I came to Doctor Who in 2013, after my cousin Robyn came to my house to commandeer the television for the 50th anniversary of the show. I had only vaguely heard of Who at the time and was wary about delving in deeper because I was sure I would get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of episodes there were. However, after sitting with my cousin to watch “The Day of the Doctor” — and with her assurance that I could start with New Who and not wade all the way back through episodes from the ‘60s — I decided to take the leap into time and space.
From the beginning, one of my favorite things about the show was the whimsy and fun the Doctor carried with him, especially in a time where so many shows rely on darkness and gore to make them interesting and keep you invested. I’m someone who doesn’t shy away from those kinds of shows — and often embraces them — but watching Doctor Who was a nice change of pace. And while there were still some dark episodes, especially in later seasons when I was already hooked, overall the show tends to keep a humor that I think is important when fighting aliens with plungers as weapons.
Given the way the world and the main character are set up, Doctor Who has been able to reinvent itself multiple times. Every few seasons the Doctor regenerates, or changes companions (and/or showrunners), giving us a new way to enjoy the universe through their eyes. In the last 13 years alone, we’ve had four Doctors (and have gotten our first glimpse of a fifth), and six full-time companions. Of those six, two have been Black.
I loved Martha Jones from her introduction. While there were issues with her writing, especially given that she came right after the first New Who companion Rose Tyler, the fact that there was a Black woman traveling in time and space was amazing to me and allowed me to look past the way she was often treated by a grief-stricken Doctor or the way the writers lazily addressed her being Black whenever she ended up in the past. When Bill Potts was announced seven seasons later, I was excited to see a Black queer companion actualized on screen and was eager to see how or if they would attempt to address some of the things that had been ignored during Martha’s run.
In some ways, they did better with Bill than with Martha. They more or less ignored Martha’s Blackness, besides casual racism that was never truly addressed while they were in the past. With Bill, they acknowledged the dangers of traveling in time while Black, often addressed the fact that Bill was lesbian, and the Doctor even punched a racist in the face. While the show has never dared to explore racism in the present or even the future, it was nice for them to at least acknowledge that it exists. But then Bill’s treatment spiraled from there, ending in a way that was insensitive at best and deeply harmful at worst. Her fate at the end of season 10, including a transformation into a Cyberman, which was recycled from another Black character’s fate two seasons prior, was the least of the problems with the symbolism of the end of her run. Where her introduction evoked a cautious optimism, her ending left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Sometimes, thinking back on moments of the show that weren’t great, I wonder why I love it so much. But then I watch episodes like “The Girl in the Fireplace” or “Silence in the Library” and I remember. While in hindsight, some parts of the show have been problematic, overall, it’s a show that makes me happy. There are episodes I continuously go back to, especially when I need to be cheered up. Even with the flaws in the writing of women and people of color, it still has storytelling that I appreciate and is good for confusing you about timey wimey wibbly wobbly stuff.
This isn’t to say that I stay silent about my issues with the show. It’s in part why I started the podcast Who Watch: Time and Relative Blackness in Space with my co-hosts Robyn and Connie. While this show has done a lot for me, it should still be held accountable, and our podcast addresses those issues while celebrating the fluff. I think it’s important for us to be able to do both, to make our voices heard in fandom, both about the good and the bad. We are excited to bring TARBIS to the Hard NOC Podcast Network because we want all Nerds of Color to join us in looking at this beloved show through a critical lens.