Pearl Mackie, who played beloved lesbian companion Bill Potts in Doctor Who, has opened up about the the importance of her character to the queer community.
Pearl Mackie’s one-season tenure as companion Bill Potts, opposite Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor in 2017, was a turning point for the long-running British sci-fi fantasy series, introducing the first openly LGBTQ+ companion with a queer love interest – Heather, played by Stephanie Hyam.
Six years on, the show is heralding a new era for queer representation. Alongside Russell T Davies returning as showrunner for the new series, LGBTQ+ icons such as Sex Education‘s Ncuti Gatwa, Heartstopper‘s Yasmin Finney and drag superstar Jinkx Monsoon are also joining the fold.
Now, in an interview with The Independent, Mackie has reflected on the importance of a character like Bill in a primetime TV show.
“When Bill was announced, it was quite a big deal for a lot of people,” she began. “I still get people who tell me that without Bill, they wouldn’t have been able to come out to their families or friends.”
These interactions with fans helped Mackie realise that although her social circles were filled “with lots of people open to queerness, or forcefully left-wing and open-minded”, this stance on LGBTQ+ acceptance was not “the general viewpoint” in the rest of the country.
“It’s really easy to forget that the world doesn’t always reflect that,” she continued.
Although Bill almost fell victim to the age-old ‘bury your gays’ trope after she was disturbingly converted into a Cyberman, her season finale took a wholesome turn after she was rescued by Heather and they both left to travel the universe together.
Bill wasn’t the last LGBTQ+ companion to face an unhappy ending.
During Jodie Whittaker’s stint as the 13th Doctor, long-term companion Yaz Khan (Mandip Gill) developed reciprocated feelings for the gender-bending Time Lord, and the pair ended up facing a considerably more miserable ending.
Mackie, who is engaged to Kam Chhokar, spoke with Digital Spy in May about her excitement for the upcoming series and her support for Gatwa, regardless of whether his Doctor ends up being explicitly queer.
“Casting Ncuti [Gatwa] as The Doctor is phenomenal,” she said at the time. “I don’t know how he’s going to do it. I don’t know if his character as The Doctor is going to be queer, but I feel like it’s such a progression.
“Bill was an out character, but I myself wasn’t out at the time. So I think whether or not they go down the queer route with the Doctor character, I think it’s just amazing that they cast him. He’s a phenomenal actor anyway, so I think he’s going to be brilliant.”
Mackie then praised the casting of rising trans star Yasmin Finney in the new series.
“I just think it’s brilliant,” she continued. “It really feels like a new era. I can’t wait to see what they do with it. I think it’s gonna be so fascinating to see where it goes. I mean, those pictures of them dressed in those ’60s outfits with Ncuti’s afro, I was like, ‘this is gonna be great’.”
Finney, who will play former companion Donna Noble’s daughter Rose in the upcoming 60th anniversary episodes, has echoed similar sentiments about her own groundbreaking character.
“If anyone would have told eight-year-old Yasmin that one day she’d be part of this iconic show, I would have never in a million years believed them,” she said in a statement after her casting announcement.
“This show has a place in so many people’s hearts, so to be seen as a trans actress by the legend himself Russell, has not only made my year, it’s made my life.”
Doctor Who returns to screens this November, with Gatwa taking up his role as the 15th Doctor over Christmas.