In 2014, the Doctor Who timeline nearly went in a very different direction. Series companion Jenna Coleman had made up her mind to leave the BBC sci-fi drama in the Christmas special (as was heavily rumoured at the time), and only decided at the very last minute to keep travelling with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor ahead of her character Clara’s actual departure in the 2015 series finale.
And now, ex-showrunner Steven Moffat has revealed that Coleman’s expected exit led to him making new plans for a companion who never ended up being realised on screen, though parts of the idea did end up being worked into Coleman’s eventual successor Bill (played by Pearl Mackie in the 2017 series).
“I vaguely had a set of thoughts about what the new companion should be like,” Moffat told us at the annual Radio Times Covers Party, where he had earlier collected framed covers from 2017 featuring Sherlock and Doctor Who.
“There would have been elements in common [with Bill] – but your mind moves on in the interim. So maybe some of where we ended up with Bill has obscured what I was thinking about for Clara’s replacement, or the original version of Clara’s replacement, so I couldn’t really say now.
“Bill ended up being very much her own thing, I think. And very much Pearl Mackie.”
This isn’t the first time that modern Doctor Who has had to scrap companion ideas, with former showrunner Russell T Davies revealing in later years that his planned sidekick to David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in the 2008 series – a journalist called Penny – was put on the shelf when Catherine Tate expressed an interest in returning as Donna Noble (Penny did end up appearing as an ancillary character in the 2008 series’ first episode).
However, Moffat’s never-companion was far less planned out, in part because he never truly believed Coleman would say goodbye – even until the last possible moment.
“I didn’t feel as though we were quite finished with Jenna and Clara,” he told us. “And I wasn’t convinced, looking in Jenna’s eye, that she was really ready to leave. And I don’t think anyone should leave Doctor Who until they’re really ready to leave.
“So it wasn’t a massive surprise to me that she stayed. It was a bit of a surprise – I mean, we went to the Christmas read-through, Last Christmas, with her leaving at the end, and it was in the conversation after the read-through that she stayed.
“But you know, if you’ve got a star like that, you keep a star like that,” he concluded. “Of course you do.”
You can watch our full Doctor Who interview with Steven Moffat in the video above.
Doctor Who returns to BBC1 this autumn