When a star-crossed romance becomes a time-crossed romance, it feels somehow more heart-felt and tragic. How would you feel to meet the love of your life, only to find out that you are traveling in opposite directions across each other’s timelines? For The Doctor and River Song, it means that as The Doctor gets older, he continues to meet River at younger and younger ages. Such as, his first meeting with her was the last time that she would see him; and as River gets older, each time she meets The Doctor, he knows her less and less.
We first met River Song, like The Doctor, in Steven Moffat’s two-part episode story “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead.” River greeted The Doctor as if she had known him all of her life, and yet he was just meeting her for the first time. The old-soul sadness in her eyes spoke volumes. River knew that if he had not met her before, that this was the end of her life span. For that was their destined fate: they would meet each other at the beginning and end of each other’s timelines.
For viewers, we encountered River Song in Series 4 with David Tennant still portraying The Doctor and Donna Noble was his companion. But it would be nearly two more years (viewers’ time) before River Song was introduced again into the DOCTOR WHO verse with River Song’s magnificent entrance in “The Time of Angels.” The second appearance introduced River to the Matt Smith incarnation of The Doctor, when Amy Pond was his companion.
The contrasts were both incredulous and amazing at the same time. River was now at a younger point in her life span, while The Doctor had aged and regenerated. He remembered her only as the woman he helped save from death in the library and who has posed an intriguing mystery as to how and why she knew so much about him. But River still held all the cards. She carried her faithful journal of “spoilers” and teased The Doctor mercilessly because he was still in the dark about the nature of their relationship and who exactly River Song was. She had not yet achieved her doctorate in archeology like her older self who The Doctor had met in “Silence in the Library” – a small detail about her future that he inadvertently let slip. But The Doctor also learned that River had killed a man and had been imprisoned for it. River was not simply a woman with altruistic motives (wanting to save the universe from Weeping Angels or rescuing an entire planet of lost souls), she was a “wild card” with a wild side. She also knew too much about The Doctor and yet he knew virtually nothing about her.
But knowledge comes at a price. As River Song continued to pop up in The Doctor’s life in subsequent episodes such as “The Pandorica Opens,” “The Big Bang,” “The Impossible Astronaut,” “Day of the Moon,” and “A Good Man Goes to War,” a few more pieces to the puzzle of River Song began to be revealed. One, she could escape any prison or any predicament with seeming ease that was eerily reminiscent of The Doctor; and she had a fondness for guns and would not hesitate to use one – especially to ensure that whatever hat The Doctor had chosen to wear would not be around long. Stetsons and fezzes are indeed cool, but only River gets to decide what kind of headwear The Doctor wears. It was as if, as Amy had accused River in “The Time of Angels,” River were The Doctor’s wife. There was a familiarity that only a loved one would have and a casual ease that comes from long-term intimate behavior. River not only knew of The Doctor, but she also knew him almost better than he knew himself. Almost. She just knew more about what his future held. She had seen how they first met and from which point their relationship (whether romantic or not) evolved.
So the dance of River and The Doctor had begun. Throughout time, they wove an intricate pattern of time crossings. When The Doctor had his first kiss with River at the end of “Day of the Moon,” she was startled and saddened to realize it would be her last. Each time The Doctor says goodbye to River, our own hearts break a little in the process as we knew that one or both will know each other less when they meet again. Another small piece of their relationship falls into place, but another is lost in the process.
When River appeared so fatefully and finally in the end of “A Good Man Goes to War,” it was the moment for which we had all been waiting. Why had she dared wait until the last second to appear to help in the rescue of Amy and her baby? But as River had prophetically told Rory, she could not be there until the very end. The answer was simple; she could not cross her own timeline. She was baby Melody — Rory and Amy’s daughter. As our minds struggled to comprehend this huge revelation, The Doctor danced with giddy glee; for he knew if River was standing before him, that he would find her and rescue her.
But even The Doctor cannot move fast enough to bend time to his will. His enemies had been thorough and meticulous in their planning. They had not only abducted Amy and replaced her with a Ganger under his very nose, but they also fooled him twice in order to steal baby Melody.
In the episode “Let’s Kill Hilter,” the story came full circle. We glimpsed the childhood that River had actually lived. Having been conceived on the TARDIS, baby Melody had picked up some of its regeneration abilities. Thus, Melody had regenerated as a toddler, and having been brain-washed by the Order of The Silence into believing it was her life goal to assassinate The Doctor, she sought out her birth parents – who were but children themselves at the time – and befriended them knowing that ultimately they would lead her to The Doctor. It is an odd childhood to be growing up simultaneously with the people who would one day be your birth parents, but nothing about River Song/Melody Pond has ever been normal. So all Melody had to do was sit back and wait – getting the benefit of knowing her parents all the while.
