The best way to fill time is to waste it. – Marguerite Duras
There is one very important thing that her training has never covered, Melody Pond realises when she has been trapped in some invisible contraption conjured up by a robot wearing her mother's face. There is one very important thing they have never told her about the Doctor. They have told her that he is dangerous, they have told her that he is intelligent, they have told her that he is resourceful. What they haven't told her is that, for a Time Lord, he has a habit of wasting an awful lot of it.
This latest conclusion she is reaching herself, unable to move, only capable of watching as the dying Doctor swaggers about in a suit and with a fashionable walking stick – which he needs – engaging the robot in conversation as if he has all the time in the world while in truth he has less than five minutes left to live. Melody knows what poison she used and she knows that it is lethal. But here he is, wasting his last minutes of life being completely and utterly ridiculous, because having a scheduled nap for his left leg, really? He can't be fooling anyone with that.
And then his time runs out as he collapses and Melody thinks that yes, this is it for her too. They'll kill her, make sure that she won't survive the Doctor by much more than a minute or two. They've hardly made a secret of it that her life is the price she'll have to pay for fulfilling her life's purpose. But then the robot malfunctions, she is released from her invisible prison and all she can think of is how badly she wants to get out of this place right now.
'Never run when you're scared, rule seven.' The Doctor is dying, lying on the ground, too weak to even crawl, but apparently he still finds the time to tell her how to live her life. Given the fact that his own is far from a shiny example to light the way for the rest of them, Melody knows that she owes him nothing and she does not want to take risks on his behalf.
And yes, she is scared, more so than she has ever been. It is not the same sort of scared that she was when she was very little and there were monsters whispering in her ears. She could never remember them, but their words lingered, at least the gist of what they had been saying. Nothing could ever frighten her like that. But this does. It is a different way of scared, but yes, Melody Pond is absolutely terrified.
The Doctor may be too weak to crawl, but it certainly does not stop him from trying to crawl back to his police box, only now remembering to try and save his friends, when he should have done that first before he did anything else. Wasting time indeed.
But he won't make it and so he calls for River instead. She'd heard that name before, but doesn't know who it is. Clearly he's having hallucinations. Melody is feeling a surge of undefined and irrational jealousy. It doesn't change the fact that he has wasted precious moments he would have better spent saving her parents. Only now that there is no more time does he remember his companions.
She goes and saves them herself and keeps repeating to herself that she does it because they are her mother and father. The Doctor's broken 'help me' does not have a single thing to do with it. But she is finding it harder and harder to keep her nerves under control, because the TARDIS sort of talks to her and tells her how to fly her – the presence in her head is decidedly female – and how is that even possible? But she retrieves her parents – who now look younger than she does and this won't ever not be weird – and brings them back to the Doctor as they request.
He's only barely alive when they make it back, but instead of spending his final moments with his friends, he insists on talking to her. Melody knows she shouldn't be so scared of talking to a dying man who can't hurt her, but it is painful all the same. This is the man she murdered – is murdering, will murder? – and he has saved her. Well, he had her parents do it, but it sort of amounts to the same thing. To her surprise, she is starting to feel guilty over what she did.
He gives her a message for River Song, tells her to tell this mysterious River that he loves her. And then, just like that, it is over. The Doctor stops talking, stops moving like he hasn't done before. Melody feels a sadness she can't quite explain, but that feels like it has to do with possibilities that are cut off and cannot ever be explored now. And it is strange, but she finds that maybe, she would have liked that.
But she can fulfil his last wish and so she asks her mother who River Song is. Amy's reaction is not a verbal one. Instead she asks the robot to show her this elusive River, because she is "still a relative," whatever that is supposed to mean.
It makes sense when the robot changes, though, but Melody cannot describe her shock at seeing the face that stares back at her when her mother's request is granted. All this time the Doctor has wasted and he only tells her he cares for her – or at least a future version of her who goes by a really stupid name – at the last possible moment.
You should always waste time when you don't have it. Time is not the boss of you. He said that. And he's done a lot of that. But all that time he must have known that he shouldn't die, that there was still a way out of this…
And so she saves him. Amy and Rory assure her that he is worth it and Melody is curious enough to make that sacrifice. She keeps the one she has, but she gives him all of her remaining ones in atonement for almost taking whatever was left of his. And giving his tendency for wasting time, he will need them.
