Amy (Karen Gillan), Rory (Arthur Darvill) and River (Alex Kingston) in Doctor Who
(BBC)

Today Is the Anniversary of the Most Famous Plot Twist ‘Doctor Who’ Failed to Deliver On

On this day thirteen years ago, Doctor Who fans were met with one of the biggest, boldest episodes the show had ever done.

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June 4, 2011, brought us “A Good Man Goes To War,” the midseason finale (split seasons being a new thing Doctor Who was trying), and a big revelation was forthcoming. It turned out River Song (Alex Kingston) was the daughter of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). She was the baby that had been stolen away from them during the episode.

River shows up at the very end of the episode and reveals her true identity to her parents, who had just been through the wringer in every way possible. Her name, she tells them, is really “Melody Pond,” the name they chose for their baby. Amy and Rory look deeply shocked, and the episode ends.

What a way to close the midseason! Surely this would form a huge part of the show going forward! Amy and Rory had already met their daughter before River, you see. It’s Doctor Who so it’s seriously convoluted, but basically, young Melody spent some time in a creepy orphanage before ending up houseless on the streets of New York, where she regenerated. After that, she somehow made her way to Leadworth, Amy and Rory’s hometown, where she ensured they got together in the first place.

It falls apart the second you start thinking about it too hard, but clearly, the important thing is that Melody had a terrible childhood. She was all alone and menaced by the Silence. Amy and Rory’s arc from the moment they knew the truth would be all about fixing the past and making sure they were there for their child, right? Nope. This aspect of things is almost entirely forgotten.

Amy and Rory aren’t allowed to mourn for their child

The thing is, after “A Good Man Goes To War,” Amy and Rory are parents who have lost a child. They know she grows up to be their childhood friend Mels (Nina Toussaint-White) and then River Song, but what about all the time in between? Who was reading her bedtime stories and teaching her to walk? Amy and Rory sure don’t get to do that. Mels’ situation is also left incredibly vague. If she grew up alongside Amy and Rory in Leadworth, who was looking after her? Was she in an orphanage? There are just so many questions arising from the River plot twist and so few of them are ever answered. But perhaps the biggest one of all is: Why don’t Amy and Rory grieve for what they’ve lost?

Because Doctor Who is a family show, it simply wasn’t equipped to take on that sort of baggage. The episode that comes after “A Good Man Goes To War,” “Let’s Kill Hitler” does delve a little bit into Amy and Rory’s feelings for their suddenly adult daughter but those feelings don’t seem like grief.

Amy does say in the midseason finale, speaking to the woman who stole Melody, “You took my baby from me and hurt her. And now she’s all grown up and she’s fine, but I’ll never see my baby again.” And yet, surely Amy could have prevented that by hopping in the TARDIS, going back in time, and plucking young Melody from off the streets, couldn’t she?

Steven Moffat greatly misjudged this arc

Steven Moffat wrote the River Song arc and to put it bluntly I don’t think he did a very good job. I have big, big issues with some other aspects of the arc, such as how Amy comes to give birth to Melody in the first place and the misogyny inherent in that storyline. But even if we ignore that, none of the arc adds up to much. Amy and Rory having a baby and then losing her to villains should have been all that seasons six and seven were about. It’s hard to believe these parents who just lost a child would be fine immediately returning to their usual light-hearted adventuring.

Everything we get about River and her parents feels half-assed. Rory doesn’t get to have a relationship with River at all, even though he sobbed while holding baby Melody during “A Good Man Goes To War.” River isn’t even mentioned during some of the most important Amy episodes, such as “The Girl Who Waited.” And Amy and Rory just absolutely do not care about going back in time to even try to get their baby back. It’s just a bizarre mess, and not a storyline I would recommend you revisit anytime soon.


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Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.