An Updated Timeline of Doctor Who’s River Song (Post-2015 Christmas Special)

River Song Doctor Who Timeline

Have you watched the 2015 Doctor Who Christmas Special, “The Husbands of River Song?” Suffice to say, we needed to update her wibbly wobbly timeline and Will Brooks has us covered.

Freelance designer Will Brooks is a mad genius… just like the Doctor! You may already be familiar with his work for BBC Worldwide, Big Finish Productions, or even Titan Comics but you may know him best for his Doctor/River Song timeline that looked kind of like a subway map.

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But some things have happened since then, particularly the 2015 Christmas Special, which required a bit of an update. So Brooks worked this magnificent piece of design up to help us keep it all straight!

WillBrooksDoctorWhoRiverSong

Click here to view larger. (You may still need glasses.)

You’re totally not confused anymore, right??

DoctorWhoTennantWhat

Exactly.

Technically this isn’t even complete. Brooks mentions on his Facebook page he’s got another version which will include the Big Finish audio plays coming soon.

It’s interesting, in the US BBC America has been having Doctor Who marathons the last week. I’d been catching episodes featuring River Song here and there but decided it would be a better use of my time to watch some others on Netflix and wound up seeing a few I hadn’t watched in a while. And everything I was watching was out of order. Quite like the Doctor and River’s timelines, in fact.

In the last few years I felt Steven Moffat was using River too much but I always enjoyed Alex Kingston so I shrugged it off. But after “The Wedding of River Song” I kind of gave up trying to understand the evolution of River’s character on the show, let alone her timeline. (And if I’m being totally honest, this was also where I started losing love for the show as a whole.) While I enjoyed the Christmas Special, it also reminded me how frustrated I am with Moffat’s showrunning techniques.

When we were introduced to River in the 2008 two-parter “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead,” we learned a few wonderful things: River already knew the Doctor and the Doctor trusted River enough at some point in the future to give her his sonic screwdriver. We also learn of River’s previous interaction with the Doctor in her timeline which she describes thusly:

The last time I saw you – the real you, the future you, I mean – 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. You even gave me your screwdriver. That should have been a clue.

So while I enjoyed seeing Kingston finally interacting with Peter Capaldi and had my heartstrings tugged on quite a bit as soon as the Doctor started making plans for his last night with River, as an already beleaguered fan I was also frustrated all over again.

The episodes Moffat wrote when he wasn’t Doctor Who’s showrunner were always some of the best in the series but after he took over he seemed to become an immovable force. The success of the show outside the UK skyrocketed with Matt Smith’s arrival and bigger marketing push in the US and it seemed no one wanted to tell Moffat no or help him clear up bits of confusion viewers might have with his storytelling. The results have not been pretty in my opinion.

But Moffat seems to love deconstructing the fantastic work he’s already done and making it a confusing, complicated and annoying mess (the Weeping Angels, the Silence) and the completed timeline circle we just got for River is no exception. The Doctor has just created a new sonic screwdriver for himself in the show but arrives for his date with River with a gift of another, completely new sonic. So, not his exactly as we were led to believe in River’s first appearance.

In the episode, the Doctor also basically revealed this would in fact be his last night with River which goes against what Moffat told us in “Forest of the Dead.” She said “you cried. You wouldn’t tell me why.” In “The Husbands of River Song” the Doctor cries (well, she says he’s crying, I didn’t actually see a tear) and goes on to let River work out why before revealing the hopeful nature of their time on Darillium – each night there lasts 24 years.

It’s important to note, I’m not trying to nitpick sci-fi (like Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent Star Wars trolling). I know there’s a certain amount of disbelief one must have with sci-fi stories, particularly time travel stories, but we shouldn’t sacrifice the great things the audience has already taken from your work at the expense of your new brilliant idea. I actually love the concept of the Doctor and River finally getting to spend consecutive years together but I think it would have been just as powerful a moment for us all if River remained blissfully unaware of why it was so meaningful to do so.

tl;dr – Uhh, Will Brooks did a wonderful thing. Go follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr! His updated timeline can also be found here.

