Like any respectable fake father/daughter duo, Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) and Alex Kingston (River Song) showed up for their family reunion on Sunday at 2:30PM in the Marriott Atrium Ballroom wearing color-coordinated outfits that featured a light forest green. Kingston looked stunning in an elegant, flowy dress that only accentuated her class, while Darvill’s basic button up couldn’t dull his wicked wit. It was a joy to see two-thirds of the Pond family—the Eleventh Doctor’s raison d’etre—together again, however brief.
“Is everyone ok?” Darvill asked an entranced audience awash in a militant awe. Not to worry, the moderator assured everyone, reminding the room that Kingston is now an established member of the Arrow-verse to which Darvill also belongs.
Would Darvill and Kingston like to meet in this world? “Hell yes!” exclaimed Kingston, who added that it would be wonderful for her and Darvill to also share some screen time with another Arrow-verse regular and Doctor Who alum: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness).
It’s easy to forget that neither Kingston—who was on ER and has had to act with rats—nor Darvill—who has appeared in Once and Doctor Faustus and once put maggots in his mouth for a home-made film—started out in science fiction. Since their tenure on the cultural institution that is Doctor Who, however, they find themselves running away from (and sometimes towards) something scary more often than not. They even find nods to Who in new roles they take on, such as characters with similar names, reminding them what a constant, forceful influence the show is. Who remains a cornerstone of their body of work that spawned a thousand unforgettable moments off and on screen, like Rory punching Hitler in the face.
“I change my answer every time I answer this,” Darvill said when trying to settle on his favorite Who storyline to film. Instead, he chose two fun overall experiences—traveling to Utah and to Croatia—that he likened to holidays.
“I think they were all fantastic,” Kingston said, with a sly twinkle in her eye, of her Who episodes before confessing that she prefers not to look at her body of work in terms of favorites. Outside of her own appearances, though, she loves the Vincent Van Gogh storyline. “The ending always makes me cry.”
But it wasn’t any easy road to becoming a beloved companion. Darvill, Matt Smith (The Doctor), and Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) were a young, inexperienced, motley crew that had to follow the revered David Tennant. To balance this, Kingston, who had already appeared in a two-episode arc with Tennant, was brought back to help everyone ease into the franchise and placate skeptical fans lamenting the exit of Tennant.
“The media was anticipating failure,” Kingston recalled.
Darvill said he wasn’t nervous filming the first few episodes, but as the episodes drew closer to airing, he said the magnitude of the stakes hit him, Smith, and Gillan. And then, amazingly, the Eleventh Doctor was warmly received, a fact Kingston credited to Smith, who attacked the Doctor with “delight, energy, and passion.”
For her part, Kingston never imagined that River Song would become an irreplaceable part of the ensemble. After her initial appearance, she thought, “Okay, check that off my bucket list.” Then, showrunner and writer Steven Moffat did something brilliant. He made River Song the child of Rory and Amy—a fact Kingston learned months before anyone else. When asked how she felt knowing when no one else did, she had one word: fabulous.
Darvill recalled Kingston revealing the secret with a River Song-ish one-liner, turning to him and saying simply, “Hello, Daddy!” They agreed that it was important Darvill and Gillan didn’t know until absolutely necessary since it would have changed the trio’s dynamics. Ironically, when not filming, Kingston was “the mom.” She likened Smith, Williams, and Gillan to “a sack full of puppies” and the Rolling Stones in their golden years.
At the height of the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure, though, Darvill, Smith, and Gillan had, in fact, become rock stars in the minds of American Whovians, something the trio realized while filming in New York City’s Central Park. “That was quite a rock ‘n’ roll weekend,” Darvill said of experiencing America’s reaction to their presence. Hundreds gathered to watch them film. But, when the cameras rolled, the fans showed the utmost respect, going silent. “And, thank god,” Darvill said. “They could have just terrorized us.” Similarly, when they filmed in a remote part of Utah’s Monument Valley, fans seemed to appear on the desert horizon like a zombie entourage.
When asked what advice Season 7 Rory would give Season 5 Rory, Darvill said simply, “Don’t panic.” He followed this with “It’s gonna be alright in the end,” alluding to Rory’s growth. But, Rory’s travails—dying multiple times and waiting 2,000 years for his love—ushered him from bumbling boyfriend to a hero deserving of happiness.
Men now approach Darvill and tell him, “Thanks. I’m never going to live up to that,” referring to the self-sacrificing acts of love that have cemented Rory as a paragon of romance, which works well for Darvill since he declared that he is physically built as a lover, not a fighter.
Kingston declined having older River give younger River advice: “I think she rather likes the way she’s turned out.” That confidence—and general bad-assery—has made River Song a role model that gets Kingston a lot of compliments and thanks, particularly from women and young girls who credit River Song with helping them through difficult times.
“It’s you, yourself,” Kingston said she wants to tell them, “who’s pulled you through.” The thought sent her into a pensive mode where she encouraged people to embrace life, not sadness, as much as possible.
Darvill and Kingston agreed that River Song got all the good one-liners, but Kingston enjoyed having the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) flip the script, greeting Song with her signature “Hello, Sweetie!” in the episode “The Husbands of River Song.”
When asked about the significance of character names, Kingston said she believes Steven Moffat drew inspiration for the moniker River Song from the Van Morrison tune “Crazy Love.” Additionally, Darvill thinks that Rory would have been a completely different person had he been called Thor. Instead, he became Rory—a nervous, socially awkward young man not all that different from Darvill when he first started in the role.
“I panic a lot,” Darvill said. “I definitely run away!”
Characters, Kingston surmised, are like spirits who make occasional appearances in an actor’s everyday person, such as when attending a convention or interview. Kingston described herself as a shy person who changes on stage. “I’m Alex with a sort of sprinkling of River,” she said.
But, the panel wasn’t all seriousness. When asked what they would create if they could design a room in the TARDIS, Darvill said he wanted a swimming pool before Kingston reminded him that the TARDIS already has one. He then listed a slew of theme rooms: Donut room, go-kart room, foot massage room, and a dog room, where you can just pet dogs all day. Kingston was more modest, asking only for a cinema stocked with popcorn and every movie ever made. And, if she could revisit a Who scene as a fly on the wall, she’d like to watch herself slap Smith over and over again.
“Yeah, I’d like to watch that on repeat,” she said with a devious smile.
Darvill would prefer to relive the filming of his last episode—“The Angels Take Manhattan”—which sped by thanks to his heightened sense of awareness that it was last. “I wish I could remember it a bit more,” he said of the emotionally charged episode.
Kingston enjoyed pouring herself into three emotionally tough moments: River Song sacrificing herself to save the Tenth Doctor, saying goodbye to the Eleventh Doctor, and interacting with the Twelfth Doctor in a Christmas Special.
Having known the three most recent Doctors makes River Song unique among companions. And, it gives Kingston an interesting take on the character, but she coyly reserved judgement when asked who she likes best. “They are all the same man,” Kingston said, “They just come in different sizes…[and] I’m not complaining.”
Fortunately, neither was the audience, who Kingston artfully reminded: learning too much too fast (before one is truly ready) ruins the joy in mystery. It was an impactful way to bid adieu.
“Spoilers!” she exclaimed. And the audience exploded into applause.