Tea and scones, Prince Harry, greasy spoons. There are few things more institutionally British, but Doctor Who is definitely up there. This Saturday the cult sci-fi series (of which Whoopi Goldberg is a fan and Steven Spielberg said “the world would be a poorer place without”) will celebrate 50 years since its first transmission in 1963. The show has always had a loyal fanbase, but there’s no doubt that since its return in 2005, after a nine-year hiatus, it has found a modern attitude and a new audience, regularly peaking at 6.9 million viewers.
Over the years, Doctor Who has been accused of gender stereotyping but current sidekick Clara Oswald offers a refreshing change – something, perhaps Jenna Coleman – the actress who plays her – has Billie Piper to thank for after playing feisty assistant Rose in 2005. To mark the anniversary, a special 2D and 3D episode The Day Of The Doctor will see David Tennant and Billie Piper return to the Tardis with Coleman and current Doctor Matt Smith – a landmark moment for Whovians. Since joining the series in 2012, 27-year-old Coleman has proved to be a hit with the loyal fanbase. To celebrate the show's 50th anniversary episode we invited Jenna (pictured right with Stylist's Lyndsey Gilmour) to Stylist's 24-hour office talk about playing the coveted role of Doctor Who’s assistant.
Did you grow up watching Doctor Who?
It wasn’t on during my childhood, so I first remember Billie Piper starring in it. I had a load of her singles. I remember doing my first job [Emmerdale] and there was an awards thing and David and Billie were there and they were playing clips of their ‘goodbye’ so that was my first memory of Doctor Who.
Did the huge fanbase affect whether you’d take the role or not?
It’s definitely something I considered because it’s a very big franchise to come into. I definitely wanted to make sure I could do it. And obviously taking over from Karen [Gillan] who was so loved, it’s a big job. It changes your life – in a really great way. But one of the first things Matt Smith said to me was “don’t Google yourself”.
Will you and Matt stay in touch now he’s left?
Yeah. When we were filming in Cardiff we lived in the same apartment block, so at the end of the day he’d come in for a cup of tea. [On set] he liked to come into my trailer because it smells nice. [His was] messy, you certainly would not want to eat your dinner in there. I had a nice Diptyque candle. He’s definitely a good friend. He gets on with my boyfriend [actor Richard Madden] really well so we see each other socially a lot.
Peter Capaldi’s appointment as the new Doctor was kept top secret. Did you have to sign agreements?
Yeah, it’s in our contracts. People were endlessly wanting to know who it was. I filmed [Death Comes To Pemberley] over the summer and I was working with a load of Peter’s friends so they were going, “Who is it? Who is it?” And in my head I was going, ‘it’s your mate!’ They had no idea.
Now he's replaced Matt, will the writers pull back on the romance between the Doctor and Clara, who kissed in the last series?
I don’t know. Obviously there will be a change in dynamic, but I’ve seen Peter’s first scene being filmed and I’d say, don’t be fooled by age.
Do you think the strong female characters have been brought in to offset the romance?
Yeah, I think so. It’s an adventure series about saving the world so you want to show women being brave and strong. Steven Moffat’s writing is very good. There are so many great parts for women – it’s very balanced and clever. Joanna Page’s character in the 50th [anniversary] is brilliant.
Matt smith would come into my trailer because it smells nice. You certainly would not want to eat your dinner in his trailer
In Doctor Who you kissed Matt Smith and in Emmerdale you kissed Charley Webb (Debbie Dingle), which kiss raised more eyebrows?
Probably the one with the Doctor because a lot of people said, “he’s married!” [It was recently revealed the Doctor was married to River Song.] The other was good, in that it was teenagers exploring their sexuality but with Doctor Who they were like, “who is this new girl snogging the Doctor?”
Your boyfriend is in Game of Thrones [as Robb Stark], do you watch each other’s shows or is there a sci-fi ban in the house?
I’m a massive Game Of Thrones fan, and I’m going to continue watching it now he’s [left] and yeah, he’s a really big Doctor Who fan, which is lucky. We like each others’ shows.
What else do you watch?
We’re watching The Tunnel at the moment, The Newsroom and I’ve just started to watch The West Wing and Homeland - there's a lot we're into.
Your fan base is very vocal. Have you had any unusual encounters?
People shout, “Where’s your Tardis?!” a lot. And there’s this thing called cosplay, where people dress up as your character. I have been sat in a restaurant and people have asked for a picture then I’ve realised they are full on dressed as my character.
Have you made it to a convention?
I went to Comic-Con in San Diego this summer and we did a panel to 8,000 fans. Comic-Con is like Coachella but with super heroes. It’s where True Blood, Game Of Thrones and all these shows do panel talks and their fans go and dress up for the weekend. It’s surreal, the whole city gets taken over by Batman and Spiderman. Driving round we would see people dressed as me and Matt. I thought I would be overwhelmed but to see such an amazing reaction was humbling.
The Day Of The Doctor is on BBC1 at 7.30pm on 23 November in 2D and 3D.