Why is the new ‘Doctor Who’ companion called Bill?

Since her introduction yesterday as the new Doctor Who companion, some fans have been asking why Pearl Mackie‘s character has the traditionally male name of Bill.

While there’s not yet been any official comment on the choice of moniker, the most obvious assumption would be that it’s referring to actor William Hartnell, who played the First Doctor from 1963 to 1966 and was known as Bill to his friends and colleagues.

Interestingly, yesterday’s announcement marked exactly 41 years since his death on 23 April 1975.

Doctor Who William Hartnell

Perhaps by complete coincidence – although you should “never ignore a coincidence… unless you’re busy, in which case always ignore a coincidence,” as the Eleventh Doctor said – yesterday also marked exactly 400 years since the death of another famous Bill – playwright William Shakespeare.

Doctor Who The Shakespeare Code

Steven Moffat’s father was also called Bill, so the naming could be in memory of the writer’s dad.

The name could refer to actress Billie Piper too, who played companion Rose Tyler from 2005-2010.

Previous companion Clara Oswald was named after actress Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who and whose middle name was Clara.

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Do you like the name Bill for the new companion? Let us know below…

  • Wizza

    Was Clara being named after Sladen ever actually confirmed? I thought it was a generally-assumed-to-be-true educated guess on the part of fans, can’t recall Steven or anyone else ever actually mentioning it.

    • Mat Greenfield

      I think you might be right, the only source I could find besides forum posts and chinese whispers was a Wales Online article that describes it as “speculation”. So I dunno, that doesn’t mean she wasn’t but there doesn’t appear to be a primary source.

    • Dr. Moo

      Clara’s birthday was 23rd November, the same day Doctor Who debuted, so clearly it’s not impossible for the companion to be a reference. She was the first new companion after Lis Sladen died as well.

      • Wizza

        Yep, I’ve always believed it (especially as we know Clara had a different name in Jenna’s first audition), it’s just no one’s ever actually confirmed it as far as I’m aware.

        • Dr. Moo

          Though I haven’t found anything official on it I would be prepared to put money on it.

  • Mat Greenfield

    I’m inferring a lot from very little information, I realise, but I’d be interested to see Bill turn out to be the first gender non-binary companion. It could, if done right, be a great way to increase representation and normalisation of trans people on television. I know that’s a big leap from just a four-letter name, but still.

    • J C Leslie

      Not the first by far. There have been multiple gender neutral characters, including a couple of the old series companions, although they’ve usually been cybernetic in nature (like the chameleon android). Time lords are only nominally binary themselves, since it’s been shown they can regenerate to either gender.

      • Mat Greenfield

        True, I mean a gender non-binary companion who’s a modern day human.

        • J C Leslie

          I’d love to see a modern trans or androgynous companion. Can you imagine the mass exodus away from the show by red-state Americans?

          • Jason Hansen

            I doubt it would have any impact, given that Whovians are generally open to experience and experiment – they loved Jack Harkness, and no one combined about the masculinity of Leela, or of the femininity of several of the Doctor’s regens … The kind of folks that would abandon the show over something like this probably aren’t watching in the first place.

          • J C Leslie

            You’re probably right.

          • wombat_7777

            I loved Torchwood, Jacks character was a stomach turner at times. Yeah maybe I’m not cool because I dont go along with the latest trendy fashioons, but I do know that most people dont like the whole overtly gay thing…..just that most are too scared to say so under threat by the “PC police”….

          • wombat_7777

            I think most people would leave it…well maybe not the 20 somethings who are too busy trying to be cool and who havent actually learned that conservatism is the only way to maintain strong families….meh…it is what it is…having been a 20 something and been around, its not like i speak from lack of experience. PC is corrosive too society – its rank Socialism and socialism fails consistently…ask how many people have tried to escape the West to Communist countries recently? The EU is a huge Socialist fail too…..

          • Mat Greenfield

            You should probably look up the Dunning-Kruger effect, my friend.

          • wombat_7777

            Yeah I guess an honours degree uni education makes me low capability somehow.
            I find the same response arguing with people about the illusion of climate change…..had a near stand up one day when I told someone the science doesnt actually support CAGW.

      • Gaia Mix

        I think K9 and Kamelion both had men’s voices and were referred by male pronouns (except when Kamelion shapeshifted into females if he did)

    • Dr. Moo

      If done right then I would have no protests about it, if they handled that wrong then they’d be getting themselves in serious trouble, either for being too preachy or for handling it insensitively or both. Bit of a risk in my opinion. If they wanted to do that maybe they should cast an actual gender non-binary person, as best as I can tell that’s not something Pearl Mackie is.