So finally impatient to find out how The Doctor’s search for their daughter was going, Amy and Rory devised a clever way to get The Doctor’s attention — and so began the fateful encounter in the cornfield and a collision of fates. Arriving in a storm of dust in a red sports car, a young woman jumped out with a gun and forced The Doctor to take her back in time, supposedly with the intent to kill Hitler. The mysterious Mels a.k.a. Melody was not yet River Song. In fact, she did not know she was River Song. Her one goal was to have some fun and then kill The Doctor, like she had been programmed to do.
But like anything else in the DOCTOR WHO universe, nothing goes according to plan. A wayward bullet kills Mels, but not before Mels, whose identity had not yet been fully ascertained, elicited an impromptu marriage proposal from The Doctor, who thought she was merely a beautiful young girl on the verge of dying. So when Mels says that she had always dreamed of the day when she would grow up and marry him, The Doctor playfully said he would be happy to marry if she stayed alive – and when she reminds him that maybe he had better ask her parents, she points out that they are right there, indicating Rory and Amy. Just then and right before the shocked and startled eyes of her parents and The Doctor, Mels regenerates into River Song – the person that The Doctor, Amy and Rory all knew. But while she looks like River Song, she is not the River Song they know. She is still Mels, the assassin hell-bent on completing her mission – a mission that she will undoubtedly regret the rest of her life due to the sacrifice it costs her. One friendly kiss and a jump out the window and Mels was off and running, mission accomplished. A kiss infused with poison and The Doctor was unable to regenerate to save his own life.
As the remainder of the episode played out, the agony of what their star-crossed love had cost them became painfully clear. In order to survive, The Doctor had to trick River into giving up her ability to regenerate; thereby costing River not only several lifetimes of regeneration, but all the time that she would have loved to have had to spend with The Doctor once she discovered how much she loved him. Yet even a hardened sociopath trained to kill one man found she had a heart and a conscience after all. Mels may have reacted with petty jealousy each time she heard him utter the name River Song, not knowing he was referring to her; but seeing his love for her parents and his willingness to spend his final moments trying to rescue them, spurned her to commit an unimaginable sacrifice. River Song never even hesitated to make a leap into the unknown. She did not know if she could save The Doctor’s life by sacrificing her ability to regenerate, but she was willing to try. With one kiss, she stole his life, and with another, she gave him life – her life. Not her mortal life, but rather her immortal life – the ability to regenerate and live beyond one life span.
But River did not know what it was going to cost her. For all she knew, it could have been her last kiss and she could have been sacrificing her life for The Doctor’s. But she was willing to make that exchange. She had taken his life not knowing who he was, nor what he would one day mean to her.
It was the beginning of their star-crossed/time-crossed love affair. The Doctor may have suspected for a while, but now it was time for Melody to discover who she was and to figure out her future and just what kind of relationship she has with The Doctor. We still do not know for certain if River Song becomes The Doctor’s wife or if they will in fact have a grand romance, but from what we have seen, it has been a magnificent love affair so far.
It began as a mission to kill that ends up a love-story. How many men can claim to have been loved and killed, perhaps twice, by the same woman? Maybe it is a good thing that when River Song met The Doctor in “Silence in the Library” that she did not greet him with a kiss. A kiss is so intimate and yet so deadly. It is the one thing that binds them together forever. River stole The Doctor’s immortality and then bestowed hers upon him. Is there no greater gift? In essence, River did give her life for his — and yet she was given one last lifetime to treasure. Is it a wonder that she found a way to travel through time and seek out The Doctor every chance she got to make the most of her mortal life? Without the luxury of more than one life span, she had to make it count. She had to live a lifetime of adventures seeking out the most elusive and difficult man in the universe to find, and yet she never hesitated. She discovered the true secret to life was to pursue the life you want and the man you love.
As the journey of The Doctor and River Song continues, we too await the times when their paths cross and we are privy to yet another moment of extraordinary adventure and a glimpse into their glorious romance. Love cannot conquer time, but it can be woven throughout time so that it becomes embedded into the fabric of time itself. The Doctor and River Song’s love is therefore timeless. If only we all could only be so blessed with a timeless love.
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