The Doctor—the centuries old time-traveler whose 11th incarnation is played by Matt Smith—has had his fair share of companions over the last 50 years, but the Time Lord is about to get yet another in the form of 26-year-old British actress Jenna-Louise Coleman, who steps into the TARDIS officially when Doctor Who's seventh season returns for its back half on March 30.
Coleman has turned up on Doctor Who twice already in the past year, playing very different characters with the same appearance and a similar name. There she is in "Asylum of the Daleks" as Oswin Oswald, the starship Alaska's junior entertainment manager whose soul is trapped in the body of a souffle-loving killing machine. There she is again as Clara Oswin Oswald in 2012's Christmas Special, "The Snowmen," playing a 19th century governess who gets caught up in one of the Doctor's plots. (It involves killer snow, memories, Richard E. Grant, and the disembodied voice of Sir Ian McKellen. Don't ask.)
Coleman's characters have a tendency to die, but the last sighting of Coleman—wandering around the graveyard where her 19th century doppelganger is bured in the 21st century—points towards an undeniable truth: they are all, somehow, the same woman, echoing across time and space.
Coleman is no stranger to television, even if American audiences aren't that familiar with the actress, who has appeared in ITV/ABC's Titanic miniseries (written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes), Captain America: The First Avenger, and Stephen Poliakoff's Jazz Age period drama Dancing on the Edge. But for those who want to know more about the actress who is taking over as the Doctor's official companion, a role last played Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill's Amy and Rory, below are five facts about Jenna-Louise Coleman.
1. One of her first television roles was on the long-running British soap Emmerdale, where she played Jasmine, one half of the show's "groundbreakingly ‘normal’ lesbian couple," alternately a troubled student, barmaid, and journalist. And a murderer, as it turns out. The character was written off the show when Jasmine was sent to prison for manslaughter after she bludgeoned her would-be rapist to death with a chair leg and then dumped the body in a lake. "As a first job I'm grateful for it," she told The Guardian earlier this year. "Though by the end I was quite restless. It was a brilliant experience. But I was ready to leave when I did."
2. Coleman is dating Game of Thrones star Richard Madden, who plays the self-proclaimed King of the North, Robb Stark, on the HBO fantasy drama. The two are said to be together since 2011, when they met in Budapest, where she was filming Titanic and he was working on the BBC/PBS period drama Birdsong. "It is hard not to only talk about acting, but we do try," Coleman told the London Evening Standard. "Budapest is always full of English actors. When we were there The Borgias and World Without End were also filming, and we’d all go out for drinks in these amazing ruin bars—derelict buildings with bars in the central courtyards.’
3. She was not a fan of Doctor Who before joining the show, and she believes that this helped her land the gig with head writer Steven Moffat. "I didn’t really know anything about Doctor Who but Steven really liked that," she told the Evening Standard. "[Being unfamiliar with the show] meant that when I went into the audition with Matt Smith I could be more spontaneous because I didn’t know him as the Doctor... And the plot seemed to evolve from audition to audition, with more scenes being written, and characters being introduced. There were times when I thought they had no idea what they wanted."
4. Her audition for the role of Clara was so secret that she wasn't even told what show she was reading for, instead being given a codename of Men on Waves. "When she was auditioning, Karen Gillan had been given a codename—Panic Moon, which is an anagram of Companion—so I worked out that Men on Waves is an anagram of Woman Seven, because this is the seventh series," Coleman told Radio Times. "Weirdly, seven is my lucky number and this is my seventh job." Doctor Who has a long history of employing codenames; spinoff Torchwood is itself an anagram for Doctor Who and was used early in the revival series's production as a codename.
5. Don't expect the Clara conundrum to become clear anytime soon. The first episode back, "The Bells of St. John," written by Moffat, will introduce "a new nemesis, the Spoonheads, who battle the Doctor as he discovers something sinister is lurking in the Wi-Fi." The upcoming eight episodes packs in quite a lot, according to Moffat: “We’re in the air, we’re under the water, we’re on a fantastic alien planet, we’re back in time, we’re forward in time—and the Doctor’s greatest secret is in jeopardy.” Yet there's still that issue of just who or what Clara is... and why she keeps turning up around the Doctor. The mystery behind her triple life looks to remain secret for a while longer: "You will know [what the link is between the two] eventually," said Moffat late last year. "You are going to get the answer but as ever on Doctor Who, we make you wait a little bit longer."