MCM Birmingham Comic Con saw a packed MCM Theatre on the Saturday when Pearl Mackie took to the stage. Introduced in the tenth series of Doctor Who, she is most known for playing The Doctor’s companion, Bill Potts.
The panel was hosted by Stuart Claw, who straight away asked Pearl about Bill Potts cosplays. However, before she could answer, Pearl’s panel was briefly hi-jacked by a young girl named Lola, who took Pearl’s seat. After Lola’s father apologised and whisked her off stage, Pearl revealed that the first time she saw a Bill cosplay was actually online, two hours after she was announced as the new companion. “It was this guy, who had a massive afro, and he somehow had Bill’s jacket,” said Pearl. “I mean, I didn’t even have that! But it was great!” She was later shown a photo of the Bill cosplayer by an attendee and was told that he was actually at the convention.
Pearl was then asked how difficult it was to keep it a secret from people that she was the new companion. “It was so hard,” she answered, saying that one of the few people she did tell before it was announced was her mother and that she was “pretty gobsmacked.” She also revealed that a lot of her friends were concerned, asking her where she had been. “I was doing a play at the time, and I was like, ‘No, I’m just working. Doing the same thing that I’ve been doing for nine months has suddenly got significantly harder.”
The play she was performing in at the time was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. One day Peter Capaldi decided to go and see the play… before Pearl was officially announced as the new companion. “He came backstage afterwards and I was like, ‘Is he going to say something? Is he going to announce it here? Is he allowed to say? Is that what he’s here for?’ I just didn’t have a clue.”
Pearl revealed that he came up to her, shook her hand and said, “Congratulations.”
“I was like, ‘Thank you,’” said Pearl. “That was it. Then I was like (to herself), ‘Just go away, just leave, let’s run away now.’ But yeah, that was very strange.” Pearl then said that the reason for his visit was to simply see her “doing something” before they started working together and he had wanted to attend in secret. However, his visit resulted in him being dragged backstage for a photo with the cast. “He said it was horrible for him as well,” explained Pearl.
She also mentioned how mad it was when she was finally announced as the new companion. “All my Twitter followers… they multiplied in a way that is beyond my maths,” said Pearl. “I had like 400 before, and then by the end of that day I had 16,000.”
She added that when the audition initially came through, she didn’t know that it was to play Bill in Doctor Who. She responded to an advert for something called Mean Town, which Pearl revealed was an anagram for Woman Ten (a woman for the tenth series). “When I heard that it was to play Bill in Doctor Who, I was like, ‘Ha, I’m never going to get that,’” she laughed. “There’s no way in a million years I ever thought I would be sitting here talking about it having filmed it.”
While talk turned briefly to the upcoming Christmas special, Pearl revealed that she couldn’t tell the audience anything about it, except that, “There will be snow.” Adding that she had no idea she was going to be back filming for it, she said that the episode is “a lovely story, a great adventure.” She then told the audience, “I think you guys are really going to like it. I hope you do. I do.”
Asked on how much Pearl brought to her character, she said, “When I read the script I had to read for the audition, I didn’t feel like there was much I had to do. I read it and was like, ‘I think I know this girl.’” She mentioned that Steven Moffat is very observant and had picked up on things she said in her audition and inserted them in the scripts. “There’s little snippets of conversation,” said Pearl. “Reading the script you’re like, ‘That looks really familiar. I swear I said that some time.’”
Asked on her reaction to how she was written out, Pearl said, “I thought it was really nice that Bill got a happy ending, remaining inside a Cyberman. Traveling the universe with a girl that she had a bit of a soft spot for previously, I thought that was a really nice way of ending it.”
Pearl was then asked what her reaction was upon learning that Bill would become a Cyberman. “I really wanted to put the suit on,” exclaimed Pearl. “But they didn’t let me. I was too small. I’m too short for it.” She explained that a “much taller” gentleman was in the suit, for it was not considered scary enough having her in it. “But it’s a mad storyline,” said Pearl. “It was exciting and it was very unexpected. It was a really clever way to link back to the genesis of the Cybermen. I thought it was pretty impressive and also utterly heartbreaking.”
As questions opened up to the audience, the first one came from someone cosplaying as the Pope, who wanted to know who she would most like to visit her kitchen. “It depends on what’s going on in the kitchen, really,” responded Pearl. “Are we having a glass of wine? Are we eating dinner?” She narrowed it down to two names, saying, “If we’re eating dinner, then maybe Michel Roux Jr. could cook for me. That would be pretty sick. If we’re just having a chat, then… Beyoncé.”
Pearl was then asked if she would do Big Finish, provided the licences get sorted. “I don’t know,” said Pearl. “What do you think?” She was greeted with a resounding YES from the audience. Pearl said, “I don’t have anything against it, so if they’d have me, then sure.”
Because Pearl’s time on Doctor Who involved working on really intense and dark episodes, she was asked if she would substitute working on something less intense and dramatic in order to spend a longer time on the show. Without any hesitation, she responded, “Nope. Definitely not. I think hit ’em hard and then get out. I like doing dramatic stuff and I really enjoy that. I would much rather have an epic one series than a happier two series.”
With Jodie Whittaker set to become the new Doctor, an attendee asked if Bill would get friendlier with the Thirteenth Doctor. The question drew cheers from the audience. “Well, I mean, I’m not going to say no,” responded Pearl. “Who knows? I’ll have to leave that up to your imagination. What do you think?”
Pearl was asked if there was a previous Doctor she could do an episode with, who would it be? “All of them I think are amazing,” said Pearl, however she picked Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. “I met Matt recently and he’s very fun and so energetic. I think his Doctor and Bill could have had quite a bouncy time together.”After the woops and cheers her answer received, she then told the audience, “Not like that. You lot, calm down.”
An attendee raised the issue of actors and actresses leaving Doctor Who for the fear of being typecast and wanted Pearl’s thoughts. She responded that she wouldn’t always want to play the same character, but felt that a show like Doctor Who offered so much variety within all the episodes it would be difficult to be typecast on the back of it. “One episode you’re on a different planet talking to emoji robots and the next you’re in Victorian London, wearing a full Victorian get up. I think within that, there’s a lot of room for people to see you in [a] different light.”
One young attendee asked what her favourite episode was from series ten, a question Pearl found very difficult, saying that she felt “very pressured by the word favourite.” She decided to ask the attendee what their favourite was, and he responded with episode eight, The Lie of the Land. “That was my favourite too,” smiled Pearl, explaining that she liked her costume in it.
Going from favourite episode, Pearl was asked what her favourite TV series is, with the exception of Doctor Who. “I am a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” she said, proclaiming it to be one of her favourite TV shows ever. She also mentioned that she had just finished watching Stranger Things 2, saying, “I quite like that. I thought it was a bit cool. There’s a lot more kissing than I was expecting.”
One attendee asked if Pearl had any tips for stage fright. Pearl explained that she and her fellow actors would do a warm up before going on stage, such as deep breathing, stretches and warming up their voices. She also offered some guidance. “One thing to remember when you’re on stage is that everyone else wants you to do as well as you want to do. No one wants to see you mess up. They want to see you do the best version of your performance.”
Before the panel came to a close, Pearl mentioned that her next project is the play The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter. “I’m absolutely terrified to do one of his plays,” she said. “It’s also got lots of people who are very famous in the cast, and they’ve had much more experience in acting than me.” She told the audience that The Birthday Party will run at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London from January to April in 2018.