Pearl of Wisdom | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Pearl of Wisdom

TV Critics Todd Waugh Ambridge and Lucy McCann report from the MCM Birmingham Comic Con as The Doctor’s latest companion took to the stage to talk about her time with the show and answer fan questions

Pearl Mackie has fast become a Doctor Who-fan favourite. Her character, Bill, was incredibly relatable to many young adults: naïve, determined, defensive, open-minded, protective and eager-to-learn. Everyone saw a bit of themselves in the curious, down-to-earth Bill Potts – including Mackie herself.

‘When I read the script for the audition, I didn’t feel like there was much that I had to do. I read it and I was like: I know this girl,’ she told the crowd of Birmingham’s MCM Comic Con last month. ‘I understood her, and perhaps that is because we have some similarities, similar energy… we look very similar, as well.’

Of course, this being the cosplay heaven that is Comic Con, she wasn’t the only one: ‘It’s really nice that people want to dress up as Bill. I think her clothes are really cool so it’s really nice to see people dressing up as her.’

Peter Capaldi, The Doctor himself, came to see her play
When Mackie first got the role as Bill, she was performing on the West End. She told the crowd of fans about the time just after she got the role… when Peter Capaldi, The Doctor himself, came to see her play. ‘I’m waiting backstage to go on for Act 2 and [I find out] Peter Capaldi’s in the audience! I did the second half of the show in a complete daze, wandering around and seeing if I could spot him in the audience…’ This was still when Mackie couldn’t tell anyone she had landed the iconic role – only her, Capaldi and a small number of cast and crew knew. ‘He came backstage afterwards and said “Congratulations!”, and I was like, “Thank you.” I just wanted to leave, that was very strange.”

Mackie is clearly in her element at Comic Con: she’s happy, excited, a little bit nervous – just like Bill really. She continued with another anecdote about trying to keep her casting a secret. ‘Oh my god, it was so, so hard. Particularly with getting [my friends] around to watch the announcement because it was on in the middle of the football,’ she pauses, ‘And I don’t watch football! My friends were like “Why are you inviting us around for the half-time of the football – this is weird!” I just had to say, “Just come around, bring some prosecco and don’t ask any questions.”

Fans such as myself were incredibly disappointed to learn that Mackie wouldn’t be returning next year. But at least her character got a happy ending. “I thought it was nice that Bill got a happy ending and [didn’t] remain inside a Cyberman! Going and traveling the universe with a girl that she had a soft spot for; I thought that was a really nice way of ending it and it made the series feel quite cyclical.”

However, marketing has shown that Bill will be returning in the Christmas special – though how substantial her role is has not been confirmed yet. Mackie kept very tight-lipped on the festive special: ‘I can’t tell you anything… there will be snow.’ Of course, any Doctor Who fan worth their salt will know that’s a pretty big spoiler anyway.

Mackie was over the moon to learn she’d be returning for the Christmas special, "Twice Upon A Time" – who wouldn’t be? ‘I didn’t know I was going to be back for Christmas. I thought that was going to be the end and then they [asked me if I wanted to be] in the Christmas special and I was like: “Well, yeah, do I want to be on TV on Christmas Day where I can watch with my whole family and it’s one of the biggest shows in British television? Yes please.”’ The audience laughed along with Mackie; it’s impossible not to. ‘It’s a lovely story. It’s a great adventure. I think you guys are going to really like it.’ And then, in true Pearl Mackie fashion, ‘I hope you do anyway. I do, so, you know… take from that what you will.’

Personally, I can’t wait.

Audience Q&A 

Would you do Big Finish [the audio book production company]? 

Would I do Big Finish? I don't know, what do you think? Maybe. Why not? I wouldn't have anything against it, so sure.

Was the role of Bill what you expected it to be or where you expecting it to be more light hearted? 

I don't know, that's a good question actually. I think... I mean I like a bit of drama, I said that earlier, and I think it's nice to play some high-stake situations. But I think we got a bit of lightheartedness in there, and I mixture between the two, like we were saying is what creates a really rounded character. For an actress, for myself that was what was such a joy to play. You get to have the funny moments, you get to have the silly questions, you know, you get to be challenging and upbeat and fun. But you still get the really heartbreaking, you know, about to die, that kind of thing. It's great fun to play. I also think it has to, you know, the light hearted mess has to add to the dramatic moments, so you know...

Were you shocked that it wasn't as lighthearted as other companions? So some of the content is quite dark... Would you have traded for a more lighthearted, and lengthy tenure? 

I wouldn't trade the dramatic and dark series for a lengthy tenure
Nope. Definitely not, I wouldn't trade the dramatic and dark series for a lengthy tenure. Hit them hard and then get out! Like I said I really enjoy the dramatic, and I enjoy that. I would much rather have an epic one series [run] than a fluffier two series.

Do you think that Bill would get friendlier with the 13th Doctor?

I mean, I'm not going to say no. She's a very nice to look at, is Jodie Whittaker. I mean who knows? What do you think? Well, as I said she is easy on the eye.

If you were to do Big Finish, which companion would like to do an episode with? 

Nardole! You know, get the team back together. A bit more Nardie!



Do you find TV acting or theatre acting easier?

