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Doctor Who's First Openly Gay Companion: Why It Actually DOES Matter

Tony shows what it would be like if it really ‘didn’t matter.’

First, let’s say some important things. Doctor Who has always been one of the more sexuality-broad shows on television, at least in terms of much of its fan base – it’s difficult to think of another prime time family drama that has a core fan-base including such a strong seam of LGBTQI viewers, readers and listeners. Certainly, since its return in 2005, it’s been almost constantly accused of promoting a ‘gay agenda,’ a tired argument used against the readjustment of societal norms to include gay people, since the agenda is equivalent to ‘achieving all the stuff CIS people take for granted.’

In the wake of the news that Bill will be – and here we heavily quote – ‘the first openly gay companion,’ many people, including a lot of straight white guys (just saying), have taken to the internet to say ‘What’s all the fuss about, surely it shouldn’t matter?’

No, it shouldn’t. But it does. Because the idea that our society is already at the point of inclusivity of LGBTQI sexuality is mostly espoused by those who see society through the majority viewpoint.

Just to be clear, bisexuality is a thing. A very different thing to lesbianism or gayness – the journeys are different, which is why it earns its own place in the increasingly long acronym of inclusion. Omnisexuality’s a thing too – as we finally bring to light the complex spectrum of gender beyond our previous perception of it as a binary thing, that becomes more and more important to state. So the likes of Jack Harkness, River Song, and dipping outside the on-screen world, Bernice Summerfield, are all omnisexual. They are that way because – get this, it’s important – they come from a more enlightened time than our own. For that matter, and for the same reasons, the likes of Steven Taylor, Vicki, Sara Kingdom, Vislor Turlough and Nardole probably are too: in the field of sexuality, omni is the way of the future, darlings.

So why does it matter that Bill is the first ‘openly’ gay companion? Because it hasn’t been actually shown. Because our society has never been ready before.

Doctor Who fans have been ready, let’s not get that wrong – hardcore Doctor Who fans barely batted an eye at Jack Harkness, at River Song, at Benny, at the inclusion of the likes of Oliver Harper in Big Finish audio or the Lizard Woman of Paternoster Row and her wife (technically not Tardis-travellers, and hence ‘friends’ of the Doctor’s, not companions, in case you’re wondering about the loophole). We’ve been ready for decades. It’s society that hasn’t been ready. THAT’s why it’s important that Bill’s lesbian, and out, and whatever else she is too as part of her personality.

It’s important because if society had been ready, in a show like Doctor Who which has the whole universe as its backdrop, it would have happened on-screen before now. It’s important because it’s time society caught up with the vast majority of Doctor Who fans – and arguably, Bill’s inclusion as an ‘openly’ gay character means Doctor Who will play its part, believing that society now, in 2017, won’t collectively throw its hands up and find gay heroes more scary that Nazis in personal tanks.

Here we offer a not entirely serious handful of scenes we never saw because society wasn’t ready, but which if it truly ‘didn’t matter’ back in the day, we *cough, cough* might have done.

Susan Foreman: TipPing-Cho The Velvet
Travelling the Silk Road (ahem) with Marco Polo, a lonely Susan finds a deep connection with the sixteen year-old Ping-Cho, who only knows she doesn’t want to marry the man chosen for her when they get to the court of the Khan. Susan introduces Ping-Cho to the mysteries of a love unknown in her society, and, determined to escape her fate as wife to one of the Khan’s men, they dress her in male robes, and Ping-Cho goes forth into the world as Ling-Tau the messenger.

Steven Taylor: Brokeback Masterson
Landing in Tombstone, Arizona, while the First Doctor is mistaken for Doc Holliday, Steven finds love with Sheriff Bat Masterson, connecting over their shared determination to do the right thing in a corrupted world (or universe). After singing ‘the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’ together off-screen and upstairs for much of the story, (cue cheeky gags from Dodo about ‘understanding now why cowboys walk that way’), the two stand together at the Gunfight at the OK Corral and, though Masterson says he ‘can’t quit’ Steven, Steven knows the times he lives in, and that it would destroy Masterson’s credibility in society if he stayed. As he heads morosely into the Tardis, Steven says he’ll make it easy to quit him. And the Tardis dematerialises…

Rory Williams: Angels In America
When they were children, Amy Pond thought her friend Rory Williams was gay. He thought he was actually in love with her. Rory’s been taking a long time to come to terms with his true nature, getting married, having a daughter, following Amy round the universe. Then they tangle with Angels in America, untie a paradox they unwittingly create and then, at the very end of the episode, Rory gets zapped back to the past by the touch of an angel. Amy’s all set to go after him, but the Doctor produced a letter he’s had in his possession for some time. As it happens, getting transported back to the Thirties was the wake-up call Rory needed. He found private detective Sam Garner, and finally understood what his relationship with Amy had been missing – equality. And sure, yeah, the other thing. Garner & Williams went on to be partners in every sense – business and life, explaining why both were found, aged, in the same bed during the episode, and why Old Rory only vaguely remembers Amy when they see each other.

Adric: A Boy’s Own Story
In Earthshock, one of the least surprising gay storylines in Doctor Who history, the young maths genius from Alzarius is trapped on board the freighter, plummeting to prehistoric Earth, when Lieutenant Scott realises he’s found the young man who makes his moustache ruffle. He launches an escape pod from the escape pod, heads back to the freighter, grabs Adric, and as they commandeer the Cyber-ship, the story ends not on Adric’s broken badge but on a full-on man-snog.

Earthshock is also notable for the story of Briggs and Berger finally admitting their love for each other, and rank be damned – when you’ve escaped from the Cybermen, who deny all emotion, it makes no sense to repress your own any more.

Leela: The Well of Rassilon
After the Sontarans are repelled from Gallifrey, Leela elects to stay behind, because she’s formed a special bond with a native of the Capitol – Rodan, the Time Lady with whom she’s been through exile, who she’s taught to stand on her own two feet and stand up for what she wants, as they storm the citadel of the Time Lords to save it from the alien invaders.

Fans everywhere believe this immediately and wave Leela goodbye with an understanding tear, while puppydog Andred looks on aghast, after somehow mysteriously thinking he ever had a chance with the warrior-woman. Rodan promises to show Leela the Well of Rassilon once the Doctor’s left.

Tegan Jovanka: Heathrow Is Not The Only Airport
Terminus ends with Nyssa electing to leave the Doctor, and Tegan explodes that she can’t do that, not after everything they’ve been through. The two first bonded over the loss of their families and the exigencies of time travel with the new young Doctor, but have since found a true love that goes beyond sisterhood or friendship. But Nyssa, the super-sophisticate, would never tell the woman she loves that she has to stop travelling time and space simply because she, Nyssa has found a place where she can make a difference. Tegan, put in a position where she has to choose between Heathrow Bloody Airport and Nyssa of Traken, steps away from her life of time travel and the hope of seeing home, because home is now with the woman she loves. (NB while looking for images to illustrate this one, we came across Nyssa and Tegan femslash fan-fiction, so clearly we’re not the first to suggest this was a possibility!)

Bill Potts being openly gay matters. Not to Doctor Who, and not to hardcore Doctor Who fans, most of whom have been ready for a gay companion, or indeed a Doctor involved in a gay love story, for decades, but for young viewers who have yet to learn a dying societal prejudice that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with loving who you love. For them, Bill will be a counter-argument to that idea if and when they encounter it. And it’s important that Doctor Who as a show should be able to give them that gift.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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