The Mystery of River Song and the Mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald

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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.

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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.

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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.


12 thoughts on “The Mystery of River Song and the Mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald

  1. I agree re: the overall trajectory of the River narrative, though I blame the screenwriters rather than the character. I think the River of “Silence in the Library” was & remains a great character, and I bought her relationship with the Doctor. I think the Mels thing COULD have worked if Moffat had spent more than 15 mins on it.

    Regarding River’s absence from the Doctor’s life in the Xmas episode, I suspect the in-show reason is that the Doctor knows he only has a few meetings left with her and is “rationing her days” the way the old man in “A Christmas Carol” did. The “Pond” he’s mourning in the clouds isn’t just Amy &Rory, but also Melody.

    And yes, I suspect that Clara is a reincarnated, post-Library version of River. I’m not a 100% convinced this is what they’re doing, or what they should do. But The Snowman/Hide/Crimson all seemed to point in that direction. They’ve really been hitting the “separated lovers” thing with Clara & the Doctor in those episodes & copying shots from River episodes (the first Clara-Doctor kiss, her falling on top of him etc.)

    Also, that would be the out-show reason for River’s strange absence during the Doctor’s Victorian sulk. River & Clara can’t occupy the same space.

    • I cannot even describe how much I hope you’re wrong about who Clara really is, but that’s between me and the writers!

      But to be honest, when I write these I try to look for the internal logic, not go into meta-crits of the writing.

      I guess it’s possible that you’re right about “rationing her days,” but nothing in the show has suggested that the Doctor can or would do that, so I dunno…

      And I’ve seen so many parallels between Clara and past companions that I’m starting to suspect the writers are playing with us: the motorbike goes back to Rose (as does the Rose and Crown), the chair in the last episode goes back to Donna, and the thing where she fell on top of him. We’ll see in just under two weeks!

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  8. River couldn’t be there because she was already dead! And the Doctor even said it. Her Library form is more or less a ghost. And yet she remains in his heart. That’s why he says, “you’re always here to me and I always hear you.” I loved the entire River Song story arc and I hope it’s not over yet. After all she is still mentally linked to Clara. So now we have more mystery. What does this link mean? River’s mystery & Clara’s–can’t wait to find out!

    • Thanks so much for reading!
      I know now that River wasn’t there because she was dead, but no one mentioned it at the time! I spent the whole season thinking she was out there somewhere :(.
      But she’s not mentally linked with Clara. ‘Cause she says “I was mentally linked with Clara. If she’s really dead, how am I still here?” So either she wasn’t linked to Clara or Clara’s not really dead, but either way she faded at the end, and that was it. She might come back, but it’ll be chronologically earlier.

  9. The one thing that keeps sticking out to me is that in the silence of the library the little girl says ‘aren’t I a clever girl’ and Clara calls the Doctor clever boy…. And there are spoilers coming as River said, I don’t think it was as cut and dry as the season finale made it seem. I have noooooo idea what it’s heading towards, but I really don’t think that’s the end of River, and I honestly believe somehow Amy is going to come in to play… Weren’t they in the states in the 60’s? I doubt her daughter would resist a visit years later. We have to operate under the assumption there’s still a lot we don’t see about all these relationships and how they’re going to meld in the end. I don’t know what else the story holds, but I’m dying to find out!

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