We could have had Shona as a real companion on Doctor Who


Jenna Coleman almost left Doctor Who after season 8. If she had, we might have seen a familiar face as a full-time companion in her own right.

As many Doctor Who fans know, there was a touch of drama surrounding companion Jenna Coleman’s exit from the show. The actress was strongly rumored to be departing the series after the season 8 Christmas special, and various elements of Clara’s storyline seemed to back up those reports even though no one official ever confirmed them at the time.

But even if you weren’t much of a follower of the behind-the-scenes going on at Doctor Who, you could probably tell something was up. Most of the holiday installment “Last Christmas” felt bittersweet, and its seemingly final moments set up a perfectly appropriate exit for her. The episode showed us Clara as an old woman, one who got to have a real, full life after traveling with the Doctor.  As an ending, this twist worked on multiple levels. It paid off the constant refrain of “every Christmas is last Christmas” and gave Clara an ending that was vastly different from most previous modern companions.

After all, not every story must end tragically, wherein our heroines get sucked into alternate dimensions, are forced to live apart from the Doctor forever, or have their minds wiped to forget all the good they did. Sometimes…they can just retire. They can choose to go back to a regular life again and be happy with it. (This is the ending I really wanted for the Ponds, to be honest.) But, in the end, Jenna Coleman decided to stay for another year, old Clara turned out to be a dream crab-induced hallucination, and it was all just another Moffat-era take back. Sigh.

Not all of this was bad, of course, as Coleman sticking around gave us some great episodes in Season 9 and ultimately led to the casting of Pearl Mackie as Bill for Season 10. But it also kept us from getting something else: A different, more familiar face in the TARDIS.

Per the Radio TimesWho showrunner (at the time) Steven Moffat had already started thinking about who might replace Clara if Coleman really did decide to call it quits after season 8. And it’s likely his original choice would have made a lot of fans happy: actress Faye Marsay, who played Shona McCullough in “Last Christmas.”

In the holiday story, Shona believed herself to be a scientist at the North Pole – thanks, again, to those pesky dream crabs. But in reality, she was simply a quirky girl who worked in a shop, loved Game of Thrones, and was working on forgiving a guy named Dave. For what, we still don’t know. Even though we spent comparatively little time with her, Shona’s personality was so offbeat and charming that many fans were demanding to see her again before the episode even ended. (To be fair, her dance to “Merry Christmas Everybody” was kind of iconic.)

Alas, it was not to be. According to Moffat, Coleman decided after the original readthrough for “Last Christmas” – which still contained the old Clara ending – that she “didn’t think she was actually ready to go.” This meant that any plans that had already been put in place for her potential exit, including that Clara’s original ending as an old woman, were jettisoned.

But until that point, Marsay’s Shona was an early front-runner for the next companion, for many of the same reasons that Moffat would eventually create the character of Bill later on.

“There’s a commonality between the two,” Moffat explained to Doctor Who: The Fan Show. “I knew where I wanted to go next was a kind of earthy irreverence, I guess, if I put it in the most basic terms. I hadn’t got a fully formed character but I was messing around with that.”

It’s hard to be but so upset about this, given how fantastic both Mackie and Bill turned out to be later on. Yet it’s also impossible to not wonder what a Shona era in the TARDIS might have been like. Or how she and Peter Capaldi would have done as a pair. They had an interesting chemistry together, and their relationship could have gone in a lot of different directions. (Clara eventually became a bit too like the Doctor for my taste, which often made their interactions feel much less like a friendship than, say, Twelve and Bill’s did later on.)

Shona’s obvious desire to escape her boring everyday life also made her perfect companion material. (When she got to pick her own dream fate, she chose to be a scientist, not a shopgirl. Shades of Rose Tyler, anyone?) And her brief personal moments in “Last Christmas” offered much that could be explored later on. Besides the mystery of whoever Dave is, there’s also the fact that her life seems pretty lonely. Her holiday plans seem to consist entirely of a potential visit from her father, and a binge-watching session. She definitely seems like someone who could have used her horizons expanded a little bit. Like maybe through all of time and space.

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Thinking about what could have been in the world of Doctor Who is always a bit of a double-edged sword. (“What would the show have been like if Christopher Eccleston had done a second season” will probably be etched on my tombstone somewhere.)

But time – and the show itself – marches on. At least with the first female Doctor on the horizon, we’re marching toward something both good and overdue. Shona herself would probably approve.