Peter Capaldi: The Doctor is “appalled” by River Song’s behaviour in Doctor Who Christmas special

"She’s flirting with everybody else and none of it is pointed in his direction"

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As revealed at the Doctor Who Festival a few weeks ago, this year’s Christmas special – which sees the return of River Song – comes with a twist: River Song doesn’t know who the Twelfth Doctor is.

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As showrunner Steven Moffat says, “It’s an opportunity for the Doctor to find out the terrible truth: what his wife gets up to when he’s not looking. No one should ever go through that!”

So what exactly does she get up to? Both Moffat and Peter Capaldi are keeping tight-lipped on the details, but you can probably work out the gist through the episode’s title, The Husbands of River Song. 

“I think the Doctor’s rather appalled at her behaviour,” chuckles Capaldi. “She doesn’t really flirt with him because she doesn’t know it’s him. So that’s the funny thing as she’s flirting with everybody else, and none of it is pointed in his direction, so I think he’s disappointed with that. But yes it’s largely that he gets to see her in the way that she normally behaves. And he’s appalled.” 

According to Moffat, the idea to bring back River Song was – in part – down to former showrunner Russell T Davies. 

“Russell’s been at me for a while that River and Capaldi’s Doctor must meet because it would be a ‘sex storm’. I assure you it is not a sex storm. That’s not really acceptable – he must be thinking of Cucumber.

“I thought we were done with River, but he was insistent that that wasn’t right,” he added. “And eventually we went with the view that it would be funny. Especially the way we do it [in the Christmas special], because this is an unlicensed regeneration – his second cycle. She doesn’t know it’s him. So he gets to find out what River Song is up to when he’s not looking, right in front of him, which is quite fun.

“Also, when I come around to this time of year, I always think this could quite possibly could be my last,” Moffat said. “I mean, it’s not, but I always think it might be. So I always do something I might enjoy and I thought getting Alex Kingston back might be fun. It just cheered me up, the idea of writing River Song. Because I really loved writing River in the years that I did. And when I was utterly knackered at the end of this series, it sort of perked me up again. And maybe it’ll perk everyone else if I do it
 too!”

Older and grumpier, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is obviously quite different to the incarnations Song is used to, David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Matt Smith’s Eleventh. Is the dynamic different? 

“Well,” says Moffat, “it’s sort of different and it’s sort of the same. It’s hard to describe. River is just happy that it’s him. I don’t think she pays that much attention to what he looks like. But once she knows it’s him, it’s just the Doctor: her fella, the man she loves, and who she’s never quite sure if he loves her back. It’s all that. I suppose the difference visually is that they absolutely look like a couple now, as they are around the same age.”

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Doctor Who: The Husbands of River Song will air on BBC1 on Christmas Day