By Aaron Sagers
With all due respect to the Time Lord, ever since Jenna-Louise Coleman made her surprise appearance on last September’s episode of “Doctor Who,” the new companion has been generating enough buzz to make us ask, “Doctor … who?”
When she was cast in March 2012, Coleman’s debut as Clara, the new roadtrip partner through time and space with ancient alien the Doctor was supposed to occur in the 2012 Christmas Special. Then showrunner and executive producer Steven Moffat pulled a fast one on fans and introduced her on the September 2012 Season Seven premiere – sort of.
Clara was introduced as Oswin Oswald, a surviving “junior entertainment manager” from a luxury spaceship in the future. She was eventually assimilated into a Dalek and died after meeting the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor, played by Matt Smith. She then popped up in Victorian England as nanny Clara Oswin Oswald, but died after meeting the Doctor. Again.
And in the second-half of Season Seven premiere Coleman returned as Clara in the episode “The Bells of Saint John,” where she began full-time companion duties.
Confused yet? You probably should be. Aside from the fact that this is the 50th year of “Doctor Who” (let’s just ignore that 16 year break, interrupted only by a TV movie, shall we?), this new breadcrumb storyline has created a tasty mystery for Whovians out there. As Moffat pointed out, the show has always been “more of the story of the companion” because “they change more than the Doctor ever did.”
Still, the companions are never quite as interesting the lead alien from Gallifrey. But that might also be changing.
It has always been the challenge of every new “Doctor Who” companion to escape the shadow of their predecessor. And in the case of Coleman, it was a very tall shadow to escape, literally and figuratively. When she arrived on the scene in 2010, actor Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond quickly became a companion and BFF to the time traveler. They clearly loved one another, and at one point she did attempt to seduce the dear Doctor, but at its core their relationship was that of platonic soulmates (unleash hell, disagreeing Whovians). Physically, at 5’11”, Gillan also matched Smith’s height.
Meanwhile, Coleman as Clara has already proven herself to be something different.
Whereas Amy Pond was “The Girl Who Waited,” Clara is a more cryptic “The Woman Twice Dead.” At 5’2”, Coleman is a pixie compared to Smith, but her character has shown she can hold her own against the ancient Time Lord. She is a clever girl to his clever boy. Clara is intrigued by the Doctor, but he is as intrigued by her – and the mystery surrounding her. Plus, as Moffat said, Coleman’s Clara is “always just a little bit out of reach” and “tough, fast and harder to impress” compared to other companions; that makes the Doctor “dance a bit harder,” said Moffat, because the Doctor so enjoys impressing people.
This snappy back-and-forth dance between the two characters creates friction as well as flirtation, and so far, it has led to at least one snog. And there might be more human and alien attraction to come based on “The Bells of Saint John.”
In the new episode we reconnect with the Doctor, who it appears has been spending quite a bit of time puzzling over the Clara/Oswin riddle. When they do reconnect, in a modern-day London under attack from malevolent wi-fi (just go with it), he’s not going to let her go easily. Coleman isn’t ready to let go of “Doctor Who” either, and confirmed she’d appear at San Diego Comic-Con this July with the show, as well as return for Season Eight when it begins filming next September.
Jenna-Louise Coleman spoke with MTV Geek on a press trip in Los Angeles — during a “girly lunch” where she was “soaking up the sunshine” – to discuss her ongoing role as a character split into three people, as well as what it is like to be involved in a beloved franchise surrounded by toys and collectibles. And yes, she reveals a little more about what we’ll see (more of the TARDIS?) and learn this season.
MTV Geek: When I last spoke with you, you said your grandmother was excited to meet Matt at the Christmas Special screening in London. How did that go?
?Jenna-Louise Coleman: She still hasn’t! She came down to the screening and then it got so busy that they missed each other, but she is going to come down to the set when we’re filming the 50th Anniversary Special. So the long awaited moment will happen then.
Geek: In the episodes of the second half of the season, you guys kind of have a James Bond adventure, a haunted house adventure and so on. Which of these worlds is the most fun for you to play in?
