Continuing our series of interviews with the principal cast of Doctor Who, we had a chance to quiz Jenna Coleman about her part in the show. She discussed the changes in her character over time and what we can expect from a season nine Clara. Also covered were the change in the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara in this new season, the differences between working with Matt Smith vs Peter Capaldi, how much fun they have on set, and much more.
This was again a “round table” discussion where I was joined by a small handful of fellow journalists. The following is a transcript of our Q&A with the Doctor’s best friend.
Oh, and if you’d like to read our interview with Peter Capaldi, you can catch it here:
Now, on to the interview!
The secret to Clara being the “Impossible Girl” is that she was scattered throughout the Doctor’s timeline, being permanently tied to him. Does that give you job security?
You think you can kill me, but then there’s also like another Clara echo somewhere in time and space. It’s a pretty cool concept. I was always waiting for that scene where all the Claras meet and gang up on the Doctor, but that’s not happened yet.
Last season, Peter was freshly regenerated, trying to figure out what kind of Doctor he was going to be and maybe taking a step back from saving humanity. That gave your character a chance to step up and do heroic things; be very Doctor-y. Now that he’s settled into the role, how will that change the dynamic for season 9?
I think they’re much more on an even keel this series. It’s not as complicated, they’re much more united, they kind of know where each other stands, they’ve gotten into a groove. It’s like the two of them are united together looking out at the adventures. They’re great together, they love each other, they disagree, they slap, and they move on. They’ve worked it out in a way.
So it’s great to have got to that point and have this series to be able to do that. We’ve called it the glory years of Clara and the Doctor.
Peter was talking about some big mistake that he makes. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
It’s a grave thing the Doctor has to face. It’s quite a test.
I don’t want you to spoil anything, but I read a rumor that we might be seeing a story that goes back to the origin of the Daleks with Davros.
Is that all you can say about that?
Can I ask you a question that you might be able to answer, then? You guys look like you’re having a lot of fun, we’re really enjoying it. Are you really having that much fun?
I’m having so much fun. I laugh every day with Peter. We’re like stupid, little infants who arrive at work and just put on stupid voices and have fun and enjoy each other’s company. He’s like one of my favorite human beings.
We challenge each other and try to push it to new places this season. I hope it kind of filters through into the on-screen relationship as well. What I love about their relationship is it’s so unlikely to put the two of us together. They’re kind of like unlikely partners, in a way. Peter’s one of my best buddies, but you’d never put the two of us together. I really like that; it’s kind of strange.
Is Clara over her heartbreak from Danny’s death?
Her perspective has changed on life. I think it’s something that’s happened to her and it’s changed her. She kind of moves forward with this whole new perspective which, in a way, is quite freeing, but also dangerous.
Do you think it’s important for the Doctor to have a long-standing companion around when he regenerates?
It’s good to have that person who knew you to be like, “this is who you are” – to have that kind of familiarity when you don’t recognize yourself.
Do you think the Doctor might go dark if a companion wasn’t around when he regenerates?
I imagine it’s quite unsettling and an unfamiliar place to be, so it’s always good to have someone who knows you around. God knows what he’d get up to. We talked ages ago about doing a short thing about having the Doctor by himself and what he gets up to – trying to be human, but getting it all wrong. Instead of having a (rubber) duck in the bath he’d have like a real duck.
How do you feel about balancing these over-arching season long stories with stand-alone adventures?
We always have like a general idea, but usually Steven doesn’t reveal too much about the end. At the moment, we’re filming episode 11 and we don’t actually know how it’s going to come to fruition. But the themes are so strongly weaved in throughout the series, it’s kind of up to us to just play each episode as the internal story and that kind of weaves its own path.
If you were the showrunner, what would you like to see your character do?
I don’t know. Last year was quite dark, I think, and the relationship was so complicated to play. I’m actually just enjoying living in the moment and just laughing our way through time and space. We had the mystery of series 7, we had the complications of last year. There’s a lot more freedom with her now.
Speaking of the Doctor going to dark places, as smart and playful as she can be she also seems to have that darkness. Would you like to explore that side of Clara?
Yeah. You know, there are points in the series in which we do, as well, which is really interesting and was very fun to do. It’s quite interesting to get her backstory, which we don’t a lot, but she was an only child who lived with her head in books and ideas of adventure and travel, which is now what she’s doing in real life. She lost her mother at a really young age, so she’s had a lot of loss and, actually, she’s quite solitary as well. So living in this bubble of existence of the TARDIS with the Doctor, she’s kind of found her home, I suppose.
Are we going to see any episodes back on Earth or will it mostly be other planets?
We’re mostly space-bound this year.
At this point with your character development, are you able to tell Steven “I don’t think Clara would do this or she would do that”?
I wouldn’t dare! <laughs> Really, you don’t need to. Steven is always across all of the scripts as showrunner, so often there isn’t a place where you need to.
What we will sometimes do on the day is if there’s a bit of a leap or there’s something that’s not quite certain, we’ll improvise around it a little bit or play and we often just find our way together. Sometimes you can read something and when you put it up on its feet or in a certain set, for example, things aren’t quite flowing right. That’s a lot to do with my relationship with Peter, it’s so open and generous between the two of us. I hope he says the same. <laughs>
How different is it working with Peter versus Matt?
The initial differences were … Matt was like a tornado that you kind of like tried to work around. Peter is much more internal and the room will come to him, whereas Matt would go out to the room. I think those were the first kind of big things that you’d notice. But they’re both really generous actors and imaginative and you really, really don’t know what they’re going to throw at you, which makes my job quite easy because often if you’re reading something you’re like, “I just don’t know how to play this” and I think, “Well, it’s fine. I can just turn up and look at Peter.”
When you’re a companion on Doctor Who, how do you cope with every season people wondering if this is it for your character?
It’s the same with the Doctors, though. I think it’s the nature of the beast, of this show.
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Doctor Who season 9 premieres Saturday, September 19!