Doctor Who is not just returning on April 15 after a lengthy hiatus but returning with a brand new companion for the Doctor — and as actress Pearl Mackie has now revealed, she’ll be the first openly gay companion since the show premiered 54 years ago.
"[Being gay] is not the main thing that defines her character,” Mackie told the BBC of her character, Bill Potts. “It's something that's part of her and something that she's very happy and very comfortable with."
Gay and bisexual characters have cropped up throughout this century’s Doctor Who revival since its debut in 2005, most notably bisexual space pirate Jack Harkness, who later anchored his own spinoff in Torchwood. But this still marks the first time the Doctor’s stalwart companion will be anything other than straight. And because of how Doctor Who has written its companions in the past few years, the fact that Bill is gay may change the dynamic of the show in more ways than one.
The companion is a key character — usually female — who often stumbles into the Doctor’s famed Tardis spaceship and falls in love with the endless adventures that come from traveling through time and space, and/or with the Doctor, who makes such incredible things possible. Recent companions have included actors like Billie Piper (Penny Dreadful), Freema Agyeman (Sense8), Jenna Coleman (Victoria), and Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy). Most of these companions have had cheeky flirtations with the Doctor in between battling alien threats — but that will obviously not be the case with Bill Potts.
For her part, Mackie told the BBC that she’s excited to join an iconic series that’s launched so many careers, and to play a woman who will immediately be a new kind of companion in the sprawling Doctor Who universe.
"I remember watching TV as a young mixed-race girl not seeing many people who looked like me, so I think being able to visually recognize yourself on screen is important,” Mackie said.
“It shouldn't be a big deal in the 21st century,” she continued. “It's about time, isn't it?"
Doctor Who and its new spinoff Class premiere April 15 at 9 pm and 10 pm EST (respectively) on BBC America.