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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 495 (Jan 16) > A SONG for all time

A SONG for all time

Since 2008, River Song has crossed paths with the Doctor many times. But now she’s set for a series of adventures all of her own...

"I never expected this character to become so beloved,” admits Alex Kingston, who plays River Song, “and I’m still a little bemused, actually, as to why she is. But it’s lovely, because it’s men, women, boys, girls - everybody responds to this character, which is really nice.

“Certainly, meeting my fans over the years, the one thing that I have realised is that she’s become this great symbol of strength, individuality; she can be who she is, without feeling that she has to be something else, or has to conform, or fit in. Interestingly, I’ve started to realise that perhaps this is actually a character who symbolises something really positive, particularly for young girls and women who feel intimidated or pressured, whether it’s in school or society, or wherever they are, if they’re feeling a little lost.

“But at the same time, I feel that ultimately you don’t need a character to be your crutch through life,” she continues, modestly. “You can watch and enjoy and love a character, but ultimately, you’re the person who gets yourself through. That’s something that I say to quite a lot of the fans who will say to me, ‘You’re the reason why I’m able to get up in the morning’, or whatever. I’m like, ‘That’s terribly flattering, but actually it’s not me, it’s you – you do it’. So it’s important to make fans realise that they are the masters of their own destiny. It’s not me.”

Nonetheless, River is one of Doctor Who’s most successful characters, and today, her popularity is being cemented like never before. It’s a hot July morning, and Alex is speaking to DWM in the London recording studio where she’s working on the first series of River’s audio spin-off, The Diary of River Song.

“I haven’t done that much audio before,” she confesses. “I’ve done some, but not a massive amount. Just the experience of standing in this small contained booth with cans [ie headphones] on, and hearing my breath, and hearing how quiet I can be, or how you can convey so much just with your voice. If I speak and I’m smiling, or thinking warmly about something, how that will change the tone and texture of my voice... It’s fabulous to do all of that.

“I mean, we all look so ridiculous doing it!” she adds, laughing. “There’s all this fantastic sound production that gets put on afterwards, which we don’t hear. But when you are in the sound booth, you have to stand, or run, or jog up and down, to make it sound like we are running, so there’s a different quality to the way that you speak. One day, I almost passed out, because I was hyperventilating so much – I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to faint’, because I’d been working so hard! I wish somebody was standing outside with a video camera, and just videoing all of us in our little sound booths. We’re all doing such crazy things. In a funny sort of way, you act more, and you act bigger, in your sound booth, because you want to convey that physicality and that emotion through the microphone. So it’s great fun to do – and it looks really stupid!”

Alex first played River alongside the Tenth Doctor, in Steven Moffat’s 2008 two-parter Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, as a mysterious figure from his future who sacrificed herself to save the day.

Alex Kingston débuts as RIver Song in Silence in the Library.

“I was in America, living there, working there, and I had no sense of how big the Doctor Who reboot had become,” Alex recalls, of those first two episodes. “I mean, I knew that Russell T Davies [showrunner, 2005-10] had started it up again, and that it had been successful, but it hadn’t come over to the States at that point. I’d heard about it, just from friends, saying that it had been restarted and reimagined and reworked, and that it was so good, but I really didn’t know what I was joining. So when I was sent the Silence in the Library scripts, I just literally responded to them as a job, where I was doing a two-episode story arc. I loved the writing, I loved the story – so much so that I actually found myself crying at the end of reading the second episode. So I thought, ‘If I’m getting this reaction in myself, if I’m responding to the character and to the storyline in this way, then I really should do it, because I have a connection to the characters’.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: Steven Moffat answers questions on Heaven Sent; Alex Kingston and Paul McGann interviews; a feature on Doctor Who Weetabix cards of the 1970s; Fact of Fiction – Death the Daleks; Time Team – The Eleventh Hour; reviews of The Husbands of River Song, The Wheel in Space and The Face of Evil; Christmas Quiz answers; Comic Strip – The Dragon Lord Part 2.