The Diary of River Song: Series 1 – Signs & The Rulers of the Universe Review


The second half of the first River Song series has a far more successful hit rate than the previous half, with the first episode having a good sense of mystery, and the second having fun interactions between River and the Eighth Doctor. While not perfect, it does end the series on a high, so let’s have a closer look!

Official Synopsis (Signs):

River Song is on the trail of the mysterious, planet-killing SporeShips.

Nobody knows where they come from. Nobody knows why they are here. All they do know is that wherever the SporeShips appear, whole civilizations are reduced to mulch.

But River has help. Her companion is a handsome time-travelling stranger, someone with specialist knowledge of the oddities and dangers the universe has to offer. For Mr Song has a connection to River’s future, and he would never want his wife to face those perils alone…

Note: Full Spoilers From Here On Out!

Cast of Characters:

DW DORS S1 Signs

It’s the entire cast of Signs!

River Song (Alex Kingston) – River is off chasing one of the big mysteries of the universe alongside her husband… she’s pretty sure. I mean, he certainly sounds the part…

The Doctor (Paul McGann) –The Doctor is avoiding the great Time War that surrounds him, trying his best to help out where he can, and that includes meeting with the “Rulers of the Universe” and dealing with SporeShips…

Bertie Potts (Alexander Vlahos) – A member of the Rulers of the Universe, who after River turned out to be a failure, turn to her husband The Doctor to try and solve their problems…

Mr. Song (Samuel West) – A man claiming to be an incarnation of the Doctor that River hadn’t met before, but how can that be? Either way, he wants to help River get to the bottom of the mystery of the SporeShips, so he can’t be all bad…

Isabella Clerkwell (Imogen Stubbs) – Another member of the Rulers of the Universe, she much prefers to just watch and observe, rather than take an active role in proceedings…

The Sanukuma (Aaron Neil) – A caste of the Kamishi race, who once seeded planets at the beginning of the Universe. After eons of slumber they were woken by the Time War, and now wish to re-seed the universe in order to pick up where they left off, and the quickest way would be to team up with one of the two sides of the War…

Plus more!

The Good:

DW DORS S1 Rulers of the Universe

A fun team up, though this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this paring…

Signs is an interesting concept in that it’s a two-hander, River and Mr. Song are the only characters featured that have a speaking role. The premise is that “Mr. Song” is The Doctor who now has a large spaceship instead of a TARDIS, and he and River are trying to find out the secret of the SporeShips, large ships that seed planets with already large populations and wipe them out in doing so. River is soon terminally ill and eventually dies… although obviously not! It’s sort of a problem that we know River doesn’t die here and we know Mr. Song isn’t The Doctor, but the mystery comes from trying to figure out what’s going on, rather than being fooled into thinking either are true.

Anyway, it’s revealed that Mr. Song is actually a member of the Kamishi, the race that built the SporeShips, who has had a change of heart and wants to stop the ships, and that in order to get River to go along with his plan he cloned her multiple times, telling each clone they were dying from exposure to the Spores and replacing them each time they died (whether that be from illness or figuring everything out…) The real River figures things out though and soon appears before him, and then shoots him dead. Now there’s a key difference between River Song and her actual husband! It’s a good story with an interesting central mystery, though it can be slow going at times.

As for the finale, The Rulers of the Universe, it’s a good end, which sees both The Doctor take car of the SporeShips and their creators, and River take care of the titular Rulers. The two have a fun back and forth over an intercom, with River hiding her identity from her “too young to know her” husband. In fact I loved the scene when River has an outburst at the returning Bertie Potts for bringing “this version of The Doctor, the pure and naïve one who’s in the Time War but just wants to help people!” The Doctor sends the Sanukuma to the start of the universe via a “chronon mine” he picked up while trying to clean up after his own people’s war, and River uses her vortex manipulator to go back and forth to the Rulers’ ship and plant bombs on every level to take it out.

It’s a fun story, and I liked the Eighth Doctor and River’s chat. I’d be upset that they never met face to face if it weren’t so well written and fun regardless.

The Bad:

DW DORS S1 Cover

It’s the overall cover again! Though this time, all things featured on it were part of these two stories…

There were moments during Signs that I was bored. Long conversations with a dying River were annoying because we all know she’s not dying, so they just sort of dragged. Not the end of the world, but it can be slow.

The finale was thankfully spared a lot of the “upperclass British” bollocks that I felt plagued the first half of this series, but it was still there from time to time, just it mostly had a disgusted Doctor or a vengeful River to take the edge off.

The Continuity:

Not much to mention, beyond The Doctor being in the middle of the Time War, and that earlier in #8’s life, but later in River’s, the two meet several times in the Doom Coalition series, though once again, never properly.

Also plenty of mentions and references to River’s on-screen adventures, but that’s to be expected really…

Overall Thoughts:

A much better second half then, with one story an interesting mystery, and the other a satisfying pay-off. Neither I’d rate 5 stars, but they’re both entertaining and make the hour fly by. If the rest of the Diary of River Song series are like this half, then I’m looking forward to… whenever I pick them up!

4 Star Listen

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