Pond, her mum (eye-roll), “when you’re in love with a lonely God, one does one’s best to hide the damage”. Plus, she’s the only person allowed to criticise his driving.
In real life, the character has massively benefited by being played by a woman with the power, beauty, wisdom and charisma of Alex Kingston – and if you’ve ever been in a room with her, you’ll know exactly what I mean. She makes the younger popsies look positively insipid. Look at the ‘Husbands of River Song’: there hasn’t been more crackling middle-aged sexual tension on BBC1 on Christmas day since Den handed Angie the divorce papers.
My big regret is that I turned down the chance to write a story when she meets the Tenth Doctor again/before. Admittedly this was mostly because nobody actually knows how that would work, exactly – but as soon as I figure it out I am very much hoping the position is still open. Because she is a total joy to write (as, of course, is Ten).
She’s funny. She’s super smart, cocky, and occasionally quite irritating. She manages to look a total fox in a puffy white space suit. And oh, who hasn’t occasionally wished they’d taken their poisonous lipstick along on a night out.
But deep down, like all characters I enjoy, she has a sad, complex core. When I knew Steven Moffat was writing The Singing Towers of Darillium for Christmas, I was instantly desperate to write its companion piece, ‘Picnic at Asgard’ (they’re the two trips she mentions in ‘Silence In The Library’), but I was worried we’d be working on similar storylines.
Me, pitching: Obviously it will be about River thinking about having a family… are we going to be in the same sort of territory?
Important Powers that Be: Hahaha WHAT? NO!
Me: Oh. Because she is mostly a woman and she does kind of have a long term deal kind of a thing… I mean. Surely it will have crossed her mind…
To their eternal credit, they let me write about this, in ‘Picnic at Asgard’.
Because, to me, it’s a huge part of her intrinsic sadness (possibly because my children are quite little). Whether she officially married a robot or not, there is a bond there, quite possibly centuries long. And all through that 24-year night on Darilium, did she look at him, and wonder,
“Maybe they’re out there and he turns up every morning to breakfast. Maybe he zips back in time and tucks them in every single night, a little millisecond late here or there from some tight spot; different face sometimes; they never mind.
“Perhaps they are legion, woven across the sky; or maybe he has peered into every dark corner of the universe and decided he could never be so cruel as to bring an innocent life into it.
“Maybe some of them are mine.
“Although you’d think he’d have mentioned it.”
No wonder she needs the fun, and sexiness, and adventures, and the whole damn wide universe. And long may she continue to thrive there; forever up too late in a karaoke bar somewhere, singing the night away with the Doctor, and, of course, Jim the Fish.