EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was originally published October 21, 2016, following the Doctor Who presentation at New York Comic Con.
Things move fast in the world of “Doctor Who.” Last April, BBC announced Pearl Mackie would be joining the long-running sci-fi series as the Doctor’s latest companion, Bill. And a few action-packed months later, the English ingénue journeyed with the show’s lead Peter Capaldi and showrunner/executive producer Steven Moffat to New York Comic-Con to BBC America’s packed “Doctor Who” panel in Madison Square Garden’s theater.
But before they took the stage, Mackie, Capaldi and Moffat sat down with CBR in a pair of roundtable interviews to tell us a bit about Bill, the upcoming Christmas Special, and what to look forward to in Season 10.
To begin, we asked Mackie to tell us the show’s mysterious new companion. “Bill herself is very smart. Her brain works very quickly,” she answered with a broad smile. “She’s very quick-witted, and sometimes that can get her into a bit of trouble. She doesn’t always think before she speaks. She goes with her instincts, which I think is interesting for the Doctor.”
Mackie demurred from giving details on Bill’s background or how she comes to meet the Doctor, offering only, “You kind of find out in episode one.” But she did share that Bill is a “normal girl” who really loves science-fiction. So when she’s introduced to the Doctor, “She’s like, ‘Whoa! This is real.'”
“She’s really fascinated with the way his brain works,” Mackie added. “With all of his experience traveling through space and time, he brings a really interesting perspective that you don’t see in people you meet every day. In turn, he’s quite interested in the way that her brain works, in the way that she reacts to things. She’s quite governed by her instincts. And when he shows her this world, she doesn’t react in the way that he would always expect. Which is something that I think is really lovely for him, to see his world and to see the things that he knows and loves and is familiar with through a new pair of eyes. I think that’s a nice dynamic.”
She was also quick to praise her co-star, saying of Capaldi, “He’s so lovely. And obviously he’s a brilliant actor, we all know that. But he’s so wonderful as well.”
In a separate interview, Capaldi reflected back his co-star’s admiration. “The great thing about Pearl and about the character that she plays is that both of them are totally new to the ‘Doctor Who’ world. Unlike Clara, who had a sort of intrinsic plot to the Doctor’s timeline, Bill comes from the real world. So the whole ‘Doctor Who’ universe has to be introduced to her, which reminds you of how fabulous it is, what a fabulous idea it is, this person traveling around time and space in a police box that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. It’s been fun, because the essential idea of ‘Doctor Who’ is so powerful and allows you to do so much, but we rarely have to explain it. We get to explain some of the basic tenets of the show, which is nice.”
Mackie seemed sheepish to admit she hasn’t seen much of the series, confessing she’s caught a few of the ninth Doctor eps, as well as a few Christmas specials. But she explained, “It was kind of important for me to not have watched too much of previous companions. I mean, when you see good acting in an environment you know, it’s difficult not to emulate it. And I really didn’t want to do that with Bill. I wanted her to be completely fresh and coming at it from a completely new way, a new place. And Steven’s writing, the way (Bill is) written… it’s very bouncy. I was like, ‘If I’m getting that, if I watch too much of this stuff before hand, I might lose a bit of that.’ And I don’t want to. That’s important to her, so I thought I’d keep that.”
But Bill isn’t the only change coming for the Twelfth Doctor. Capaldi teased, “The great thing about playing Doctor Who is, you actually have a whole life cycle. So you can start off quite being born, in Season 1 and not quite knowing who you are and struggling to find who you are. And then find who you are and you discover, ‘Oh, I’m good with this. This is quite fun. I like this character,’ and then you discover there’s more to ‘Doctor Who’ than you thought. The important thing about Doctor Who is there’s always a mystery to him. There’s always a Doctor Who you don’t know, because he’s alien, he’s not a human being. So, I think we’re going to see some more of his alienness.”
The Scottish star also declared season 10 will be a real treat for “hardcore” fans of the Whoniverse. He explained, “The stories have been so strong. We’ve only done four so far. But… they’re hardcore ‘Doctor Who’ stories. We have a new companion, who is being shown the whole of time and space by someone who is excited about showing her it, and taking her to dangerous places where surprising and nasty things happen. And that’s always a nice place to be. So we go to the future. We’ve just done a really very, very creepy one. That’s one of the great things about ‘Doctor Who,’ you can go from this huge, futuristic alien city to a whole episode that happens in one house in a nasty piece of town, which is what we’ve just done. And it’s totally driven by the performances and a specific new monster that holds the whole thing together. So I’m really really excited about how hardcore the stories are.”
“But at the same time,” Capaldi noted, “You don’t have to watch 50 years of ‘Doctor Who’ to watch any of these episodes. As Steven says, ‘Every episode is episode one.”
Moffat agreed, explaining how Bill’s perspective of the Doctor, his TARDIS and sonic screwdriver would be the same as newcomers to the series. Mackie concurred, saying, “The audience is kind of with Bill. She sees everything through their eyes. She asks those iconic questions, like those questions that haven’t been asked for a while. So you don’t need prior knowledge.” So those friends of yours who’ve been on the fence about giving “Doctor Who” a go? Tell them to tune in for Season 10.
But ahead of that, the Doctor will first return in the Christmas special, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” which Capaldi compared to the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Asked if it’ll pack the emotional wallop of the “Doctor Who”s previous yuletide stunners, Moffat said, “We try to be emotional but drama is supposed to be!” He added that this special is one of the episodes he’s most proud of in his six years of running the series. “I haven’t even seen it cut together yet, but everyone seems so excited about that one. Even the weekly assemblies were great,” Moffat beamed. “I’m really keen to see it actually.”
“Doctor Who”s returns to BBC America this December with “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.” Season 10 will begin in the spring of 2017.