Fans of Doctor Who are enduring a long drought without the Doctor, as season 10 of the revived show won't air until 2017. The season will mark the ending of an era, with current showrunner Steven Moffat leaving the show at the season's end. Before he departs, he'll introduce a new companion for the Doctor and set the show's trajectory on a new course after three years focused around adventures with Jenna-Louise Coleman's Clara Oswald.
The new companion, a woman named Bill who's played by Pearl Mackie, has already been introduced to fans. Moffat recently revealed a little more information about the character, including whether she'll be in the 2016 Christmas special, and why it was important to him and the producers that she not be played by a white actress.
Moffat's statements came from Doctor Who Magazine, which recently published its 500th issue. In it, Moffat discussed both when Bill will make her first appearance as the Doctor's companion on the show and what time period she hails from. According to Moffat:
“How we first encounter her, and how we first encounter the Doctor next year, is very unusual for us. We’ll introduce her in the first episode of 2017, and she’ll run throughout that series.”
This confirms that Bill won't appear in the 2016 Christmas special, which isn't exactly unusual; most of the Christmas specials have featured one-off companions, or at least companions who weren't actively with the Doctor either at that point or in the next season.
Moffat also addressed when Bill is from. Many fans believed that she was from the 80s given how she was dressed in her introduction video. According to Moffat, though, this isn't the case:
“She’s from now, yeah. I know there are rumours about her being from the 1980s, but she isn’t. She’s just wearing what young people are wearing now. I know that, because Pearl chose her outfit herself.”
Bill is also the first companion of color on the show since Martha Jones, who was the Doctor's companion in the 2007 season. While Moffat previously believed that opening the role up to anyone would be best for the show, he eventually decided that the casting team needed to be more selective and target the actors that they really wanted for the show. The team felt that the main roles of the show were dominated by white actors, even though the supporting cast remained diverse; with the casting of Bill, they set out to change this:
“We decided that the new companion was going to be non-white, and that was an absolute decision, because we need to do better on that. We just have to. I don’t mean that we’ve done terribly – our guest casts are among the most diverse on television, but I feel as though I could have done better overall.”
He also admits that the role of the Doctor could be open for more diversity in the future as well, and reveals that the part has been offered to a black actor in the past:
“Absolutely it would [be refreshing if the next Doctor wasn’t white]. Two non-white leads in Doctor Who would be amazing. In fact, a lot of people would barely notice … I certainly don’t think there’s ever been a problem with making the Doctor black, which is why it should happen one day. I mean, we’ve tried. The part has been offered to a black actor. But for various reasons, it didn’t work out.”
With its focus on travelling through space and time, Moffat claims that Doctor Who "has no excuse" for not including diverse casting choices. As such, it will still be interesting to see what Mackie brings to the role of Bill and how the character adds to the story of the Doctor when she finally makes it to the screen.
Doctor Who will return to BBC1 and BBC America with a Christmas special in December 2016. Season 10 will air in 2017.