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Why Doctor Who’s Black Gay Character Matters

Why Doctor Who’s Black Gay Character Matters

This month, the newest season of the BBC sci-fi television series “Doctor Who” will finally premiere and the anticipation has been pretty high. With the exception of last year’s Christmas special, viewers had to survive an entire year without new episodes. Adding to the excitement is the fact that this will be the final season we see Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and that we will be getting Bill, a new companion that is black, female, and gay.

“Doctor Who” is a show that centers on a human-like alien known as The Doctor. Using a time machine known as The TARDIS, The Doctor travels through time and space with a human companion. When The Doctor is fatally injured, they have the ability to regenerate into a body with an entirely new personality. As a result, many actors have played The Doctor, and many actors have become different companions.

With the exception of Martha Jones, there hasn’t been a female companion of color in The TARDIS in quite some time. Incidentally, there hasn’t been a lot of consideration for a woman of color as the next Doctor either. Until this point, The Doctor has always been played by a white, straight, cisgender male and the main companions have almost always been white straight cisgender women. These reasons make having a black, female, gay companion significant.

Pearl Mackie as Bill (Source; Radio Times)

For gay viewers of color like myself, this is monumental. Although I’m more of a fantasy fan than a sci-fi fan, that doesn’t change the fact that I rarely see queer characters of color on the screen. Even if I do, I have to worry about them falling victim to the “Bury Your Gays” trope that gets them killed off. According to GLAAD Media’s 2016 report, we had twenty-five lesbian and bisexual characters killed off last year.

Of course, women of color can be killed off or written questionably regardless of sexual orientation. In 2016, critic Angelica Jade  Bastien wrote about the lackluster portrayal of women of color in fantasy and sci-fi after Sleepy Hallow’s black female co-lead character Abbie Mills was killed off.  In an essay for the book Chicks Dig Time Lords Too, media critic K. Tempest Bradford discussed the brilliant and problematic portrayal of Martha Jones, describing how her resourceful and grounded character was muddled by unrequited love and physical labor performed by The Doctor.

Martha Jones as played by Freema Agyeman (Source: TARDIS Wikia)

Given the issues surrounding representation of straight and queer women of color, it is with some trepidation that I look forward to the new season of Doctor Who. Since actress Pearl Mackie is slated to only play Bill for this season, some trailers have caused some to speculate that Bill might be killed off. Hopefully, that is not the case because there are other routes the show could take.

One route is to simply let Bill leave The Doctor at the end of the season just as Martha Jones decided to do. Based on the bits of information revealed about Bill, we can assume that Bill might be a college student who serves chips in between classes. At the end of the season, The Doctor could drop Bill off on campus at the beginning of the semester, and she could apply her travels with The Doctor to her education and her future career.

Another route is to let Bill become an influential historical figure that lives to see modern times. There have been real-life figures that have done this, such as NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and renowned poet Maya Angelou. Having Bill do this would allow her to have a legacy that could influence generations to come.

For better or worse, Bill’s time with The Doctor will impact not only herself but also fans of “Doctor Who” that identify with her. She could become something meaningful, or her potential could be wasted. Only time will tell, but hopefully, Bill’s time in the TARDIS will set a new standard for “Doctor Who,” women of color in SFF, and the SFF shows to come.


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