Doctor Who to introduce first openly gay companion

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By Andrew Tyrrell, Managing Editor

Doctor Who finally returns on Saturday, April 15 for its tenth season in the post-reboot era.The long awaited return of Who has brought with it welcome news about the Doctor’s newest companion, Bill.

If you’re not sitting, I suggest you do so now; this one is a shocker. Bill is gay. Gasp! Now to clarify something, Bill is a woman, a young black woman for that matter, played by the up-and-coming British actress Pearl Mackie. This makes the character doubly significant.

Very little has been revealed about Bill yet, other than she meets the Doctor at a university he seems to be teaching at. And that she’s gay. That’s actually a really huge deal.

Doctor Who has made a lot of history since its premier in 1963. It is the most popular and longest running science fiction series in the history of television.

Ask your parents about Doctor Who, or even your grandparents. They may not be familiar with the new series, but they might remember a few episodes from when Tom Baker was the Doctor from 1974-81.

Now, there have been plenty of characters in other sci-fi series that have been gay, bisexual, or various other sexual orientations. In fact, one of the most popular queer characters in modern sci-fi is Captain Jack Harkness, who first appeared in Doctor Who before becoming the protagonist on the spin-off series Torchwood. But Bill is the Doctor’s companion.

That means something. This is the person the Doctor will trust and care for the absolute most. This is, aside of the Doctor himself, the single most important character on the show.

So what’s the big deal? Representation is the big deal. Captain Jack may have been a fan favorite but he was never a primary character like Bill is. It is incredibly important for a series with such far-reaching  influence like Doctor Who to have as much representation as possible.

Kids all over the world watched the original series when it aired from 1963-1989, and kids all over the world watch it since it returned in 2005. It’s important for them to see that it’s okay for your skin not to be white and for your sexual orientation to not be heterosexual. It’s important to teach kids not just to accept those who are different from them, but to accept themselves.

A lot of people don’t understand the importance of representation in media because, well, straight white people are represented all over the place. Anywhere you look from sports to television to film to music, there’s an abundance of white people, most of whom are hetereosexual, in our media. We live in the most diverse country in the world, but we don’t see it in the one place that honestly matters most: the media. And it’s going to take a British series to help change that.

Initially I was honestly a little disappointed in Doctor Who. Not because Bill is gay, but because it took them so long. The show is markedly more progressive than others, but it still took them 54 years to include a gay character.

I was upset that it took so long, but it warmed my heart when Pearl Mackie, Peter Capaldi (the current Doctor), and showrunner Steven Moffatt all said roughly the same thing: It’s about time.

They all recognized that this was overdue, and to Moffatt’s undying credit he didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. He wants characters like Bill to be normal, particularly on what is largely a children’s series.

The path to acceptance and equality lies in normalization. For such a powerfully influential series to be tackling that is amazing, and it’s important. Just like it was very important for Sesame Street to introduce an autistic character, which I wrote about last year for this publication.

Representation in media is important. It really does matter. People need to see others who look like them and act like them in the things they watch.

We all struggle to find ourselves and understand who we are, and maybe it shouldn’t be the case, but we all really utilize media to help figure those things out.

I’m proud to be a fan of a series that is doing what it can to help children and adults alike know that who they are is perfectly fine, that it’s normal. We could use a lot more shows that are like Doctor Who.

The new season is sure to have a lot of mayhem in store. It’s been confirmed that John Simm will be reprising his role as the Master, and of course this is Capaldi’s last season in the TARDIS, so there’s a regeneration to look forward to. Season 10 premieres April 15 on BBC America.

Be sure to tune in and watch the longest running sci-fi series in history lead the charge in positive representation in media.

Photo Courtesy: Machinima SBOC

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