Did Classic Doctor Who Really Need More Sex?

No, Peter. Nice try, but the problem with your era was not the lack of sex. In an interview with the Radio Times fifth Doctor Who star Peter Davison says that the writers in the Classic era,

…never quite mastered the whole companion idea… they were struggling for many years to find a better way of making the companions more rounded characters.

He bemoans the reluctance of the BBC bosses to introduce sexual tension between female companions and the Doctor and suggests it may have made it “easier to write a better [female] character”.

I don’t wish to take Davison’s statements out of context but there are several issues here. My main concern is that he is confusing sex with chemistry and good story-telling. The success of the character of Rose relied heavily on Billie Piper’s excellent portrayal of a believable woman her age. The premise and story arc from RTD was also crucial. Rose wanted to be with the Doctor, she fell in love with him and ultimately couldn’t be with him (until the awkward second trip to Bad Wolf Bay). Donna Noble was also a popular character and if anything tried to discourage any lustful advances from her ‘space man’. The reason Donna worked well was the chemistry between her and the Doctor and, again, her overall story.

Compare this to Davison’s reluctant troupe. Tegan wanted out from the word go. Yes she was strong and opinionated but who wants to watch a character, strong or not, being stuck somewhere they’re perpetually miserable? She could take or leave the Doctor, had no interest in exploring the universe and ultimately left because all she saw was the death and misery. Great. Nyssa was an introverted genius who took everything in her slightly indifferent stride. She joined (like Adric) because she was orphaned and left because she found the ultimate do-good cause and scientific challenge… [yawn] Turlough was similarly difficult to impress and, erm, wanted to kill the Doctor. And Adric. I’ll let you appraise Adric’s character yourselves…

[pullquote]The reason Donna worked well was the chemistry between her and the Doctor and, again, her overall story. Compare this to Davison’s reluctant troupe – Tegan wanted out from the word go![/pullquote]

Now I don’t blame Davison for wishing. He had some lovely ladies on board his snogging booth and, unlike the Doctor, he’s only human. But what I think he’s hit on is that things could have been better if his companions had actually wanted to be in the TARDIS and had a relatable story. And that’s not sex. (Though in fairness having designs on what was under the Doctor’s cricket whites would have been a reason to hang around!)

It’s not that successful characters in Classic or New Who have more sex on the brain nor that they’re more flirtatious – it’s that they’re interesting and relateable. Sarah Jane Smith was easily as engaging and popular a companion as Rose if not more so (who got the spin-off?) But sex wasn’t the key – it was chemistry.

Lastly, it’s 2013. I know he’s referring to television characters from the 1980s and earlier, but there is an uncomfortable asymmetry in suggesting that only the female characters could have been improved by adding a sexual tension with the male lead. Why not Turlough, or Adric?? I’m sure Davison is not suggesting that women in TV need to have the hots for the nearest chap to be ‘rounded characters’ – but he’s not complaining that the male characters should have had a love interest to be well-rounded!

Again what is needed is chemistry (not sex or sexual tension) and a reason to enjoy that character’s story. Jamie and the Second Doctor had incredible chemistry (the McCrimmon/ Troughton period has been described as a ‘three-year buddy movie’) as did Sara-Jane Smith with both the Third and Fourth Doctors. These were far from unsuccessful characters and they’re relationship with the Doctor had nothing to do with sex.

Another side to this is the sexuality of the show’s main character. (Cat released, pigeons in chaos)… Doctor Who has a significant gay following around the world. Many have commented on the comfort Doctor Who can provide younger gay fans in an otherwise at best heterocentric and at worst homophobic television landscape. The Doctor -like Gandalf, Yoda or Aslan- was not overtly sexual in the Classic series. If every other male lead and role model on television is snogging birds between martinis, you can imagine that gay viewers might feel somewhat alienated. Not so with the Doctor who represents compassion, intelligence, courage and adventure without a carnal interest in short skitrs and long legs.

River Song loves the Doctor - but not as much as we do.

I imagine this may seem OTT to many fans, including Moffat who has made his view that the Doctor is explicitly heterosexual pretty clear. The Moff has variably represented the Eleventh Doctor as awkward and avuncular at times but has had some pretty full-on kissing with River Song (his wife) and enjoys the fact that Clara’s skirt is a tad too short. But I actually think it’s important. I’m not saying that the show should exist to accommodate the needs of every minority and of course it will and to some extent should reflect the norms and expectations of the contemporary audience. But it can also challenge those expectations and as the one non-sexual male lead role on TV when I was growing up gay, it was so important to have a role model that you weren’t supposed to identify with because he was physically attracted to women.

And here’s where I open a whole cupboard-full of canned worms. Just as it was important in the 1980s that ethnic minorities were positively represented on television, it is increasingly important in the 2010s that LGBT are positively represented. RTD was accused of having a ‘gay agenda’. I’m certain he did – but no more than people writing good parts for non-white characters in earlier decades demonstrated a ‘racial agenda’. The fact that people even noticed RTD’s inclusion of occasional gay characters shows that there was an equality issue. Gay characters were noticed by the audience as deliberate rather than being incidental. In fact they had to be deliberate because they were underrepresented. The only reason to reference the Doctor’s attraction to Clara is to make the character more relatable to straight men. And now the only leading man that gay fans could watch without feeling cut-off from has disappeared. Though, in a retrospective don’t-have-it-on-screen, at least there’s Dumbledore!

So. In summary – I’m sorry Davison feels his time in the TARDIS could have been steamier. Bad luck. And yes an attraction to the Doctor could be one among many character traits for a companion – male, female, android, gynoid or other. But it’s not a necessary condition for rounded characters. Less sex, more chemistry, please.

But what do you think? Should there be more sex in the TARDIS or should it only be blue on the outside? And should our lonely god, our Space Gandalf be straight, gay, both or mysteriously neither…


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