Coleman: Well, Clara’s, in a way — in terms of costumes and that kind of thing. Like it is the Victorian stuff, or the elements in the Christmas special, with the clouds and the staircases. But the other episode, which is one of my personal favorites is “The Rings of Akhaten” because that really was, as Clara’s first experience for everything, is totally alien. She steps onto this alien planet, and sees Earth from a distance, and it’s kind of like the episode’s birth for her. And it also has a big heart. It’s a very emotional episode actually with some of action in it. But it is her first glimpse of outer space and seeing what life is going to be like traveling with the Doctor. Visually, you’re completely transported, kind of similar to Avatar. And that was one of my favorites, being in an amphitheater of aliens.
Geek: The show has an upcoming ghost story episode “Hide,” so do you personally believe in ghosts and the paranormal?
Coleman: I’m kind of open to it, to be honest. I’m not convinced either way. In terms of ghosts and that kind of thing, yeah, I’m kind of open. Like, I will listen to a ghost story and get completely petrified, and then not be totally kind of cynical about it.
Geek: You get to drive the TARDIS this season, so what other gadgets do you get to play with?
Coleman: We have a speed biker, which is in episode two. You’ll have to wait to kind of see what it probably is, but that’s pretty amazing. I mean, we have an episode where we go inside the gym; we go into the TARDIS, and see all of the infinite rooms, so there’s all kind of things going on there. We get to explore the interior of the TARDIS.??
Geek: Do you get to see the much-talked about swimming pool of the TARDIS?
Geek: It is funny that that is the thing that is so secretive, isn’t it?
Coleman: (laughs) Yeah, I know. It’s what everybody wants. They’re like, “Where’s the pool? Does it exist?’
Geek: What kind of feedback have you been getting from British and American fans?
Coleman: It’s actually really positive! And lovely, actually. It is so nice because, the people that do stop you in the street are the people who just love the show, and are really enthused about it. So it’s a really nice kind of attention to receive in that way. But, you know, I haven’t been to Comic-Con yet, or these kinds of big conventions, or anything like that, so I’m still removed from that, really. I have had a lot of fan mail through, and it all seems to be really positive – unless my agent’s just tapping me in on the positive one…(laughs)
Geek: Have you gotten any fun “Doctor Who” toys sent your way, like the Think Geek Sonic Screwdriver Remote Control, for instance?
Coleman: Remote! Yeah, I got one of them! I got some stuff for my family and friends, like a TARDIS dressing gown, which I gave to my granddad … My grandma stole it from him, so I need to get my granddad another one.
Geek: Have you figured out how to use that Sonic Screwdriver remote control? It takes getting used to…
Coleman: No! I’m leaving mine in the box. I think I got a special one. I think mine’s number three, that I got. Steven [Moffat] got number one, Matt got number two, and I got number three of these kind. So they’re kind of like special editions, I don’t really know. I’m leaving it in its box with its certificate, packed tightly away. Pretty cool though, right?
Geek: So you’re collecting collectibles of a show you’re actually on. Have you had a mold taken for an action figure?
Coleman: I had to step into a machine. All these people came down to the set. It was a machine that was all these kinds of lasers, that take loads of pictures. They shoot the ray, and then basically they’ve got a full-scale image of you that they can miniaturize into a doll.
Geek: As an actor, is this a whole other level to this job now that you’re about to be a toy?
Coleman:: (laughs) Yeah, I get that. You always think it’s kind of cool; you think like 50 years from now, you show your grandkids. Also, I’ve got a two-year-old niece so she can kind of enjoy that side of it. It is kind of cool.
Geek: There will be lots of time for people to get toys of you because you’ll be sticking around at least through the next season, correct?
Coleman: Uh-huh. Yeah, correct.
Geek: And will you be heavily involved in the 50th anniversary special?
Coleman: Yeah! We start shooting next week. I’ll be back in London Friday. Then quick costume shot, get everything together, then we’re back in Cardiff [where the show shoots] for Monday, getting ready to shoot in 3-D.
Geek: So then you get to meet David Tennant, correct?
Coleman: Ha-ha! (laughs) Nice try.