      • Mat Greenfield

        True, but then there are always people ready to accuse things of being too preachy; the kind of people who moan about “political correctness” like it’s a bad thing. That said, you’re right that there’s a risk for it to backfire spectacularly and…if I’m honest…it’s not something I’d want seen put in the hands of Steven Moffat based on his track record.

        As far as the actor goes, yeah they should really cast a transgender actor if they were to ever go that way (it’s a tricky question on representation) but there’s no reason a cisgendered actor couldn’t. I mean, in ‘Sleep No More’ the grunt 474 (who, clone status notwithstanding, is referred to as “she” in the story, implying cisgender) is played by transgender actor Bethany Black. If a transgender actor can play a cisgender character that aligns with how the actor identifies, I don’t see any reason the reverse couldn’t happen as well, though that’s just my opinion.

        • Dr. Moo

          The line between being preachy and being PC is a thin one and can be crossed unintentionally so easily. I think there is such a thing as being too politically correct so that it becomes preachy. Case in point: Vastra and Jenny.
          Casting a transgender person as a transgender character would be the best approach, not least so they can call out writers if they handle something related to their gender identity in the wrong or inappropriate way which you wouldn’t necessarily (but never say never) get otherwise.
          “A trans actor as a trans character? PC gone mad!” – That’s a complaint I’d expect to see; even though it is a ridiculous complaint you know it’d be a popular one.

          P.S. I wouldn’t EVER go to Sleep No More as a good example of how to do things… but I think we can safely assume Pearl Mackie knew what character she was auditioning for and if she wasn’t comfortable then she would have turned the part down.

        • SithRose

          Actually, they referred to 474 as both she and he throughout that episode depending on the character referring to her. It was…weird. It’s a pity that episode was so awful…

        • wombat_7777

          Yeah but PC is a millstone around our necks….it shuts down peoples right to say “hey I dont like that” and forces alt. lifestyles down peoples throats who dont want it. There are plenty of Soho hangouts where people can find that sort of stuff if they want it.

          The Beeb blatantly shoved two old biddies in our face in Dr Who once saying “were married” – i mean , really, in front of impressionable teenagers or tweenies? That just not appropriate, and the beeb seems to have become a bastion of Leftist agro and shoving alt. minority lifestyle sin our faces and I for one hate it, and so do a lot of other people too polite to say so….seems the beeb loves storming the barriers, eh, comrade?

          Like I said, there are plent of places people can go for this sort of stuff and a publicly funded broadcaster is not the place for it, such that when I turn on the telly, I dont want to see every shade of unusual possible…..no thanks……own goal Beeb….no wonder streaming rules these days…..

          • Mat Greenfield

            “i mean , really, in front of impressionable teenagers or tweenies? That just not appropriate”

            Yeah they might discover that gay people exist.

            *thunder crashes and horses whinny in the distance*

            But thank you for proving my point. This is why political correctness is important – to distinguish ourselves from twitchy-wristed hatemongers like you. The sort of people who whine about “political correctness” when what they really mean is “not hating the same people I hate”. But make fun of them, insult their values, give them a taste of their own medicine, and you’ll never hear the end of it.

            “There are plenty of places people can go for this sort of stuff and a publicly funded broadcaster is not the place for it”

            This may surprise you, so I suggest taking a seat. Gay people, trans people, non-white, people with a different religion to you…they’re part of the public too! And we outnumber you. So do you really want to play the “my taxes pay for it” card when I sincerely doubt you’ll be happy with the outcome if the Beeb catered for the majority and ignored the minority? Have you ever considered that the public is much more varied and diverse than you’d like to believe and that your beliefs are no more important than anyone elses?

            “no wonder streaming rules these days”

            Guessing you’ve not heard of ‘Orange is the New Black’ then?

            TL;DR: You don’t like it? Tough.

          • wombat_7777

            Here we go…..

            What did Alynski say – “the issue isnt the issue”….

            Hate implies irrational and illogical pursuit of ill feeling toward someone.

            Hmm…let me see …suggesting the public broadcaster using public money isnt the vehicle for pushing the agenda of a series of largely irrelevent minority groups…….yep thats just awful……clearly “hateful”….


            Finished? I’m bored now….

          • Chris Lawson

            Well, hateful might be a strong term, but suggesting that LGBT folks are largely irrelevent minority groups is steering you pretty close to it. If you can’t cope with the scene of two women stating they are married in DW, might I suggest you not watch Class at all – your head might explode 🙂

    • kap

      That’s the very first thing I thought – with the name, the shirt with the split face sort of yin/yang thing (even though I know it’s also a Prince thing. I know how Who (particularly Moffatt) tries to be inclusive and diverse. A nonbinary or trans companion would be a natural progression from omnisexuals Jack and River and the four known cross-gender regenerations.

