- Doctor Who receives backlash from certain viewers over introduction of first transgender character, showing resistance to change in the franchise.
- Showrunner Russell T. Davies and actress Yasmin Finney emphasize the importance of representation and acceptance for younger viewers in combating prejudice.
- Despite the hate, Doctor Who sends a powerful message that trans lives matter, resonating with countless fans and highlighting the significance of representation in pop culture.
Doctor Who is the latest franchise to prove that the angry boys come out when something changes in a nerd thing. Things have changed substantially in the newest iteration of the British powerhouse series despite much of it returning to its roots. So the mobs have arrived, but the folks involved are not having it.
The first of the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials aired over the weekend, and it pulled no punches with its messages. Doctor Who has always been particularly forward with its statements on morality and such. But this time was a first, as it introduced its first transgender character with Rose Noble (played by trans Heartstopper actress Yasmin Finney), offering extremely welcome representation for a group who has historically seen plenty of discrimination in the UK (and still does). The character’s identity is important and integral to the story. Naturally, such welcoming vibes were a bridge too far for certain sections of the audience.
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Viewers angry at the idea of trans people existing have been review-bombing the Doctor Who special in response to its messaging and casting choices. However, showrunner Russell T. Davies and Finney herself are taking a bit of a high road with their responses. Speaking with the BBC’s behind-the-scenes show Doctor Who: Unleashed (via The Independent), Davies pre-emptively reacted to the hate by explaining exactly why it’s important to ingrain acceptance of “something you’ve never seen before” into people when they’re young to combat prejudice before it can become a problem. As a popular family program, Doctor Who is an excellent medium to help foster that acceptance.
“Homophobia and transphobia happens when it’s something you’ve never seen before. You can temper that reaction and change it when you introduce these images to people happily and normally and calmly when they’re young. Then it just becomes normal.”
Meanwhile, Finney had her own happiness to share. As a fan, being able to play the daughter of Doctor Who legend Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) was a dream come true for her. But she also wanted to acknowledge a similar idea to Davies, that representation is important for younger viewers. But it doesn’t just help tamp down hatred of different people. It also helps those struggling with their own identities come to terms with their sense of self without feeling they’re “wrong” somehow. Finney mused on how her life could have been if she’d seen regular positive trans representation in media while growing up and how her presence on Doctor Who can help young viewers now.
“I think representation is so important, and if I had Rose growing up, it would be a completely different story, I think. I think representation is what we need and what the younger generation needs to feel like they can do it too. You know?”
Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re both simply turning the other cheek to the vitriol. Davies was a bit less charitable towards the haters in an interview with Yahoo, calling out the transphobia and other forms of bigotry splayed across even official publications. Davies had previously been the Doctor Who showrunner during much of its most popular time from 2005-2010, so many fans likely expected him to play it safe by returning to basics, especially once it was announced that beloved series star David Tennant would return as The Doctor. Well, in a show about a time-traveling alien who always touts the message that everyone is important and worthy of love, Davies did just that.
“[There are] newspapers of absolute hate, and venom, and destruction, and violence who would rather see that sort of thing wiped off the screen destroyed. Shame on you, and good luck to you in your lonely lives.”
Doctor Who made an unambiguous statement in this first special that trans lives matter, and despite the hate spewed by some of the louder corners, that message has resonated with countless fans. After living a life of constant uncertainty and fear of being hated simply for one’s existence, finding validation in such a beloved series can go a long way for many. Representation will always matter. Here’s hoping this sort of acceptance continues to permeate not just pop culture but all of humanity. Even Tennant agrees, wearing a pin sporting the transgender flag colors during many appearances and saying, “It’s just something that I think is rather lovely and important and suits what Doctor Who is all about.”
Doctor Who, including the anniversary specials, is available to stream on Disney Plus.
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series broadcast by the BBC since 1963. The series depicts the adventures of a Time Lord called the Doctor, an extraterrestrial being who appears to be human. The Doctor explores the universe in a time-traveling spaceship called the TARDIS. The TARDIS exterior appears as a blue British police box, a common sight in Britain in 1963 when the series first aired. With various companions, the Doctor combats foes, works to save civilizations, and helps people in need.
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Source: Doctor Who: Unleashed (via The Independent and MovieWeb), Yahoo