The Diary of River Song – Series 4 Episodes 1 and 2 Review

Diary of River Song S4 P1

Although I haven’t gotten around to covering Series 2 or 3 yet, I’m not going hold off on reviewing a new release! Plus, who can wait to listen to the Fourth Doctor interact with River Song? Well, all of us, because that doesn’t happen until Episode 4. Still! The first two stories of this set actually work well as both a set up to the rest of the story, and as a little mini arc all by itself, thought differ wildly in quality. Let’s have a look at the debut of the Discordia then, a race that sounds like it was taken straight from the Russell T. Davies book of mythical race naming!

Official Synopsis (Time in a Bottle):

River is recruited by a rival to explore a star system where time no longer exists.

Professor Jemima Still has picked up a signal from an impossible source and takes an expert team to investigate.

But their mission is about to unleash hell upon the universe…

Note: Full Spoilers From Here On Out!

Cast of Characters:

River Song (Alex Kingston) – River can never resist the lure of a mysterious planet that has been lost in time, though having to meet up with a frankly unpleasant old school buddy does make the job less tempting…

Professor Jemima Still (Fenella Woolgar) – Professor Jemima doesn’t have a lot of barriers when it comes to her work: love, compassion, the fate of countless innocent people… it’s all irrelevant if it gets in the way of her fame and career…

Melak (George Asprey) – Melak is also an old school friend of River’s, and is currently the husband of Prof. Still. That being said, time away from her may have given him a new perspective…

Gammarae (Adele Lynch) – A member of a ant-like species whose planet was frozen in time, Gammarae is going to tag along with the two Professors in order to free her people.

Spod (Josh Bolt) – Spod is a killer cyborg that doesn’t want to kill. Instead he likes learning about history and is interested helping out the infamous River Song with her quest.

The Discordia (Various) – A race that takes the forms of other races’ worst fears and then proceeds to use time travel to make sure they always win whatever battle they face…

Plus more!

The Good:

Diary of River Song S4 P2 Cover

A great cover, with having  two Rivers on it just to confuse people who haven’t listened to it!

Episode 2, “Kings of Infinite Space”, is definitely the highlight of the two. Basically River and her two makeshift companions are chased across space by the Discoridia, specifically River’s old friend Melak, who has become one of them. We gets lots of amusing mini-adventures with the plenty of sad drama around them, always ending with Malek finding them and causing them to randomly time hop again. Gammarae and Spod, two characters who I strongly disliked in Episode 1 (see below!) are actually a fun duo here, and play off each other well, making their respective sacrifices feel more effective. By the end River is exhausted, having time jumped so many times that her body had been damaged, and you feel just as exhausted as she does. You really begin to think Malek and the Discorida are impossible to escape from, it’s a very effective way of building a new foe.

Malek is defeated because he ended up trusting the decapitated head of a River Song duplicate robot, which is a very weird sentence, but was a fun side-story. River’s last words to him about being “so lonely you ended up befriending a robot head” being his downfall almost brought a tinge of sadness to what was otherwise a thoroughly unlikable antagonist. It also ties up the battle with her old friend Malek and how she had and then lost some companions, resetting everything for a second half where she battles the Discordia en masse.

The Discordia in general are a fun idea, people who have time travel and instead of being cautious with it, just use it to “cheat” and win all the time, as well as splice other beings’ genes into their own. The fact they look like stereotypical devils is fun too, thanks to River’s human idea of a worst foe and how they take the form of a race’s fears.

There are some good ideas in Episode 1, like a planet frozen in time but not by the Time Lords, and scenes where River and co. walk across the planet in a “time bubble”, where only what is in their bubble is unfrozen in time. Sadly that’s about it…

The Bad:

Diary of River Song S4 P1 Cover

I have to say that Prof. Jemima Still’s actress looks the part of an annoyingly arrogant woman!

“Time in a Bottle” has some serious character problems. Spod the “funny” cyborg who uses phrases like “amaze-balls” and acts all silly is just cringey, and Gammarae couldn’t be any more generic if she tried, all insectoid and “my hive” and “my queen” and all that, literally no personality beyond basic alien insectoid, they’re both… not good. In episode 2 Spod never once utters modern teenage phrases and is actually interesting in his inability to kill despite what he was built for, and Gammarae is a funny straight man (straight… insect woman?) to his sarcasm until she dies, so I guess Donald McLeary, the writer of Episode 2, agreed with me on that one and changed them to actually interesting characters for his story.

Then we get Prof. Still, who acts smug, arrogant and even at one point refuses to unfreeze the people of the planet because then they wouldn’t be lost and therefore her artefacts and books on the lost people would be meaningless. In other words she’s thoroughly unlikable, and yet at the end she sacrifices herself to stop Malek from getting to River and we’re suppose to care? Her last words are about how her books will now be worth a fortune! To be honest I found Malek and the Discordia to be far more likable in comparison and was happy to hear her killed off, yet it was clearly written to be “oh she wasn’t so bad in the end because she saved everyone”. Screw that, she was bad in the end! She was willing to let countless people be frozen in time forever if it meant her career was intact!

In the end it had some good ideas, and served as a good introduction to the Discordia, but Episode 1 was a bit of a mess, character-wise, that luckily got corrected in the following episode.

The Continuity:

Diary of River Song S4 Overall Cover

The overall cover… boy they got a lot of use out of those created images for Spod and Gammarae, didn’t they?

Not much, though “the Discordia” was mentioned by River Song when she met the Eighth Doctor in “Doom Coalition 4: Songs of Love”, where she recounted several adventures she’s had with past incarnations of the Doctor.

Overall Thoughts:

The Diary of River Song – Series 4 gets off to a poor start, then manages to pick itself straight back up and deliver a great Episode 2. Hopefully this momentum is continued as we head into the second half of the series. So, in other words, I’ll have to do a split score here…

Part 1: Time in a Bottle –

2 Star Listen

Part 2: Kings of Infinite Space –

4 Star Listen

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