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The Fourteenth Doctor Now Spends His Time as a “Friend of the Family”. River Song Did It Better

The odd thing about the Fourteenth Doctor’s move into joining a household is it will be happening in linear order. He turns up, he lives there, and then maybe one day he leaves.

River Song meanwhile has a record, beyond her own relationship with the Doctor, of involving time travel in her forays into domestic life. Which in science-fiction terms definitely has more dramatic potential than what will be happening in the Nobles’ household unless they are frequently visited by aliens.

An example of the River Song approach to joining a house is in Friend of the Family, a story lasting four episodes and released by Big Finish last year as series 11 of The Diary of River Song.

It begins with River arriving on Earth via her own shuttle in the far future, during her time as a professor at Luna University, to visit a Georgian manor house that seems to have many mysteries and some including pages of her own diary. She’s been here before. Or has she?

She’s accompanied by the shuttle’s interface, manifested into hologram form as Hugo by Mark Elstob, and it doesn’t take long for her to head back in time. But it’s not as easy for the vortex manipulator to take her forward again. So begins a route to which River entwines herself into the house’s history while simultaneously trying to depart it.

London in 2023 may be a diverse place for the Fourteenth Doctor to be, but having multiple time zones to exist in makes for a greater contrast between each group and in several instances the people she meets in the house are either already familiar with her from her diary or from past encounters. The existence of Hugo enables River to muse about these complications of time travel without throwing exposition at characters from many centuries before her own.

Historical dramas love to give plot time to domestic relationships and management, and River’s appearance in multiple time periods enables the listener to see not only how differently these challenges are handled in different eras but also the similarities too. Bringing home a girlfriend, or boyfriend, without the permission of your family can cause complications regardless of the century.

Romantic attention is directed towards River, which adds tension at times but also enables her to share her immense experience and knowledge of life to young people who are navigating being in love. Beyond the difficulty in River leaving the house and heading straight back to her times, there’s a more sinister element at play that she realises she may have to deal with by the end of episode one.

Episode two begins with River finding out more about the house itself — the kind of mystery that the Doctor is unlikely to have to think about in 2023 — and starts to highlight how her actions in the past can be seen at later times. Tim Foley is penning this tale, and at this point there are notable similarities with his Ninth Doctor Adventures story, Auld Lang Syne, released eight months prior which also followed a house through time.

Alex Kingston always does very well performing opposite young actors, and there are several characters in this who are encountered in their youthful years and as weary adults. River influences the path of each to some degree. But any cosiness is disrupted by the stakes being raised, a twist, and a cliffhanger at the end of the episode.

Outside of the house is where the action is at early in episode three, as the audience learns just how significant the episode two ending was. River’s status as a ‘friend of the family’ gets put to the test, as do her time travel responsibilities, as previously established events seem to change or happen paradoxically, culminating in another dramatic confrontation.

While there is a cliffhanger, the fact that this is all one story means episode four is a direct continuation and has a lot to sew up including Hugo, whose involvement in this house’s history is arguably more significant than River Song’s. In a way, he has taken on the River Song role in this story as it would be in a Doctor Who release rather than part of a range where she is the titular protagonist.

As the pieces of the jigsaw come together, there’s consequences for the household members and their time-travelling visitors. But ultimately there’s a really nice emotional payoff for everyone, the kind that has to be earned through extensive ups and downs rather than coming just by ‘moving in’ (as the Fourteenth Doctor did), and a neat epilogue too.

The Diary of River Song: Friend of the Family is available now from Big Finish.

Ida Wood

The Fourteenth Doctor Now Spends His Time as a “Friend of the Family”. River Song Did It Better

by Ida Wood time to read: 3 min
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