Yesterday came the news that the Doctor, a Time Lord who’s previously travelled with aliens, impossible girls and even robot dogs, will welcome his first openly gay full-time companion aboard the TARDIS.
Bill Potts, played by Pearl Mackie, is set to make her debut in Series 10’s opener ‘The Pilot’ in just over two weeks time – and though we’ve known she was joining the regular cast since April 2016, the BBC have only now confirmed that Bill is a lesbian character.
Alongside the announcement came a resounding message: ‘Bill’s gay and that shouldn’t matter.’ Pearl Mackie herself insisted ‘it shouldn’t be a big deal in the 21st Century. It’s about time isn’t it?’ It certainly is.
LGBT characters are now normalised on our TV screens – including within Doctor Who‘s wide array of supporting characters – even if it took the entertainment industry a little longer than it should’ve to catch up. So should the fact that the Doctor’s new companion is openly gay really be “newsworthy”?
Well, yes, in a word. It is newsworthy – it must be, because I’m choosing to write this article. In our current society, it’s a big deal for a homosexual character to lead one of the biggest shows in TV history, especially one with a primary audience of children and teenagers. Normalising different sexualities for even young children is an extremely positive step forward, and one Steven Moffat and his team should be proud of. The companion has always been our eyes and ears, coming into the Doctor Who world, a character to empathise and look towards in the crazy universe we’re introduced to.
But Bill isn’t really the first gay companion, I hear you cry! Of course, you’re thinking of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), the flirtatious and bisexual action hero that charmed viewers way back in Series 1 of Revived Who. Jack smashed the barrier of being Doctor Who‘s first prominent LGBT character, locking lips with the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) while chirpsing his companion Rose (Billie Piper) simultaneously. He’s so impressive that Doctor Who‘s own adult spin-off Torchwood was formulated around him, which ran for four great series between 2006 and 2011.
But as much as I love Jack (who couldn’t?), he doesn’t really count as a full-time companion. He’s never been part of the regular cast, despite recurrently appearing in three of four RTD-era Who, and more importantly, he’s never represented the ‘everyday man’ in the way that the main companions do. Where the likes of Rose, Martha and Donna all came from modern day Earth and were introduced to time travel by the Doctor, Jack was one of the most progressive characters in Who history on his introduction, separate to his sexuality. After all, he is a 51st Century alien time-traveler/con-man who becomes semi-immortal – not exactly your everyday Joe.
Other LGBT Who characters are similarly lacking into everyday-ness. River Song’s (Alex Kingston) casual remarks at bisexuality seem present only so Moffat can make her even more unpredictable and mysterious – though it’s great to see a loved character embracing a nonchalant approach to sexuality, River’s interest in her own sex is never properly addressed on-screen. Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Vastra (Neve McIntosh) are the first open and recurring gay and cross-species relationship in the show, though their Victorian time period and weird mistress-servant relationship again alienates them from being remotely “everyday”. The less said about the ‘Thin/Fat Gay Married Anglican Marines’, a relationship that seems to exist purely for the joke that accompanies it, the better.
I’m not claiming that Bill should be celebrated as Doctor Who‘s first LGBT character – but she should be celebrated as its first LGBT lead character. With any luck, Bill will be your normal young adult who all viewers can relate with, just like they did Rose, or Martha, or Amy. Her sexuality can promote modern and accepting ideals about relationships, while not defining her as a character. In Pearl Mackie’s own words: ‘It’s important to say people are gay, people are black – there are also aliens in the world as well so watch out for them.’
We should celebrate Steven Moffat and his team’s decision not to cast your run-of-the-mill pretty white girl. Let the haters make noise, but have the supporters drown them out with an even louder roar for of their approval.
Doctor Who Series 10 begins on Saturday April 15th. Check out the trailer below: