On 31st March 2017, actress Pearl Mackie announced in an interview with BBC News that her character, Bill Potts, would be Doctor Who’s first openly gay companion. Although Captain Jack, played by John Barrowman was pansexual (or omnisexual meaning aliens and robots are fair game!), he wasn’t a full-time companion so this was a big milestone in the show’s 53 year history.
Steven Moffat and the team didn’t make any fuss about it in any way, Pearl mentioned the character’s sexuality in an interview with BBC News, they ran with the story and it blew up. The media made a fuss because LGBT+ representation in film & TV isn’t yet commonplace and Bill being the show’s first out and proud lesbian companion was a big milestone for the show; it was newsworthy.
Within the show, being gay isn’t a big deal to Bill herself but in the real world, where homophobic hate crime is on the increase and where young people can still feel scared or embarrassed about coming out, it’s a big deal that one of the most popular TV shows in the country has done this. As a long-time Doctor Who fan and lesbian, I can’t begin to describe how much it’s meant to me to see someone like me in a main role on my favourite TV show. We all need characters that can inspire us and that we can look up to and I knew from the day of her announcement that Bill Potts was going to be a positive role model to so many.
I didn’t have any female gay role models growing up.
Like many other gay women, I grew up in a very heterosexual environment. As a teen, the chat in the playground was always about which boy you fancy and at home I was constantly getting asked “have you got a boyfriend yet?”. To add to this, I was only being shown hetrosexual relationships in films, TV shows and books. With heterosexuality as my only point of reference, I didn’t even consider that the fact that my disinterest in in guys was because maybe I liked girls instead – I just thought there was something wrong with me.
When I got older and eventually began to realise I was gay, I was very frightened of it. My upbringing had taught me it wasn’t okay to be gay. I grew up in foster care for the latter half of my childhood and teenage years but my real Dad, who I lived with during my formative years, was very homophobic and made fun of gay people. Later, living with my foster parents, the conversations were always about guys. My foster mum would often say “Ohhh, isn’t that guy off the telly hot” and I’d go “Is he? Erm… if you say so.”. I never once expressed interest in guys but they would always quiz me about it, especially if I was hanging out with a friend who just so happened to be a guy. Being in their mid-70s, I feel I can’t blame them for their traditional way of thinking, they were just doing what was normal to them. That said, it would have been nice to not have guys thrust on me as the only option. It only made me feel more weird about myself.
I should probably mention that I didn’t have social media when I was at school and there wasn’t as much awareness about LGBT+ issues amongst young people as there is now. It certainly wasn’t spoken about in class. Not only was it not taught as part of the curriculum but you’d also be badly bullied if anyone thought you were gay. I remember once a boy at my secondary school came out as bisexual and he was absoutely crucified by the other students. No one else was going to come out in my school after that.
Coming to terms with my sexuality whilst growing up was a long and difficult process and I strongly believe if there were some female gay role models like Bill Potts who I could look up to, I would have felt more comfortable with my sexuality and accepted myself a lot quicker. The great thing is, young Doctor Who fans today have Bill as a role model and that makes me so happy. She’s been wonderful to watch and such an inspiration. To celebrate our lovely queer companion, I’ve asked people on Twitter to share how Bill has personally inspired them. I’ve been blown away by the responses and I think they really prove how important representation is. So, without further ado, here’s 10 reasons why Bill Potts proves LGBT+ representation matters.
1. Bill has helped people feel comfortable and confident with their sexuality
One of the most inspiring things about Bill is how comfortable and confident she is talking about her sexuality. In fact, her sexuality is revealed right away in her second line of dialogue of her first episode, “The Pilot”. She just embraces who she is.
2. Bill reassures us that it’s okay to be gay
As I mentioned earlier, I grew up thinking it wasn’t okay to be gay because of the lack of LGBT+ representation in the media, school bullies and because at home and in the playground, heterosexuality was the only thing that was ever spoken about. The very presence of a gay main character (and one who is portrayed so positively) in one of the country’s most popular TV shows, reassures me, as a lesbian viewer, that it’s not weird or wrong to be gay; I feel included rather than excluded (which is usually the case) and therefore, normal.
3. Bill’s sexuality isn’t treated like it’s a big deal – because it’s not!
Bill’s sexuality is never made a big thing of. That’s because one’s sexuality isn’t (and should never be) a big deal. No one ever questions Bill on it (well, apart from Lucius, the Roman in “The Eaters of Light” who is bisexual and finds it cute that Bill is “so selective”). Her sexuality isn’t important and she’s treated like any straight character would be. Bill’s openness about her sexuality and the positive way that people around her respond to her says you can be awesome, save the world and who you fancy is irrelevant.
4. Being gay doesn’t define Bill’s character
Sexuality can play a big role in one’s life and it may even shape your political views, your social circles and how you view the world. But being gay isn’t the only thing about you and it’s not the only thing about Bill either. In fact, it’s a really unimportant piece of information; it’s just something that’s part of her, just as is her height, her eye colour and what she likes to eat. Her personality isn’t in any way defined by her sexuality, certainly not in a stereotypical sense. She’s a human being, first and foremost!
