Right from its origins in 1963, the
classic Doctor Who series was highly political and embodied a
distinct minority sensibility in that the Doctor, espousing the virtues
of liberal humanism, was frequently pitted against oppressive creatures
One need only think of his battling the
dreaded Daleks, autocratic and racist villains who seek to exterminate
those who are different, but there are countless other examples.
The programme also could be seen as
highly satirical: one story from 1988, The Happiness Patrol,
engages in exaggerated lunacy where a society is presented which
dictates that everyone be happy but can be read as critiquing the notion
that everyone be happy with their lot, and, largely, Margaret Thatcher’s
In this society, there is a restriction
on the type of language that can be used.
Words like ‘unhappy’, which can be used
as a form of protest, are forbidden, while the satirist is himself
rebelling against such a society, using the language of the Doctor
Who story to protest.
By restricting language, society becomes
backward and there is no place for opposition.
While the story concentrates most
explicitly on the oppression of the working class and unemployed, the
notion of oppression, of having to conform, and using the power of
language to protest is also relevant to gay men.
Thatcher’s government had introduced
Section 28 which suppressed homosexuality.
As Matt Jones (later script-editor of
Queer as Folk and writer for the new Doctor Who series) has
argued in the book Licence Denied, there is what can be seen as a
gay couple in the story, openly revealing themselves and rebelling.
So it’s a story which, while characters
are dressed in pink, is in reality very un-playful and dark, with a
society which the Doctor must ‘correct.’
Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who
similarly positions the Doctor as a liberal humanist.
But Davies’ re-imagining of Doctor Who
treats sexuality itself far more overtly, not only in the relationship
between the female companion and the male Doctor but also through the
figure of Captain Jack, the first sexual minority companion in the
Captain Jack, who would go on to have his
own series Torchwood was, as revealed in Doctor Who
Confidential, brought into the show in The Empty Child/The Doctor
Dances to ultimately serve the role of muscular action hero in a war
against the Daleks in the first series finale.
But he is not the traditional
heterosexual action hero and comes from the 51st century, envisaged by
Davies as a time of sexual freedom where categories such as ‘straight’,
‘gay’ and ‘bisexual’ no longer apply.
Captain Jack is a fully rounded character
with a backstory and his sexuality is simply treated as the norm. Some
might call him bisexual.
Others, more accurately, refer to him as
omnisexual, since he will not only have sex with men and women but also
Which I guess is a polite way of saying
that he’ll shag anything with a pulse, or, as actor John Barrowman (who
plays Jack), never lost for words, puts it:
“Bisexual is a word that we use in this
day and age but Jack is omnisexual. He’ll have sex with anything with a
zip cord, anything from any climate, if it is male, female, or alien.
“He doesn’t discriminate. Equal
opportunity shagger, he absolutely is.”
It has already been pointed out that such
a figure can serve as a role model in a television landscape which
under-represents gay and bisexual men. Davies stated in relation to
“I do watch a lot of television science
fiction, and it is a particularly sexless world. With a lot of the
material from America, I think gay, lesbian and bisexual characters are
massively underrepresented, especially in science fiction, and I’m just
not prepared to put up with that.”
But what is most important about Captain
Jack’s sexuality is the way it is treated playfully in the programme –
through both dialogue and imagery – and the ways in which this
normalises his sexuality and opens up a space for play with the
While sexuality in new Doctor Who
is political, Davies has commented:
“I’ll have a big bloody laugh about
sexuality. It’s very rare, and it’s part of my personal politics, that
I’ll handle it as a dark and serious story. All I’m saying is, ‘relax!’.
If anything, I get a lot more comedy into it.”
New Doctor Who is sprinkled with a
sense of playfulness.
The first story in which Captain Jack
appears, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, for instance, ran the
risk of being terribly dark, set completely at night-time during the
It features the well-known gothic motif
of transformation, where one touch horrifically transforms people, in
this case as a result of nanogenes mistakenly restoring a young boy
killed while wearing a gas-mask and searching for his mother, into a
Yet there is humour in the story: the
cliff-hanger to the first episode sees the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack
being approached by numerous gas-mask creatures, created through the
nanogenes, all saying ‘Mummy’, and, if touched they too will become such
And the resolution to this cliff-hanger
is the Doctor ordering them to their room and as they depart him
declaring “I’m really glad that worked. Those would have been terrible
At the heart of this story is a sense of
optimism when the son is reverted to his normal form and reunited with
his ‘Mummy’ and all the other gas-mask creatures revert to normal human
form. But Captain Jack’s playfulness is an important part of the light
There’s a playful chemistry running
throughout the relationship between Rose and the Doctor, as played both
by Christopher Eccleston and later David Tennant.
There’s also a playful moment in Love
and Monsters where Elton Pope rests a paving stone in which
girlfriend Ursula’s face is embedded next to his crotch and tells us
that the two of them still have a bit of a sex life.
This is the kind of body humour that
appears in Aliens of London/World War Three where the Slitheen
make a noise akin to farting, and in Rose where a wheelie bin
Furthermore, dancing is a euphemism for
sexual intercourse and appears playfully between Madame de Pompadour and
the Doctor in The Girl in the Fireplace.
The treatment of Captain Jack normalises
his sexuality, as well as lightning the tone.
In The Empty Child, for example,
Captain Jack flirts with both the female Rose and the male officer Algy,
commenting that they both have a “nice bottom.”
The Doctor Dances
ends with music playing and Rose stating that she thinks “Jack might
like this dance,” to which the Doctor responds “I’m sure he would Rose.
I’m absolutely certain. But who with?”
Captain Jack’s kiss with the Doctor in
Davies’ The Parting of the Ways is more a sign of affection than
sexual in nature.
But when Captain Jack returns in the
third series episode Utopia he flirts with the female companion
Martha Jones, a young man and the alien Chantho (elicting smiles). The
Doctor tells him to cut it out each time but these exchanges are playful
In Journey’s End the situation is
reversed where companion Donna Noble humorously makes moves on Captain
It’s also been noted that towards the end
of Captain Jack’s first story The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,
he is depicted riding a gigantic phallus-looking bomb, which he prepares
to dispose of, as he bids farewell to the Doctor and Rose.
And let’s be honest about this. The bomb
does indeed look like a very very large penis, where the bomb’s thinner
shaft leads up to a massive fatter head, which Captain Jack almost seems
to lovingly caress, and a circle around the symbolic number 69 at the
tip of the head marking the normal place of the ejaculatory slit. And
the bomb’s even grey in colour with beige flesh tones.
While imagery of riding a phallic-bomb
has appeared in numerous other cases such as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr
Strangelove, it is particularly appropriate to Captain Jack’s
Furthermore, the traditional male
heterosexual action hero’s body was muscular and he was frequently
involved in stunts and sexual liaisons with women, and Captain Jack’s
body is very much a sexual body.
In Bad Wolf Captain Jack is seen
in all his glory. Well, almost.
The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack are
transported into different and fatal game shows designed to pacify
audiences to aid a Dalek invasion.
While the Doctor finds himself in a
version of Big Brother and Rose in a version of The Weakest
Link, Captain Jack is to be given a makeover by robots Trine-E and
Zu-Zana (Trinny and Susannah).
The robots use a ‘de-fabricator’ on
Captain Jack which removes his clothes.
On the first occasion, a frontal view of
Captain Jack is provided but with his genitals naturally denied to us.
Jack asks “Am I naked in front of millions of viewers?” and after the
robots gleefully state “Absolutely,” Jack responds “Ladies, your viewing
figures just went up,” casting a cheeky glance down to his penis.
On the second occasion the de-fabricator
is used on Captain Jack, we see a shot from behind him but BBC
censorship, as it is, deprived us of a shot of his bare bottom.
When Captain Jack is about to be attacked
by the robots, in his naked state, he produces to their amazement a
laser. When they ask “Where were you hiding that?” he responds “You
really don’t want to know.”
When Captain Jack implies that as a
result of his naked body the viewer figures for Trine-E and Zu-Zana just
went up, the gay and bisexual male viewer of Doctor Who is also
being implicitly addressed in a postmodern fashion as ones who will get
pleasure from, and in dialogue play with, this aspect of the programme.
It’s a commonplace assertion that a large
part of the female companion’s role in the classic Doctor Who
series was as sex-appeal for the heterosexual ‘dads’.
In other words, the female companion was
the object of the heterosexual male. Think Leela in her leather outfit,
Openly gay producer John Nathan-Turner
also put some of his female companions in revealing outfits to appeal to
the dads: Tegan’s so-called ‘boob-tube’ and Peri’s leotards.
But, as noted in a feature in The Age
newspaper, what we have in the case of Captain Jack is a male who is the
object not only of the female but also of the gay and bisexual male
Captain Jack’s humorous exchange with
Trine-E and Zu-Zana indicates that, unlike females who are often the
passive object of the voyeuristic heterosexual male gaze, both in
everyday life and on television, he is a fully active participant.
Indeed, later in Utopia he strips
to his vest, when carrying out an operation, for no other reason than it
looks good, the message in both these cases being if you’ve got it why
not flaunt it.
And somehow I doubt that actor John
Barrowman had a problem with this.
Through what can be described as Captain
Jack’s camp playfulness, then, Davies is succeeding in a number of
As well as creating lightness within
sometimes dark stories, he is normalising Captain Jack’s sexuality.
When watching television programmes, we
minority viewers find our own meanings in texts as well as the preferred
reading, but the normalisation of Captain Jack’s sexuality is here
Davies is also tapping into both
children, heterosexual adults, and the gay and bisexual collective
desire for play.
Those just entering the period of
adolescence are intrigued by their emerging sexuality and can joke about
it in school.
We can also define LGBTQ culture as one
Gays and bisexual men like to flirt with
other men and there is no-one more flirtatious than Captain Jack, a
facet that can also be recognised in openly-gay actor John Barrowman.
fans have had endless fun with an image
seeming like the Doctor giving a creature fellatio in the classic1979
story The Creature from the Pit.
Captain Jack riding a phallus-shaped bomb
becomes highly relevant. While very young children play with objects
such as rockets, we engage in word-play around phallic imagery.
We also like to gaze at attractive men on
television. And we like to play physically, with places such as clubs,
cruising grounds and saunas presenting opportunities for sexual
Rather than providing narratives which
deal with the oppression of gays and bisexuals Russell T Davies’
Doctor Who provides a vision of a utopian future of sexual freedom,
highly playful in tone, yet political at the same time.
Even treatments of lesbianism in
Gridlock and homosexuality in the largely comedic The Unicorn and
the Wasp are playful.
The closest to seriousness the issue gets
is in Davies’ 2007 Christmas special Voyage of the Damned, where
echoes of same-sex marriage are apparent when Astrid (Kylie Minogue)
tells Banakafalatta that cyborg marriage is now being recognised.
Captain Jack’s normalised sexuality is an
extension of Martha Jones recognising that a crew member may be gay in
42 and LGBT references in The Waters of Mars.
Unlike The Happiness Patrol which
critiques modern-day society by presenting a dystopian society where
happiness is devoid of meaning since everyone is forced to be happy with
their lot, Captain Jack is truly happy with his sexuality where
distinctions no longer exist.
But riding a gigantic phallus, what gay
or bisexual man wouldn’t be?