×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Doctor Who Companions We Almost Never Got To See

Having the ability to travel through time and space is great and all — but being the last of your species is still a lonely business. It helps to have a willing human along for the ride, discovering the secrets of the universe and trying (and often failing) to stay out of trouble. That's why companions, also known as assistants, have been as much a part of Doctor Who as the Doctor's many iterations.

With each regeneration of the Doctor, the show's writers have to find new ways to make the next version of the titular Time Lord unique but still consistent. They also have to create a companion character — or multiple characters — with their own compelling personalities. These characters must stand their own against the Doctor, and have good reasons for trading the comfort of their regular lives for the excitement and danger of intergalactic travel with a mysterious stranger.

There are likely dozens if not hundreds of companions that we never got to meet. And there are two — who turned out to be very important to the series — who nearly fell through the cracks along with them. Here are two Doctor Who companions we almost never got to see.

Modern Clara nearly didn't exist on Doctor Who

Played on Doctor Who by Jenna Coleman, Clara Oswald, a.k.a. Oswin Oswald, a.ka. Clara Oswin Oswald had one of the most complex character arcs of any companion in Whovian history. She helps the Doctor many times throughout their very long non-linear life, often sacrificing herself in the process.

The first time we meet Clara (as Oswin), she's a human who's turned into a Dalek after being spaceship-wrecked. The second time is on the 2012 Christmas episode The Snowmen, as Clara Oswin Oswald. The Victorian barmaid and governess accepts the Doctor's invitation to travel with him — before being murdered by an ice monster. Luckily, modern-day Clara Oswald is back for the next episode of Doctor Who, which aired three months later. This contemporary version of the character is the one who gets to go on adventures for the next two seasons.

However, 21st-century Clara nearly didn't exist. Renowned fantasy author Neil Gaiman — who wrote the seventh episode on which Clara features as the companion, season 7's "Nightmare in Silver" — revealed in an interview with Radio Times that when he took the job, Clara was still the Victorian governess character. He was ten pages into the script (about ten minutes of screen time) when he got the news from showrunner Steven Moffat that they were changing Clara to a contemporary character. "We decided they can do more weird stuff if it's now the contemporary third incarnation," Gaiman explained. Another Clara meant more chance to play up the mystery of Oswald's continued appearances in the Doctor's personal timeline.

This was 14 months ahead of the episode hitting screens, so Gaiman had time to alter his script — but unlike Clara, Gaiman may not keep returning to the TARDIS; one untold truth of Doctor Who is that it's a fun gig but the pay isn't great (though that's not the real reason Christopher Eccleston left Doctor Who after one season).

We nearly missed out on fan-favorite Doctor Who companion Donna

Many of the Doctor's assistants — and even one Doctor themselves — first appeared on other episodes of Doctor Who, sometimes as totally different characters. Freema Agyeman, who played companion Dr. Martha Jones, had a small role on the season 2 episode "Army of Ghosts," and the Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi played Pompeii resident Caecilius on an episode of season 4. (Don't feel bad for missing it: there are a lot of small details in Doctor Who.) That was also the second episode on which Catherine Tate played the Doctor's companion Donna Noble, having first appeared as a jilted (and sarcastic) bride at the start of season 3. 

But Donna was originally supposed to be a one-off character. 

During an episode of David Tennant's aptly named podcast David Tennant Does a Podcast With..., the actor who played the Tenth Doctor interviewed Tate about how she landed the companion role. Tennant revealed that the team behind Doctor Who was so sure Tate would turn the extended part down that they wrote a new character and even cast another actress (who still doesn't know this, by the way). Tate admitted that she wasn't a big Doctor Who fan at that point, and had no idea she'd be asked to return, but she thought the show "would be a good thing to do." Her resolution wavered when a journalist told her that fans weren't happy to see her back for more. But she decided to just have fun, because, as she shared, "I loved doing it and I loved playing the character." 

That playfulness and her banter with Tennant's Doctor won many fans over: a 50th anniversary superfan poll conducted in 2013 named Donna as the second-best companion of all time. As Donna might say, that's bloody brilliant.