Last month’s Doctor Who Christmas special was chock-full of exciting comebacks, from the return of companions Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (Matt Lucas) to David Bradley’s new version of the First Doctor (originally played by William Hartnell in the 1960s).
And perhaps the biggest surprise return came from Jenna Coleman’s former companion Clara Oswald, who said a final goodbye to Peter Capaldi’s departing Doctor (thanks to her memories being stored by glass alien robot-thing Testimony) in a short, emotional scene towards the end of the episode.
However, it’s now been revealed that the original plans for this scene were rather different, with Coleman’s busy schedule shooting ITV’s Victoria meaning extensive rewrites were needed to fit Clara into the story.
“It would have been such a loss if Jenna hadn’t been able to appear,” Twice Upon a Time director Rachel Talalay told Doctor Who Magazine in their latest issue.
“God knows she’s busy. This wasn’t like, ‘I don’t want to do it.’ This was like ‘I’m the star of a huge show, and you’re asking me to find time to come do this.’”
Originally, it had been planned for Coleman’s Clara to appear alongside fellow Peter Capaldi companions Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas in the episode’s final scenes, with the trio interacting before the scene ended with this exchange:
Doctor: “I’ll tell you something, though. You were always my favourite.
Clara: “Who was?”
Bill: “Which one?”
Nardole: “I know.”
The sequence concluded with the Doctor chuckling evilly and stepping back into the Tardis – but sadly, the whole thing had to change once it became clear Coleman’s schedule was just too busy.
“I rewrote, and rewrote, and rewrote for everything we could do with Jenna’s schedule,” episode writer Steven Moffat said.
“We couldn’t get Jenna to our set. We couldn’t have the three companions there together. But she does make a magical appearance on the battlefield, which we had to shoot separately a few days after the rest of the episode had wrapped.”
The finished version of the scene instead sees the Testimony of Bill transform into Clara, deliver a message than turn back to Bill just before Nardole makes his own return, with the effect created by shooting Coleman and Capaldi separately with the use of some cunning visual effects.
“Peter had to play to a tennis ball, and so did Jenna, on green screen later, in the [former] Top Gear office in the middle of London, with fire engines going by,” Talalay recalled.
“Both of them had to find that whole history together, their two years together, with neither of them being together.
“It’s incredibly hard making those things match up so that it really felt like they were in the same space. But I think we pulled it off.”
And in the end, this hodge-podge solution ended up having some special significance as Steven Moffat took his final bow on Doctor Who.
“My last real moment of production wasn’t any of the ones anyone thinks it was; it was in the Top Gear office at the old TV Centre – which is now the BBC Worldwide offices – with a skeleton crew, and Rachel, and Jenna,” he said. “That was my very final moment on Doctor Who. At the old TV Centre. As it should be.”
“The entire story is about memories, and Steven [Moffat], in his inimitable genius, managed to weave Clara into that,” Talalay added.
“The fact that the Doctor, having lost his memories of her, got them back in the Christmas episode, I just felt was so brilliant.”