DOCTOR WHO’s Pearl Mackie on Bill’s Reception and Season 10’s Social Relevance

Pearl Mackie had a lot of ground to cover when she joined Doctor Who for its 10th series, being the first new companion since 2013 as well as the last for Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi under exiting showrunner Steven Moffat. But Mackie’s Bill Potts has immediately solidified herself among fans for being distinctly normal and effortlessly heroic. Talking to Nerdist in advance of series 10’s seventh episode, “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” Mackie told us she definitely didn’t expect Bill to be received so well this quickly. “It’s been an amazing reception. I couldn’t have planned it better if I wrote the history of the world myself.”

Though Mackie wasn’t immediately sure whether Bill would be so graciously welcomed, the actress certainly knew the character had at least one fan. “To be honest, I really like her,” she said. “I think she’s great, and I think she’s very real. Which I think is a lot of the reason people identify with her. She’s not always right, she’s not always wrong. She’s very rounded as a person. I can understand when people say, ‘Oh that’s kind of how I’d react to it as well.’”

And truly, in relation to some of the previous, plot-point-dressed-as-people companions, Bill feels especially genuine. “She’s a very, very human, everyday girl,” Mackie said, “with a lot to offer, and a lot to give. But she’s never been able to unlock her potential until she meets the Doctor. And all of the potential that he possesses is so phenomenal. She’s so excited by it, and I think it’s very endearing watching her make her way through the world.”

The entire experience has been a bit of a workout for her. Mackie has had years of experience on the stage but had precious few film and television credits prior to getting the job on Doctor Who. Even having finished the series, she is still in awe of the sheer pace of the TV schedule. “I came off a [stage] show that I’d done for a year, so by the end of that I knew it inside out,” Mackie said. “One of the challenges [there] was keeping it fresh for us so it was fresh for the audience. So it was totally different coming onto a set with a hundred-plus crew members, and massive cameras often really close to your face, which I didn’t really know about before. I didn’t know how close they’d get.”

Mackie says the directors helped immensely with the possible fatigue of the lengthy shooting schedule. In 12 episodes, she got to work with six different directors and she said it was their fresh approaches that kept her energy high. “It’s quite nice because you get to the end of your block, and it’s been six weeks, and you’re quite tired and sort of used to…one particular way of working,” Mackie explained. “Which is great, but then you get this new director and they sort of bound in with loads more energy, and loads more ideas, and two new episodes.” She also said that having a better grasp of the character with each new recording block aided a lot as well. “I felt like I was starting fresh but I have a little bit more understanding of the character, and the way things worked each time we got a new person in.”

Part of what has made series 10 so exciting and interesting has been the way every episode seems to take on some issue or topic that is very relevant to the real world. From “ Thin Ice” condemning racism and classism, to “ Oxygen“‘s satire on rampant corporatism, to “ Extremis” depicting the divide between religion and belief, this series has been incredibly of the moment. And let’s not forget Bill herself being an out lesbian whose love life and dating foibles are on full display.

These things are obviously not lost on Pearl Mackie, but she says in order to keep her performance grounded, she can’t focus exclusively on theme. “I think, intellectually, you do draw parallels [to current climates] if you notice them,” she explained, “if they’re useful, and if they’re relevant. If that’s a good way for you to navigate through the scene, then that’s great. I always try to not, if I’ve noticed a particular parallel. I wouldn’t ever want to say something that would potentially affect someone else’s performance. Unless we’re sort of in an open forum. Because if someone else doesn’t see it that way, then that’s also completely fine. Every character has a different motivation in the scene, and in the episode, and, well, in life I would say.”

And she’s incredibly wary of relying on a particular read of a scene, for those very reasons. “I never want to be like, ‘Oh, that’s totally like this [thing in real life],’” she told us, “because it might not necessarily be like that for someone else. But that kind of discussion is always really healthy. We have quite a short amount of time to rehearse everything, so I think with a play, or with a film, I think you get a little bit more time to sort of discuss [bigger theme] stuff. But yeah I think sociopolitical kind of relevance is definitely apparent in the series.”

Series 10 of Doctor Who continues Saturday, May 27 with “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” airing at 9/8c on BBC America. How are you liking the series thus far? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: BBC America

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!

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