River Song began as the greatest mystery of all. She acted like she knew the Doctor, and she could prove that she had known and loved him for years. And at their first meeting, she died.
Over the years, we and the Doctor learned more and more about River Song. We learned that she had gone to prison for killing a man, that she could travel through time at will with a single wrist device, that she could fly the TARDIS. She dropped constant hints, sexy spoilers, and often blankly refused to talk about things. She lied and pretended. But one day, finally, we found out who she was: the daughter of Rory and Amy Pond.
At which point, River’s story completely broke down. The old, confident, seemingly all-knowing River Song was replaced with a young psychopath. She cried freely, she had no idea what she was doing wreaking havoc through time. She tried to destroy the universe, just to tell the Doctor she loved him (which was a ridiculous plot twist, but that’s another post). At her much-anticipated wedding, she didn’t even speak, and she technically married a robot, which may say a lot about the validity of that wedding.
When the mysteries of her past began to be solved, River the character changed, and River the story changed from intriguing to annoying. By her last episode, I don’t think she was even warning about spoilers.
And, much as it pains me to say it out of nostalgia for “Silence in the Library,” I think the Doctor lost interest in River at about the same time we did. In the Christmas special, he was living on top of a cloud, refusing to engage in real life even to save the world. He had completely lost hope in the universe.
Where the hell was River? Seriously, I get not wanting to travel with him full time, but River is supposed to be the Doctor’s family. Family means the people who are there at the bad times, who can lift you out of it. She supposed to be the Doctor’s wife, but she seemed to abandon him when he needed her the most!
River’s absence at that critical period of the Doctor’s life demonstrates just how extraneous to his story she has become. Once her mystery was solved, her story was for all intents and purposes over—for the audience and the Doctor.
And that is exactly what needs to not happen with Clara. So far it’s looking good: the Doctor connected with Clara twice, before he even knew she was a mystery. Like River, she insisted on making a space for herself in the Doctor’s life, but unlike River, she was able to offer him hope. Maybe it’s because she never saw the Doctor as a time-traveling mystery man, as some incredible construct of the most wonderful person ever. Clara saw him, in all her incarnations, as a “clever boy,” as a man. She was never fooled by the Time Lord exterior. Unlike River, Clara doesn’t live for the days when she sees the Doctor, she doesn’t come whenever he calls. Clara the person is primary in their relationship, and she calls the shots.
River never called the shots. When she called the Doctor came, but after that she didn’t really have any control over the situation.
But perhaps what separates Clara and River the most is that Clara the person is being carefully written to supersede Clara the mystery. The Doctor invited her along before he knew she was a mystery. When discovered her mystery, he reacted not with confusion but with joy, with sheer joy that she was out there somewhere. And even the fact that he knows she is a mystery, but Clara doesn’t know, has never given him an edge over her the way River’s mystery gave her an edge over the Doctor.
River’s mystery became her character. Once it was solved, there were no more stories about her left to tell. But Clara’s mystery is not overwhelming her character. Once it is solved, she will still have stories left because her relationship with the Doctor is not fundamentally based on mystery. River’s relationship with the Doctor was all about her mystery.
Thoughts? Argue with me: I can take it.