Can a show entering its 10th season really be new again? That’s the magic of "Doctor Who," the sci-fi series about a time-traveling alien called The Doctor and his human Companions, which began in 1963, was canceled in 1989, and revived by the BBC in 2005.
When Season 10 of "Doctor Who" premieres on Saturday, April 15, on BBC America, it will introduce a new Companion — the first openly gay one at that — and bring back some of the series’ most iconic villains for even wilder adventures. It's a treat for longtime fans, and a great way to introduce new ones to the Doctor Who universe. Stars Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie, along with showrunner Steven Moffat, tell us what to expect.
Her name is Bill
Even more than when the Doctor regenerates into a new from (read: actor), changing his Companion is a great way for new fans to get into the show, but even moreso with Bill Potts (Mackie). "Unlike Clara, who was sort of an intrinsic part of the Doctor’s timeline, Bill comes from the real world, so the whole 'Doctor Who' universe has to be introduced to her, which reminds you of how fabulous it is," says Capaldi.
The character took nearly a year to craft, according to Moffat, who doesn’t see her sexuality as the headline news it’s become.
“We do not expect a pat on the back,” he says. “This is the least representation that people should have, and it has taken a long time to get here. That is the correct answer to what we have done!”
For her part, Mackie describes her character as “very real and very human.” Unlike the calculating, manic alien that is the Doctor, the human Companion is meant to be a touchstone for viewers. “I hope people can identify with her. Bill says inopportune things, she gets carried away by her impulses and how she feels... Sometimes she does wrong things, but for the right reasons. And, on top of that, she's very funny."
Getting some answers
While many other Companions simply accept the Doctor’s wonky reality, Bill is going to need a little explanation before risking her life for adventures in space and time. “She asks him the questions that should be asked, and these are questions that have not been asked before,” says Moffat. “It is not because she is an interrogator, but because she is alive and curious.”
Perhaps as a last hurrah by Moffat after a long tenure as showrunner, the Doctor will also confront some of his oldest enemies: The original 1960s Mondasian Cybermen makes a return, as do both incarnations of his ultimate frenemy, The Master and, of course, the Daleks. If you’re not up on the mythology, don’t worry — with Bill along, the Doctor will be explaining his convoluted history as he goes about dealing with whatever trouble he's gotten them into.
Bill’s questions are also not just about why the Doctor does the things he does — she’s trying to get to the ultimate answer of who is the Doctor? That, to Capaldi, is the best part of the role. “The important thing about ‘Doctor Who’ is there’s always a mystery. You never know because he’s an alien, he’s not a human being, and we’re going to see more alien-ness.”
As for Moffat, “I know the answer, he told me,” he laughs. “But I cannot reveal it. It’s surprising, and a little sad.”
A last hurrah
It’s been Capaldi’s dream to play the Doctor since he watched the original series at 5 years old, but after three seasons he’s decided to move on.
“Sad, because it has been a great experience,” he says of leaving the TARDIS, his dimension-hopping phone booth. “I loved being a Doctor, but it's time to go. I was aware of the fact that it was becoming increasingly difficult to find new ways to interpret the character.”
That said, the third season definitely gave him plenty to work with. He hints that the Doctor sees “great potential” in Bill. “She is not afraid of things that happen to her or of what the Doctor shows.”
Being on the show did change him in one big way. Now that Capaldi is an icon to children, he’s keeping his past as Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed spin doctor on the British government satire “The Thick of It," in check. “There are still people who ask me to insult them, which is fun, but I try not to do it if there are children around. I do not want them to see the Doctor swearing.”
Additional reporting by Sarah Yanez-Richards.