So when in the hospital the Doctor tells her that Rule One is that "the Doctor lies" she lets him entertain that thought; he clearly believes it himself. She is too tired to make much objections to anything, but Melody Pond knows better. His Rule One becomes Rule Two in her own head, because yes, he does an awful lot of lying too. But for her own use she makes a new Rule One for future reference – now that there is a future with the Doctor for her somehow – the Doctor wastes time.
It's hard to argue with the truth of that.
He drops by at her university when she has just finished her third year there and she is looking forward to some time to herself. Much of that isn't given to her, because there he is, on her doorstep, armed with sonic screwdriver and flowers – really? – and dressed in a suit, telling her that he is taking her out to congratulate her on completing her first year. Puzzled she tells him that she has been here for three years already and has seen hide nor hair of him in all that time. He reacts by first looking sheepish and then blaming the TARDIS.
Not that she thinks that his ship is to blame, not after she witnesses first-hand what the Doctor means when he says he's "flying" the TARDIS. He stumbles around the console in what looks like a strange mixture of a new-born giraffe doing its first steps and a bizarre mating ritual on a far-off planet. Even with only flying once, she can see that he does several things wrong and weren't there stabilizers last time?
'This, Melody Pond, is how you fly the TARDIS,' he announces when he parks them with the brakes still on, producing a noise that makes her cringe inside.
'Actually,' she says, 'I go by River Song.' As expected, she is rewarded with a brilliant smile. She does not tell him why she has changed the perfectly acceptable name of Melody Pond into the far more absurd River Song. She doesn't know him well enough – yet – to spill all her secrets to him. After all, she's only met him once and admittedly she had saved his life then – after nearly killing him – so there is a bond, there is something there. What the something is, she isn't sure yet.
The truth is that she wants to become the person the Doctor said he loves – and no, she does not think that was a lie, Rule Two notwithstanding – and so she dropped the name of Melody Pond and created the persona of River Song. At first, River was like a coat she wore that didn't really belong to her, but she has come to love the freedom River gives her, the freedom to choose who she wants to be and gradually, almost without noticing, River goes from being a borrowed coat to a second skin. Now, after three years, she is confident in it. She'll always be Melody Pond underneath, but River Song is who she lives and breathes. River is still a work in progress, but she is getting there. And she hopes to God that River can fly the TARDIS better than the Doctor does.
Naturally they don't end up where the Doctor planned. No, instead of on the planet where they are supposed to be, they are on a neighbouring planet, three hundred years later, but not to worry, he knows what he's doing.
She really ought to have remembered his Rule One. The Doctor lies. A lot.
She is focusing on that too much to realise that she has a Rule One of her own to apply to him: the Doctor wastes time.
He does it both that night, lying and wasting time, and it will be a night that will be forever burned into her memory because of it. Maybe it is even a defining night, she'll think later.
At first everything seems to go well. The Doctor takes her to a nice restaurant and treats her to a better dinner than she would have had at her flat. He asks her about her studies and makes no secret of his disdain for archaeology, so eventually they agree to disagree. In turn she asks him about his travels and he has enough stories to keep them occupied until well after dessert.
Which is when it all goes south. The Doctor makes a compliment to the waiter, except it is only a compliment on the planet where they were supposed to go. Here it is not so much of an insult as it is a death threat and soon enough River finds herself running from the entire enraged law enforcement department, the Doctor only half a step ahead of her.
'Sweetie, what did you think you were doing?' No matter that they're running, this is something she would very much like to know.
'I didn't tell them I meant every word of it!' he protests. The look on his face would be so utterly adorable if they would not be running from angry officials.
'I didn't insult them in the first place!' River throws back. She has not started this. True, she did not realise the Doctor's mistake until it was already too late – hence her assurances that he meant every word – but then, she is not a Time Lord with nigh on immeasurable knowledge of the universe. She at least has a good excuse, something that cannot be said for the Doctor.
Of course they get trapped in a small alley, their passage blocked by a fence with a big lock. And it goes without saying that there is not a key in sight.
'Keep them busy,' she instructs the Doctor.
She has been trained in the use of various weapons from a very young age, so her first reaction is to blow the lock into oblivion and have done with it. But the Doctor does not believe in the use of weapons to achieve one's goals, so she left weapons behind and River remembers last seeing the sonic screwdriver on the console. He did not take it with him to dinner, so that option is not going to work either. It'll come down to old-fashioned lock-picking then.
