Pearl Mackie was announced as Bill, the new Doctor Who Companion, at 1 p.m. Eastern on April 23. Mackie, a British actress known for her role on the West End’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, replaces fan favorite Jenna Coleman, who left the show after serving as Companion to the eleventh (David Tennant) and Twelfth (Matt Smith) Doctors. Mackie will join the long-running British sci-fi series later this year, but her episodes will not premiere until 2017.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She’s Performed on the West End & in Minor Onscreen Roles
Mackie’s first professional role was in Svengali, a 2013 British film. She then had a small role in the BBC soap opera Doctors, playing a love interest of main character Mandy Marquez for one episode. She won a lead role in the West End production of Obama-Ology by Aurin Squire, playing an East Cleveland campaign volunteer for the titular American President. Before being tapped for Doctor Who, she was in London’s West End theater district performing in a revival of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Paul Taylor described her performance in Obama-Ology as “terrific” for The Guardian:
Although the satire is not quite stinging enough and gets a little repetitive, it offers an entertaining insight into how hard it is to effect real change, and how political campaigns say they value people but are only interested in votes. Tommo Fowler’s production has plenty of dash despite an obvious lack of cash. The ensemble are also terrific, particularly Pearl Mackie as Cece and Caits, two young women finding their voice.
2. She Was Chosen after a “Massive” Search
More than NUMBER actresses were considered for the role of the new Companion, with the search lasting nearly six months before SURNAME “appeared” in the new Companion teaser trailer shown above. Showrunner Steven Moffat described the hunt to Enstarz:
I’m still [in] the quite early stages [of casting]-but very clear on the change we’re going to make to the tone of the show,” the showrunner told Digital Spy. “Because the tone of the show is so driven by what we call the companion, it’s so driven by that. It’s not just casting a supporting character. It’s not. It’s the lead or the co-lead, and it will become their story. So, it’s a huge, massive thing.
Peter Capaldi, who plays the Thirteenth Doctor, told interviewers in January that the search would involve a meeting with him, and cryptically hinted that the new Companion would be “different.” Other names mentioned for the role include Rakhee Thakrar of BBC’s Eastenders and Maisie Williams of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
3. Mackie’s Companion Will Be “Wicked”
Speaking to Cultbox, Mackie described her Companion character, Bill:
Reading the script at the audition I thought Bill was wicked. Fantastically written, cool, strong, sharp, a little bit vulnerable with a bit of geekiness thrown in – I can’t wait to bring her to life, and to see how she develops through the series.
Dr. Who showrunner Steven Moffat described the new Companion in Mexican media while the casting search was going on:
I think the companion has to be someone who’s not so impressed by the Doctor – she’s not an assistant, she’s not a servant, she can’t be that. She has to be someone who really says, ‘Are you sure that’s the right thing to do? What are you doing?’ and also doesn’t take him seriously.
This will be nothing new for the show, whose last two Companions (James Corden’s Craig Owens and Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald) are described in fan media as “strong-willed” and “a very feisty, brave, clever and warm-hearted young lady,” respectively.
4. She’s the First Non-White Companion Since 2007
Although the BBC claims that black actors have been offered the title role, Bill will make history as the first non-white person to inhabit either of the show’s central roles since Freema Agyeman left in 2007. Diversity has been a sticking point for the show in the past, with showrunner Steven Moffat often squaring off with audiences on the issue:
I don’t know why I’m the one who gets the grief for this. I’m the one who put the dialogue into the show to say it can happen.
Do you know how it will happen? It will not happen that somebody sits down and says we must turn the Doctor into a woman. That is not how you cast the Doctor.
A person will pop into the showrunner’s head and they’ll think. ‘Oh, my God, what if it was that person?’ And when that person is a woman, that’s the day it will happen.
On the other hand, latest Doctor Peter Capaldi spoke in support of more diversity on the show:
The thing about Doctor Who is, it’s at its best when it reflects the culture and the times that it’s in. Because it’s a very successful show, sometimes it just digs its own groove of success, and I think it’s time for us to be more recognizable as being in the 21st century.
5. She ‘Loves Stage Combat’ & Speaks Three Languages
In her first post at the official Doctor Who blog, Mackie described her excitement for the role’s action scenes:
I always loved stage combat at drama school so I can’t wait to get on set and kick some evil monsters into the next dimension!
Shooting the trailer was absolutely mental, there were pyrotechnics and smoke and I met my first Dalek! I’m not sure it will ever become ‘the norm’ seeing crazy monsters on set, but I cannot wait to meet some more! The weirder the better, bring it on!
The blog also highlighted some of her talents in the introductory post, noting that she was fluent in French and Spanish as well as English, dances in four different styles and is a performing singer as well as an actress. While the show’s blog wasn’t clear if it would utilize these talents, it has taken advantage of performers’ skill sets in the past, as when Peter Capaldi played guitar during a 2015 episode.