Easier? I don't think... there's nothing easy about either of them. I'm still finding both of them quite challenging. I think there are different elements of being on stage and being on TV that are more challenging, for example on stage you need to remember all of your lines and there's no room for error. Whereas on TV, you can say “Oh, what's my line?” and you can do it again. But then on TV you need to maintain the intensity, 25, 30 times. Like the scene when Bill's getting attacked by the zombies, asphyxiating, that sort of thing, you know 25 times in one morning. On stage, you don't have that, and you're building tension throughout the play, and then you perform it once a night, and then, you can carry on your journey. But yeah, I don't think either one of them is very easy.

Peter Capaldi is amazing, but if there was any previous Doctor that you would do an episode with, which one would you pick? 

I don't know. I think all of them are amazing. I think maybe Matt Smith. I met him recently, he's just so fun and so energetic, that I think his Doctor and Bill would have quite a bouncy time together. (Jokingly) Not like that! You lot calm down!

There are some actors and actresses that left the programme for the ear of being typecast, what are your thoughts on that? 

With a show like Doctor Who, there's so much variety, one episode you're on a different planet, and the next you're in Victorian London
Yeah, I mean, being typecast is definitely a thing that happens. I don't know, I feel like I get typecast as Bill, then that's probably not too bad, because she is quite similar to me. So although I don't always want to be the same character... I think with a show like Doctor Who, there's so much variety, you know, one episode you're on a different planet, talking to emoji robots, and the next you're in Victorian London, wearing all the Victorian get up. So within that there's a lot of room for being to see you.. I mean you may still be typecast, but people will still see you in different lights. I mean as we were saying earlier, the light and the dark that you get from things like Doctor Who, I think it's quite hard to typecast on the back of that. Or at least that's what I'm hoping.

Did you watch Class and were you upset that it didn't get another series? 

Yeah I did watch Class and I was upset it didn't get another series! We used to hang out quite a lot, back in Cardiff, in the little crossover time that we had. I think they're all great actors and they'll definitely go on to do wonderful things.

Do you ever think about going into film or movies? And what genre would you do? 

Yeah, if they'll have me, then why not? I mean there's some great movies being made, but I think there's some great TV being made. The thing is in our time, at the moment, there are some quite incredible things being made and they are coming from TV. So yeah I'd love to do some TV and movies. I'm about to do another play, so I'm lucky enough to work across the mediums for the rest of my career, then I'll be very happy.

What was your favourite episode of series 10? 

PM: I don't know, I always get really pressured by the word “favourite”. Do you mean my favourite one to film? Because it was probably episode 8, because my costume was really comfy. Wearing a boiler suit, and running around in boots was pretty cool. I liked that. But then the finale, I liked both of those, the scenes with Bill and Razor in the hospital were so heartbreaking, once you realized that he was the Master and trying to make you into a Cyberman. I also loved episode 1... All of them, just all of them! I'm sorry, but I just can't choose! I feel like I forget most of them when I do favorites, they were all my favorite! I'm sorry, that' s really indecisive of me.

What was your favorite villain? 

Well it wasn't the Cybermen, they weren't very nice to me. What was my favorite villain? Probably the Monks. They were so creepy, with the long fingers and their rotting flesh... they scared me.

Apart from Doctor Who, what is your favorite TV series? 

I just finished watching Stranger Things 2, which I thought was good. A lot more kissing then I was expecting. I'm a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's probably one of my favorite series ever.

If you could reinterpret the Doctor, how would you do it? 

I think the Doctor is such an interesting character, he's so enigmatic and there's so many facets of his character that you could pick up on
As in if I was to play the Doctor, how would I do it? Hopefully, very well. I don't know, that's a challenging question. I think the Doctor is such an interesting character, he's so enigmatic and there's so many facets of his character that you could pick up on. I think it depends on the storyline that I was given... I really don't know. I think I would have to give it a lot of thought. It would be quite surreal. There's so much of his character, you could be quite different or you could go quite classic. I think the dichotomy that makes him such an interesting character. Hopefully, I could express all of those things in my portrayal.

Would you like to be a part of any over franchises apart from Doctor Who, like Marvel

Oh, yeah, I mean why not? I think Marvel is sick. The new Star Trek is pretty great. I mean, again, it would depend on the character that I would play. I would love to do something in another franchise, but it would have to be the right character to sit well within that franchise for me to make any good of it, you know?

Do you have tips for stage fright? 

Stage fright is a difficult thing. We always do a warm up before we go on stage, like breathing and make sure that your body is all flexible. So stench yourself out and warm up your voice, which is always good. Because a lot of the time when stage fright happens, with singing or with speaking, it can make sure your voice is constricted, because that's what the fear does. If your voice is warmed up, then that muscle is relaxed, and it's easier for you to overcome it. So yeah, I would say keep warmed up and make sure you're really well rehearsed. Before you go on stage, with anything you've got to say, you don't want be winging it. And also one thing to remember whenever you're on stage is that everyone wants you to do as well as you want to do. So I mean no one wants to see you mess up, everyone wants you to do the best version of your performance, or your play, that you can do. Or if you think of it like that, that you're all in it together, then it's not you against them, you're all on the same team.



15th December 2017 at 9:00 am

Images from

Metro, Radio Times, The Doctor Who Companion and Todd Waugh Ambridge