Now that the dust has settled after the announcement that Pearl Mackie would be the new Doctor Who companion, we’ve all had a bit of time to gather our thoughts about it.
I’ll admit, I just shrugged when I first heard about her.
I mean, Pearl looks like a very capable actress and I’m sure she’ll be great – but I don’t have much personal investment in the role. There’s so little to work with right now. All we saw was a little two minute skit introducing her, which was funny enough, although I wish Peter Capaldi didn’t insist on grabbing her hand every time they ran everywhere (I kept having flashbacks to the scene in The Force Awakens in which Rey snaps at Finn: “Why do you keep taking my hand?”)
But since then, I’ve become a fan – and if there was one thing that cemented my enthusiasm for Pearl, it was going to Twitter and seeing this:
— Connie Zor-El(ly) (@ConStar24) April 23, 2016
Pearl Mackie might not raise an eyebrow for me. For other Doctor Who fans, she’s an inspiration.
Like most cynical old bastards, when people starting crying out “Yay! A person-of-color in the TARDIS” I emitted a huge yawn; because focusing on somebody’s skin color always seems a bit forced to me, and didn’t we already have a wonderful person-of-color ride along with the Doctor, in the shape of Martha Jones?
But my non-plussed attitude was relevant only to me.
As Connie Tweeted above, seeing somebody who looked like her climb aboard the TARDIS was #KindOfABigDeal, and especially exciting for her – because she suddenly got to see somebody like herself adventuring through time and space.
And I got that. I got that loud and clear – because it’s something that’s relevant to me, too – and pretty much all fans of sci-fi and fantasy. We all want to see ourselves in the characters we love.
“Still not ginger!”
Connie’s tweet above reminded me of two recent regenerations of the Doctor, in which David Tennant laments not being regenerated into a redhead, and Matt Smith complains: “Still not ginger!”
Dammit, I wanted Doctor Who to have red hair! I wanted a beloved national treasure and a global sex symbol, to be ginger – just like me!
I wanted the BBC to demonstrate to the world that ginger hair was sexy, and not just permission to be the butt of jokes back home in England. (Fortunately Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, and Michael Fassbender have been doing amazing work educating the masses to the appeal of gingers since then.)
So when Connie said that #RepresentationMatters, it cut through even my cynical, politically-incorrect armor. I get where she’s coming from, and I dig it. A Doctor Who companion is never about ticking a demographic scorecard; its about putting somebody human, and relatable, in amidst the adventures of a time-travelling alien; and until recently that person’s pretty much always been white.
Martha Jones – too damn pretty.
In fact, the one person-of-color to join the Doctor on his travels, Martha Jones (played by the awesome Freema Agyeman) suffered from being one of the least relatable companions. She was a doctor-in-training from a rich family, and so stunningly beautiful that she reached Clara Oswold levels of intimidatingness (that’s a real word, I swear.)
It was if the BBC patted themselves on the back about hiring a person-of-color, and then wanted to combat any accusations of stereo-typing by making her as accomplished as possible. Which, ironically, made her impossible to relate to.
Clara was the equivilant of the high school cheerleader you could never sum up the courage to talk to.
The great thing about Rose, and Donna and Pearl Mackie’s new character of Bill is that they’re regular people. They’re no more special in looks, or background, than you are.
With her deliciously rebellious afro and crumpled Prince t-shirt, Pearl is beautiful, while at the same time she looks like the kind of person you might sit next to when you’re studying at the library, or running next to you at the treadmill in the gym. She’s real, and relatable, and that’s why I think she’s going to be great.
Martha Jones and Clara Oswold were just too pretty, and their background was just too twee. Martha was a member of U.N.I.T., for heaven’s sake, and Clara was a literal ‘impossible girl’ who’d travelled the Doctor’s timeline to rescue him. They were, in their own ways, as alien as The Doctor was.
So I think the BBC have knocked it out of the park with Pearl Mackie, and I appreciate Connie, from Twitter, for making it real for me. We desperately needed somebody like her in the TARDIS; and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to alongside Peter Capaldi.