Okay, I’m sorry, I have to continue my current “Doctor Who” rant, because there’s something I’ve been thinking about and I can’t figure it out and it’s bothering me. Does the Doctor love River? Does he? I can’t figure out if he does or not. I really can’t. I mean, I get what Moffet was trying for with this storyline, I really do. I’m picking up what he’s putting down. He’s trying for a retelling, or maybe reimagining is more accurate, of “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, which I haven’t read, but I quite enjoyed the movie. So, fine, cool, whatever. Meeting in the wrong order? Fine. It’s a weird and cool way to tell a story, if it’s done in the right way. She knows him more as he knows her less, and vice versa? Really a very cool way to tell a story and show just what it is that makes each of them fall in love with the other, showcasing what each of them finds most attractive in the other, what draws them in, despite everything. It can’t help but be tragic, as there is that short, so short, period of time, where each really knows the other, truly loves the other for all that they are, before they each start to move in opposite directions, each destined for that day when they look into the other’s eyes and see no recognition looking back. Awesome, epic idea- if done right. See, that’s the problem I think. It hasn’t been done right. For that kind of story, you need possibly a stand alone kind of character in a stand alone novel or movie, not something that is so decade- sprawling as “Doctor Who”. This needs to be something where it’s just those two, it will always be those two, with their love blazing away, in defiance of time and space.
I don’t feel like that’s happening here. For starters, I’m not even entirely sure if the Doctor really loves her. She loves him, very clearly, and has, very clearly, from the beginning. Even from her beginning, when you watch her grow up obsessed with the Doctor. Quite rightly obsessed, since she had been brainwashed to kill him. She probably thought about him a lot for most of her life, what with the brainwashing and being best friends with Amy, the girl who waited. So, you put her face to face with him, of course she’s gonna go a bit bonkers, which she did. And then she blew past “a bit” into I don’t even know what. She wants to marry him, then she kills him, then she sacrifices all the rest of her regenerations to save him. That’s… that’s a bit extreme. But, again, to be fair, she was raised to be a psychopath. Then, she crafts the rest of her life around the Doctor. She becomes an archaeologist in order to find him again, she tracks him down, again and again, she breaks Time itself, shatters it, in order to save him. She says that her suffering at having to kill him would be worse than all the suffering of all the billions of people in all the universe. Which is kind of sweet and kind of creepy. I mean, if she had said something like what Rory said way back in the Pandorica episodes, that, to paraphrase, the Doctor was more important than the rest of the universe to her, then I wouldn’t have a problem. But the way she put it? That’s pretty extreme. Like, really extreme. And being more afraid of the day when he wouldn’t recognize her than of his death or hers? We’re entering into fatal attraction territory here. But whatever, I get it, they’re going for a great, epic love. And God knows she has the pedigree for it, it’s in her blood. Her father guarded the Pandorica for about two thousand years, just to keep Amy safe. He would do absolutely anything for her, protect her from anything, fight through anything, do whatever it took, even if it meant giving her up for someone she wanted more. And Amy was willing to die several times to either get back to Rory or stay with him. That is deep, true, epic love. So it’s in her blood. But, I don’t know, it just seems a bit much to me. But I’m a cynic, I’m probably the wrong person to ask.
Then, we have the Doctor. What proof of love do we have on his side? He married her, that’s true. But why did he marry her? See, that’s where the problem comes in for me, because he flat out says “I don’t want to marry you.” And yes, marrying her wasn’t really presented as a condition of her touching him and going back to the beach, so they could fix Time, but I look at it this way: they say earlier in the episode that no one is sure if she is the woman that marries him or the woman that murders him. So, what if he saw it as he had two timelines to choose from? Or if that’s what he thought she thought? What if he thought he had to choose one, marriage or murder, and she wouldn’t accept the second option without shattering the universe. So that left him with one option. He had to marry her. I mean, they argue on top of that pyramid for several minutes before he busts out the bow tie. And the whole thing, to me, didn’t feel very romantic. It was more “end- of- the- worldy” than romantic. But, hell, when you’re over a thousand years old, you can certainly do things for more than one reason. So, maybe he does- a little. Because, recently, when I was spelunking in the internet, to try and figure this out, I read a quote from Stephen Moffet, that said that the Doctor feels very responsible for River (incidentally I would cite that quote but I have no idea now where I read it. But I promise that, unless the website I was reading lied to me, it is true). Responsible. He looks at this woman, crying and loving him with all her heart, just as she has the entire time he’s known her, destroying the entire fabric of the universe in order to save him, and how can he not give her something in return? How can he not give her this thing that she clearly wants, and what he probably knows she had to begin with. What is a Timelord to do? Save the universe and all of time, as well as give her what she wants/needs, not to mention keep him promise to Amy (to take care of her daughter) or to not?
