Spoilers for “The Husbands of River Song” obviously!
River Song has been a favorite character of mine since she first appeared in the 4th season episodes “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”. From the beginning, she was a mystery. She appeared to know the Doctor intimately despite his never meeting her before. She gained his trust in those few first hours together by whispering his actual name in his ear. If you watch this show for more than a minute, you know that his name is something that is never given out, even to those he trusts very much.
She then explains that they never meet in the right order. It’s back to front. His first adventure with her is her last with him. She’s had many more adventures with his future self. She has to be careful not to reveal too much in any of their adventures together. Through the course of the series, it is revealed that River Song was born Melody Pond, a child of his companions and also of the TARDIS after a fashion. Her connection to the vortex is exploited in a plot to kill the Doctor. However, they end up falling in love instead and eventually marry.
Her story appeared to be over with “The Name of the Doctor”. Here, the Doctor and River say their goodbyes. Before that, we see her in “The Angels Take Manhattan” where she witnesses the death of her parents. “Husbands” appears to take off from there as I get a sense that she’s mourning her parents in a way. Her parents loved each other very much. In “Husbands”, she appears to have lost faith in true love.
The Doctor himself is also mourning the loss of another companion. He also said goodbye to River in “The Name of the Doctor”. So when a knock on the TARDIS door lands him in front of his wife again, he is at first excited. However, his joy is short lived when he realizes that she doesn’t recognize him. She knows of his first twelve faces but does not recognize his thirteenth. If you didn’t know already, it had been established for quite some time that time lords only get 12 regenerations. And the Doctor had “wasted” one on his disembodied hand at the end of season four. It’s obvious she had been told this by the Doctor a long time ago.
The Doctor is even further surprised to know that she is married to a cyborg king, a diamond, and a handsome guy named Ramon. She has also had two wives. Eek!
Throughout the episode, we almost get the feeling that River was just playing with the Doctor’s feelings and was just using him for occasional access to the TARDIS.
However, we see later on that this is not at all the case. Towards the end of the episode, the cyborg king wants the Doctor’s head. He demands that River tell him where he is. She doesn’t know. The cyborg asks, “Don’t you love him?” River responds with, “When you love The Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves! You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back!”
How heartbreaking! We see now that River isn’t being cold to the Doctor. She genuinely believes that he is simply out of her reach. He’s larger than life. He’s thousands of years old to her two hundred. He comes from a long dead civilization. He saves millions of people at a time. And she has settled for watching from afar.
But then she realizes that the man she has been carrying on with for the whole episode is actually the Doctor and her face falls.
I have been pondering this Christmas about it’s true meaning. I’ve wrote about it before. One of the names given to Jesus is Immanuel which means “God with us”. It’s such a powerful statement. We tend to think of God as being “beyond”. He’s not “here” but “over there”. We think of him as being far off in some other dimension of existence, only peaking in once in a great while. God is too great and too glorious to bother with us, right? Surely, he has better things to do than think about me?
But what does the birth of Jesus tell us about this attitude? His name means, “God with us”. He joined himself to human existence. At the moment he was born and took his first human breath, the angelic host proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest and on Earth peace, good will toward men.” The moment that God was most glorified was NOT when he was sitting on his golden throne and donning his crown of jewels. This didn’t ring out when he was traveling the golden streets of Heaven on his pure white horse with his large sword at his side. God’s most glorious moment up to that point was when he stretched his arms and legs in the physical world, when he felt the touch of cold air on his skin. His most glorious moment was when he became flesh and was born among animals and filth to two impoverished parents. There was no fanfare. There were no news reports. Only a few were invited to witness this event.
The lie from the beginning was that God was not near, that he wasn’t really interested in us, that he was holding back. This goes all the way back to Eve. The serpent told her that if she ate the forbidden fruit that she would be like God. The implication being that she wasn’t already like God which was inherently false. Adam and Eve were made in God’s image! We are made of the same stuff!
It’s also implied that there was an inequality in the relationship. How many times have we heard a pastor or church leader tell us not to be unequally yoked? Meaning that we should find friends and/or a spouse with similar personalities and beliefs. And yet God has no problem being “yoked” with us! “My yoke is easy and burden is light.” What should that tell us? And yet we question every bit of it.
Just like River questions the love the Doctor has for her, she also doesn’t see herself as equal to him. But it is obvious that they are. She may not have been born on Gallifrey, but she is a time lady. She can regenerate. She can pilot the TARDIS. She is just as clever as he is. However, she feels like a mere mortal compared to her husband.
And what is her response to those feelings of inadequacy? She takes on other lovers. She takes them on without much regard to their feelings. As seen in the episode, she has no problem wiping Ramon’s memories when she’s mad at him. She’s also plotting to murder another husband. It kind of reminds me of the woman at the well. She meets Jesus who tells her she has had five husbands and the one she’s with now is not her husband. She runs into town to tell everybody about the man who told her everything she ever did. Which oddly enough, is similar to what River says in, “The Impossible Astronaut”. She tells her father, “When I first met the Doctor, a long, long time ago, he knew all about me. Think about that. An impressionable young girl, and suddenly this man just drops out of the sky, and he’s clever, and mad, and wonderful, and knows every last thing about her. Imagine what that does to a girl.”
So the real question is, “Who is your husband?” What are our true beliefs about God and how do they affect our lives? For me, the relationship between River Song and the Doctor has always been a mirror of the relationship between Christ and the church (as well as the relationship between the Doctor and the TARDIS). Jesus is a timelord in a sense. He can travel space and time at will. He can cheat death. He is very old. River, being conceived in the TARDIS, has a very different nature. She was no longer simply human, she was human+ (in the words of Madame Vastra). This change put her on equal footing with the Doctor.
From her beginning, her nature is questioned. Is she Melody Williams or Melody Pond? Is she just a geography teacher or is she a superhero? Is she natural or supernatural? It appears that she struggles with this identity crisis until the very end of her life.
From the beginning, mankind’s nature has been questioned. Are we natural or supernatural? Are we like the animals? Or are we more? We question our own nature constantly. The Bible says that we are a new creation. New, in the sense of replacing your beat up Ford Taurus for the Starship Enterprise. We are truly human+.