River Song is the most timey wimey of the Doctor’s companions and appeared in the show between 2008 and 2015. But as she and the Doctor keep meeting in the wrong order, here’s a helpful guide for navigating the River Song timeline – otherwise known as the most complicated relationship in the Whoniverse.
Spoilers ahead, sweetie…
Before we start, we should say that the River Song timeline is open to debate, mainly because there are some River Song episodes which contain multiple versions of River from various points in her life. But we’ll point these out where appropriate and leave you to make up your own mind.
It may also be worth mentioning that this River Song timeline might not be the best way to enjoy her episodes, unless you already have prior knowledge of her relationship with the Doctor and his companions (but you can always keep your TARDIS diary handy…)
And with all that said, let us begin!
1) A Good Man Goes to War (Series Six)
The first episode on the River Song timeline is all about her birth – not that the Doctor and his companions realise this at the time. The Silence have kidnapped Amy and Rory’s new-born child and the Doctor is hell bent on getting her back – but of course, there’s a twist.
‘A Good Man Goes to War’ was the mid season finale of Doctor Who Series Six and ended with the game-changing revelation that the infant Melody Pond was in fact River Song, and would grow up to be the mysterious woman that the Doctor and his companions knew. It transpires that she has been taken by the Silence in order to be trained into the perfect psychopath to hunt and kill the Time Lord, thus fulfilling an age-old prophecy.
But as mentioned previously, there are multiple versions of River Song in this episode, so its placement in the River Song timeline is debatable.
2) Let’s Kill Hitler (Series Six)
‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ is the next episode on the River Song timeline, and follows on from ‘A Good Man Goes to War’ with the Doctor, Amy and Rory trying to find Melody Pond. When they finally locate her, it turns out she has been one of Amy and Rory’s schoolmates for many years, going under the name Mels. Mels then hijacks the TARDIS and forces the Doctor to take them back to Berlin at the height of the Second World War so that they can kill Hitler.
But over the course of this, Mels is shot and regenerates into a version of River Song that the Doctor and his friends recognise. Her ability to regenerate, it seems, stems from the fact that she was conceived in the time vortex on Amy and Rory’s wedding night. Which doesn’t happen until later. Or earlier.
3) The Wedding of River Song (Series Six)
Multiple River Songs warning! And indeed, multiple everythings in the next episode on the River Song timeline – a time-bending adventure from the end of Series Six. The key plot detail here is the shooting of the Doctor at Lake Silencio by the version of River that’s sealed inside a spacesuit. It’s because of this that River Song is sent to the Stormcage Containment Facility.
If you’re new to the series, the next episode on the River Song timeline has the potential to fry your brain and might not make sense without knowledge of some other Doctor Who episodes. Otherwise, enjoy! (And if you want recommendations for other River Song episodes, watch ‘Closing Time’ just before ‘The Wedding of River Song,’ as it contains a juicy scene at the end…)
4) The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (Series Six)
These River Song episodes opened Series Six in 2011 and, again, they contain multiple versions of River Song, and indeed multiple versions of the Doctor. At the time, this adventure sets up many of the mysteries surrounding River Song that wouldn’t be resolved until later in the season, but if you’ve been following this River Song timeline diligently, you should be already caught up!
5) The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (Series Five)
At this point in the River Song timeline, River is in the Stormcage, although she has the ability to escape whenever she feels like it, so it’s more like a voluntary form of house arrest! Anyway, these River Song episodes (probably) sit most comfortably at number five on this list, but we’re happy to hear alternatives. It makes (rough) chronological sense until the entire universe is rebooted in the closing moments of ‘The Big Bang,’ leaving one to question whether any of these events actually happened at all.
Over to you, internet.
6) The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone (Series Five)
River Song is still in prison when she meets the Doctor in ‘The Time of Angels,’ and is under the strict supervision of Father Octavian and his military church as they delve into the wreck of the downed Byzantium on the planet Alfava Metraxis. Worryingly, there is a Weeping Angel in its hold, and as the Doctor and his team delve deeper into the wreckage, they stumble upon an entire cave of statuesque mercenaries. Blinking is strictly forbidden.
And although there is only one version of River in this particular adventure on the River Song timeline, there are multiple versions of the Doctor (even if the audience doesn’t notice on first viewing.) And it’s worth noting that there is a scene at the end of ‘The Wedding of River Song’ that directly follows on from the end of ‘Flesh and Stone,’ if you really want to make your head spin.
7) The Angels Take Manhattan (Series Seven)
Prepare for more Weeping Angel goodness as the Doctor, Amy and Rory embark on another adventure of timey wimey proportions. This time, River Song has adopted the pen name Melody Malone and has written a noir novel ahead of time that acts as a sort of guidebook for the unfolding events.
Of course, with this being a mid season finale, the stakes are high for the TARDIS team, and Amy and Rory are forced to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to create a paradox big enough to thwart the Weeping Angels’ plans. By the end of the episode, River Song is the last companion standing, and offers to keep travelling with the Doctor “whenever and wherever [he wants.]” But she adds: “But not all the time. One psychopath per TARDIS, don’t you think?”
8) The Husbands of River Song (2015 Christmas special)
River Song always claimed to have pictures of all the Doctor’s faces, but his twelfth incarnation seems to have slipped through the net (which makes sense, when you think about it – it was the beginning of a whole new regeneration cycle, after all.) Thus, at this point on the River Song timeline, she has no idea that the man she has just met is her favourite time traveller and husband. Or at least, one of many husbands…
This 2015 Christmas special is notable for finally showing the Doctor and River visiting the Singing Towers of Darillium, where the pair famously spent their last night together before River visited the Library. (Although of course, if you’re following this River Song timeline, you won’t know about the Library yet…)
9) Silence in the Library / The Forest of the Dead (Series Four)
From the audience’s point of view, this was the first time the Doctor and River Song crossed paths. Naturally, River already knows everything about her favourite time traveller (including his real name!) and is shocked to discover that he doesn’t even recognise her.
It’s probably not a spoiler at this point to mention that ‘The Forest of the Dead’ features the death of River Song, who sacrifices herself to rid the Library of the dreaded Vashta Nerada. “The last time I saw you, the real you, the future you, I mean,” she says, “you turned up on my doorstep with a new haircut and a suit. You took me to Darillium to see the Singing Towers. What a night that was. The Towers sang, and you cried. You wouldn’t tell me why, but I suppose you knew it was time, my time, time to come to the Library…”
River is of course describing the events of ‘The Husbands of River Song’ which the Doctor would have to wait two regenerations to experience. Although this isn’t the end of the River Song timeline just yet…
10) The Name of the Doctor (Series Seven)
The last episode on the River Song timeline is the Series Seven finale, which takes place after the events of the Library. Although River died, the Doctor ‘saved her’ and uploaded her consciousness to the Library’s computer, meaning that she could live out a virtual existence for the rest of time. And it’s this digital River Song that comes to the Doctor’s aid in this episode as he does battle with the fearsome Great Intelligence.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive River Song timeline. She’s enjoying a whole universe of adventures with Big Finish with extra stories that belong elsewhere along this timeline. Plus there are the minisodes featuring the Eleventh Doctor and River that you could add to your viewing pile if you want to be a completist.
In the meantime, what do you think about this River Song timeline? And have you ever attempted to watch her adventures chronologically? Let us know in the comments below.
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