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Who's that girl? (The Observer Magazine)

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Jenna Coleman is ready to travel through time with the new Doctor

Goodbye Matt Smith, hello Peter Capaldi… Tim Lewis meets Jenna Coleman, Doctor Who's impossible girl, and discovers an actor more comfortable with Daleks than real life

From Emmerdale to Doctor Who and from science fiction to period dramas, Jenna Coleman is an actor going places. Here she talks to Tim Lewis about the new Time Lord, taking on Jane Austen and why 'real' life is boring

San Diego's Comic- Con festival, held each July, is the densest concentration of nerds in our galaxy. For the duration, grown men and women walking around in superhero costumes is the norm, not the exception. Earlier this year, Jenna Coleman – the 27-year-old actor formerly known as Jenna-Louise Coleman (only her mum still calls her Jenna-Louise apparently) – went to her first Comic- Con. There were 130,000-plus attendees; tickets had sold out in 93 minutes. Along with Matt Smith , her costar in Doctor Who , she spent four days being spirited through hotel kitchens, out of back doors and into cars with forbiddingly opaque windows. Time travellers: with Matt Smith during the filming of the seventh Doctor Who series

Not that Coleman and Smith remained incognito for long. "Nice costumes!" they screamed out of the car window at one middle-aged couple dressed as the Doctor and Clara, their characters from the series. The man didn't recognise them, but "Clara" did, and appeared to start convulsing on the pavement. "The most embarrassing thing is that the traffic is so bad that you don't go anywhere," says Coleman. "So all you can do is sit there and put the window up."

Comic- Con was Coleman's first proper exposure to the fanaticism of the Whovians. She had never watched Doctor Who before she became the new "companion", but the responses to her performances have been effusive, bordering on obsessive. Doctor Who blogs – of which there are legion – praise her as quick-witted and independent yet vulnerable, and are particularly taken with the flirtatious relationship she has with Smith's Doctor – a spark that was absent with his previous companion Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan. Or, as Matt Smith himself

put it: "Clara's different from Amy. He has more chance of snogging Clara."

While Coleman knew Doctor Who inspired extreme passions, it had not really hit home until Comic-Con. "I was always asked how I had found the fans, but I'd just been filming in Cardiff," she says. "At Comic- Con it was amazing to see how far-reaching it is. I thought I'd be overwhelmed, but I was humbled. It's something that Matt says: the star is the show."

That maxim is more obvious than ever this year as D Doctor Who celebrates its 50th birthday. The centrepiece is a 75-minute special on 23 November called the Day of the Doctor, which was shot in 3D and will be shown on BBC1 and in 400 cinemas across eight countries. The episode will bring together Smith and Coleman with some of their predecessors, including David Tennant and Billie Piper, and introduce a new "dark" Doctor, John Hurt.

After that, Smith will be hanging up his bow tie and vintage Harris Tweed jacket in the Christmas special. The speculation over his successor, which shared a hysteria in common with the announcement of a new pope, ended in August when Peter Capaldi was unveiled on primetime television as the new pontiff – sorry, 12th Doctor. Coleman only found out herself a short time before the rest of us.

"They told me and Matt when Prince Charles and Camilla came to the set," says Coleman. "We were both: 'Ahhh, of course.' It takes you a few moments – I don't think he was on any of the original lists. People were talking about Rory Kinnear and people like that, but as soon as you say it, you're like: 'Of course.' As Steven Moffat [ Doctor Who's lead writer] said: 'He's the Doctor.' And it's brilliant that we've gone so different from Matt."

Smith's final appearance, however, will clearly be a wrench. "I just read the script the other night," says Coleman. "I'd been putting it off for ages and ages, because once you read the last page, that's it, the story is over. So I read 10 pages on the tube and I stopped, and then I picked it up again the other day and finished it. I was an absolute mess, an absolute wreck. But it's good; it's sad, but it's what needs to happen. It's perfect." EVERYTHING IS LOOKING good for Coleman right now, but, over a coffee in an east London café, there is a wariness as she talks about her career. It is not so long, after all, since she was unable to book an audition – for anything. She worked in a bar and attempted to get into Rada, but froze in her admission interview, forgot all her lines and was turned away. "I'd always wanted to be an actress," she admits. "I was like: 'What if I've been wrong all along?'"

Coleman does not come from a long line of performers. She was born in Blackpool ("a great place for a Doctor Who episode: it's weird, quite romantic, but it's not found what it's supposed to be now") and her dad – who has a business, with her brother, fitting the interiors of bars and shops – would watch her in school productions and wonder where the acting bug had come from. Aged 11, Coleman appeared as a bridesmaid in the musical Summer Holiday 'When I finished reading the last script, I was a wreck': Coleman wears a coat by Louis Vuitton

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  • APA 6th ed.: Lewis, Tim (2013-11-10). Who's that girl? (The Observer Magazine). The Observer p. Magazine, p. 12.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Lewis, Tim. "Who's that girl? (The Observer Magazine)." The Observer [add city] 2013-11-10, Magazine, p. 12. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Lewis, Tim. "Who's that girl? (The Observer Magazine)." The Observer, edition, sec., 2013-11-10
  • Turabian: Lewis, Tim. "Who's that girl? (The Observer Magazine)." The Observer, 2013-11-10, section, Magazine, p. 12 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who's that girl? (The Observer Magazine) | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who%27s_that_girl%3F_(The_Observer_Magazine) | work=The Observer | pages=Magazine, p. 12 | date=2013-11-10 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=5 February 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who's that girl? (The Observer Magazine) | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who%27s_that_girl%3F_(The_Observer_Magazine) | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=5 February 2023}}</ref>