Is Doctor Who sexist? It’s a question that pops up every so often and it has a relatively difficult answer. For the last few, I have run a series of posts on gender, sex and sexism in Doctor Who. This week: sex in the TARDIS.
This is almost certainly more a fandom and expanded universe matter than one of the television series, mainly because, you know, Doctor Who is a family show and many people aren’t particularly happy about young children watching things of a sexual nature.
So the ‘furthest’ the Doctor has (or any of the companions have) ever ‘gone’, on-screen, is kissing and risqué banter. The Doctor has had to keep his hands off his companions until the 1996 film in which he (sort of but not entirely non-romantically) kissed Dr Grace Holloway, but post-2005 the Doctor gets to kiss most of his companions (or be kissed by them). Interesting, in this regard, is the change in mentality between the 1980s and the 2000s. Reportedly, executive orders in the Fifth Doctor-era, due to Peter Davison being the youngest actor in the role until Matt Smith (which is an example also of ageism/chrononormativity), discouraged any or most interactions between the Doctor and his female companions which could be misconstrued. This implies, to a certain extent, that any misconstruing of interactions between the Doctor and his male companions (of which the Fifth Doctor has two, Adric and Turlough) wasn’t a possibility to BBC executives at the time – either they dismissed it or it didn’t occur to them. However, post-2005, the Doctor’s first kiss was with (“more flexible when it comes to dancing”) Jack Harkness, and he has since gone on to, among other things, flirt with the Master, be flirted with by William Shakespeare, and kiss Rory Williams. So even if diegetically the Doctor doesn’t particularly care about other people’s sexual and romantic preferences, extra-diegetically the show (and probably the BBC – as well as the world) has become a lot more open about sex and romance since 1963, or even the 1980s.
Lack of explicit romance and sex, however, hasn’t kept the fandom from trying to uncover subtext. And not just heterosexual subtext, although there is an astonishing amount of fan fiction out there exploring the romantic and sexual relations the Doctor could conceivably (and sometimes inconceivably) have had with his female companions, and companions amongst each other.
Oh, and there’s of course the lovely on-screen couple of Jenny and Mme. Vastra.
Similarly, if the amount of heterosexual and heteroromantic fan fiction is astonishing, then the amount of “slash” fiction is absolutely breathtakingly vast. In it are some relatively universally accepted pairings – Doctor/Master is about as mundane (and about as canonical) as, say, Ian Chesterton/Barbara Wright (who are actually married according to both The Sarah Jane Adventures and the Hunters of the Burning Stone comic).
In many ways, actually, Whovian fan art and fan fiction closely follows Rule 34 of the Internet: if you can imagine it, there’s porn of it – gay, straight, bi, queer, and including just about every existing fetish. The fandom has all of time and space to have the Doctor and his companions have sex in – literally everything is possible.
And I mean, everything.
So at least sometimes the show and (especially) the fandom and expanded universe are not entirely limited to merely heterosexual relationships. Which is nice.
But, of course, there’s always room for improvement. And since Doctor Who is all about change, we’ll just have to see what happens next.