5. Bill has given people the confidence to come out
Coming out can be really scary and the fact Bill is giving people the confidence to do so is awesome. Bill has to come out a few times, particularly to the guys who fancy her in “Knock Knock” and “The Eaters of Light”. Coming out to guys because I’m getting hit on is something I’ve found I have to do regularly and it isn’t always comfortable. That scene really resonated with me and the way Bill handles herself in those situations – calm, collected and confident – is so great. Representation isn’t just including a gay character and being done with it. If you’re writing a gay character in a realistic way, then this sort of stuff is going to come up too, because it happens in real life. It would be kind of odd if it wasn’t there. I’m sure many people will have felt inspired by Bill’s confidence.
6. Bill highlights Doctor as a positive example of how to treat LGBT+ people
Positive representation isn’t only about how you write the character in question but it’s also how others respond to them. As the Doctor tells Bill in “The Doctor Falls”, Time Lords are billions of years beyond our petty obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes. The Doctor is a positive role model in so many ways, my favourite trait being that he sees the best in you, regardless of where you come from or who you’re interested in. The Doctor is very supportive of Bill; at the end of “Extremis” the Doctor calls her up and tells her that Penny (a girl she goes on a date with in the Monk’s simulation) isn’t out of her league and encourages her to arrange a date with her immediately. The Doctor is a wonderful role model because he treats Bill like she’s no different to anyone else. Because she isn’t. We can learn from him!
To add to this, the Doctor isn’t only a positive example of how to treat LGBT+ people, he’s also a positive male role model and Bill really brings this out in him. The Doctor is, in fact, a father figure to Bill. I particularly enjoyed this final exchange between Bill and the Doctor in “The Doctor Falls”;
Bill: “Uh, hey, um, well, you know how I’m usually all about women an-and kinda people my own age?” the Doctor: “Yeah?” Bill: “Glad you knew that.”.
The Doctor was well aware that Bill likes girls; he knew she had a crush on Heather (other names include “Puddle Girl” and “Drippy Bae”) and that she was dating Penny so Bill making sure he knew did seem a little odd to me at first. But then I thought about it a bit more and realised this is her own way of saying she really admires, trusts and perhaps even loves him, platonically, as a father figure. She comes out to him (again) and is accepted by him (of course, she would be!). The Doctor’s supportive and accepting nature is something loads of young boys watching will pick up on. We will never not need male role models like this!
Not only this, not everyone in the LGBT+ community has parent figures that they feel will accept them. I found it really lovely that Bill has an elder figure that she looks up to and feels comfortable opening up to him to about her sexuality (unlike her foster mum who she attempts to come out to but it goes right over her head). It gives me hope that there are people out there who will accept you. As Steven Moffat said, “Doctor Who is a big hearted, optimistic show that believes in kindness and love and that wisdom will triumph in the end.”; this scene really demonstrate this.
7. You can have adventures with the Doctor regardless of who you are
It can be a little tiresome when everyone fancies the Doctor and a huge part of loving the show for me personally, is imagining that the companion could be me. This is a little difficult if the companion is in love with the Doctor because it’s hard to relate if you don’t see him that way! I think it’s much less alienating as a viewer when they’re just a mate (o, hai Donna “you’re not mating with me, sunshine” Noble). I feel it opens up the TARDIS doors a little wider, allowing anyone to join the Doctor and his companion’s adventures.
8. Bill isn’t broken
There aren’t a lot of shows that include LGBT+ characters without them falling into stereotypes and clichés. Queer characters are so often portrayed as broken – either destined for nothing but a life of tragedy or simply, killed off. This is pretty damaging because basically what it says is that if you’re LGBT+ you’re never going to be happy. Bill’s sexuality is very much part of her story but it’s a positive one. She’s smart, funny and saves the world on more than one occasion. Plus, she gets to live happily ever after with her love,
Puddle Girl Drippy Bae Heather!
9. Bill has a happy ending
As mentioned in #8, LGBT+ characters have a seriously high mortality rate. It’s important LGBT+ people feel like they can live happily ever after too. Imagine being a young person trying to come to terms with your sexuality and all you’re seeing on telly is queer characters having terrible lives and horrible endings? To quote Steven again,
“I don’t’ believe it’s the kind of show that says there are bitter, twisted and nasty endings because it’s not, it’s not gritty. It’s aspirational. It says, it can work. Wisdom and kindness will triumph. Love will always come through in the end. There aren’t enough people and enough shows saying that and I’m dammed if Doctor Who is going to join in with the general chorus of despair.”
Well said, Steven. And two girlies kissing on a prime-time BBC family show? Thank you, Doctor Who.
10. Seeing yourself positively represented in the media generally means a lot
At a time where positive LGBT+ representation is still slim, having a character like Bill has meant so much people, especially those who are gay. If the tweets thus far haven’t yet proved that, here are a few more testimonies that demonstrate what a positive thing Bill Potts has been;
I’ve absolutely loved seeing Bill on screen. Not only have I related to Bill massively because of my background, she’s made me feel more confident talking openly about my sexuality too. And knowing that she’s inspired so many people, just fills me with joy!
It still seems bonkers that Bill is the first lesbian companion in the show’s 53 year history but I’m so glad we’ve finally got her. Doctor Who is a wonderful example of a TV show doing LGBT+ representation right and I hope other shows can follow in it’s example. But for now, a huge thank you to Doctor Who for creating Bill Potts, a character who has inspired so many people and who will continue to inspire viewers for years to come.
A big thank you to everyone who sent in tweets and thanks to Graeme Neil Reid for letting use his wonderful artwork. Has Bill Potts inspired you in any way? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!
– Christel Dee.
Find Christel on Twitter or on Doctor Who: The Fan Show