Sexism and Transphobia in Doctor Who

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



I love Doctor Who (the show. I have mixed feelings about the character). I think it’s an excellent show, particularly New Who. We all love Doctor Who. I look ridiculously forward to new episodes. At its best, Doctor Who presents masterful storytelling and character development that could be a model to television shows everywhere. I’m currently producing a freaking Doctor Who themed burlesque show I love it so much.


I also love that Doctor Who introduced the character Jack Harkness – one of the first openly bisexual characters in mainstream TV, and with an overwhelming sexuality that was a welcome contrast to the relative asexuality of the Doctor. It showed that the BBC is not afraid to piss off a few haters in order to create compelling characters and deal with adult topics.

However, something that’s always bother me about the show is the sexist undertones. The Doctor, through 11 regenerations, is always male, is always the smartest person in the room, and generally has a pretty young female companion (who often has a crush on him) who wanders off, gets into trouble, and need the Great Man to come rescue her. There are some exceptions (and companions often end up saving the Doctor, but never by being smarter than him), but largely the pattern holds. Even the current season was disappointing in that regard. It opened with Oswin, another pretty young woman. But this time, she was an intellectual equal of the Doctor. That lasted for one episode. When she was reintroduced midseason, her character had no memory of the resourceful genius from the first episode, and was back in the classic hapless woman companion role.

Against that backdrop, we now have this:

After bookies William Hill revealed that the new Doctor Who to replace Matt Smith when he leaves at Christmas was odds on 8/1 to be a female, bosses at the BBC have come out to rule this out as an option.

According to The Daily Star newspaper, bosses at the BBC have ruled out a female Doctor, which Sue Perkins and Miranda Hart were both being linked to also, as they feel that it would cause upset amongst its younger viewers, and awkward conversations about sex changes with their parents.

Confirming this decision, Russell T Davies explained to the publication how this mega change would never be allowed because it is “a family show”, adding:

“While I think kids will not have a problem with a female Doctor, I think fathers will have a problem with it.

“That’s because they will then imagine they will have to describe sex changes to their children.”

So much fail.* Before we even GET to the transphobia, what the fuck is Davies even talking about? He thinks kids will understand that during a regeneration, a time lord’s height, weight, hair, face, arms, legs, torso, feet, and entire personality can change, but if their genitalia changes, then IT WILL BE TOO CONFUSING!!! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

But obviously, the REAL problem is that if having a female Doctor might lead parents to discussion the existence of trans* people with their children, that’s a GOOD thing! Just like Jack Harkness helped confirm the existence of bisexuals, a female Doctor could help confirm the existence of trans* people.

And let’s not neglect to point out the sexist assumption that it’s fathers who will be having this conversation. Because mothers couldn’t possibly. How uncouth.

This is extra disappointing because personally, I would love to see a female Doctor. Flipping the gender roles that have pervaded the show in the past would go a long way toward undoing some of the sexism that it’s perpetuated in the past. I would love to see how various alien races react to a hyper-intelligent woman who battles the forces of destruction with her mind and wit (and sonic screwdriver). I would love to see a woman be just as giddy, juvenile, reckless, dramatic, arrogant, playful, condescending, and ultimately lovable as David Tenant or Matt Smith.

Also, Katie McGrath would be an awesome Doctor. Just sayin, BBC.


* to be fair, Davies is no longer affiliated with the show, but he was the lead writer from 2005-2010, and is still affiliated with the BBC.

11 thoughts on “Sexism and Transphobia in Doctor Who

  1. I had not yet heard the definitive rejection of the possibility of a female Doctor, but until you pointed to that I already had several scenarios where recent events could easily support such a transformation quite seamlessly (that stem from events in the most recent episode I’ll not spoil just in case someone is a little behind on viewing). Sad that they ruled that out, but it also wouldn’t be the first time they’ve lied to keep a surprise under wraps until a reveal so I don’t necessarily weight that statement too heavily.

