Over the weekend, Whovians got a treat as Jenna Coleman’s replacement for the role of The Doctor’s companion was revealed in a short skit (seen above). The latest member of the Tardis crew is Pearl Mackie, who will be playing a character named Bill. I was underwhelmed. Part of it was the scene they chose.
Are we really selling Doctor Who on the strength of a new character asking silly (and in some cases heavily recycled) Dalek jokes as The Doctor exasperatedly tells us once again how evil they are? I understand this was probably some quick put-together that won’t reflect Season 9 when it debuts, but it made Mackie come off as annoyingly plucky.
I am excited that the show is getting another rare person of color as a main companion. Doctor Who still doesn’t have a very good history of diversity in the main cast. That being said, would it kill the show to explore some other trait in a full-time companion besides exuberant inquisitiveness? And pluck. So much pluck.
In the Big Finish audio stories, the Sixth Doctor gets a new companion in the form of Evelyn Smythe (played by Maggie Stables), a history professor who is 55 when she begins traveling with The Doctor. If you’ve never heard their adventures together, I really can’t tell you how much you’re missing out.
Smythe is a dynamo, a no-nonsense woman with a brilliant mind and an iron resolve. She pairs well with the boisterousness of Six, and the two have a touching friendship that sadly came to an end when Smythe died trapping the villain Nobody No-One in her mind as she passed. One of the reasons Smythe is such a compelling companion is the sheer novelty of having someone who wasn’t an adventurous young woman brought into the equation.
I get that the companion is supposed to be an extension of the audience so The Doctor has a reason to explain things, but the show is more than half a century old at this point. The audience ranges from children to senior citizens, and in the last decade, the “old one” in the companion set was Donna Noble. Catherine Tate was 40 when “Partners in Crime” debuted, an inconceivable two years older than her Doctor, David Tennant.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with courageous young women constantly knocking about time and space with an ageless Time Lord, but when you look at a character like Clara Oswald, it’s almost like she was a parody of the concept of the companion itself. Born to save The Doctor, ever ready with a quip and glowing eyes, utterly adorkable. And plucky. It does get old. Watching Mackie in the clip above made me wonder how many times I could stand having to explain the Daleks to new people. I doubt I could get through three, let alone thousands of years of meeting rookies.
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Occasionally, the show does experiment with different dynamics. Wilf Mott, played by Bernard Cribbens, was by far my favorite one-off companion. The interplay between him and Tennant during “The End of Time” was so vibrant and different, giving a whole new perspective on the human condition The Doctor rarely gets in his companions, optimistic as untested as they usually are by their young ages.
River Song is another great example as River Song. She’s been older than all her Doctors on-screen except Capaldi, who is only five years her senior. River Song simply doesn’t have any plucks to give. Her presence in The Doctor’s life is always tumultuous and very rarely boring. There is a new kind of togetherness, a new facet of The Doctor’s life to examine.
I’m looking forward to seeing Mackie in action with Capaldi, somewhat disappointing intro notwithstanding. I’m sure there is more to the character, and I am genuinely excited about her being a woman of color as a companion since it will be a decade since the last one by the time the season debuts. I could just do without all the plucking.
Jef’s collection of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is available now. You can also find him on Patreon, Facebook and Twitter.