Doctor Who's newest companion is adventurous, inquisitive, and openly gay.

The 36th season premiere of "Doctor Who" treated viewers to something they had never seen before in the show's 54-year history.

Photo courtesy of BBC Worldwide Limited.

The Doctor's newest companion and co-star is Bill Potts, an openly gay woman.

The Doctor (who has been played by 13 different actors over the years) always has a traveling companion to keep him grounded on his adventures throughout time and space. His companions are almost always female, often young, and conventionally attractive. Their relationships are not always romantic, but as is the case in many shows featuring male and female leads, the romantic and sexual tension is always there, hovering in the subtext.


New companion Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) is different. She's gay, a fact that she mentions nonchalantly during her first conversation with the Doctor, seconds after appearing on screen.

Photo courtesy of BBC Worldwide Limited.

Bill's sexual orientation is not the most interesting thing about her character. That's a good thing.

Viewers see her inquisitive nature, her determination as she audits classes at the university she can't afford to attend, and her sense of adventure before the first act is over. Her positive demeanor and radiant attitude draw viewers in instantly. The fact that she happens to be gay is just another facet of her character. It doesn't define her.

The Doctor doesn't bat an eye in reaction to the news, and Mackie hopes the response will be the same in real life. "It shouldn't be a big deal in the 21st century. It's about time, isn't it?" she told the BBC.

Showrunner and writer Steven Moffat had a more "Moffatesque" response to the overwhelming attention given to this plot point:

"So just to be clear, we are not expecting any kind of round of applause or pat on the back for [introducing a gay companion]. That is the minimum level of representation you should have on television, and the correct response should be, 'What took you so long?'” he answered when asked about it at the premiere.

Photo by Tabatha Fireman/Getty Images.

In 54 years, the Doctor's companions have all looked and acted pretty similarly.

Depending on who you ask and how they count repeat appearances, anywhere between 30 and 40 companions have taken adventures with the Doctor (and yes, I do count James Corden as one of them).

Looking at the companions featured before Bill Potts since "Doctor Who" was rebooted in 2005, all of the Doctor's long-term female companions have been young and straight. Almost all of them have been white, with big eyes and pouty lips. Other characters often assume they are romantically involved with the Doctor even if they aren't, a pattern that has led to Moffat getting grilled for creating companions who are just there to flirt with the Doctor.

All photos by BBC/Everett Collection.

We have yet to see how Bill Potts will develop over the series — or whether she'll fall victim to one of the most common endings for queer characters: the "bury your gays" trope. GLAAD's annual report on LGBTQ inclusion found that almost 10% of the LGBTQ characters on the shows they analyzed died or were killed.

From the pilot alone, however, Mackie's Bill is a welcome breath of fresh air and representation that "Doctor Who" has sorely needed.

LGBTQ lead roles in television are on the rise, but there is still much work to do.

In the seasons of "Doctor Who" that have aired since 2005, just 3% of its characters have been LGBTQ. That's not great, considering the show has an incredibly large universe to play around in and explore.

Broadcast television as a whole fares slightly better, but not by much: In 2017, just 4.8% of characters on broadcast series (not including Netflix other streaming services) identify as LGBTQ, according to GLAAD. That's the highest percentage GLAAD has ever seen, according to the report.

Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images.

The TARDIS — the name of the Doctor's blue police call box spaceship — comes with the familiar phrase, "It's bigger on the inside." With the introduction of the first openly gay lead character on the show, audience members are finally seeing the inclusiveness exhibited across all dimensions and time in the Who-verse.  

The BBC has mandated that by 2020 at least 8% of all on-screen characters must be LGBTQ. Whether Moffat's creation of Bill Potts came about organically or because of this mandate, it shows us what this world can look like if we let everyone play. When writers create characters out of their established comfort zones, it reinforces that good things can happen on screen and in real life.

This era of "Doctor Who" — and our TV media landscape — is finally catching up with universes thousands of years in the future. It's about damn time.

Aging is a weird thing. We all do it—we truly have no choice in the matter. It's literally how time and living things work.

But boy, do we make the process all kinds of complicated. The anti-aging market has created a 58.5 billion-dollar industry, with human beings spending their whole lives getting older spending buttloads of money to pretend like it's not happening.

I'm one of those human beings, by the way, so no judgment here. When I find a product that makes me look as young as I feel inside, I get pretty giddy.

But there's no doubt that our views on aging—and by extension, our perspectives on our own aging bodies—are influenced by popular culture. As we see celebrities in the spotlight who seem to be ageless, we enviously tag them with the hashtag #aginggoals. The goal is to "age well," which ultimately means looking like we're not aging at all. And so we break out the creams and the serums and the microdermabrasion and the injections—even the scalpel, in some cases—to keep the wrinkles, crinkles, bags, and sags at bay.

There's a big, blurry line between having a healthy skincare routine and demonizing normal signs of aging, and we each decide where our own line gets drawn.

This is where Justine Bateman comes in.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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