We in the Doctor Who fan community had every reason to suspect this was going to happen, but with a single day before Series 9 commences, the news that Ms. Coleman will be departing the program feels bittersweet.
Let me explain.
As we on GPR have pointed out many times over the past six months, Jenna weathered the criticisms received for how the Clara character was written and presented in the latter half of Doctor Who‘s Series 7 — criticisms that should have been directed at the producers and writers, rather than at the actor. (You work with what you’re given, and in that context, she still did an admirable job.) With the more concise, structured and focused Series 8, particularly the “single iteration” of Clara the viewers were given, it gave opportunity to truly meet, learn about, and develop an emotional connection to the character, and moreover, opportunities in the scripts to increase dimension and complexity. This put greater demand on the actor to deepen and broaden the role, to find nuances that garner attention, respect, and affection. Coleman took this challenge on, and frankly, drove it into the stratosphere.
With storylines that demanded her character to be at times more forceful, resourceful, commanding, or inversely, more tender, concerned, introspective, even maternal, Jenna demonstrated an ability to meet these demands with commendable skill. Putting her in a relationship may not have been what some viewers wanted (those preferring an untethered companion who could witness the wonders of accompanying a Time Lord without “obligations at home”), but nonetheless, her scenes with Samuel Anderson were convincing and solid — both the pleasant and unpleasant moments.
She has proven to this viewer that as an actor, she is only limited by the room her character is given to grow, and the opportunities that EPs and directors give her to demonstrate her skills. Like any young talent, diversity of role and challenges in productions forge a greater thespian, adding tools to their repertoire and subtleties to performance that only such career variety can develop. That said, she is certainly qualified to move on to new roles, and perhaps she sees this as her time to take risks, explore, strengthen, and in doing so, prove to the public and the industry of all she is capable of accomplishing.
Finally, as I was processing the announcement from the BBC just this morning, and carrying on a few hasty conversations with other Whovians and podcasters on the subject, I realized that with full public knowledge of her departure, made clear and certain before Series 9 begins, that odds are good that Moffat, Minchin, Gardner and company will have a spectacular swan-song for the Clara character, one that gives Jenna Coleman all the room in the world to shine, impress, and warm (of not break) our hearts in the performance.
I, for one, look forward to the both bitter and the sweet of it.