Feminism’s Issues With River Song

Warning:

 River-Song-Spoilers

River Song first appeared on Doctor Who in 2008 in the episode “Silence in the Library”.  From the very beginning we realize that River Song has known the Doctor for a long time, and has gotten quite close with him, even though this is his first time meeting her.  It’s not too long after that we learn that River Song is the Doctor’s wife.  Fast forward a few seasons and a new Doctor and River Song’s backstory becomes even more complicated.  Before she even knows who the Doctor is she’s been trained to kill him.  Before that she’s in a different body and posing as her parents’ best friend back in high school.  And before even that, she isn’t River Song at all, but Melody Pond.  

You’d think such a complicated backstory would lead to a thoroughly complex character who’s interesting and emotive, and you’d be right… for the most part.  River Song is an extremely interesting character with several different storylines and plot points.  She’s strong and as intelligent, if not more intelligent and witty as the the Doctor.   She’s incredibly fierce, but not lacking in emotion either.  

Honestly, I could go on for hours about how great River Song is and delve for eternity into her backstory and timeline.  There’s just one thing about River that makes some feminist fans shake their heads.  And that is; why River Song is in Doctor Who at all.  Her appearance in “Silence in the Library” only creates more questions about the Doctor and who he really is.  In “The Impossible Astronaut” she’s there to kill the Doctor.  Her big role in “Let’s Kill Hitler” was to poison the Doctor then revive him again.  It might start to become clear: she’s there for the Doctor.  

Unlike the Doctor’s companions, River Song’s entire life revolves around and leads up to the Doctor.  She’s there to be the Doctor’s wife.  She’s there to kill the Doctor.  She’s there to save the Doctor.  She’s never in an episode where the Doctor’s fate or love interest isn’t her.  And that’s a problem.  No matter how complex her storyline is, or how interesting she is, we can’t ignore the fact that her sole purpose on the show is to be there as a plotpoint for the Doctor.  

I love River Song’s character.  I think she’s an absolutely brilliant character.  But what I, and many other feminist viewers of the show want is for River Song to be there for herself, not just so that the Doctor has someone to save, kill, or kiss him.  River Song’s already complicated backstory is a perfect opportunity to include plot points where River is there for herself.   

Advertisements

Diversity in Doctor Who

Since Doctor Who rebooted in 2005 it has made strides in representing diversity on television.  Strides that can’t be said for many other television shows.  We open with episode one, “Rose” set in England, 2005, on a rare scene for television.  Rose is a working class woman who really is working class, not a dramatized version of this.  She lives in a small apartment with her single mother and wakes early every day to clock-in at her job in a department store.  She’s casual, dressing in clothes that certainly aren’t the height of fashion for the time, she isn’t dolled up in makeup only a professional could do, and what’s more; she isn’t the tiny waisted, long-legged pretty girl we’re used to seeing on TV.  Rose sets the pace for the growing diversity we’re about to be treated to in “Doctor Who”.

Not long after we get Captain Jack Harkness, the first openly pansexual in the history of “Doctor Who” who equally and openly shows attraction to men, women, aliens, and the non-gender conforming.  This was a huge leap for sexual and romantic diversity in “Doctor Who”, and one of the very first times queer people could see themselves in a character on television that wasn’t harmful.  

Next comes Martha, the first black companion on “Doctor Who”.  She’s intelligent and able to keep up with the Doctor’s rambling better, perhaps, than most other companions.  For people of colour, Martha is a big deal.  She’s a strong, woman of colour, in a leading role on one of the most popular television shows of all time.  With Martha, the television series continues to push forward for more diversity in their cast.

The next three companions, Donna, Amy, and Clara continue to portray strong female leads with diverse histories and personalities.  Along the way we meet a couple more sexually diverse characters, and characters from all different walks of life.  

Now we come to the most recent companion, Bill, who is both a woman of colour and openly gay.  She is one of the very first leading characters like this on television, a huge influence for women, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.  We finally have a leading character that many minorities can view themselves in in a positive way.

Soon we’ll be treated with something that came unexpected: a female Doctor.  Jodie Whittaker will soon take on the role of the Doctor and make history as the first female Doctor.  Many people are very excited about this.  We get a leading female, and also confirmation that Gallifreyans, or at least the Doctor, experience gender fluidity, which could be a nod toward the transgender community.

But when it comes to diversity, is it enough?  Though Doctor Who has done a great job positively representing different groups of people, we still are left itching for more.  Several groups who wish to see any kind of representation on television have been left out.  Doctor Who has come a long way, but I believe it can, and should, go much farther.  I hope that as the episodes continue to air we will continue to see a rise in representation in the cast.