TV News

When Jenna Louise-Coleman Was Originally Supposed to Leave Doctor Who

Spoilers for season 8 of Doctor Who await you below.  If you’re not caught up yet then, um, don’t read this article. 

Will she stay or will she go?  That was the question that hung over the entirety of the most recent season of Doctor Who, everyone listening to the the whispers that Jenna Louise-Coleman wanted out.  We were all doubly confused when Coleman and the BBC decided to play it coy, declining to confirm or deny the rumor, delighting in simply letting it remain a surprise.  Really, you couldn’t blame Coleman for maybe wanting to move on.  Matt Smith essentially broke up with her after just half a season, the 50th Anniversary Special, and a Christmas Special, and for the majority of that time Clara was more of a mystery to be solved (i.e., “the impossible girl”) than a compelling character, a weakness sometimes obscured by Coleman’s eternally adorable performance.  Smith didn’t stick around long enough to really let his Doctor and Clara to come into their own, although they were really starting to by the end there.  Now, here she was having to hold Peter Capaldi’s hand as he found his way through a very different version of the Doctor, a positively alien, abhorrently irascible old man, the likes of which the show hadn’t seen since maybe William Hartnell in the ’60s thus several decades before many of us were even born.

And then a funny thing happened in the new season.  Much to the chagrin of some traditionalists, the Doctor was routinely converted into a mere supporting character to the larger drama unfolding in Clara’s increasingly complicated life.  Critics took to dismissing season 8 as Clara Who, and in fact there was even an episode in the second half where Clara pretended to be the Doctor, to hilarious initial effect before settling on the sobering realization that Clara’s time with the Doctor was causing her to lose some of her humanity.  Regardless of what this meant for the characters or how it challenged how much you really cared to focus on the companion in Doctor Who, it seemed obvious that Jenna Louise-Coleman was getting fairly amazing material to work with.  Why on Earth would she want to leave?

It turns out she came to that same exact conclusion, and Clara survived through the season despite a season-finale and Christmas Special which seemed to close the book on the character if need be.  At the close of “Death in Heaven,” Clara and the Doctor part ways amicably, both lying to each other though, her claiming her still-dead fiance had returned as expected (it’s complicated), he boasting he had finally found Gallifrey.  Her life had been truly wrecked by the Doctor, and her final moment was to let him off the hook by lying to him about it.  It was a bitter end.

doctor-who-death-in-heaven-review-claraBut at least she was alive.  The Christmas Special concluded with a dream sequence featuring the Doctor arriving far too late in Clara’s timeline, meaning to catch up with the version of her he knew but actually arriving far after she had grown old.  It called back to one of Clara’s last moments with the Matt Smith Doctor, who had grown old, weak, and frail, requiring her assistance to get around.  Well, now here was the Peter Capaldi Doctor having to return the favor, there to observe Clara’s final moments.

Screen-Shot-2014-12-27-at-11.11.55Again, Good Lord, would that have been a bitter, bitter ending for a character.  So, luckily, it was a dream, Clara’s still young, and they’re off to have adventures together again.

What exactly happened behind the scenes, though?  How did this go from all those rumors about Coleman leaving the show to her returning for her second go with Peter Capaldi?  Steven Moffat explained all of that to The BBC, mostly confirming rumors by acknowleding Coleman was originally meant to be written out in “Death in Heaven” and that they made two different endings for the Christmas Special:

“That was her last episode. Then she asked me if she could be in [the] Christmas [episode]. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll write you out in Christmas.’ She came to the read through and did the ‘write out’ version – and again changed her mind. But the truth is I never wanted her to go. And with Last Christmas, I’d already written the alternative version where she stayed, and I preferred that version. Frankly, I didn’t want to lose her. She’s an amazing actress, and she never stops working to make Clara better. I was very happy to go the extra mile to make sure we could keep her.”

Of course, these things can’t last forever, and now there are those who are just waiting to see if Clara might be written out halfway through the new season, which they are currently filming.  But, for now, she and the Doctor go hand-in-hand.  Frankly, I’m glad because those two potential, brutal endings they did give her last season would have been really hard to get past.

What about you?  Are you happy Clara is coming back?  Just annoyed with how I characterized her time with Matt Smith?  Or annoyed with how much time season 8 gave to Clara at the expense of the Doctor?  Or do you just hate Capaldi’s mean old man Doctor?  If so, you might be intrigued to hear Moffat say they are writing Capaldi’s Doctor as a bit lighter and funnier for season 9.

