Capaldi, Mackie, and Moffat Talk the Doctor’s New Companion

Image: Karen Walsh
Image: Karen Walsh

With Christmas right around the corner, the countdown has begun… to the Doctor Who Christmas Special. As trailers start to hit the small screens, questions and speculations surrounding the newest companion and the future of the 12th Doctor abound. Back during NYCC, I had the absolute pleasure and squee-inducing joy of interviewing Peter Capaldi, Steven Moffat, and Pearl Mackie. Why am I just now sharing this? Because embargo, y’all, an embargo that almost made my entire body explode from containing it. With the Christmas Special on the horizon, now you get to know what I know.

Walking to our table, Mr. Capaldi reached out and shook everyone’s hands, asking our names. As we settled into the interview, he opened a bottle of Diet Coke and focused his blue eyes on each interviewer giving them his full attention. Mr. Moffat, seated next to him, leaned back comfortably, showing his sense of ease as the show’s writer. Ms. Mackie, new to both the show and New York City, exuded a delightful sense of wide-eyed excitement saying, “It all looks so familiar because I’ve seen it so many times on tv programs and films but I’m now really here. I’m actually in New York.” Her positive and energetic attitude gave a much-needed spark to the basement room.

Image: Karen Walsh
Image: Karen Walsh

Obviously, the first question on everyone’s minds would be how Bill will relate to Doctor Who. Bringing in a new companion to the show changes the dynamics and the atmosphere.

Mr. Moffat: The way it’s [the relationship] introduced and develops is quite unusual for us. I want that to be box fresh when it happens. It’s consciously patterned to be an entryway into the show. So episode 1 does the entire format of the show in much the way “An Unearthly Child” did back in the day and “Rose” did later. It’s really a jumping-on point. We really played the game of introducing someone to all the mad levels of what the Doctor is like. First you meet a mad man. Then you go into his mad box. Then you realize he has two hearts. So we’re really consciously doing that. But what makes it different is Pearl as Bill is so different from the other companions. She behaves, she talks, she acts differently. I don’t want to say too much. You saw a little glimpse of where we’re going with her, a slightly cartoonish version.

Ms. Mackie : In a way it’s kind of a chance to revitalize the series. Whenever a new companion comes in, it’s a chance for the audience to see it again through their eyes. There are new fans of the show because Bill’s completely new to the show, so they can come in again without anything and just questions that maybe haven’t been asked for ages as well. With the TARDIS, she discovers “it’s bigger on the inside” than it is on the outside, that kind of thing. But then also the nice thing about her is that she asks those questions that you would expect but she doesn’t necessarily react in the way you would expect. So it kind of gives you that iconic moment and then comes in with a fresh take as well.

From the interviews, it appears that these fresh views and new takes are going to be the driving force of the upcoming episodes and series.

Image: Karen Walsh
Image: Karen Walsh

When asked if Mr. Capaldi had given Ms. Mackie any wisdom as she steps into Doctor Who‘s internationally recognized program complete with its incredibly loyal fandom, both had different perspectives on the same interaction. Mr. Capaldi provided a humbled and slightly self-deprecating response. Ms. Mackie responded with a behind-the-scenes story showing how welcomed she felt.

Mr. Capaldi: Not really. I don’t really have any wisdom, and I still feel like the new Doctor. It’s a big organization, and any show that has this kind of international profile and is in some sense a brand, these are elements of things that actors aren’t used to dealing with. I tried to tell her what that person did and that person did and that person did. Because there’s a whole pilot of people you don’t normally see at work are there. She’s fabulous and doesn’t need any advice from me. My advice to myself generally is just don’t look down. Don’t be conscious of the scale of the show. Because, in fact, like most shows, it’s actually very intimate. The ideas, Stephen’s fabulous scripts, and ideas for the show have to be looked after. I often think that’s the great struggle is keeping the flame alive, when people say we’re running out of time or the monster’s not working, keeping that little flame alive.

Ms. Mackie: When we filmed the trailer, he gave me two cards and a little candle to welcome me. He told me, “This is all mad. It’s a big mad train. You get on it and enjoy it as much as you can. Here’s my number if you need anything give me a call.  I know it can get a bit crazy but don’t worry.”

In relation to things getting crazy, Ms. Mackie shared her excitement over the fan response to the first Doctor Who trailer, “It’s incredible for me. When the trailer was first released, within two hours, someone had cosplayed me already on Facebook, a guy. He was killing it. He had the afro, the jacket on. I don’t know where he got it, but I was like, ‘you’re doing it right.’ It’s been incredible for me. It’s so well-loved that there’s a little pressure but it feels like being welcomed into a family.”

As a Whovian, I analyze and theorize with the best of them. What consistently stands out to me is that although Bill is a female, her name is obviously not gender-feminine. Wondering whether this meant LGBTQIA inclusion, I asked about the importance of the name. However, this was one of the few areas where everyone got a bit sketchy. Mr. Minchin noted, “It’s like anywhere. We had an idea of who Bill would be. When Pearl came in we didn’t want to throw it away, so we created it from that. It’s far more than just the name.” Further probing as to whether Bill is a nickname elicited Ms. Mackie’s response, “Not as far as I know at this point.” Whovians, as Mr. Minchin noted proudly, are ones to take little details and scour for more answers. That Bill’s name is “far more than just the name” only provided more treasure for that intellectual hunt.

Keeping all of these hints and tidbits in mind, there are only a few more days until The Doctor returns.