We thought we had the new Doctor Who co-star figured out, but she’s thrown us for a loop.
Fans of the show have known for some time now that the new companion for the Doctor (after the Ponds are out of the story) would be a girl named ‘Clara’ played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. We also were aware that she would be introduced in this year’s holiday episode set in Victorian London - leading us to assume that perhaps the ‘strange place’ we were promised Clara would be from is not all that strange after all.
Note: Spoilers ahead, if you haven’t seen the season 7 premiere yet.
The loop throwing came in the season premiere when we saw Coleman on the screen 7 episodes sooner than we thought we would, playing the part of the girl trapped in the Dalek Asylum.
The only thing to think, therefore, is that we were being surprised with an early introduction to the character, who would return later for the adventure in Victorian London. This is a strange place for her to come from, after all.
But lo, this girl’s name is Oswin, not Clara, and as the episode goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that she will not be leaving this place with her new friends. This also cannot be a mixed up timeline in which this is her final fate, and dealing with the Doctor is in her past, because she does not know the Doctor at the beginning of the episode.
Despite these inconsistencies, it’s difficult to think that these two characters have nothing to do with one another. It would be odd - not unheard of, but odd - for them to have two different characters played by the same actor in one series, even if one is only a single-episode support role.
It's so difficult, in fact, that many, including IMDB are referring to the character as Clair Oswin, despite this not being confirmed as canon by anyone official. Showrunner Steven Moffatt is certainly not talking about the characters as if they are the same. He responded to the surprise turn-up of the actor as if it were a small joke played on the audience, rather than an early appearance of a central character.
In a recent interview, he discussed his thoughts on Coleman, and the nature of the Doctor’s companions in general, making no mention of Oswin.
“We are going to do the story properly of the Doctor having lost a friend and making a new one. We’re not taking that lightly. It’s not in one door out the other. It’s the story of how all that affects him, why he engages with somebody else and what’s going on with that – that’s all important," Moffat said.
“It’s surprising just how much the show changes with a new co-star. The Doctor is quite different with her, and the way you watch them is quite different.
"You watched the Eleventh Doctor and Amy arrive together. It’s like they grew up in the same sandpit, playing. They felt not quite like equals – the Doctor never feels like an equal to his companion – but you knew them equally well and they were equally important to each other. They formed around each other. And one of the interesting things about writing the Doctor is that he’s so responsive to the people around him. It’s almost like left on his own his personality would slowly disintegrate," he continued.
"He becomes what people want him to be, a little bit. So he’s Amy’s Raggedy Doctor, [but] with a different companion he becomes a slightly different man. He dresses differently. The mere fact that he’s so much taller than her suddenly reveals that Matt Smith is very tall, not, as people assume, about average height, because he was about the same height as Karen. He’s the senior man, not in the sense that he’s more important but he’s the one you know already, and he’s training up a new one, as it were. In these five episodes the Doctor is practically the adopted son of Amy and Rory.
"He’s gone from being the wonderful man from space – Space Gandalf, as he wants to be – to being that troublesome kid that they try and keep under control. They even talked about getting babysitters for him in one unfortunately cut scene. They love him, but they know he’s a big kid, they know they have to look out for him, check he eats and all that. Whereas with the new companion he’s back to being the mysterious spacefarer.
“And this never goes away, this thrill – you want to see the reaction when you see it’s bigger on the inside, you want to see the count the hearts moment, you want the story to begin again. And that’s what it gives you. It gives you Doctor Who at its most iconic, because a new person is having to learn the rules – and you’ve seen that story how many times now? I don’t think you ever get tired of it.”
He’s right of course. I’m really looking forward to the new companion, and the potential for new storylines and a very different tone to a show that has become increasingly goofy over the last season or so. If the addition of Coleman sobers the show up a bit, it will be a welcome change.
Right now, however, we still don’t know a thing about her, and I think Moffatt likes it that way.
Doctor Who’s seventh season is currently playing Saturday evenings on BBC One and BBC America.