My youngest brothers’ first exposure to a queer character in television was through Doctor Who’s Captain Jack. When you are eight (or really any age) Captain Jack is the archetype of complete cool that you are always striving to achieve; witty, brave, ridiculously charming, and has a gun. So when you see that that character “dances with everyone” it tells you that there’s nothing weird or wrong about queerness. And when, a few days later, you go to school and find your friends using homophobic language as one brother did, you tell them to stop because you know that people should never be a target for hate.
That’s the impact that a great show can have.
The recent announcement that Doctor number 13 will be played by Jodie Whittaker has had predictable reactions. To some this is the worst case of pandering. To others it is about time. But in reality it is just another form of the Doctor, and in some ways that is the most significant part. Because removed from all the adult conversations, all children will see is the central character of a show they eagerly watch simply looking different yet again but still going on the same adventures with the same balance of coolness and nerdiness that we’ve all grown to love. It’s that normalcy that made Captain Jack so important, and it will be the same again when the Doctor leads an army, saves the world, or refers to her wife in the seasons to come.
Doctor Who teaches morals. It highlights that sometimes it is worth risking danger to you and those around you for a greater cause. It shows that even genius is not infallible and that we all have a part to play in improving our situations. It tells children that you must have hope that people as a whole can be good in the end, and that though there are bad things in the world it is important to love and protect one another as best you can.
The wider world is a cynical one. It’s one that makes us forget these rules in favour of a more utilitarian bend. Yet the idealism of Doctor Who is what draws us in, and what makes these inclusions so important because it reinforces the humanity of groups who haven’t historically fared so well. The recent companion of Bill, a gay, black woman who unabashedly has crushes and has to rebuff interested men helps with this normalisation. Adding a Doctor whose gender in our eyes has shifted builds up not only what women can do in society’s eyes, but makes conversations around gender dynamics and the idea of a binary easier to have too.
Having a pop culture locus to discuss and represent difference shouldn’t be a marvel, but something ordinary. I’m looking forward to the next series of Doctor Who to take us a little bit closer towards this future.