March 27--British actress Jenna-Louise Coleman faced a lot of pressure becoming the 57th "Doctor Who" traveling companion. It wasn't just that she was joining one of the biggest -- and longest running -- sci-fi franchises, it was all the secrecy and mystery surrounding the role.
"When I went into audition, I was reading for three and four different characters. I didn't have a clue as to what was going on and they couldn't explain it to me. I finally began to piece together their plan," Coleman says. "It's all so secretive because there's always so much speculation about what's going to happen on the show."
Hints to that plan have been revealed in a couple of past episodes and will become fully formed when new episodes begin airing Saturday night on BBC America. Coleman plays a character similar to the one she had in the season seven opener, "Asylum of the Daleks," and in the Christmas episode, "The Snowmen." Both characters died, but the Doctor (Matt Smith) has found a third version.
Even series lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat talks in cryptic terms when discussing Coleman's character.
"You've sort of met her, but you sort of haven't. The same shed load of attitude you saw before, the same rapid-fire banter with the Doctor, but this time she's living in modern London with no memory of the Time Lord," says Moffat. "It's all new for the Doctor. This time the greatest mystery in the universe is standing right next to him."
There's a reason for the secrecy: Fans are rabid to discover spoilers.
The audition process was a covert affair. Coleman was told she was reading for a production called "Men on Waves," an anagram for "Women Seven," a reference to the role being in the show's seventh season.
Everyone who auditioned was taken to separate rooms so no one would know who was a finalist for the part.
After Coleman was cast, the hard part began because she couldn't tell anyone she had landed the role. She laughs as she explains how she became paranoid she would reveal the news before the proper time -- something she didn't want to do because one of the joys of the series to her is all of the surprises.
As soon as Moffat revealed Coleman was the new companion, the actress received a flood of congratulations. Even before the episodes aired, she noticed an increase in attention. It finally hit Coleman how big the role was when she started seeing herself in the large "Doctor Who" posters to promote the new episodes.
"That takes some getting used to," Coleman says.
The 26-year-old actress has been working steadily since her 2005 debut in the British soap opera "Emmerdale."
She had been so busy working, Coleman hadn't seen the new "Doctor Who" series. She watched the first episode of the sixth season before her audition, but she didn't want to watch more because she wants to learn about the world as she goes on the journey. Coleman didn't even want to see the set for the Tardis until her first scene.
"Being the Doctor's traveling companion is about first time experiences in this mad and wonderful world," Coleman says. "What I'm trying to do is just enjoy the journey."
That's exactly what Doctor Who asks of all his traveling companions.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.
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