Doctor Who and Discovering My Queerness

Doctor Who Discovering My Queerness post banner

Featured image: Promo Picture from Doctor Who S12E05 Fugitive of the Judoon. Yasmin Khan, The Thirteenth Doctor, Ryan Sinclair, and Ruth and Lee Clayton stand in an open, airy flat, leaning over a grey table, looking suspiciously at a round, red device with spikes. Glass from a broken window surrounds the object. On the left of the table is a wicker bowl with a blue rim, on a red table mat.

Content Notes and Warnings:

  • Mention of complex trauma, therapy, and allusion to C-PTSD, mentions of both internalised and institutional homophobia, mentions of ableism
  • I use some terms relating to sexuality that I don’t define, as they are not integral to the piece, but if you want to find out more about them, I’ve linked some info below.
  • Spoilers for Doctor Who Series 12
  • There is a MS Word version of this post attached at the bottom, in case you find this more accessible than reading in a browser

Series 12 of Doctor Who shook up my internal world like a bottle of pop. Apparently, my close re-watch of New Who in 2019 lined up all my feelings for me, and when Sacha Dhawan said ‘Hi!’ on that plane, he pushed the ‘on’ button. I’d been squashing a whole lot of thoughts and feelings for a long time and Series 12 brought them exploding to the surface. For so long, I could only experience this as overwhelmingly intense emotions that were ready to spill over at any moment, all while trying to navigate online fandom for the first time, where most people critiqued Series 12 like it was just another series of Doctor Who. As weeks passed following the series, I was able to express how seen I felt through my essays, filtered through my (then) lens as a disabled woman. However, it was only with more distance from the series that I reflected that it played an even more profound role in my personal development. 

Firstly, and importantly, it was the catalyst that enabled me to really start processing my complex trauma. I’m in trauma therapy now and it is truly transformative. Secondly came the realisation that Series 12 knew I was queer before I did! Doctor Who helping queer fans come to terms with their identities is nothing new; it’s a tale as old as 80s Who, if not older, but I’ve never seen or heard of an experience quite like mine before.

My intense infatuation with Sacha Dhawan’s Master (which in hindsight I recognise to be a platonic and aesthetic attraction, as opposed to a sexual or romantic one) propelled my questioning of my sexuality forward. He reminded me that I had feelings and I wanted to explore them! Add to that watching a community of young lesbian fans on Twitter expressing attraction to Thirteen and Yaz whilst also questioning their own sexuality in response to Sacha’s Master, some of them even changing their identity labels to bi, and I began to see that this sexuality malarkey really was more complicated than it seemed. I was also lucky enough to find a community during Series 12 in The Queer Archive and Black Girls Create, which kept nudging me to explore the fact that my resonance with the queer experience in Doctor Who (You’re attracted to that villain? Oh yeah, he’s queer coded!; Yaz’ mental health storyline resonates deeply with you? Oh yeah, that’s a queer narrative!) might actually be more than me simply empathising as a disabled woman, and gave me the courage to believe that all my feelings in response to this sci-fi show were valid and worthy of sharing and investigation.

It took me almost 4 months following the airing of The Timeless Children for it to click for me that I am in fact queer. Of course, I can’t give Doctor Who all the credit, there were many many pieces of the puzzle, and I had to do a lot of work to fit them all together, but Series 12 really fired the starting gun that drove me through those 6 months of figuring things out.

If I zoom out even further however, it’s only in my most recent re-watch in preparation for Series 13, that it hit me that the Doctor’s whole arc in Series 12 is in parallel to my own journey to queerness. I was so busy exploring themes of disability, institutionalisation, freedom, mental health, and Northern-ness in my initial response to the series, that I couldn’t see that both the seemingly disparate and unconnected events described above, and the series as a whole, had something else to tell me.  

The Doctor (who happens to be a northern blonde woman now, hello!) is told that everything she thinks she knows is a lie (bit of an exaggeration for both of us but hi, 26 years of internalised homophobia leading to me absolutely 100% believing that I was straight.) She discovers after thousands of years that she’s not who she thinks she is. A whole portion of her life, an entire piece of her identity has been hidden from her by those in power (OK, 26 years isn’t 2000, but I wasn’t a fresh-faced teen either! Also, hey there compulsory heterosexuality, Section 28 and decades of disabling oppression preventing me from even considering queerness as an option for myself.) She emerges angry, shaken to the core, but ultimately stronger (oh, maybe all of that anger I was feeling through the Doctor and the Master wasn’t just directed at my experience of disability and removal of choice and control!) In the end, we both contain multitudes more than we ever thought, or knew. For both of us, it’s terrifying, but it’s also empowering, and a chance to delve into who we are, and decide who we want to be.

