Seeing trans non-binary representation on prime-time TV in Doctor Who

Spoilers: I cried, a lot. [239]

Seeing trans non-binary representation on prime-time TV in Doctor Who
At dusk the sky is purple and reflected in an ice-covered lake. In the distance there are mountains covered in snow.

Captain’s Log

Hello! I hope you are swell. While on a recent photography commission where I was a little worried about being openly queer, a woman at the event came over and said “You look amazing.” A total stranger. I hope I never become used to the kindness of strangers. It’s such a pleasant surprise. People can genuinely be kind, for no reason.


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A snow covered landscape with telegraph poles running through the hills.
A snow covered landscape with telegraph poles running through the hills.


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A person stands at the edge of a frozen lake. There are mountains in the distance.
A person stands at the edge of a frozen lake. There are mountains in the distance.

Seeing trans non-binary people on prime-time TV in Doctor Who

You may have heard that in the Russell T. Davis re-reboot of Doctor Who, aka NuWho2 or RTD2, a fantastic trans character appears. On a prime-time BBC flagship TV show, there’s a trans character. Not just a character, but one played by a trans actor. Holy representation Batman. There’s a phrase used by under-represented minority groups, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” The people behind Doctor Who, especially Russell T. Davis, proudly and loudly said “We see you. Let’s show the world you being you.”

In the context of the show, maybe they didn’t need to do this. They could have had a character just be another random person off the street that the Doctor bumped into. I’m sure the show would have worked fine as it has other iterations. Instead, they chose to be an ally. They chose to have a trans actor play a trans character on screen. They did it with love and authenticity. Did they need to do this for the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who? No, but maybe yes? To quote the show itself;

“I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point to any of this at all. But it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it.” - 12th Doctor

They absolutely did it. If you want an idea of what being a trans/non-binary person is like, oddly Doctor Who: The Star Beast, is a sort of good introduction. It touches on the human everyday aspects of being trans, family and how the world reacts to you. The show took time to discuss deadnaming, which is a tough subject to tackle. Being out in public can be tough. You go out for milk and people stare, photograph you, make comments and deadname you. You just wanted to get milk. The reality of changing your identity is not everyone can handle that. Maybe one day they will.

There’s a beautiful exchange between people where they get Rose’s pronouns wrong. I say beautiful because it’s a real human experience. Her nan makes a mistake when talking about Rose to her daughter. “When I say she looks gorgeous, is that right? I mean is it sexist? I never said it to him when he was-… Oh, oh sorry.” She gets flustered and apologises. It’s very human because we’re all flawed cocktails of half-forgotten things, muscle memory and ideas we’ve unconsciously picked up. I’ve been trying for decades to stop saying “Oh my god!” as I’m not religious, and yet at 45 I still say it. Change is hard, for everyone. The show is telling everyone, it’s hard and complex and sometimes messy, but just be patient and be kind.

Later in the episode, there is a much bigger moment relating to non-binaryness. It’s hard to discuss without spoiling it, so SPOILER WARNING.

The Doctor is non-binary!

“…the Doctor’s male and female and neither and more.”

That’s how I feel! That’s me up there! On prime-time TV! To me, that is a great description of what it is to be non-binary. I have male bits but draw inspiration from the female world. I’m neither and more. To see that in a prime-time 6:30 PMish Saturday night flagship TV show, well I cried. One of the great icons of modern British culture is like me. I’m not alone.

I never felt this way before I identified as non-binary because I identified like most male people in the world, and they’re everywhere. Constantly, everywhere. When you step away from that you notice how little representation there is. Cafes, bars, books, music, film, comics, where am I? How do I stop feeling alone and hated by the world? I rarely see myself out there unless it’s someone attacking someone like me. If you haven’t spent time as a male-bodied person walking around wearing a skirt and makeup, you can’t know the reality of the world. I never did. It is truly shocking, and scary.

Doctor Who is standing in front of the world saying “Non-binary, not something to fear” in the hope the world goes “You’re right.” This is what it has been doing for decades. The Doctor is always fighting oppression, systems, governments, fascism, and hatred, and trying to make the world a little better.

“The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views…which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” - 4th Doctor

I feel like I’m seen as one of those facts that people would like to alter. Yet the show has been saying for 60 years that change is normal. It occurs at any point in your life. It may not be convenient, it may take you a minute to recover, but change is normal. The entire premise of the show is based around transition.

“Life depends on change, and renewal.” - 2nd Doctor

“We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives and that’s okay, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving forward, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” - 11th Doctor

"We’re capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve while still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next. Now’s your chance.” - 13th Doctor

That they chose to portray an honest view of what life is like for trans and non-binary folk is fantastic. It’s just in there amongst the wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. Is it perfect? No. I’ll bloody well take it though. It’s 1,000 times better than having some writer make a book about a male-bodied serial killer who wears dresses. As a writer, you could write anything and I’m so glad Russell T. Davis wrote this show. Allons-y!

“Never be cruel. Never be cowardly. Hate is always foolish. Love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind.” - 12th Doctor

A frozen snow-covered lake sits amongst snowy hills and mountains.
A frozen snow-covered lake sits amongst snowy hills and mountains.

Transporter room

A river runs through a snowy Welsh town.
A river runs through a snowy Welsh town.

End program

“Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous.” Christopher Pike, Captain USS Discovery.

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