Which is fine by River. When she was Mels, young and rebellious, she got herself into more than one sticky situation. Lock-picking quickly became not just a handy skill, but also a very necessary one. She knows she can get them out of here in under a minute, but they do not have as much as ten seconds. Well, the Doctor claimed only an hour ago that he is good at improvising. Now is as good a time as any to prove it. Besides, she knows he's capable enough. He kept a death-delivering robot talking practically on his deathbed. These officials should be child's play.
She focuses on the lock while he does what he does. The lock is not terribly complicated, so River listens with half an ear to the conversation – one-sided though it may be – that is unfolding behind her. The Doctor has taken out the bit of psychic paper he showed her earlier and is now treating their pursuers to some highly unlikely story about how they are with the inspection to test the local police. He is giving them full marks.
Some appear confused, others see through the ruse right away. But it doesn't matter; the lock has given way under her fingers and they can go.
'Doctor!' she calls.
Either he is too caught up in his role and doesn't hear her or he just plain ignores her. River tends to lean towards the last option. Good grief, is that man suicidal? She doesn't think so, but he is taking the definition of reckless to whole new levels. If he keeps this up, he might need one of those lives she's given him before the night is out.
'Doctor!' she repeats when he is starting in on an in-depth evaluation of the skills of the policemen. The men in question are all looking very displeased and very unyielding. One or two have started reaching for their guns. From where she's standing River can't say if they're just stun guns or actual made-to-kill guns. She thinks the former, but waking up in a cell sounds like a bad idea as well.
'Doctor!' she tries again when once more a reply is not forthcoming.
Rule One: the Doctor wastes time. She remembers that now. She also does not have the time to tolerate it, so she grabs his hand and yanks him away. They make their way back to the TARDIS running and dodging bullets.
'River, what are you doing?' the Doctor yells, filled with what sounds like righteous indignation.
'Saving our lives, sweetie!' She's given him all her remaining regenerations, but that does not mean that she means for him to use them all up so quickly. He may be so much older than she is or ever will be, but right now she feels like the most responsible one of the two of them. It might be that the Doctor feels like acting the age he looks like, but then she has to act the age she looks like. Someone has to.
'I had it under control!' he objects.
River does not even bother to point out the obvious falsehood in these words, just reminds him. 'Rule One, Doctor,' she says. Whether it is her Rule One or his she leaves up for interpretation. The way she sees it, they both apply.
They reach the TARDIS just ahead of flying bullets and send her back into the time vortex, but not before one of those bullets has impacted with the door.
'They've shot my TARDIS!' the Doctor exclaims, mortified, and oh dear, do those words sound familiar.
River is on the verge of pointing out that they would hardly be the first to do so, but changes her mind to the more sensible 'They might not have if you had come when I said.' In short, before the guns were drawn.
His reply takes her a little by surprise. 'I had to give them a chance.'
'A chance to do what?' She can't pretend to understand this.
The response she gets is a helpless flapping of the hands that tells her more than his verbal reply of giving them a chance to back off has done. And River could tell from their faces that was never going to happen anyway. To think anything else would only be deluding oneself.
They bicker over it on their way back to her flat. River insists on driving and the Doctor has little choice but giving in after the TARDIS has given her own opinion on the matter by forcefully throwing him away from the console. He mutters something about her being a traitor, but hands over control to River then. She's glad of it; if she is the one in charge, then at least she'll land them at the right place at the right time. The Doctor has just proven that he cannot be trusted in that department.
But if truth is told, she has enjoyed herself more than she has in years, more than she thought she would. When he landed on her doorstep, she had been secretly afraid it would be awkward after Berlin, but he has greeted her with a delight that made her doubts about this vanish in an instant. And he is good company, so very different from what she had always been led to believe. The psychopath bits of her are starting to fade, leaving more room for the young girl who always thought she would marry the Doctor when she grew up.
In time, the memories of their outing fade a little, as all memories do as time passes. She can't quite recall what the restaurant or the streets looked like or if there was a moon shining or if it was clouded instead. But River finds that that there are a couple of moments still as clear as day in her mind, moments that time cannot dull: the wasted moments that led to their wild dash back to the TARDIS.
She is standing on the top of a pyramid in Egypt that has been given away by Cleopatra on the twenty-second of April 2011, 5.02 pm. But then, everything happens at that exact date and that exact time these days. And people don't even seem to notice.
But River does. She is the child of the TARDIS; time itself has weaved itself into her DNA somehow. And that means that she can feel it, can feel how very, very wrong this is. It is urging her to do the right thing, urging her to make time begin again, as it should. It is so simple. All she has to do is to touch the Doctor and he is currently standing opposite her, ranting about how she is embarrassing him by blowing up time itself in order not to kill him. Melody Pond, the woman who kills the Doctor. That is what the shape-shifting robot had dubbed her with her mother's voice. River will do her best that is not a title she will be deserving of.
