Every incarnation of Doctor Who has had a human companion to tag along on his adventures through time and space. This weekend, the BBC finally revealed the identity of the Twelfth Doctor's newest companion, a black woman named Bill, to be played by actress Pearl Mackie.
In Doctor Who's 35 seasons, companions have consistently served as an entry point to the series for new viewers by asking the sorts of questions and getting into the kind of trouble that any regular person would if they suddenly found themselves befriended by a time-traveling alien involved in an intergalactic war. Because there are no strict guidelines as to what qualifies a character as officially being a capital-C Companion (as opposed to just a person that the Doctor encounters on his travels), nailing down the exact number of how many there have been over the years is an imprecise science.
That being said, among the 40 to 50 characters that read as companions from the Doctor Who TV show, there have only ever been two people of color: Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) and Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke). Additionally, there has never been a proper Doctor who was not a white man—we came close with River Song (Alex Kingston), the Doctor's wife and a badass time-traveler in her own right, but that's about it.
In 2013, the BBC acknowledged the criticism that, as a British cultural mainstay, Doctor Who had done a lackluster job of properly reflecting the region's diversity. Despite the fact that the BBC considered reflecting diversity to be its "duty," the network explained that all of Doctor Who's casting decisions were colorblind and made purely on merit.
Hmm. By that logic, we've just got to assume there just weren't any brown actors up to snuff and not that Doctor Who has had deeply ingrained problems when it comes to race. Sure. Why not?
If the fandom's response to Mackie's casting is any indication, though, the BBC may finally get the idea that science fiction doesn't need to erase people of color from the future to be successful.
Bill replaces Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), the companion who exited Doctor Who late last year. Whovians will have to wait until the series' premiere next year to figure out just who Bill is and what kind of companion she'll be, but Mackie plans on filling the shoes she's stepping into.
“Reading the script at the audition I thought Bill was wicked," Mackie said in an announcement video. "Fantastically written, cool, strong, sharp, a little bit vulnerable with a bit of geekiness thrown in—I can’t wait to bring her to life and to see how she develops through the series.”