Since the BBC relaunched Doctor Who in 2005, there’s been a colourful cast of fan-favourite companions that have joined the time-travelling Time Lord. From the early days of Rose Tyler through to Martha Jones, the Ponds, Yasmin Khan and all the rest, each has brought something different to the table.


However, all of the above pale in comparison to a certain River Song, aka the wife of the Doctor, who first debuted in the series to acclaim 13 years ago today. (Don’t get too attached though – Steven Moffat claims she’s been married 428 times.)

While naming River so definitively as the greatest companion of all time is sure to spark a debate hotter than the Satan Pit, she rightly earns her place at the top thanks to her flirty and fearsome attitude – and a few other qualities that have helped her unlock more than just the door to the TARDIS. Though before we get into all that, it's time for a trip down memory lane...

Who is River Song?

Alex Kingston as River Song in Doctor Who (BBC, HF)

Introduced in 2008’s Silence in the Library, River Song was a seemingly innocuous archaeologist who met her maker at the hands of the Vashta Nerada. With some timey-wimey trickery, River and the Doctor’s timelines were going in different directions but destined to collide. Song sacrificed herself to save David Tennant’s Doctor, saying that if he died now, she’d never meet him in her own past. Although the Doctor was originally reluctant to believe that he’d met Song before, she managed to convince him by whispering his true name.

Following her original appearance, Russell T Davies described River as “one of the most important characters” to the story and “vital” to the Doctor’s life. This was just the start of Song’s appearances, and although she only appeared in 15 episodes across seven years, her continued cameos tied into an overarching story with everyone from the Weeping Angels to the Silence, Madame Kovarian to the Great Intelligence.

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Why is River Song so important?

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Traversing three iterations of the Doctor, River Song became a de facto companion for Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi – but while Tennant and Capaldi bookended her story, most of River’s arc came during the Smith era of the series. It was here that her creator Steven Moffat delivered a Line of Duty-worthy twist, revealing River Song’s real name was Melody Pond and making her the daughter of fellow companions Rory Williams and Amy Pond.

Due to being conceived in the TARDIS, River had abilities similar to the Doctor and was able to regenerate, delivering yet more shocking reveals. Alongside saving the Doctor numerous times, River also has the dubious honour of being his “killer”. It was this that led to her incarceration at the Stormcage Containment Facility, though it was later revealed to be a clever ruse – in actual fact, the Doctor and River had faked his death and he regularly broke her out of Stormcage to go on romantic dates.

Alex Kingston Peter Capaldi
Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston in Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song (BBC)

All of this culminated in the 2015 Christmas episode The Husbands of River Song, which contains one of the most tragic goodbyes in the show’s history. Knowing a trip to Darillium would be her last with the Doctor, River spends her final episode with the stern Capaldi incarnation. Still, fans got a rare glimmer of frivolity from the (at that stage) usually stoic Doctor as he spouted her catchphrases and picked up a little of River's joie de vivre.

By the end, her goodbye in the episode had many fans smiling from ear to ear and reaching for the tissues at the same time. Classic Doctor Who, in other words.

At the core of the story, River’s appearances have always been peppered with sadness. If being the mysterious astronaut responsible for the Doctor’s demise wasn’t enough, Melody/River also lost her parents forever at the hands of the Weeping Angels, and was always destined to die in front of him.

It’s made River a hardened heroine and an all-time great companion – even though she always refused to take up the offer of joining the TARDIS on a full-time basis.

Will we see River Song again?

Alex Kingston and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who (BBC)
Alex Kingston and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who (BBC)

The idea that we could see River Song again is a tantalising one that takes an interesting turn now Jodie Whittaker is in the title role. Despite the sci-fi world and likes of Star Wars being dogged with allegations that the LGBTQ+ community isn’t well represented, the latest era of Doctor Who has strived to do its bit.

River Song mentions her “second wife” in The Husbands of River Song, suggesting that she is at least bisexual. So far, showrunner Chris Chibnall has mostly skirted around issues of the Thirteenth Doctor’s new gender, but is it really out of the realms of possibility that the show could ride its new wave of positive LGBTQ+ representation with the Doctor and River reunited?

Of course, it would be a massive leap for a series as well-established as Doctor Who to make its lead LGBTQ+ – but then again, it wasn’t afraid to rip the band-aid off and make him a her for series 11.

“It would be a great shame if it were not to happen. Let’s put it that way,” Kingston told when asked if she'd like to see the Thirteenth Doctor and River meet onscreen.

“I’m open to anything. I don’t have an idea about how we should meet or anything like that. But I would like River to meet her, and plant a big, fat kiss on her!”

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Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston in Doctor Who (BBC)

The arguments against hearing that iconic, “Hello Sweetie” once more? Well, River was already given an almost perfect ending. Alongside her heroic death in the library, her final episode brought everything full circle. Then again, Chibnall hasn’t been afraid to bring former companions back.

Why River Song is the best Doctor Who companion

While the role of River Song could’ve been neatly wrapped in a two-episode stint 13 years ago, Kingston’s enigmatic performance has seen the character fight to (not quite) live another day – and in my mind, she definitely ranks alongside Sarah Jane Smith as one of Doctor Who's greatest companions. (With hindsight, it’s hard to imagine that the Who team had originally wanted to cast Kate Winslet.)

What makes River Song the best companion of all time is the fact that she isn’t really one at all. Instead, she’s more of the Doctor’s immaculate equal. Although the Doctor has dabbled with romance over the years, River has seduced multiple Doctors on multiple occasions and continued to keep them on their toes. For arguably the smartest being in the galaxy, it’s quite some feat to be bested by the quip-spouting Ms. Pond.

Branching off with her own stories and simply popping by to see the Doctor when it suits her, River Song was effectively a female version of the Doctor before Whittaker was even trying on her trench coat. And going forward, maybe we could see even more of her.

As Doctor Who continues to expand, who wouldn’t love to see a River Song spin-off where she zooms around the cosmos seducing one of her 428 partners using hallucinogenic lipstick? At some point in the next 13 years, we want to see it happen.


Doctor Who returns to BBC One later this year. Want something else to watch? Check out our full TV Guide or our dedicated Sci-Fi page.