GeekPlanetOnline's resident Doctor Who Correspondent Martin Thompson takes a deeper look at the adventures of a mad man in a box, along with his friends, foes and fandom. With over fifty years of rubber monsters, changing faces, dented police boxes, exterminations and pointed goatees to look at, he has more than a few things to say on the subject...
John Nathan-Turner, producer of Doctor Who during the 1980s, was a bit of a showman who always had his eye on getting all the publicity he could for the show. Doubtless, were he still alive, he would have been impressed and maybe a bit puzzled by the way that new Doctors and companions are announced in the early 21st century. Matt Smith was announced via a special Doctor Who Confidential, Peter Capaldi had a whole three-ring circus with Zoë Ball and a studio audience for his unveiling but perhaps the strangest was reserved for the latest companion, Bill, at half-time during Match of the Day.
The thrilling duel between Everton and Manchester United in an FA Cup semi-final mostly passed me by as it probably did most of the other Who fans tuning in like we had been forced to participate in sports day. In this day and age, though, most probably had their phones and other devices set to ping whenever the Internet was set alight with the news and the new actor’s name was furiously typed into Google. So how would the new companion be produced? Brought onto the field to wave at the crowd like an American football game or facing an uncomfortable interview on the sofa with Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer? It almost has a retro feel about it like it’s something that would have happened back in the 1970s. Imagine Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen in a very brown interview room where everyone has a cigarette on the go. Although in those days it would more likely to have been one of the kids Saturday morning magazine shows which have sadly disappeared from our screens in favour of cookery. How about flashing the name around the pitch? Could it have been William Hill or Bud Weiser?
Now, one thing that will always be a hallmark of Steven Moffat’s tenure is the number of short videos there have been, from prequels and season openers to quick gags and it’s in this format that the new companion has thankfully been introduced. We open on the Doctor and companion fleeing from the Daleks. They stop and she takes the chance to question him about his oldest enemies in another fun piece of Moffat dialogue. Suddenly they’re cornered and a caption comes up “Introducing Pearl Mackie as Bill”. The video, Friend from the Future, can be watched here.
So who is Pearl Mackie? She was born in Brixton, London in 1988 and graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 2010. A cursory glance over the Wikipedia page reveals that her TV and film work so far has been sparse with a role in 2013 musical comedy film Svengali, short film Date Aid, a music video and an episode of daytime medical drama Doctors under her belt. Pearl is mainly a theatre actress and is currently in the stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre in London. A fresh face (to us couch potatoes anyway) is certainly welcome.
There’s little word yet on what sort of character Bill will be although from first look she’s a modern young woman which has no doubt angered those areas of the internet who wanted the new companion to be from the past or future or an alien/robot/alien robot/bloke/koala-fish mutant bird and will be flouncing away before a single full story has been broadcast. Keeping with the past though, Bill’s style seems very 80s (I think I had a denim jacket like that too) although I expect it’s probably a case of it coming back into fashion. How about that name too? Could this be another of the Capaldi era’s callbacks to the First Doctor? William Hartnell himself was affectionately known as ‘Bill’ or ‘Billy’ plus there was also William ‘Ian Chesterton’ Russell, one of the first companions. You could also throw in a reference to the first companion of the modern era, Billie Piper, who played Rose Tyler. Mackie herself has said that Bill is “cool, strong, sharp, a little bit vulnerable with a bit of geekiness thrown in". It’s also unknown whether she will make her début in this year’s Christmas special or series 10 in 2017.
Best of luck to Pearl Mackie as she steps into that big, blue box. A life changing adventure awaits!