The return of River Song was as much a surprise to Alex Kingston as it was to anyone else. After all, the Doctor’s time-travelling wife – who, like the book, always meets her husband in reverse-order – seemingly had her swansong in 2013’s The Name of the Doctor, where Matt Smith kissed her goodbye.
“I thought that was it. I was never officially told, ‘that’s it,’ but enough time had passed since the last episode to think, ‘that’s that.’ But Steven Moffat and [former showrunner] Russell T Davies had mentioned in interviews what fun it would be to explore River with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. I thought, ‘They wouldn’t entertain an idea like that in print unless a seed’s growing somewhere.’ And then, a few months back, I suddenly got the call to be in the Christmas special.”
What Russell T Davies had actually said is that the clash of Kingston and Capaldi would be a “sex storm.” And you can see what he means. For ever since the words, ‘hello, sweetie,’ in 2008’s Silence in the Library, River Song has made a name for the theatrically filthy – a character who, in Kingston’s own words, would, “give William Hartnell a heart-attack”. Those innuendos and advances were played for laughs against the – at-the-time – 27 year-old Smith. But Capaldi is 57, much closer to her own 52. Should we get the umbrellas out?
“Well, it’s a family show,” she smiles. “But there have been moments on set where we’ve started calling it ‘Doctor Blue’.” She lets out an enormous cackle – just the way you think she would.
Yet the dynamic between Song and the Twelfth Doctor is different in more ways than one: she doesn’t know who he is. It’s what happens when you bump into your wife with an entirely new face and don’t tell her – something that Kingston, speaking to me in the early days of filming, can relate to.
“I’m used to change. I had that experience of going from David [Tennant] to Matt. It’s taken me a few days to gauge Peter but that’s fitting of the story. I’m learning and becoming more familiar with who Peter has created as the Doctor… At the moment the Doctor’s confused, not sure why I don’t recognise him. And that’s fun. The interaction between them is sort of like the old slapstick movies, like Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn. It’s got that sort of screwball quality to it.”
But wait, why doesn’t the Doctor just tell her who he is? And does Alex Kingston’s return herald a role as full-time companion? Not for the first time today she just grins. “Spoilers!”
The Husband of River Song airs on BBC1 on Christmas Day