Alex Kingston on Why This Year’s ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas Special Is Like a ‘Screwball Romantic Comedy’

Doctor Who Christmas 2015
Simon Ridgway/BBC

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) isn’t feeling merry or bright at the start of this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special. Still reeling from losing his companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) in season 9, he’s sitting out the holidays on a remote human space colony. That is, until a distress call reunites him with his intergalactic swashbuckler wife, River Song (Alex Kingston). Together they fight the megalomaniacal alien cyborg King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) and end up on a frantic chase through the universe that lands them in side a starliner crammed with supervillians. We talked to Kingston about returning to the series, the episode and more.

What’s the question you’re most asked about Doctor Who?
“When are you going to be in another episode?” It was a hard one to answer; I was not sure when or if I was coming back. Another thing I’m usually asked is, “Who’s your favorite Doctor?”

And what’s your go-to answer?
Basically, I say, “Well, they’re all the same man, so I can’t have a favorite. They have a different outward appearance after they regenerate, but the person inside is the same.” It’s a tricky answer, but it doesn’t disappoint anyone.

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Still, River hasn’t seen the Doctor since he regenerated from Eleven (Matt Smith) to Twelve (Peter Capaldi). Does she recognize him?
No. There is an interesting dynamic initially between them. It’s a reversal—which is all I can really say without giving anything away. It’s like an old Hollywood screwball romantic comedy with a great adventure. It’s been a very dark, terrifying year on the show. The Christmas special is actually quite a relief!

In her timeline, they reunite right after she’s lost her parents, Amy and Rory Pond (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), to the Weeping Angels. What kind of state is she in?
Without giving anything away, I can say that River is someone who can just pick herself up and dust herself off. She is unbelievably resourceful. That said, there is obviously a vulnerability in her.

Doctor Whoshowrunner Steven Moffat, has said that he missed writing for River. Did you miss playing her?
Oh my god, yes. As an actor, whenever you take your costume off and go home, the spirit of the character is within you. When you finish a role, that’s the time to, in a sense, exorcise it—to get rid of it for good. But with River, because I never really know whether I’m coming back to the show or not, she’s always there with me, which is quite nice. It’s a very strange thing.

Will River be back next season?
The truth is, Steven said when he wrote the episode, he didn’t think he was going to write for Doctor Who anymore, and this would be he last one. He, therefore, wanted to sign off with River—which is such an incredible compliment and an amazing affirmation of how important this character has become. Now that Steven is coming back for another season, I’m hoping that (fingers crossed) he brings River back as well.

Doctor Who, Friday, Dec. 25, 9/8c, BBC America