When the BBC launched Doctor Who 60 years ago, few could have foretold the legacy it would create – especially with its LGBTQ+ fans, including a huge number of trans followers.
In recent decades, the iconic sci-fi show has been praised for its allegorical political commentary, which is quite the achievement considering its somewhat tricky start, with the earlier era of the show, which ran until 1989, containing a fair share of dated language and problematic portrayals.
But all that changed in 2005. That’s when showrunner Russell T Davies rebooted Doctor Who, making its mark as a pioneering force for LGBTQ+ representation.
As Davies returns to the helm for the 60th anniversary specials and Ncuti Gatwa’s run as the 15th – if you count David Tennant twice – Doctor, the new episodes promise a flurry of LGBTQ+ talent, not least trans star Yasmin Finney, as former companion Donna Noble’s daughter Rose, and Drag Race legend Jinkx Monsoon, who will portray a mysterious villain, among a host of other queer talent.
And fans such as Aaron, who’s non-binary and the founder of LGBTQIA+ group “Friends of Ace” are ready and waiting to dive into the new episodes, which are set to be the most diverse yet.
“Doctor Who is fundamentally about outsiders, outcasts or people who are different, coming together and sharing something magical,” Aaron tells PinkNews.
It’s the idea that no matter who you are, you have a place, you have a story and you deserve great adventures in your life.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by fellow fan Johanna, a trans Whovian who was drawn to the show by the Doctor’s versatility as a “lead character who transcends societal norms and rules and can even exist beyond simple ideas of gender, race or, indeed, sexuality.”
For Johanna, seeing active strides being made towards greater inclusivity is “particularly gratifying” considering its past, with stories such as 1977’s Tom Baker episode “The Talons of Weng Chiang”, having received criticism for its depiction of Chinese characters.
Doctor Who ‘represents marginalised communities in a positive light’
Meanwhile, trans masc fan Jacob says: “Growing up with very limited age-appropriate programmes with good representation of equality, diversity and inclusion, I realise how fortunate I was to have a show that represented marginalised communities in a positive light.”
Over the past two decades, there have been a number of LGBTQ+ characters, becoming increasingly more explicit, across Davies, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall’s time as the show’s driving force.
And most LGBTQ+ fans can remember the character who most resonated with them.
For Aaron, it’s 1980s companion Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, who many people viewed as bisexual. It’s a love shared with Johanna who recalls one episode where the character “indulges in cross dressing” – a sign of the early stirrings of LGBTQ+ representation in the series.
Johanna also adores 12th Doctor Peter Capaldi’s lesbian companion, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), who was one of the first core characters to have an explicitly LGBTQ+ romance.
Meanwhile, Jacob praised recurring character Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), who entered a tender romance with Ianto Jones in the adult spin-off series, Torchwood, and the 13th Doctor’s companion Yaz (Mandip Gill) who slowly falls in love with the Time Lord (Jodie Whittaker) in more-recent episodes.
Although there is no shortage of LGBTQ+ storylines in the show today, there is still some way to go. When Whittaker regenerated into Tennant in “The Power of the Doctor” last year, her clothes changed as well – unlike all previous regenerations.
Davies addressed the ensuing criticism by saying he didn’t want Tennant wearing Whittaker’s costume to appear as a “mockery” of drag culture.
However, fan Clara argues: “Jodie’s outfit was designed with gender neutrality in mind. It was supposed to be a ‘timeless and genderless’ outfit. I think this would have been received very well by queer fans.
“Instead it appears he has enforced the idea that a male Doctor cannot possibly wear women’s clothes.”
Despite this disappointment, Clara maintains her faith in the show as a “safe space” for trans fans, especially in response to campaigns against trans people by prominent figures such as writer Graham Linehan and Harry Potter author JK Rowling.
“If even one trans kid sees a trans character in the show, and this helps them accept who they are, that’s a good thing,” Clara says.
Aaron in particular speaks of his joy at Doctor Who casting rising trans talent. “The fact that Yasmin and Jinkx have been [among] the first bunch of castings makes me scream,” he said.
“These are people who aren’t just hired because they’re trans or non-binary, but because they’re at the top of their game in the field, they’re breaking through and Russell just wants a piece of that. Why wouldn’t he?”
Jacob hopes these characters will be a much-needed antidote to the years of harmful tropes pedalled about the trans community in the mainstream media.
“Turning on the TV to watch yourself represented, [the characters often had] the intent of fear-mongering or doom-and-gloom storylines,” he continues.
“We don’t want constant reminders of our struggles, we want to see ourselves represented through a variety of characters and storylines that aren’t the same narratives told over and over.”
Johanna, meanwhile, thinks it is “progressive filmmakers and showrunners’ responsibility [to] ensure diversity both in front of and behind the camera”.
She adds: “I hope young trans people who are unsure about their identity and how they fit into gender, see people like Yasmin Finney and realise that it’s OK to be trans.
“I hope it helps them understand themselves and gives them a vision of how people flourish before, during and after transition.”
Doctor Who returns with “The Star Beast” on Saturday, 25 November on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. It will stream on Disney+ globally.