The greatest export England has – “Doctor Who” – is getting ready to release the tenth season of its latest incarnation. There are two things about the tenth series that are going to be really, really important. First of all: this is Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor’s final full season (he will also be appearing in the Christmas Special, which will be his final adventure to air), and the show is introducing a new companion. Fans don’t know a lot about this new companion yet, but we do already know that she is going to be a game changer: Bill Potts will be played by Pearl Mackie and she will be the first openly queer companion! Finally!
To the show’s credit, they have featured openly queer characters before, including Jack Harkness (played by queer actor John Barrowman), Madame Vastra, and her wife Jenny Flint. Still, these people have always been in positions of support to the leading man of all of time and space.
In addition to the inclusion of more LGBTQIA+ characters, under Steven Moffat it has become canon that the race of aliens the Doctor comes from – the Galifreyans – are not only considered pansexual, but when they “regenerate” they get the choice of the body they want to appear in and often switch genders, exploring all manners of partners they elect to spend their time with.
Now, it is worth noting that, to date, we have only seen cisgendered male and female Timelords. The most obvious examine of this is the current incarnation of The Master – best friend and classic foe to the Doctor – who is currently played by Michelle Gomez and calling herself “Missy.” The Doctor even has husbands, wives and lovers in common with his most famous wife – River Song.
But companions are an entirely different beast. Companions are the characters that offer a point-of-view entryway for the viewer. They are obvious analogues for all of us. “Doctor Who” has made strides to keep their companions more inclusive in an effort to fold in as many viewers from all walks of life as possible, but recently they have been overwhelmingly white and straight.
As a queer woman of color Bill Potts is singular in “Doctor Who” companion canon. Her very existence is an acknowledgement from both “Doctor Who” and the BBC of just how wide their audience is today. In light of the fact that England is a country often viewed as conservative – especially in the this post-Brexit world – it is a big move toward national inclusion that they have one of their most popular fictional properties star a queer character.
Moffat has come under significant fire over the course of his career (and with his work on “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” in particular), for queerbaiting, whitewashing and misogyny. When examined all together this litany of criticism can easily be looked at as the blueprint for Bill Potts’ character that she will – hopefully – be able to transcend as she develops into a well-rounded person over the course of series 10. Again, hopefully, this new companion is an indication of an influential creator opening his eyes to the ever evolving world around him and audience of his shows.
When Doctor Who was conceived in 1963 (the same year that Avengers #1 was published in the United States), it was designed to be an educational show. To inform the audience about complex ideas or theories and encourage them to open their minds to ideas beyond their comprehension. Having the companion being a queer woman of color offers her – and the show at large – a unique opportunity to make a return to the idea of teaching. They can teach the audience what our contemporary view of “normal” should be and how often it is more complex than it may appear on the surface.
All of this puts Bill Potts on an important pedestal before the character has even made her onscreen debut. There are many complex expectation placed on her fictional shoulders and – to quote the Doctor from series nine – “a duty of care” that befalls all the people working on her development. From both inside and outside the LGBTQIA+ community, Bill is going to have something to prove, while also poised with the ability to reshape the way some people thing. Everyone from showrunner (Steven Moffat), to the actor portraying Bill (Pearl Mackie), shares in this burden of shaping this integral character into everything that she needs to be.