Alex Kingston has a new convention game, and she kicked off her Q&A panel with it on Saturday. It’s called “How well do you know River?” and involves having people in the audience imitate her famous Doctor Who greeting, “Hello, Sweetie.” This also required a “sweetie-off,” which involved the two ultimate co-winners imitating her catch-phrase “Spoilers!” The winner? Got a banana (a long-running Who in-joke).
This was what greeted the capacity crowd in the Hilton Grand Salon Sat afternoon at 4PM, before we settled into the actual question and answer part of the panel.
The very first, and possibly most important to Whovians, question posed to Kingston was about she feels regarding the casting of a woman Doctor for the first time. “There has always been a very obvious desire for women and girls to feel connected to the Doctor,” she explained, while pointing out that going back to the early years of Who, it was seen as a “guy’s show,” and she wasn’t sure that men could take the change. However, in every incarnation of the Doctor, it’s been about the character’s essence, no matter the human form. She also praised both Jodi Whitaker—the recently-cast 13th Doctor, and Chris Chibnall—who is taking over as show runner for the departing Steven Moffatt—and their abilities to take this different track with the Doctor. Also, she is excited to (hopefully) meet her “wife.” If she has a chance for River to interact with 13, how would it be different from the male predecessors? “As long as the first thing River says to the new regeneration [of the Doctor] is ‘hello, Sweetie,’ it’s all good from there.”
Always a popular question for Kingston, as River is the one on the show who does know, is what is the Doctor’s name? “I’m not telling you!” She did share that, over the course of multiple takes during the episode “Forest of the Dead,” where River had to whisper the Doctor’s name to him, to get him to trust her, that during one take, she whispered to David Tennant that it was “Shaniqua.”
What are, to her, the scariest Who villains? As a child, it was the Cybermen, now it’s… well, she just can’t quite remember. Oh, what’s this mark on her arm for?
It turned out to be very difficult for her to pick a favorite episode, because she can’t say that one was somehow “better” than another, although every episode had fabulous, amazing moments. When she filmed “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead,” Kingston was under the impression they were all she would have on Who, so she put everything into them, but happily, she had subsequent amazing arcs with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. She loves them all.
There was an extremely emotional time while filming the Christmas episode with Capaldi in particular, the final scene, which was their final filmed scene as well, when his Doctor presented River with her screwdriver, which Kingston hadn’t seen since her death in the library. It made her tear up, because she knew what was down the line (character-wise) now that she had it back. Which made Capaldi tear up, and “we were both just a mess.”
She was asked which episodes would she have liked River to be in (“every episode, darling!”), but before she answered, the moderater pointed out that any episode would have been cut in half, because River would have just come in and gotten things sorted right off, which Kingston agreed with wholeheartedly. Rather than actually giving an episode she wanted River in first, she talked about the episode “Vincent and the Doctor,” because it moved her so, to tears (every time she watches it). She did also dovetail back to things that scared her, bringing up “Waters of Mars,” which she, in fact, would have loved to be in, but that the alien life form villain in that episode was in fact so scary that Russel T. Davis, show runner at the time, decided that they couldn’t bring that one back.
The final couple of questions touched on earlier roles. In 2003, Kingston was in a movie about Boudica, the Celtic warrior queen, and she was asked if Boudica was in fact the first “epic heroine” of the age. Kingston, to put the role into context for herself, revisited books about warrior queens, and found there had been other such powerful warrior women in China, in Turkey, and that there have been numerous matriarchal societies in the past (and maybe in the future…?). She would love to revisit that role, because the film ended unsatisfactorily for her, as they left it without finding out what exactly happened to Boudica in the end.
Finally, in 2008, Kingston was in a miniseries, Lost in Austen, where she portrayed Mrs. Bennet. The question was about how it was to play a character that was “not exactly like-able?” “Is what what you thought she was? I thought she was fabulous!” Kingston went back to the book, and read it with no prejudice in mind, so she could find her own view on the character, one that ultimately settled on sympathy for Mrs. Bennet, rather than finding her scheming. Similarly, when Kingston was cast as Lady Macbeth in a production of Macbeth with Kenneth Branagh, they had a shared perspective of the couple, as she only wanted to play Lady Macbeth the way that she, from reading the play, has come to understand, not “pure evil,” as many see her, but that they are a human beings, and complicated, and that Macbeth makes a choice—a wrong, bad choice—that ultimately destroys them. It is a human, fallible character, which she was happy to get to portray, and is fiercely defensive of.
Be sure to come see Kingston as she reunites with her “mum and dad,” Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, on Sunday at 5:30PM in the Marriott Atrium Ballroom.