Meet Pearl Mackie, Doctor Who’s Cool New Companion
Doctor Who returns this Saturday for Peter Capaldi’s final season, but it’s not all about goodbyes.
Season 10 also introduces us to Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), the Doctor’s newest companion on his adventures through space and time. She’s smart, funny, not afraid to say exactly what she thinks, and also happens to be the show’s first openly gay companion—a fact which is casually established in her very first scene.
Bill has a lot to live up to as the new companion as she follows in the shoes of Amy (Karen Gillan), Martha (Freema Agyeman), Donna (Katherine Tate), Rose (Billie Piper), and most recently Clara (Jenna Coleman), but it’s also hard to watch this Saturday’s premiere and not think Bill has the potential to carve a really fun and interesting path for herself.
We got on the phone with Mackie (before her character was revealed to be gay) to talk about what it’s like to be the new companion and just what we can expect from Bill, the spunky french fry seller.
E! News: What has the fan response been like so far? A lot of people seem really excited about the character.
Mackie: On the whole, people have been really excited, which has been great, you know. Seems to be very positive. I’ve had a lot of people cosplaying me already, which has been pretty amazing, and a lot of fan art and stuff too, which is kind of mind-blowing. It’s not really something you ever envision. When you decide to become an actress, it’s not something you ever really imagine you’ll get people drawing you and sending you pictures they’ve drawn themselves, you know?
Were you prepared for this fanbase that spans fifty years? Like, were you a fan yourself?
I’ve not watched much of the series. It wasn’t really on when I was a kid. It sort of came back when I was about 16, 17, and so I mean I’ve seen it. I saw a bit of the first series with Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston, and I’ve seen a bit of the Christmas specials and stuff, but I wasn’t an avid follower of the series. I knew it sort of, you know, the broad reach that it had, but I don’t think there’s something you can really get on board with until you’re working on the show, and then you see the scope of it and see the global reach as well. I didn’t know how big it was in America or how big it was in Canada or anything like that, you know, so that’s been pretty phenomenal.
What can you tell me about how the Doctor meets Bill and how she gets started in the series?
Well, not much really. She’s bagging chips, and the Doctor is working at the university as a lecturer and they kind of meet through those kind of circumstances. They meet at the university, and I think there’s very much this kind of mutual interest. I think she’s very interested in the way his mind works, because obviously with all of his knowledge of space and time and the entirety of the universe, he thinks about things in a very different way to anyone she’s ever come across before, so for her, that’s fascinating. But I think equally for him, he’s quite intrigued by the way she kind of operates. She’s very real, and she’s quite honest, very direct. She speaks from the heart without necessarily always thinking it through, which is something that I think makes her quite open, and I think that’s something that he has a lot of time for, and kind of makes for an interesting dynamic. I don’t think he’s used to people being as direct, potentially, as she is, and it’s quite refreshing.
How does she react when she finds out how much more is out there in the universe?
I mean I think there are lots of sort of different discoveries as the series progresses. I mean, their first adventure, they don’t sort of go everywhere, so she sort of gradually discovers what the Tardis can do—that it can go back in time, it can go to different planets, you know. So it’s kind of an ongoing series of discoveries, and you’re kind of with her discovering all of the possibilities, and it sort of builds and builds throughout the series, and obviously with that, she’s finding out more and more things about the Doctor.
And I think the great thing about Bill and about this series is that because she’s so new to the world, it’s kind of a great jumping off point for new fans, but then also, because she’s new and because previous companions have had sort of an idea of the universe that the Doctor inhabits, she’s completely fresh to it, so you get the satisfaction of her saying iconic lines, like about the Tardis that it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. So you get that kind of satisfaction, but also, because she’s Bill and the way her kind of mind works, her sort of wit and her kind of intellect, I guess, she completely comes in with a curve ball straight after that. So you get the satisfaction of the expected, but you also get the unexpected with her as well which kind of keeps it interesting I think.
A lot of people involved with the show have said that Bill is very different from any other companion. Is it her unexpectedness and her directness that makes her so different?
Yeah, I mean that’s definitely something that’s apparent with her from the get go, when you first meet her in episode one. Yeah, she’s very honest and direct and quite ballsy as well, which I think is something I’ve really enjoyed playing. The dynamic between her and the Doctor is quite…she has complete respect for him and trusts him, and as their friendship grows, they become very attached to one another. But it’s not kind of a, “oh I’ll bow down and do everything you say.” She questions him, which is something that I think he really likes.
What are some of the things Bill struggles with? A lot of the other companions have had lives and people they’re leaving behind when they goes on these adventures.
I don’t know, I mean there definitely is that sort of trying to juggle her real life and then this sort of magical world with the Doctor, and sort of keeping all of that secret and getting the balance between the two to try and maintain her own kind of friendships and that kind of thing. But I think for Bill and within this series, a lot of the main kind of challenges or obstacles are within the series and related to the world of the Doctor. The adventures kind of come within that more, so she’s kind of all in from quite early on, but she still sort of has the kind of issue of trying to keep her own life at home.
When it comes to the adventures, do you prefer the big, scary aliens and robots, or more of the psychological, emotional episodes?
I think the good one for me, as an actress, one of the best things for me about Doctor Who is that you really don’t have to choose. You get the mix of both of those things. You get to fight some incredible aliens, so you get the extreme sci fi kind of action excitement, high stakes kind of drama, but then you also get the really sort of in depth, kind of emotional, human relationships as well. And you know, to top that off, you’re wearing a different costume every couple of weeks and you’re in a different time period or on a different planet, so essentially that’s one of the things that keeps it the most fresh is that each episode has a kind of different feel to it, so where the arc is Bill and the Doctor and how they relate to each other, and Nardole [Matt Lucas] as well, that sort of goes across the whole season. You have sort of each episode is sort of its own kind of exciting adventure.
Do you feel any extra pressure knowing it’s Peter Capaldi’s final season, and you’re kind of being introduced as he’s leaving?
I don’t know. I’ve not really thought of it in terms of extra pressure. For me, I just feel so happy that I got to work with him. I mean you know, Peter’s such a wonderful actor and such a lovely man to work with, and his Doctor is fantastic, and I think the dynamic between 12 and Bill is fantastic, I just feel really lucky that I got to work with him.
Doctor Who premieres Saturday, April 15 at 9 p.m. on BBC America.