Search This Blog

Monday, May 2, 2016

Analyzing Bill: The New Doctor Who Companion

Edited by Robert Beach

Well, it’s been a long time since we were here. For the new comers in the audience, Doctor Who is the story of a time-travelling alien named the Doctor and his human companion who have adventures throughout all of time and space. It started in the ‘60s and has persisted to the modern day, barring a decade-long hiatus throughout the ‘90s. Personally, I’ve got a strained relationship with the show at this point. More accurately, a strained relationship with show runner Steven Moffat.  

Moffat’s almost single-handedly responsible for the show’s American success and has penned plenty of great episodes, but he’s got a lot of flaws ranging from a constantly failing at diverse representation to his terribly executed finales that lack any sense of restraint or editing. In any event, the question of Moffat’s pros and cons has become a moot point now that he’s announced he’s leaving the show after Doctor Who’s next season, which will be in 2017 to build up some mystique for Moffat’s departure. However, the hype train is already building now with the premiere of Moffat’s final new companion Bill, played by Pearl Mackie. 

I’m of two minds about Bill, though a much more singular mind about this introductory video: it’s okay. Seriously, if this was meant as a best foot forward for the new companion, it’s shockingly weak and uninvolving. Companions usually serve as audience surrogate characters, someone for the Doctor to explain things to rather than just talking to himself, but in the case of Bill, she’s somehow less than that.  

Rather than working as someone for the Doctor to explain the unknown to, she’s someone for the Doctor to explain the series basics and bleeding obvious too. I’m not sure if this is because the BBC wants this video to serve as a point of intrigue for new fans or just because they wanted t rush us through Bill’s “humorous” observations. Either way, it’s a peculiar choice and not a terribly endearing one. 

The obvious explanation for this scene is they need to have Bill learn about the stuff we already know because there’s no way she would know about Daleks, Cybermen, or any number of the other Doctor Who alien races. But I’m not sure that’s true. The idea that Bill or any companion needs to come into the series blind emerges from the idea that companions must be from the modern day and must be human, both of which are very much concepts of the new series. 

Again, I understand the thinking, assuming that audiences won’t be able to identify with non-modern people or alien beings. By the same token, the main character is an immortal alien demi-god, so I feel like those fears are unfounded. What’s more, one of the quintessential companions of the classic Doctor Who series was Romana, a fellow alien of the Doctor’s own race. There was also Jaimie, a Scottsman plucked from a time of rebellion in Scottland’s past. Both of these characters were massively popular in their time and managed it without being contemporary or human. Even if you’re going to always insist on having contemporary humans as companions, there’s still no need to showcase the companion learning what the audience already knows by means of an introduction. 

These are more complaints of context than of concept, Bill, as a character removed from patterns and taken on her own merits, seems pretty interesting.  Firstly, she’s one of the only companions to be a person of color along with Martha Jones. And even then, Martha was a companion 10 years ago, so this is a long overdue step for diversity. Additionally, she seems enjoyably immature compared to previous companion Clara’s strict and proper affect.  

Previously in the Moffat era, companions have had to play off the manic bounciness of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor, but Bill seems like the first companion tailored to Capaldi’s more strict and grouchy 12th Doctor. The clip is too brief to tell if she really has chemistry with Capaldi. At the same time, Capaldi’s such a veteran actor he’s easily able to get great performances out of the supporting cast in any situation. 

However, my biggest reservation about Bill is that, unfortunately, she’s still being written by Steven Moffat. I know that sounds like an unfairly dismissive argument, but the thing to understand is that a mocking sense of humor and an over reliance on uncomfortable tokenism and stereotypes has always marred Moffat’s attempts at inclusivity.   That’s part of why I’ve always preferred the Russell T. Davies era (9th and 10th Doctor stories,) there were still problems with his attempts at diversity but the attempts at least came from a place of heartfelt sincerity rather than using his characters as punch lines. 

Now mainly this is limited to the realm of LGBT representation. Wherein during the Davies era, queer characters were just there as a reflection of the idea that being queer isn’t something really worth making a big deal out of. Comparing that to the Moffat era, where a character being gay is often a way of making a joke or making female characters sexier to the men, it’s a pretty stark contrast.  

Obviously, there’s a big difference between representing queer characters and people of color. It’s a related issue and the evidence at hand is hardly encouraging on the subject. It also doesn’t help that Moffat’s last prominent black character Danny Pink was a big pile of underdevelopment and disappointment. 

So where does that leave us? Well, cautiously optimistic might be the best way to put it. I like the idea of Bill in a vacuum. It’s a concept that has the potential to be really great, but I’m made anxious about the prospect by the people that have been tasked to craft her character. Maybe this will be a case where the actor’s natural talent and charisma can overcome any flaws in the script. 

The previous companion Clara Oswald often overcame lacking scripts, yet not having seen much of Pearl Mackie’s previous work, there’s really no way to tell. For now, I’ll say this has the potential to be a great call, and I’m willing to wait till at least the first trailers for the upcoming season before giving up on hope for this character.

if you liked this article please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter

No comments:

Post a Comment