Sci-fi series Doctor Who won an Ally Award at tonight’s PinkNews Awards for its long-standing LGBT inclusiveness.
Pearl Mackie, who starred as Peter Capaldi’s companion Bill Potts in the most recent series of the show, picked up the award, accompanied by exec producer Brian Minchin.
Mackie’s character Bill was the first main companion on the sci-fi series to be openly gay, with the show featuring her romance with doomed pilot Heather (Stephanie Hyam).
Doctor Who has featured a string of one-off and recurring LGBT characters since its return to TV in 2005, under successive showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat.
In 2005 it introduced the fan-favourite omnisexual character Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman, who recurred across several seasons of the show and starred in spin-off Torchwood.
The show also featured a married interspecies lesbian couple – lizard woman Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her human wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart), who were a same-sex couple living in Victorian England.
But Mackie’s character was the first fully-fledged companion on the show who is gay.
Speaking to PinkNews, she said: “It’s lovely to be able to accept this Award on behalf of Doctor Who.
“Last year I never fathomed coming to any Awards ceremony, so I feel quite honoured to even have been invited, let alone for Doctor Who and the character of Bill. It’s testament to how well she was received and how well people responded to having an out lesbian on a mainstream TV show.
“It’s genuinely been amazingly positive, especially going around the world and meeting people. I met a couple of young girls who were BAME, and talked to me about how watching Bill on Doctor Who enabled them to come out and feel comfortable with their own sexuality. For me that’s a massive achievement.
“The thing that I liked most about Bill was that she wasn’t grappling with her sexuality, she didn’t need to come out, it wasn’t an issue! It was always just about, I’m gay and happy and this is who I am, this is who I like and this is who I’m in love with.”
She also spoke about the show’s use of time travel to explore attitudes in other time periods – debating sexuality with Roman soldiers and facing racism in Victorian England.
Mackie said: “It’s always interesting thinking about the past. We always think that we’re making massive changes, but you look at Roman times and you think, ‘well, actually, maybe they had a better idea of it, there!’
“There’s many different eras in time that have expressed different attitudes, and it’s nice to show people that we’re not the only people who thought that and we quite a long way to go.”
Of the PinkNews Awards, she said: “It’s phenomenal to be in a room with such influential people. I was sitting there with Jeremy Corbyn, thinking, ‘this is amazing!’.
“It’s really important that so many people are such advocates of LGBT rights.”
Doctor Who exec Brian Minchin told PinkNews: “I’m really proud for everyone involved in the show – all of the actors and all of the writers. And I’m proud of the BBC, because to put LGBT+ representation at the heart of the BBC One schedule is no small thing!
“We’re saying it’s part of everyone’s lives and should be right at the heart of our dramas and Saturday night TV.”
He added of the LGBT-inclusiveness: “I think it’s naturally part of Doctor Who as a show now.
“Doctor Who is really unique – the lead character is kind of asexual, and he’s always drawn people from all walks of live.
“So much of TV has a guy as the lead and he’s got a gun and is trying to shag all the women. Doctor Who’s never been like that. I think that counts for something.
“And when Doctor Who came back with people like Russell T Davies and Phil Collinson and John Barrowman, it was people who grew up watching Doctor Who who wanted to put their mark on it and show what they loved about the show.”
Accepting the award, Mackie paid tribute to her grandfather – who made pioneering TV film called the Naked Civil Servant.
She said: “This is pretty amazing! A year ago I never thought I’d be at any Awards ceremony ever, so thanks for having me.
“My grandfather made a programme you might be familiar with called the Naked Civil Servant, which was about Quentin Crisp – one of the early openly gay men who had quite a fight on his hands.
“For me, standing here as his mixed-race granddaughter, it kind of shows how far we’ve come in this country in 35 years.
“We also have a long way to go, as many other people have said far more eloquently than me this evening. It’s lovely to be able to accept this award on behalf of Doctor Who. Thanks!”
Mackie said previously of her Doctor Who character’s sexuality: “It shouldn’t be a big deal in the 21st Century.
“It’s important to say people are gay, people are black.
“I remember watching TV as a young mixed race girl not seeing many people who looked like me, so I think being able to visually recognise yourself on screen is important.
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“[Being gay] is not the main thing that defines her character – it’s something that’s part of her and something that she’s very happy and very comfortable with.”
Of her reaction to finding out about the character, she said: “I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, cool’.
“I mean, there’s so many elements to Bill, there’s so much to dive into as an actor, that her sexuality is quite far down the list of things that I’ve thought about.
“For me, I think representation is really important. You know, it’s 2017, so it’s about time for a gay main companion, really.”
Coronation Street also picked up an Ally Award in recognition of its long-running LGBT themes.
Meanwhile LBC presenter Maajid Nawaz and Lorraine Kelly of ITV’s Lorraine jointly picked up the Broadcast Award, for their work on LGBT issues.
The PinkNews Awards is generously supported by Lloyds Banking Group