Ten years ago, the beloved British television program Doctor Who returned after a hiatus of more than 15 years. The show, which first aired in 1963, follows The Doctor, an alien Time Lord from the planet Galifrey who travels through time in space in his TARDIS (a ship camouflaged as a police box) saving the universe with the help of human companions. With the uncanny ability to "regenerate," or transform into a new body (read: actor) when killed, the show has been able to live on well past the life of the first Doctor, William Harntell. In fact, it’s now become the longest-running science fiction television program in history, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013.
The first twelve doctors (the series is now on number thirteen, played by Peter Capaldi)
Over the decades, the show established itself as an integral part of British society. Therefore, when Russell T. Davies revived the show in 2005 (it had gone off air in 1989), there was an excited and eager audience awaiting. In recent years, Doctor Who’s fanbase has continued to swell, thanks in large part to the quirky charms of Doctors ten and eleven, David Tennant and Matt Smith.
From left to right, Matt Smith and David Tennant
While Davies passed the torch (or sonic screwdriver?) to head writer Steven Moffat in 2010, the trailblazing creator of Queer As Folk and the upcoming series Banana and Cucumber left a lasting LGBT mark on the series. Here are some of the best things Doctor Who has done for the community since its return.
Captain Jack Harkness, played by openly gay Scottish-American actor John Barrowman, set the revivial off to a truly fabulous start. The flamboyantly charming pansexual character, whose attraction was bound by neither gender nor species, quickly established himself as a fan favorite. He went on to star in his spin-off series, Torchwood, whose writers really seemed to enjoy slipping in the odd steamy gay sex scene.
'Grid Lock' in season three, which aired in 2007, introduced us to May and Alice Cassini (left). While May originally introduced themselves as sisters, Alice was quick to correct her: "You know full well we’re not sisters. We’re married.” Then, In 2011, the sixth season episode 'A Good Man Goes To War' featured an unnamed married couple (right). "We’re the thin-fat gay married Anglican marines," the fat one explained, "Why would we need names as well?”
In the closing scenes of 'Day of The Moon,' also from the sixth season in 2011, Canton Everett Delaware III managed to gain President Nixon's blessing in plans to marry his black fiance, until he revealed that said fiance was a he. “I think the Moon is far enough, for now, don’t you, Mister Delaware?” Nixon replied.
Things don't need to stop at interracial same-sex marriages in Doctor Who. At first, Jenny, who first appears in season six, appears to be Madame Vastra's maid, but it's soon revealed that Victorian London is playing host to one of the most progressive relationships in time and space—a Silurian (lizard-woman from prehistoric earth) and her wife, a human woman. The two even shared an onscreen kiss!
There have also been a whole slew of gay actors on the show, like Russell Tovey, who played Alonso Frame in 'Voyage of the Doomed' in 2007. While his character's sexuality wasn't revealed until the end of the episode, we can only imagine what he got up to with Captain Jack after sitting down next to him in that space bar.
It's a show without anxiety over sexuality. Both David Tennant and Matt Smith have said in interviews that it's alright for audiences to think their Doctors are gay. And when we meet The Doctor's most recent companion, Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, she talks matter-of-factly of her first crush, Nina. And later on, she ends up with Danny Pink, played by Samuel Anderson.
Andrew Hayden-Smith, star of Davies' upcoming series Banana and Cucumber, also made early appearances on the show as Jake Simmonds. In an interview with Out, Hayden-Smith revealed that his character was actually written as gay, but that the relevant scene had to be cut last minute.
And then there are two characters who discuss having transitioned. The first was Lady Cassandra O'Brien, introduced in 2006 (right). Hundred of plastic surgeries had eventually left her nothing more than a stretch of skin with a face, but she mentions in passing having once been "a boy." Missy, played by Michele Gomez, is finally revealed in season eight to be the latest regeneration of The Master, the Doctor's sworn Time Lord enemy, who had always been male until this point.
Doctor Who has been regularly praised for its LGBT representation and, given that it's always been well ahead of the curve (perhaps the time travel has something to do with it?), it's safe to say that the trend will continue.