So he can rant all that he wants – even though every word hurts like hell itself – her mind is made up. She will not kill him, not ever. She agrees that time must be set right, but she won't even consider doing it the way the Doctor has in mind. Then she'd rather be stuck in this world that does not make an ounce of sense. It is still better than the alternative, to live in a universe where the Doctor is dead. That is one universe she is not prepared to live in.
Which is how it has come to this, the two of them standing on the top of a pyramid with her parents standing by and time rapidly running out. Something is coming and there is no way out. Touching the Doctor would solve that problem too, but River is not even tempted. Amy is on her side, River knows, because Amy remembers. The same cannot be said for her father, who looks increasingly confused with the proceedings.
The Doctor is pacing, as far as he is capable of doing that with his hands cuffed behind his back, but that is a necessary precaution. He has no reservations about taking matters into his own hands and restarting time on his terms rather than hers. And who cares if he dies in the process? He certainly doesn't himself. Rule Three: the Doctor has no sense of self-preservation to speak of.
But she knows he has come up with something resembling a plan when he turns to Amy with a demand for release.
Maybe it is something in his voice that persuades Amy to obey, but River keeps a very close eye on him; she would not put it beyond him to make another dash forward to grab her hand and this time there are no guards to pull him off her in time.
But no, the Doctor does not seem to have any plans to take her hand. Instead he takes off his bowtie and orders her to wrap one end of it around her hand. He does the same with his hand and the other end so that eventually their hands are less than an inch away from one another. That is too close for comfort, but she doesn't dare protest. Still, she takes good care to ensure it remains that way. Whatever plan the Doctor has cooked up in that head of his is sure to be brilliant – in some way – but it might be suicidal at the same time. River does not mean to oblige him.
So when the Doctor asks her father to repeat the words I consent and gladly give after him, she is caught completely off-guard. And then it all makes sense, the bowtie, the words. He's marrying her.
And it is insane. It is completely and wonderfully insane. Of course he did not even ask her if this is what she wanted, but the moment she thinks that, her mind races back to Berlin, to Hitler's office where she was lying, just before regenerating into this body. She confessed she always wanted to marry him when she was little and he said he would get her parents' permission. Getting married had not been in the cards that day – she had been too busy trying to kill and then save him – but here they are and he is sort of asking permission – because her father has absolutely no idea what he is agreeing to, but at least her mother knows – and she is going to get married right here on top of this pyramid. The only thing she will have to take care to avoid is the customary kiss at the end of the ceremony. Her resolve has not wavered; she won't kill him, especially not now.
He tells her that he is going to whisper something in her ear and that she'll have to listen very carefully. And she is also under strict orders not to tell a soul what he is about to tell her. He does exactly what he said he would just a second later, before she has a chance to think about it.
'Look into my eye.'
River doesn't have enough time to form expectations of what he would say, but this would not have made the list even if she'd had it. But she does as he asks, too curious and too confused to question his request and then she gets the shock of a lifetime. There is a miniaturised Doctor in one of the Doctor's eyes, smiling widely whilst waving a Stetson around and pointing at a miniaturised TARDIS behind him.
And then she realises. He had never been in any danger, which is why he never felt badly about restarting time again. Relief floods over her. She won't be killing him, but he'll be fooling them all. The only thing to be killed is the robot that had almost been the death of her some years ago. Killing a machine will be easy, as long as she doesn't kill the Doctor himself. She'll be happy to help him fake it.
But you'd better be marrying me for real.
And at the same time this whole thing is even more insane than it already was. If only he had told her what he had been planning, they could have saved so much time. They could have avoided this strange and twisted version of reality altogether. Rule One: the Doctor wastes time. He wouldn't have been the Doctor if he didn't abide by his own rules.
The Doctor proclaims to her parents that he has just told her his name, but River has her eyes fixed on the miniaturised Doctor, who is saying the words at the same time they come out of the robot's mouth. The miniature one looks at her and nods, which River sincerely hopes means that yes, this is real to him and they are actually getting married here, even if this wedding is as unconventional as they come.
So when he asks her to end this situation and put things right, she tells him he may kiss the bride.
It is the day River Song decides that wasted moments with the Doctor are easily the most memorable and her absolute favourites.
Maybe she should find a notebook somewhere to write them all down.