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.
But 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.
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.