Source: BBC


  1. I didn’t like Capaldi’s characterization of the Doctor but there’s potential there. I also saw a lot of potential in the Clara character that the writer’s never seemed to get a good grip on. I’m looking forward to a funnier Doctor and more Clara.

    1. I gradually warmed to Capaldi’s Doctor, but just earlier today a friend told me, “I’ll hate it when Peter Capaldi’s no longer the Doctor.” I don’t really feel that way about him yet. The prospect of this show not having him in it anymore doesn’t feel me with dread the way it did with David Tennant and Matt Smith. Of course, he’s simply not the kind of Doctor you’re really meant to be gaga over, and it seemed to be that a huge reason season 8 pushed Clara front and center was to lessen the jarring impact of going from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi which left many to squint really hard to see in what way the Doctor was still the Doctor (I mean that in the way he behaved, not how he looked). By the time the Doctor and Clara had that hug in the season finale, with the Doctor telling Clara he never trusts a hug because it’s just a way to lie without having to use your face, I was at that point completely won over by the way the new Doctor and Clara interacted. Although I’m still not totally in love with Capaldi’s Doctor, I really like his interactions with Clara, which takes up a lot of time so that’s all the better for me.

      Utlimately, there’s even more potential for Clara going forward, and a funnier Capaldi Doctor is something which excites me.

  2. The last series absolutely favoured Coleman almost as the lead character – I had noticed that and discussed it with fellow fans & colleagues at the time. Capaldi, the new boy, seemed to take a back seat but I kind of liked that. The previous two Doctors took an overwhelming, pivotal role, as one would expect, so this series really held me due to the ‘Coleman up front’ aspect. I guess that’s why it would have been a travesty if she had sidled off within her real-life timeline, leaving Capaldi having to pull it out of the bag with a new assistant, to appease a captive audience. So I’m happy she’s coming back – if she is of course?!

    1. “That’s why it would have been a travesty if she had sidled off within her real-life timeline, leaving Capaldi having to pull it out of the bag with a new assistant, to appease a captive audience.”

      Completely agree. The way they emphasized her last season would have made losing her in either of the ways they had planned so much harder to take.

  3. They seem like they are finally figuring out how to write for her character, something they never really had to do for Season 7.5 (as that was really just the 50th Anniversary fun times). Hopefully that means with her coming back she should be getting better, not waning. I really, really hope I am right about that.

    All that said, Jenna Louise-Coleman is great. In fact, some of her best performances were her first two – where she was written as very specific characters with specific traits. They lost that in making her Clara the Companion. They’ve been struggling with that character, so the character I’m hesitant about. Coleman? Happy to have her.

    1. I still do kind of miss the version of Clara from The Snowmen. The Clara we’ve seen since then has never really captured that same energy because she’s literally a different character (eh, technically a ripple of the same person throughout time). Some of my favorite Jenna Louise-Coleman moments on the show are still in The Snowmen, although boy howdy did she have some astounding scenes to play in season 8.

      1. I really liked her as Oswin the Dalek as well, in Asylum of the Daleks. Her tech knowledge was then something I thought Clara had gotten and would keep in The Bells of St. John – and then it went away. And then, Clara was just kind of there. Danny and actually seeing her teaching breathed some life into her. But yeah, the one-shot characters they seemed to know how to write, and the long-term character? Not so much.

      2. Oddly, her appearance in Asylum of the Daleks kind of hung over the rest of season 7.1 for me. Once I’d met her she was so awesome I was kind of ready to see her again and move on from Amy and Rory.

        What’s strange about Clara’s future on the show at this point is since we know she was originally supposed to leave in the season finale it seems all the more obvious that season 8 often doubled as auditions for Clara’s replacement. By the time you got to the Christmas special, you’re left assuming that surely we’ll see that girl who danced to the 80s song and pledged to look Clara up will be back. So, there seems to be an expectation this will be a multi-companion season, but at last check there’s been no actual casting announcement to confirm as much.

      3. But they’ve played it close to the chest with other decisions before (like Clara staying) so we shall see! I was amazed that Danny never traveled with them. Did not expect that.

      4. Same here about Danny. If I remember correctly, when he was first announced it was widely assumed he would be the second companion of the season, joining the Doctor and Clara for most of the season. But he was just a co-star, never a real companion. So, you’re absolutely right – they’ll play everything worthwhile about season 9 close to the chest.

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