New 'Doctor Who' Companion Pearl Mackie Talks Cryptic Audition Process (Q&A)

Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie
Credit: Ray Burmiston/BBC

The actress joins season 10 — which launches Saturday — as Bill Potts, the show's first openly gay companion.

The opening episode of the 10th season of Doctor Who lands on BBC and BBC America on Saturday. While the latest outing of the iconic sci-fi series marks the final appearances of Peter Capaldi as the legendary Timelord and Steve Moffat as its (almost as legendary) showrunner, it also welcomes a newcomer to the TARDIS.

Pearl Mackie joins the show as Bill Potts, the Doctor’s 10th companion. The actress, most recently seen onstage in the acclaimed adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, revealed last month that Potts would be the show’s first openly gay companion, a move that Moffat said shouldn’t be fussed over (the appropriate response, he claimed, should be: “What took you so long?”).

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Mackie discusses the cryptic auditioning process, the advice given to her by Jenna Coleman (essentially, what to avoid in the canteen) and that spooky Prince t-shirt incident. Oh, and she carefully avoids saying who the next Doctor should be.

Are you excited or terrified?

Probably both at equal measure at different points in the day, which can be tiring. But I am really excited. I can’t quite believe that we’re at the point where we’re at the release date. It kind of feels like I’ve been doing this my whole life, but also feels like I just started five minutes ago.

Does Bill arrive with a bang?

Yeah, I think so. There’s a lot of excitement in episode one, so I think it’ll be a great way to kick off the series.

How was the auditioning process? Did you have to audition alongside Daleks and Cybermen?

No, but that would have been fun. The process itself was mad enough. Because it’s such a big secret, I couldn’t really tell anyone. When my agent called, at the time I was doing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and she asked, "Are you doing another year in Curious?" and I was, like, "No," and she said they were just doing availability checks for something called Mean Town, which sounded good. When she called back she said, "Actually it’s not for Mean Town at all, that doesn’t exist — it’s actually an anagram of 'Woman Ten,'" which is the 10th companion for Doctor Who.

Did the actual auditioning take place on set in Wales?

No, it was all in London. The first was in [casting director] Andy Pryor’s office, and the [callback] was in the Soho Hotel. They were like, "You’re going to be meeting Steven Moffat and [executive producer] Brian Minchin, and you’ll be reading with Peter Capaldi." And I was like, "Right, just your average day then." I read the first scene with Peter, which was lovely. I mean, I felt exceedingly nervous, but I tried my best to keep my cool. The next scene, he said, "Do you want to stand up?" So he’s standing up and running around pressing buttons in the TARDIS and I’m standing there in the middle of the room with my mouth open not knowing what was going on. Luckily, the character is supposed to be thinking that as well.

Where were you when you found out you got the role, and did you have to keep it quiet for a long time?

Yeah, I was at home and was just having breakfast when I found out. I got a call and went upstairs to my room and said some very unprintable stuff. But there were tears and laughter and screaming. It was messy. Lots of snot. But they said you can’t tell anyone. But I was like, "I’ve got to tell someone," so I called my mum.

Are you ready for the sudden global exposure? Doctor Who fans can be a rather obsessive bunch, and they’re all over the world.

I don’t know if you can ever be ready for something like this. I’m not sure. I’m just planning to not take myself too seriously and hope for the best. But in terms of being a platform for an actor, it’s an absolute gift, if you look at what previous companions have gone on to do. It’s an absolutely phenomenal alumni. So I feel like I’m in really good company.

Did you get any tips from Jenna Coleman?

She sent me a bunch of flowers on the first day, which was really lovely. And she sent a little card and said things like, "This place does really nice deliveries" and stuff. She also said she didn’t think I needed any tips from her, which I thought was very kind. But also she did say, which is something that Karen [Gillan] had said to her, one thing about the canteen, which was to not eat the Welsh faggots.

I’m going to have to explain that to my U.S. colleagues.

Yeah, I was wondering about that. I said that once to a bunch of Americans and they were, like, "What?" I think it’s a different thing over there.

[Editor's note: Welsh "faggots" are a traditional dish made from meat off-cuts and offal, especially pork.]

Was it shame to see Peter Capaldi announce he was hanging up his sonic screwdriver after working with him on just one season?

Yeah, it is. I’m not sure when he decided, but I was very sad. But I think one of the good things about Doctor Who is that it keeps moving, it keeps evolving. New characters keep appearing, new Doctors, new companions. But I just feel lucky that I got to work with him at all. He’s such a great actor. His Doctor is amazing, and I think the way that him and Bill work together is a really beautiful dynamic.

Have you had any thoughts on who the next Doctor should be? Do you even get a say?

No, I don’t get a say! No, I’m sure whoever they choose will be fantastic. There hasn’t been dud one yet. I think they know what they’re doing.

Would you like to see a female doctor at some point?

I don’t know. I think it’s in very good hands, so whoever they choose — be it male, female — whoever they decide is the next Doctor Who is probably the best Doctor Who.

When the first clip was shown, you were wearing a Prince t-shirt. It aired shortly after he died, but must have been shot before. Total coincidence?

Yeah! Hayley [Nebauer], the costume designer, and I had gone shopping to find some bits to create Bill’s look, and we found the top in a charity shop and both liked the look of it, and were both, like, "Oh, it’s Prince, great — we love Prince!" And then he passed away the week before the trailer was released, which was very odd. And obviously devastating. But very spooky.