Geek: That was an easy one
Coleman: There’s been so much speculation about it. It is basically confirm or deny nothing. Or everything.
Geek: Outside of the special, have you had a chance to meet any of the previous actors involved in the show?
Coleman: Obviously I’ve met Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan. We were on set together, with “Asylumn of the Daleks.” Then, in the U.K., all the 11 doctors are on stamps for their 50th year, which is pretty cool. The Queen has to sign it off, so it’s like a special edition stamp, so each Doctor has got their own stamp. I went to the launch the other week and Paul McGann was there, and Tom Baker. It was great.
Geek: In the Christmas Special, we met a Clara that was flirty with the Doctor, so will that pick right up in this half of the season?
Coleman: When we meet Clara in “The Bells of St. John,” it’s a Clara we haven’t met before. In a sense, we’re starting again. We’re going to experience somebody meeting the Doctor again for the first time. Obviously he thinks that she is this other girl, so he’s got all this kind of previous knowledge but she is literally meeting him again for the first time. It is like a new journey again. But I think, in the same way, it’s Oswin and the Christmas Clara. There’s a similar essence of spirit running through them. But it is a new beginning again.
Geek: From a performance standpoint, do you approach it as a different character? And is that a challenge, being the same but different?
Coleman: Yeah. Well, one thing was the filming pattern we had, meant that I filmed Oswin, and then went straight into Episode Six as Clara, and then did a few episodes of that, and then went back to Christmas, and then went back to the other Clara again. So the way I approached it is that they are three separate people. “These” episodes are self-contained, and then I completely have to wipe the slate clean, and see what’s on the page. So it’s good for me not to know too much. I understood the reason. At the end of the season we get payoffs, for why we’ve met different Claras. But I didn’t find out until a couple of weeks before we shot, so I did most of the series without knowing why. I understood how, but without understanding why, and which I think is really good because it’s information that I didn’t need to play. I didn’t know, so I didn’t need to have it all. Steven is quite good like that. I’m given only as much as I need to know in order to do my job. Otherwise, if you know too much, I just think it must infiltrate in some way.
Geek: Speaking of different characters, when we first met Oswin, she was all about the soufflé; have we seen the end of that?
Coleman: Have you seen the end of the soufflé? Um…no. (laughs)
Geek: Have you kind of taken home any mementos from the set?
Coleman: I’ve got some boots … I normally do, I know Matt’s got hat stands in his house from the old TARDIS. But I normally try to take little mementos where I can.??
Geek: Yeah. Well, and just sort of finally, is there a line of dialogue, taken out of context, that you’re excited for fans to hear?
Coleman: There’s so many, I mean all these things of “The Impossible Girl,” “The Woman Twice Dead.” I suppose the thing running through the whole story which, in essence, really, is key, without giving too much away, is “Run, you clever boy, and remember.” That’s probably the kind of line running through, and it’s going to lead us somewhere by the end of the series, so that’s Clara’s big one.
Geek: Since you’re the part of this show with such as geek following, what’s something that you’re geeking out about?
Coleman: “Breaking Bad.” I can’t wait to see the end. Oh, and I’ve just only, for the first time ever, watched “Arrested Development.” I’ve just finished Season One of “Arrested Development,” which I’m really into … as soon as I finish “Breaking Bad” and “Arrested Development,” I’m going to start “Walking Dead” because everyone is talking about it. What else is on my agenda to watch? I kind of just try to download as much as I can and then catch up when I can. I’m going to watch the new “Game of Thrones” season that I’m really excited about. [Coleman might also be excited about “Game of Thrones” because she dates Richard Madden, who plays Robb Stark on the show]
Geek: Well there are “Breaking Bad” action figures coming out, so maybe Walt and the Clara Oswin action figure can hang out!
Coleman: I can actually put myself in Breaking Bad!
Geek: That’s right. You’ll bring a Sonic Screwdriver, and he can bring the bag of blue meth.
Coleman: (laughs) And that is a whole other series…
Geek: “Breaking Who,” I guess.
Coleman: (laughs) Absolutely!