The Strength of Song

While perusing a list of the Doctor’s Companions I decided to start my next series of posts on those I believe hold ideals and strengths, plus exhibit behavior I can admire. Those Companions, who explore the complexity of navigating different world views, beliefs and morality based on the foundation of ideals, composed by our beloved Doctor.

I’m going to start with the Nu Who and travel backwards, much like the subject of this post does in her adventures. Really she’s wibbly wobbly all over the time stream.

The first time we as a fandom meet River Song you know at once she’s different. This is a woman that faces off with the Doctor as an equal. There are no clumsy colt legs of acclimation, no wide eyed wonder regarding the Doctor and his adventures.

River, who’s portrayed in her forties, is an Action Hero!  She’s confident in her abilities, intelligence and sexuality. This isn’t the end of her list of attributes, this is only the beginning. If I were to list all of them, this post would be way too long. I will settle for what in my opinion, makes her special to me.

The first quality that made River stand out is her extreme intelligence. The adaptability and cunning that stems from this formidable resource make her readily able to continue coming to the Doctor’s rescue, or kill him, depending on what needs to be accomplished.

The second quality, which caused supreme admiration, is her strength. Everything she has to endure from her first meeting with the tenth Doctor to her final interaction during this past season, there’s no way someone without superior courage could have survived let alone succeeded.

Not only does River have the strength to be joyfully ruthless when necessary, she also has the strength to love. The strength of her love for the Doctor is what enables her to face and overcome the obstacles in her path.

Now you can argue, the love of a man leading to greatness?  Isn’t that stereotypical of how women are portrayed and doesn’t that lead us wibbly wobbly to the very issues we are her to discuss and prevent? Perhaps, I don’t believe River allows herself to be used this way. She’s not pining for a prince to rescue her and provide a picket fence. River rescues others, sets wrongs right, plans and executes her own conspiracies. She knows that in the end she will not actually “BE” with the Doctor. River does what she does for herself, because she wants to do it.

This inner strength led her to be able to resist brainwashing and alien technology. She created an alternative reality just by her force of will (and a little Time Lord DNA). River Song also had the strength to sacrifice this reality, as most are aware letting go of something is often harder than getting it.

River portrays qualities and dynamics I can utilize daily. She helps me self assess when I’m facing hardship; she shows me I can still be a beautiful, intelligent woman and embrace my feelings without being weak. I can rescue the prince and build my own white picket fence, then have the strength to knock it down if it’s needed.

River Song showed me that if I needed too I could be a better TARDIS pilot than the Doctor himself, and I thank her for it.


  1. I’m a huge fan of River Song, all the way through – I love timey wimey backwards plots for a start, and she has only become more intriguing the more we learn about her.

    The idea of someone the Doctor knows well or loves knowing more about him than he does about them because of the time stream is one of those things that should have been done in the old show, and never was – and I really like that they are choosing to tell that story through a strong woman rather than, say, using it to tell the story of a male character like the Master.

    I also didn’t have a problem with the revelations about her origins in Let’s Kill Hitler & The Wedding of River Song because, well, she was young. She was so young, and it’s okay to make dumb mistakes when you’re young. We’ve already SEEN that she has learned from her experiences and is a far more well-adjusted person when she’s older, so while I understand people rolling their eyes about “looking for a good man” I’m not particularly upset about it myself.

    It’s fascinating to think, as well, about when the Doctor started loving her, like really loving her – at what point the love equalled out, so to speak. It’s very clear in the Wedding of River Song that he’s not there yet, he’s intrigued by her and prepared to make the leap, but he’s not requiting it yet.

    But it’s also clear to me that she has massive, epic adventures, many with the Doctor, and just as many without, and while she might have started out in archaeology to find her man (and, let’s face it, probably her PARENTS too) she’s got pretty damn good at it along the way.

    A powerful, witty, kickass career woman is not a character to dismiss or disregard because she made one foolish romantic choice when she was young. If anything, it makes her more human. She might have been more mysterious before we knew all the backstory (or at least, a few pieces of the backstory) but I like the fact that we get to know the many dimensions of River Song, and the way that the sparkling wit of a psychopathic assassin has been transformed into a flirtatious, competent adventurer.

    I take joy in her character, every time she’s on screen – and I very much would like to see more of her in the next season, though I suspect my longing to see further development in her relationship with Amy and Rory is far-fetched, given what little time we have left with those characters.

  2. says:

    I love River because she is awesomely kick arse. But I do have problems that her entire life – no exaggeration – is defined by its connection to the Doctor. Conveniently conceived (by TPTB) in the Tardis so as to have Timelord DNA, snatched at birth and trained to hunt and kill the Doctor, falling in love with the Doctor… And then waiting, literally in a prison, for the Doctor’s timeline to collide with hers on an unpredictable basis. Even dying to save the Doctor. She is the definitive “strong woman” but she highlights why that trope is not feminist. No matter what she does and what she independently achieves, the show’s writers and producers still can’t help but define her and her storyline entirely in terms of the leading male.

    • Brass Cupcake says:

      That’s a very interesting point I hadn’t considered before. The setup of the show is inherently problematic in this way, in that all characters are going to be defined in some degree to The Doctor (he’s the title character). It could be argued that Rose and Martha pursued UNIT/Torchwood-like careers not because of character growth and free will, but because they were still trying to recapture their times as The Doctor’s companion. I think it’s just a difficult setup to dance around.

      However there’s a difference between being influenced by (Martha) and being fully defined by (River). So I can see what you’re saying about a sort of false-front feminism to the River character. Perhaps this is the paradox that has kept me unsure of River as a character. Sometimes I lover her and other times I’m gritting my teeth. I think it’s good that we examine these things and have these kinds of discussion. It’s important that we understand the layered messages we receive.

      All that said, we are at such a deficit of quality women onscreen I don’t feel we should throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still some great moments with River and I feel people should enjoy her guilt-free.

      • Brass Cupcake says:

        and wow, I made with the good English there. Sorry, kinda off my game. ;)

      • I think your comment about throwing the baby out of the bathwater is really crucial here. It’s important we be able to discuss problematic aspects of the portrayal of women in Doctor Who without at the same time dismissing them or talking ourselves out of being able to enjoy the strengths of these cool (and different to what is out there in other TV shows) female characters and heroes.

        It’s one of the greatest problems with feminist discourse that when we discuss things that are lacking or unsatisfactory or limited to do with women that we accidentally end up erasing or rendering invisible all the awesome stuff (lamenting the lack of female writers of Doctor Who, for instance, can erase those women who DID write great stories in the show’s history).

        But it’s okay to love parts of a character and grit your teeth over other parts – it’s okay to talk about the bad stuff and why it’s bad, and try to understand the complexity of it all.

        None of us are perfect feminists, after all! We all stuff up from time to time and do things or say things that later on make us cringe with embarrassment. The same is true for our feminist heroes! Even Xena had bad feminist days.

        I love that this is a blog where many voices can be heard – where we can poke and prod at the discomforting parts of gender and Doctor Who as well as celebrating the awesome bits. And sometimes those are even the same bits! But that’s okay.

  3. Brass Cupcake says:

    – “There are no clumsy colt legs of acclimation, no wide eyed wonder regarding the Doctor and his adventures.”

    Just wanted to say that is a beautifully worded sentence. I think “clumsy colt legs of acclimation” is the perfect description.

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