Now, Skye and Brenna at The Queer Archive totally call this first in their Fugitive of the Judoon episode. They recognise that the whole of Jodie’s era has the theme of identity, and that it’s about being unsure who you are, but choosing to be exactly who you are inside, and not what other people expect you to be. I felt extremely called out by this at the time, but was I ready to interrogate that feeling further? Not quite. But I’m glad that I am now, because it means that I can move forward with a better understanding of why I feel such deep joy, connection and affirmation when watching the whole of Series 12, and not just the particular episodes or aspects that I’ve written about previously. It also serves as a reminder to hold on to my power, to keep seeking out and affirming my identities even when it’s hard. 

I want to reiterate though, this is not me saying ‘SERIES 12 SHOWED ME I WAS QUEER!’ Chibnall doesn’t have that much power, and there was a lot of projection and connection-forming with countless other aspects of my life from me, which joined the dots. My story is incredibly personal, and just because Series 12 had such a transformative effect on me doesn’t mean that it’s the perfect series for all questioning or closeted queer fans, or fans with other marginalised identities. Just because I managed to glean so much from it that was helpful to me, doesn’t mean that it trumps actual queer (or disabled or BIPOC) representation! We take what we can from queer-coded characters and narratives because that’s all we have. It was great to see a gay couple centred in Praxeus, but alongside the multiple queer deaths in Series’ 11 and 12 and the queerbaiting of fans waiting for Thasmin to happen, the show still has a long way to go. Maybe if I’d seen multiple relationships between lesbians and m-spec women during the course of New Who, I wouldn’t have had to work so hard to get here (justice for Bill and Penny!) In addition, if you consider the continued failure to move beyond colourblind casting into accurate representation (oh look, here’s Nicole’s article again!) and the refusal to centre inclusive disability narratives, then it’s unsurprising that I don’t know anyone else that feels quite as strongly about Series 12 as I do. 

It’s also part of the reason why I’m nervous to watch Series 13. When I wrote my original pieces on Series 12, I was bursting with excitement about what was to come next, but that excitement has muted considerably. For the last 18 months I’ve had the privilege of being able to say that the current series of Doctor Who is my favourite series (although it took me a long time to admit; watching Series 5 cross the bridge to nostalgia-land after 10 years was hard!) and after tomorrow that probably won’t be the case anymore. Whatever Series 13 does, it’s probably not going to cause the inner explosions I experienced in early 2020. Throw in the completely unnecessary introduction of Dan, the restrictions the pandemic put on the production of the series, my memories of being a naïve 17-year-old expecting Series 6 to blow my mind after the masterpiece that is Series 5, and then being utterly baffled by what we actually got, and the fear that solid representation isn’t actually coming at all, I can’t help but feel mostly trepidation. 

I just have to hold onto hope that now that my show has come back to me, it won’t go away again so quickly. I’m trying to have a little faith that Chibnall will come good with more on The Timeless Child arc, The Division, Jo Martin’s Doctor and Sacha Dhawan’s Master, and that Thasmin will get the series they deserve (Dan excepting.)

Whatever happens though, my connection with and gratitude for Series 12 has only cemented since I last wrote about it, and it only felt right to document this piece of the puzzle before we hurtle into Series 13 tomorrow. It was far from solely responsible for my growth, but it made me feel a lot of feels and planted a lot of seeds. It’s such a privilege to have a piece of media that triggered a truly monumental re-examination and reconstruction of almost every part of my life and identity, for which I’m a happier, healthier, and more whole version of me. I hope I can hold onto Series 12 as my Doctor Who for the next 10 years and that I can keep it with me as I keep discovering, growing, and changing along with the Doctor. 

References and Resources

Black Girls Create.

Rebecca Farren. Doctor Who Series 12 finally makes me feel seen.

Rebecca Farren. “I’m her best enemy”: Viewing the development of the Doctor/Master relationship as a disabled woman.

Tallulah Guard. Asexuality + The 5 Types of Attraction | it’s more than sexual and romantic?

Nicole Hill. Doctor Who and the Complications of Color-Blind Casting

The Queer Archive. Series 12 episodes 

Verilybitchie. Am I a Lesbian: The Comphet Masterdoc and Bisexuality

Verilybitchie. Comphet vs Compulsory Heterosexuality

Who Watch: Time and Relative Blackness in Space. Series 12 episode reviews

Wikipedia. Section 28.

Hannah Witton. Compulsory Heterosexuality | Hannah Witton.

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