    As for the companions, my knee-jerk reaction to your claims of male smart Doctor paired with lesser female needing saving was Romana. I distinctly recall her being smarter, even by the Doctor’s own admission. In that era the Doctor was quite explicitly a prideful buffoon compared to her calm competence that surpassed the Doctor’s. That led me to this compendium via a quick web search:'s_smartest_companion

    [me: A Who fan grateful his local PBS station (KERA) aired most Pertwee and all Baker through McCoy episodes back in the mid-’80s, though showing some of the older episodes to my partner is painful due to ’80s production quality not contrasting well with the current episodes.]

  2. We have seen “Time Ladies”, they are female. The Doctor is a “Time Lord”, and thus, should always be male. Quit bitching about a great show before you kill it.

  3. It’s cannon as of Doctor’s Wife that time lords can regenerate as a different gender than their previous incarnation. Also, I will bitch about the problematic elements of shows I love all I damn well please. Marginalized populations deserve to see themselves represented in significant and complex roles. Fingers crossed that even if the new doctor isn’t a woman that we can get a Doctor who isn’t a thin normatively-abled white dude.

  4. River is definitely the Doctor’s equal, both in intellect, and in deviousness. Donna was hardly a weak companion that had a crush on him or even looked up to him, she repeatedly shows him up. Madam Vastra and Jenny, whilesometimes in need of the Doctor’s help, often save him.

  5. “It’s cannon as of Doctor’s Wife that time lords can regenerate as a different gender than their previous incarnation” Or it could be cannon for that one Time Lord, Who’s to say that the Corsair wasn’t a trans Time Lord like you get Humans who are trans as well as humans who are just male and just female? Maybe The Corsair was just like that. Maybe this whole force our world view on others (even if they are fiction) is counter productive and doesn’t chance a thing.
    After all the Mater was hypnotic, yet no other Time Lord has shown those powers, so maybe we shouldn’t assume all Time Lords are the same.
    And I’ve heard many a trans person come out saying no to the Male to Female Doctor switch-a-roo because the Doctor clearly identifies as male, and forcing the chance on him would be tantamount to forcing a trans person to be their birth gender against their wishes. They of course put it much better than I ever can, because well frankly they know what they’re talking about.

    Also while I love Katie McGrath in all the things, as well as just being in love with her in general; No. She wouldn’t make a good doctor. Mostly because I for see her only ever playing Evil people, she does it so well, and second and more importantly she’s too young. We need and older Doctor. Some one who looks like they’ve seen the end of the world and come out the other side, still trying to smile.
    We need Alexander Siddig.

  6. Forgive me for being a little late to the party on this one, but I’ve suspected that Russell T. Davies is a bit transphobic ever since the only explicitly transgender character ever to appear during his run on the series was a vain, villainous trampoline whose only personality trait was addiction to cosmetic surgery.

  7. Cassandra is trans! She says she was a young boy playing on earth! No one makes a big deal not even Rose Tyler who is from a less open time.

  8. I am coming to this post-Missy, and would be interested to hear your thoughts on her. Still no female Doctor, but it certainly looks as if they are playing a long game in laying the ground work.

    Anyway, I think you totally mis-read the RTD quote. I think what he’s saying here is that kids would accept it, but their parents – especially dads – may be more conservative and awkward on the topic.

    Random other comments…

    You may remember that in the Eccleston season, the Doctor is saved from certain doom by a female character in *every single episode*. By dint of superior intelligence? Maybe not, but in-story, almost nobody is smarter than the Doctor, so it’s not much of a knock to say that the companions aren’t. (Though…there was Zoe, whose super-intelligence Troughton’s Doctor much admired, and Liz, who stood toe-to-toe with Pertwee’s Doctor in matters scientific. Oh, and the Time Lady Romana, from the late 70s, who annoyed Tom Baker by flying the TARDIS better and getting better marks at Time Lord Academy. And Nyssa, whom the Davison Doctor regarded as a true equal. But I digress). The point of companions is that, in general, they provide the heart & common sense to balance the Doctor’s rather cold and remote intellect. May be cliche, but there you go.

    Also, I always thought that the point of companions “wandering off” is not that they’re dumb, but that they’re independent and inquisitive. The male companions do it too!

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