      Possibly, I hope that is what her (his their) story is. Given the way Who treats sexuality – as if its just a part of your makeup, just another fact about you, like how tall you are or whether your hair is curly, ie not what defines you as a person, I think it would be great to see an important role like companion be something different to what the majority of television is.

      FTR not part of the LGBTQ+ community personally except in that I live in the worldwide community with everyone.

      • Gaia Mix

        Even if she was just butch lesbian or aroace but cis, it would be good, too.

    • osejosprout

      This is what I’ve been hoping for since they introduced the new companion. I would love it if Bill was non-binary

    • Mickie (I’m a girl)*

      Given the fact she looks like a girl I think your assumption is beyond far fetched!! Bill so also short for Belinda!

      Not really sure where you got the idea of transgender from!

      And frankly anyone who thinks such an idea would be bad…wake up an idea my smell the 21st century coffee!! It’s not the bloody dark ages!

      • Mat Greenfield

        Well, yes. How would you expect a transgender woman to look?

        I’m not really assuming anything, if she was the first trans companion the BBC would have made a big thing of it with the announcement. I just think it would be an interesting choice for the show to make and a gender-ambiguous name could be a precursor.

  • russell

    I like all your above suggestions Cultbox – but I would imagine the name Bill, is more likely one of two things: 1: A contraction ( abbreviation ). 2: A term of endearment ( nickname ).
    For men, of course, it is a shortening of ( another meaning for ) William-Billy, etc….And for woman – as a number of people here, have already correctly pointed out – can mean Wilhelmina, and such similar.
    Perhaps the character of Bill, has the ” SURNAME ” of Williams?….has chosen to call herself something different, as Ace did?…or maybe has been lumped with the handle by others; as a faint mocking of an occupation ? Whatever the truth- until we know, Bill (whether you care for it or not at present) gives the impression of a more friendly, and warm relationship between The Dr and his companion. And I for one am all for that !!

    • Dr. Moo

      This. You’ve said it better than I ever could.

      Doctor Who has a history of female companions with boyish names. Peri, Mel, Charley, Benny…

      • russell

        “TA”, very kind of you Dr. Moo. How the intrigue is already building!

      • Gaia Mix

        Yes, Willhelmina calling herself Bill like how Charlotte had called herself Charley or Berenice had called herself Benny or Melanie = Mel or Dorothy = Ace… Not the first time a companion with an unweildyclassical feminine name has shortened her name to a more masculineunisex nickname.

      • russell

        “To anyone here interested!”
        There are some NEW comments about the mystery of Bill’s identity, ON Cultbox’s page “Meet Pearl Mackie”. The comments relate to the picture of Pearl and Peter with their backs to the camera. The picture,has the title:”YOUR HOPES?”. It can be found at 0.57, of the one minute and thirteen second film!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Tim Scenters

    And BTW. Its a tribute to William (Bill) Hartnell. He took the role on April 23rd which is Also when they announced new companion.

  • vcferlita

    Maybe it’s an acronym.

    • Gaia Mix

      Something like Belinda Irma Laurenti Lane?

  • William R. Cousert

    Bill is an awesome name.

  • Katie

    Don’t forget Romana wanted to be called “Fred”

  • Perhaps it doesn’t refer to any previous actor or character. It is a name.

    • Richard Ashton

      That was my first thought.

  • MercyReborn2

    I dont really care what her name is as long as she is a fun character and if the little bit ive seen of her she will be great

  • NovaNightly

    It’s probably a nickname and her real name is Willamena or something. Just like Peri was short somehow for Perpeguillium. (sorry if my spelling is wrong)

    • The Timelord’s Underpants

      The Railway Children. Roberta was known to friends and family as Bobby. Looking at Bill’s clothes, I wouldn’t mind betting she,s a Tomboy. And what about Andy in pretty in pink?

  • David Swaldo

    Bill for Billie Piper?

  • Paul Kelly

    I love the name Bill. I am a little biased though as William is my middle name. In any case great name after Billy Hartnell and Billie Piper too.

  • ReverseArrow

    Bill is also the name of Steven Moffat’s father so perhaps even named after him? It was his father who got him his first proper TV gig (Press Gang). So as it’s his last companion he might have decided to name it after him as a thank you/acknowledgement.

    • Grobbledunk

      ohhh !!!

  • Anthony James Cook

    I just immediately thought of Belinda, akin to 2 Point 4 Children back in the 90’s. 🙂

  • Gaia Mix

    It’s propably short for Willhelmina. Maybe it’s a mononymous alias like Ace.

  • Charlieboy

    Called Bill , because the fans will pay the price.

  • Klaus VonNudelman

    I really hope Bill turns out to be a non-gender, non-binary companion too. I mean “it” clearly doesn’t look terribly feminine nor masculine. I wonder what bathroom “it” would use.

    • wombat_7777

      It depends on the mechanical bits…..