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SDCC ’17: Of Time Lords and Cybermen with Doctor Who’s Pearl Mackie

Photos: BBC/BBC Worldwide

The time has come… after three seasons, Peter Capaldi has completed his final turn as The Doctor in the BBC’s premiere series. In 12 extraordinary episodes during series 10, the Time Lord became reacquainted with the light and strength – and occasional stubbornness – humanity exhibits through his latest companion Bill Potts, played by Pearl Mackie.

A tough, confident and excitedly inquisitive companion, Bill gave The Doctor plenty to think about – even when he didn’t ask for her opinion. Their relationship was a welcome change of pace after the lofty story arcs involving Clara Oswald and Amy Pond. Bill figuratively brought The Doctor back to earth; while she learned there was far more to life than she realized, Potts taught The Doctor the smallest things truly matter.

After Bill’s harrowing final adventure involving her getting a hole in her chest, trapped inside a hospital for years and eventually becoming the prototype for the Mondasian Cybermen, Potts suffered a great deal in “World Enough and Time” and “The Doctor Falls”. Nevertheless, Mackie was eager to take on such dark subject matter.

I thought it was, objectively, a stroke of genius. I thought it’s such a clever way to explore the genesis of the Cybermen. Bill is essentially is the first one. I think that makes every other encounter with the Cybermen much more of an emotional experience for The Doctor, looking back on it. But as an actress, I was like “This is gonna be quite tough!” You get to know the character… the more you get to play them, the more you explore throughout the episodes, you get to know “OK, I guess this is how she’d handle this”… you know, explore the dynamics.

You try to draw parallels in your own life. “How would I be if this person died? How would I react to this?” I mean, I’ve never been put through a blender! You know? So I was like “iiiiiiiidontreallyknowhowtodealwiththat!” [laughs] Obviously you have the dynamic that she doesn’t know that this has happened to her! She still thinks that she’s her! That was one of the most heartbreaking scene to me, when I read that. This is… it’s a lot! It’s sort of someone telling you that you’re already dead. How do you deal with that? I don’t even know how to deal with that, is the answer.

As an actress I like to be challenged. It was definitely a challenge!

One of the largest and oldest fandoms around, Whovians have proven themselves to be fairly open-minded fans given the fluid nature of Doctor Who’s eccentric story lines and constant transitions in cast and crew. For Pearl, her reception by the massive fan base has been an astounding journey.

For me, I think it is incredible! This has been my first experience of fandom in such force. And I think it is an amazing thing. Fandom as a whole, I think, is incredible. It’s a great way for individuals to connect with people on the other side of the world, through common ground. It’s such a great thing, through your love of something to be connected to so many other people. I think that’s fantastic. The fact that, you know, this amazing fandom has embraced Bill so much is phenomenal! You know, the fan art and all the cosplay and everything like that… the messages and stuff that I get… it’s incredible! I’m really pleased that they like Bill as much as I do, really.

One of Mackie’s greatest takeaways from her time on series 10 was the opportunity of enact the fantastical stories the Who writing staff whipped up from their unexampled imaginations.

I find Steven [Moffat] and the way he creates things – all of the writers, really – very funny. And they all really seem to get Bill, and really, really get to her. Especially with that with the Pope [in “Extremis”]. I loved filming those bits. It’s so fun to be, like, completely outrageous and something so unfathomable in real life. That’s just brilliant! Such a stroke of genius! It’s so good, right! I love it!

Ultimately, Mackie’s run as Bill on Doctor Who opened the Time Lord’s eyes (despite being momentarily blind) to a perspective seldom explored through his modern companions. For Pearl, she hopes her experience on the program not only entertained viewers but created a new wrinkle in The Doctor’s worldview, so to speak.

I’d like her to be remembered fondly. I really like her to be remembered for everything she pushed The Doctor on. A lot of the topics that she was kind of like “I’m not just gonna accept that answer, I’m gonna ask why, I wanna know more about it”. I do think she really challenged him on a lot of things. And she also got turned into a Cyberman, so I feel like that’s a pretty big one.

Although it was revealed during the packed Hall H panel that Mackie will return as Bill in the Christmas Special, it’s unclear how she will reunite with The Doctor after “The Doctor Falls”. In the meantime, Mackie isn’t adverse to committing to a Who spin-off of her own.

Bill and Heather’s Excellent Adventures? [laughs] Yeah! Sounds good to me! Hey, producers! If you’re watching [laughs] CALL ME!

Pearl Mackie – along with Peter Capaldi, David Bradley and Mark Gatiss – will be seen again in the Doctor Who 2017 Christmas Special, on BBC America.

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About Rexlor Graymond (436 Articles)
Rex Graymond is 24.6kg tripolymer composite, 11.8kg beryllium-nickel-titanium alloy. Constructed in Northern California. Loves comics and films almost as much as pancakes. ALMOST.
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