Also, there’s this: in the killing Hitler episode, when he’s in the Tardis talking to the visual interface he asks it to show him someone he actually liked instead of an image of himself. So, let’s examine who it shows him: Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble and then little Amelia Pond. At no point does it show him River. I mean, even if it was working chronologically, wouldn’t River be between Donna and little Amelia? (Incidentally, when I googled this earlier, “Does the Doctor love River”, all I got was people arguing about was who was a better match for him: Rose or River? Not only does this not answer my question, thank you Google, but I maintain that the question doesn’t matter. Not only is Rose in another universe, hopefully living happily ever after with 10A, but he let her go. When 10 is dying he goes back and basically says good- bye to everyone who had been important to him, leaving Rose for last and then he walks away. He is letting her go. He accepts that they can’t be together, he’s accepted that for a while, and no matter how much he loved her, and he loved her a lot, he has to let her go. So he does. And then he regenerated, which really helped that process along. He told everyone goodbye and now he pretty much never references them. So, the whole Rose or River thing isn’t even really a question. He probably still loves Rose, but in that way where you’ll always have feelings for that person, you’ll always care for them and they’ll always be very important to you, but it fades, so that they’re simply special to you, and no longer the sun and the moon. But that’s just my opinion, we’ll find out for sure on the 50th anniversary special, when David Tennant and Billie Piper guest star, which I’m really looking forward to. Ten bucks says he stammers a lot and knocks something over.)
Anyway, there are all sorts of little things they show that says he cares about her, is attracted to her, worries about her and values her, but I can’t say as any of that adds up to “love”. They flirt constantly, he calls her a “bad, bad girl”, and every now and then they kiss but I don’t know if he loves her. Admittedly, the Doctor is pretty famous for playing it close to the chest, in any incarnation. He is a man with secrets and is very reluctant to give any of them up. Nor does he strike me as particularly emotionally aware. He isn’t given to much introspection, unless he’s yelling at himself for something. So, maybe he does love he and just doesn’t show it for some reason. Or maybe he loves her and doesn’t realize it. But then, why would he flirt so much with Clara? The one from the Christmas episode, not modern Clara, though I’m sure that’s coming. More to the point, why would he react like that when she kissed him? At this point, he is in fact a married man, yet when Clara kisses him he looks astonished and confused and maybe a little thrilled, like something confusing but awesome just happened, such as a pretty, smart, fun girl grabbed him and kissed him. Not the look of a man who has been kissed by someone who is not his wife and lady love.
Then there’s a separate question: in the “The Angels Take Manhattan”, at the end, after Rory and Amy went back in time and essentially died, the Doctor asks River to travel with him and she says no. She says she’ll have adventures with him, but she won’t be his companion, after having a pained look on her face. And she comes from his future. And, at some point after that, he finds modern Clara and they start traveling together. So, after they have such great chemistry together and the kissing and the attraction, does something cook up with Clara and River knows it? Is that why she wouldn’t travel with him? Because the reason she gave is just bullshit. “There should only be one psychopath per TARDIS?” What kind of excuse is that? Not any kind. It’s the kind of thing you say when you’re trying to avoid saying the real reason. And since she comes from his future, she would have seen that he has Clara later and, based on the kiss and attraction and her look of pain, there’s something there.
All of this brings me to one very unfortunate conclusion, which I really wish was the opposite: I don’t think the Doctor loves River. I think he cares for her, a lot, that she’s special to him and that he feels a great deal of responsibility for her, not only because she’s his dead best friend’s daughter but because when they first met she sacrificed her life for his and then tried to do it again later. And then again, when she used up all her regeneration for him. Of course he feels responsible for her. She pours so much of herself into him and this relationship that she insists is there and we have seen no real evidence of. He’s not the kind of man to just walk away from that kind of responsibility, that weight. He’ll carry it and take care of her, but I have yet to see real evidence that he loves her. Which, btw, makes this whole story arc they have going, officially one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. Here’s hoping that I’m really, really wrong.