I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes for Pearl Mackie’s new Doctor Who companion Bill.
When she first appeared in a specially-filmed scene to announce her casting last May, she grated on me a little. Her jokes about Daleks were a little too knowing, her voice a bit exaggerated, and further appearances from the character in series 10 trailers did little to allay my fears that she could be an over-the-top and slightly irritating addition to the series. I wasn’t alone in that hypothesis.
But now I’ve seen the character in action for Doctor Who series 10’s first episode, The Pilot, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Writer Steven Moffat has made Bill funny (“I fatted her,” she ruefully remarks of one overfed conquest), self-deprecating (she comments that she hates her face, which is “always doing expressions when I’m tryna be enigmatic”), and in a first for the series she’s actually tuned into science-fiction, recognising the tropes that surround her as she’s dragged into a weird and wonderful adventure with the Doctor.
“You don’t think anyone’s seen a movie – I know what a mind wipe looks like!” she snaps in one of many amusingly meta moments during the episode.
Still, this pop-culture awareness doesn’t mean Bill is blasé about the Doctor’s world – far from it. As has been reiterated by Moffat and the cast for several months, Bill is a complete newcomer to the Time Lord’s universe, bringing a new outlook and a big heart to his adventures in a way that feels like a breath of fresh air for the increasingly elderly series.
The first look at Pearl Mackie as Bill last May – this scene appears in series 10 episode 1 in heavily edited form
Of course, none of her good qualities would matter if Bill didn’t mesh with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor – so it’s great to see the pair enjoy an instant chemistry from the off, demonstrating a kind of father/daughter bond (emphasised in the episode by some pointed shots of a photo of
the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan Foreman) that’s a sharp contrast from Capaldi’s interactions with ex-companion Jenna Coleman.
More than anything, Bill reminds me of Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler back when the series was first rebooted in 2005 (and this might not be a coincidence given that Mackie’s character is rumoured to have been named after the original New Who companion) – a sweet young woman pottering along in a mundane and dreary life whose curiosity and intelligence inspire a strange man with a time machine to take her on adventures – and frankly, it’s just good fun to watch.
Sure, Bill’s not perfect. Some of her dialogue is still a bit cheesy, her home life isn’t that sketched out yet and the traditional Doctor-companion introductory banter is starting to lose its charm (yes, there’s another variation on someone not-quite-saying “It’s bigger on the inside!”). But she’s a great addition to the series, and I’m happy to report that fellow doubters should give Bill a second chance.
Maybe last May I judged Bill too quickly based on limited evidence, or perhaps the ensuing months have allowed cast and crew to get a better grasp on the character (notably, the preview scene that introduced her character is significantly cut down in the finished episode, eliminating some of the more jarring one-liners).
Either way, when she first appears on screens this Saturday 15th April, Bill Potts is well worth your time (and space). Trust a convert.
Doctor Who returns to BBC1 on Saturday 15th April