How Steven Moffat brought THAT character back for the Doctor Who Christmas special

There was a very special shock cameo in Twice Upon a Time – and here’s how they pulled it off

Peter Capaldi

This year’s Doctor Who Christmas special was chock-full of massive moments, from the return of the First Doctor and Bill to the Twelfth Doctor’s final regeneration speech and the debut of Jodie Whittaker – but perhaps some of the most crowd-pleasing scenes came from the return of some fan-favourite characters in special cameos towards the end of the episode, that followed months of speculation about their return.

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Look away now if you haven’t seen Twice Upon a Time, or risk having it spoiled forever…

Still here? Then you’ll have been one of the millions of Doctor Who viewers delighted to see the return of Jenna Coleman’s longtime series companion Clara Oswald tonight, with the erstwhile Who character back in action thanks to memory-storing aliens Testimony, who recreated a version of her (wearing the same outfit she had on at the time of her death) to allow Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor one final goodbye.

“Merry Christmas Doctor,” Coleman says in the episode as the Testimony glass woman takes her shape. “Hello. You stupid old man.”

“You’re back,” Capaldi’s Doctor replies, with the scene also serving to undo the events of series 9 finale Hell bent (when all the Doctor’s memories of Clara were wiped).

“You’re in my head. All my memories… are back.”

Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi in an exclusive Radio Times shoot (RT, TL)
Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi in an exclusive Radio Times shoot (RT, TL)

“And don’t go forgetting me again, because, quite frankly, that was offensive,” Clara concludes before the glass woman changes again – and now episode writer (and departed series showrunner) Steven Moffat has explained exactly how he managed to get Coleman back in the BBC sci-fi series.

“I had to phone Jenna, who was incredibly busy on [ITV’s] Victoria,” Moffat said at a recent screening for the Christmas special. “INCREDIBLY busy. A ridiculous schedule. I mean she was well up for it, but it was complicated to arrange.”

To accommodate Coleman’s schedule, the long-rumoured cameo was shot separately to the rest of the special and inserted using special effects, with Coleman actually filming her scene after Peter Capaldi and the rest of the cast had already wrapped.

Jenna Coleman
Jenna Coleman’s cameo in Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time

“Actually, the very very last thing I shot of Doctor Who was in fact Jenna’s bit,” Moffat said. “So many times have I killed that girl off, and she was right there in my last shot! It’s absolutely extraordinary. The unkillable Coleman!”

But of course, Clara wasn’t the only former companion to make an appearance, with series 10’s Nardole (as played by Matt Lucas) also brought back for one last “cuddle” with the Doctor and Bill (even if he was a little upset to lose his “invisible hair” in this new glass iteration).

Matt Lucas Doctor Who BBC
Matt Lucas as Nardole in Doctor Who (BBC)

And Moffat had some difficulties explaining to one young fan at the screening how the partially cybernetic Nardole would have actually been able to be replicated from his memories, considering that subjects had to actually be dead prior to the Testimony process…

“In a complicated way…we do not know!” Moffat replied. “Remember, all those characters are still out there in the Doctor Who universe, and now under the control of our new overlord Chris Chibnall, to whom I give all respect. So it’s up to him what happens.

“At some point in the future, like everybody Nardole will die, and when Nardole dies Testimony turns up to scoop out his memories from his half-machine head, and puts them in a glass avatar.

“I thought of all that one day, that’s ridiculous! So, we don’t know. Who knows? It’s up to wiser people than me.”

Watch this space, Nardole fans – this might not be the last we see of him.

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Doctor Who returns to BBC1 in autumn 2018