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Nerdette

‘Doctor Who’ Star Alex Kingston On The Women Who Drive The TARDIS

Alex Kingston has played a number of iconic characters on TV, but she’s perhaps best known for her role as River Song on the BBC’s science-fiction show Doctor Who.

She talked with Nerdette host and known Whovian Tricia Bobeda about how the Doctor is ingrained into British culture (“I mean, it’s like the Queen, fish and chips, and Doctor Who”), what she thinks about the casting of the show’s first female Doctor (“It’s fantastic”), and how she refused to listen when someone said her favorite plant wouldn’t grow in Los Angeles (“Dammit, I’m going to grow those alliums, I don’t care”).

On how Doctor Who used to scare her into another room

Alex Kingston: I think I started watching probably when I was about 7 or 8, and I’m actually quite surprised when I meet children, who are 3 or 4, who are already watching it and know all the taglines and whatever. I just say, “Aren’t you scared?!” 

It is scary. And I certainly remember when I started watching it, I could only watch holding a cushion, so that when I got a little scared I could just put the cushion in front of my face. Or, if it got super scary, I would run out of the living room and I would watch it through the crack in the door jam. So I could still see the TV but I felt a little bit safer being actually out of the room. The Cybermen! They were the ones that frightened me the most.

It’s a way to learn to be scared and to overcome that and to realize that you’re OK. And also it’s an incredibly safe show. The Doctor, who is obviously the chief protagonist, he defeats his enemies through his smarts — his brain. He doesn’t use a gun. He doesn’t use weaponry. And I think in today’s world, particularly in America, that’s a good lesson to try and teach young people. You don’t always need arms in order to overcome somebody; you can overcome them with your brain.

On Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor

In July, the BBC announced Jodie Whittaker as the next star of the long-running TV show 'Doctor Who,' making her the first woman to take the leading title role. 'It’s absolutely time for this to happen,' Kingston said on Nerdette of Whitaker's casting. (Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

Kingston: It’s fantastic. And it’s great for girls. When I meet fans at conventions, not only do I see so many people cosplaying as River Song — but also the number of girls who cosplay as the Doctor!

It’s absolutely time for this to happen. And the truth is, also, there were only supposed to be 12 regenerations, and so in a sense they’ve gotten around that issue by saying, well maybe the 12 regenerations were the 12 male regenerations. Maybe now the Doctor now can regenerate into something else. Maybe an animal next time! But certainly, it’s welcome. And having been at the Wizard World convention in Chicago, it’s nothing but positive.

I thought all the women and the girls were going to be really positive about it, but I was a little concerned about how the boys might feel — the little boys or the guys. But again, they were all like, “Bring it on, I think it’s fantastic.” Everybody has actually been very, very positive about this. 

On how River Song may have primed fans for a female Doctor

Kingston: I think certainly that has helped with the character of River. Because traditionally the “companion” was a female — there were a couple of times where there were male companions — but the female companion was always in the position of being the person who was learning, who was being taken along on this extraordinary journey and adventure, but who had no knowledge and was being given knowledge by the Doctor. Whereas River meets him as an equal and, in some cases, she may think she’s above him in ability.

Tricia Bobeda: Oh I think she outsmarts him on more than one occasion.

Alex Kingston’s nerd obsession: Alliums

Alex Kingston calls the allium plant 'a volleyball-sized explosion of teeny-tiny starlike flowers.' (Dave Leeming/Flickr)

Kingston: It’s basically related to the onion or garlic family. And in a funny sort of way it’s like a bigger, more robust chive. Very sturdy, long, straight stems with then these just fantastic balls. Balls on the top! Balls of flowers of all different shapes and sizes, colors. They just make me smile.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click the “play” button above to listen to the entire podcast, which was produced and edited for the web by Justin Bull.

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