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  • Samuel Loy

    I don’t find that the events of “The Husbands of River Song” conflict with her words in The Library. He would not tell her why, the key words being “He would not.” I realize this is somewhat knitpicking in the opposite direction. I think somewhat that all of us fans inferred details or intonation from River’s words in the Library. They have a complex history/future, we don’t know what happened after darillium, we only know it was the last time she saw him. Presumably she does not know about the library coming and to her she think her death will happen without the doctor.

  • Kathy Hoover

    I’m getting fed up with Moffat too! River’s arc was compelling, but he’s started retconning her and I’m not happy about it.
    Reading the “Last time I saw you” quote,”the real you, future you” clearly refers to Eleven, since at the time she says that, Eleven is the only one she’s EVER known. And “turned up on my doorstep with a new haircut and suit” also Eleven as in Last Night….he came to pick her up dressed in the tux with a haircut different than Ten’s….Twelve didn’t pick her up at her doorstep. Eleven gave her a different screwdriver, different that his or Ten’s (or Twelve’s NEW sonic), with the same sort of storage bars as the suits had, he had to have made it for her after SEEING it (as Ten) and knowing she would one day need it. Eleven HAD to have made it for her once he realized who she was after AGMgtW. And he HAD to have made it before any “cancelled” trips to Darillium (retcon of Last Night!), and before his centuries on Trenzalore. Also, in the NotD they have their final painful goodbye, where River is a data ghost. Eleven accepts her death finally, and moves on. HoRS in my mind cheapens that final goodbye.
    River surely knows all about his long centuries on Trenzalore protecting the town of Christmas, why would she be traveling about looking for him, knowing how long he would spend there getting older before he would die as the last incarnation of the Doctor. She knew he was the last face! She could have traveled to Trenzalore at any time. She agreed to travel with him after the loss of the Ponds in ATM, and then snuck off to meet some other “husbands” while he was distraught? NO way! Her speech at the end of HoRS, while passionately delivered, was so off the clear close relationship they had, as hinted by her diary references to their adventures and to his talk with Dorium at the end of WoRS “Her days, yes (in Storm Cage) but her nights…that’s between her and me, eh?” says Eleven. Now Moffat wants us to think Eleven didn’t even love her? Then why would Twelve? Yeah well, he really didn’t “cry” did he? Can’t have it both ways.

    Moffat’s term with Matt Smith was fabulous, but Series 8 was mostly forgettable, and while Series 9 was an improvement, I found the Ashilda arc irritating and self serving, and the dismissal of Clara, not giving her a proper “death” contrived. Moffat needs to move on after Series 10 when Capaldi leaves and we need fresh ideas all around. Or, maybe they should “revisit” an old favorite face, and bring Paul McGann in for a proper go as the Doctor for a few years! With a new showrunner! (yeah, I’m fed up!)

  • I have started to look for the little Moffaty backdoors in every episode and even though I would like to think this episode closed the loop on River (since I’m fatigued by it, as well), I’m not certain. The Doctor says a night lasts 24 years…

    Aside from the fact that I’m sure the suicide rate on the planet would be stupendous if that were the case, I wonder if the Doctor meant it…sort of philosophically. River asks him if this is really the end and he doesn’t answer. She asks him how long a night lasts, he hesitates, and says 24 years…and I wondered if that meant, no, this isn’t the last night, we have 24 more years together…this is just the night of…whatever. Something Moffaty. Sigh.

    • Tony DM Hayward

      No cus when the doctor meets her for first time she explains that this night was last time she saw him. His talk about 24years which I didn’t pick up on oops, could be him letting her know that it will be 24years until they meet again, which will be in the library and her death

  • Kathryn Lovell

    Thankyou Jill Pantozzi!
    Everything you said about Moffat and how River isn’t supposed to know Darillium is the end while it’s happening is spot on! No one seems to be mentioning it so I thought I was the only one peeved. Great article.

    • Thank you! I’ve also been wondering why no one else was mentioning it.

    • GRIMM

      except didn’t they say this in the Christmas episode? River mentions that during her travels she discovered stories about River and the Doctor and how the night on Darillium was always going to be their last. Which is why The Doctor kept canceling their “date” to Darillium which is a place she always wanted to go and even after she found this out, the only reason they ended up their is because the Doctor chose to go there.

  • Btw, before anyone else mentions it, the artist knows Hell Bent is missing here and Husbands is swapped where that should be. He says it’s fine in his printed version: https://twitter.com/willbrooks1989/status/680836266523492356