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.