The Diary of River Song Series 11 audio drama review

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Friend of the Family sees Alex Kingston’s River Song woven into the history of a single family across the generations

Boxsets of The Diary of River Song, which chronicle the exploits of the Doctor’s time travelling significant other, usually consist of four separate stories. Often, there is a theme or a story arc, but mostly they are discrete adventures (we’ve reviewed them all!)

Not so in this case. ‘Friend of the Family’ is one four-part tale from writer Tim Foley. Set in a Georgian manor house, it follows River’s encounters with multiple generations of the Mortimer family.

The Diary of River Song Series 11 cover art

After a pre-credit scene which frames River as the family friend of the title, we follow her into the story. Setting out from Luna University to a preserved 19th century house on Earth, where torn pages from her diary have been discovered bearing a cryptic poem, she’s reluctantly in company. Hugo, a huffy hard light hologram accompanies her with a new prototype tool; the “echo gun” allows the user to peel back temporal layers in the manner of a brass rubbing.

In short order, River is caught in a single location. Restricted to that manor house, she encounters various generations of the same family who reside in the sizeable seaside residence. The key to her escape appears to be through understanding that cryptic verse.

The Mortimer Legacy

Initially, there is a lot to take in, but we puzzle it out along with River. Penned in by a temporal barrier which restrains her between 1936 and 2014, we meet family members in both time zones, plus stops along the way in both 1962 and 1986.

This is an incredibly satisfyingly plotted science-fiction story, which keeps you guessing throughout. It is also an emotive character piece. While it feels like a cliché to write, it really takes you on a journey. Not one of universal peril though, but of personal stakes. However, it is as compelling as any of River’s other adventures. This is temporal storytelling not used for showy gimmicks, but as an intrinsic part of the narrative and deployed to peel back the layers of family history.

The terrific ensemble cast includes Isla Blair, Wendy Craig and Jemima Rooper and it is tough to pick out a favourite performance. That said, Mark Elstob brings a well-judged pathos to Hugo, a role which could otherwise have easily been just the comic sidekick. It was good for River to have a companion again too, even if this one did come with his own agenda.

Across the story, Alex Kingston gets to play many sides of River. Naturally, there is some outrageous flirting, but she interacts with a range of characters and demonstrates River’s emotional depths; she longs for her errant husband, gently inspires a small child to whom she’s Governess, and burns with incandescent rage.

In summary

‘Friend of the Family’ is a compelling tale of love, compassion and acceptance across the generations. Full of beautifully created and performed characters, it is highly involving. The story plays out cleverly too, like a Choose Your Own Adventure time travel tale for its protagonist.

Writer Tim Foley has given us touching family stories before, like the Ninth Doctor’s ‘Auld Lang Syne’, but this is a dazzling tale; River becomes an integral part of the family, unlocking the secrets and shaping their future. Part period drama, part ghost story, part fourth dimensional puzzle, ‘Friend of the Family’ is essential listening and a sure-fire classic. With bags of re-listening potential, we can’t recommend it highly enough!


The Diary of River Song Series 11: Friend of the Family is available on CD and download from Big Finish.