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Catherine Tate, who played the fiery companion throughout 2008 and returned briefly in 2010, was only intended to star in the show’s 2007 Christmas special The Runaway Bride.
But while the producers wanted to see more of Tate, they doubted the sketch-show star would have the time to sign on for a full series – even lining up another actress to take the part.
The revelations were heard on the latest edition of Tennant’s podcast, David Tennant Does a Podcast With…
Speaking to Tate on the show, Tennant said, “None of us expected us to say yes [to coming back as a regular].
“There was another actress lined up, but she doesn’t know this. Our executive producer Julie Gardner, was going to have lunch with Catherine and see if she wanted to come back for a whole series. Obviously she wont, so on Monday we’re going to send out the offer to play this character.
“There was a character breakdown and everything. It was a formality.”
Tate replied she was “surprised” to be asked back to the show.
“I remember exactly, Julie took me out to lunch,” she said, “And my jaw genuinely dropped open because at no point did I expect her to say that.
“And I thought it’d be a really good thing to do. I thought it’d be a one-off thing, I absolutely loved doing the Runaway Bride, but I didn’t for a minute think.”
Before doing the show full time, Tate admitted that she didn’t even particularly like the hallowed BBC sci-fi drama, having never really watched it.
“Doctor Who wasn’t my thing, I knew it from when I was growing up,” she said. “But I heard it was coming back with Russell T Davies, who I loved from Queer as Folk.
“I turn on to see the episode where Rose [Tyler, played by Billie Piper] was a baby and it’s all set in the 80s.
“I’m thinking ‘This is absolutely shocking, the production values haven’t changed at all!’ It was a fundamental misunderstanding, but I remember thinking ‘this is appalling.’”
It wasn’t even until more recently that Tate finally understood just how popular Doctor Who was.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” she said. “I don’t think I realised until last year how popular this show is.
“Genuinely no idea. I’ve experienced things at conventions I didn’t think I would. There’s a level of intensity. You’re shocked and delighted and amazed at it.”
With Doctor Who now behind her, Tate is returning to her sketch show character Nan, having penned a new film.
“It’s great fun,” she said. “It’s probably the one that’s got the legs to carry on, and it’s probably the most popular character.”
David Tennant Does a Podcast With… is available on iTunes and other apps