The Sexy Subtext of Modern Doctor Who

On most first dates, other than maybe some kissing and possibly wine, most people are looking for laughter. It’s a simple fact of civilization that there’s nothing sexier than a sense of humor. Here on Earth, you don’t need two hearts to be funny and sexy, but after watching a lot of Doctor Who, it seems to me like it certainly couldn’t hurt. Unlike earnestly “realistic” science fiction shows like the cotemporary Battlestar Galactica; Doctor Who has not only a sense of humor, but the show is downright charming. And despite being a family program, the adventures of everyone’s favorite timelord have definitely been getting steadily sexier. And laughs are just the beginning.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that right now, everyone would want to hang out with the Doctor. Except for specific episodes like “The Waters of Mars,” the narrative of most Who stories usually don’t wrestle with moral relativism of the primary protagonist. For the most part, our good guy is a good guy. Sure, he’s fallible, and burdened by his wisdom and power, but the Doctor is usually too busy making rapid-fire quips for the viewer to really worry about it. When he is in love, it is sweeping and tragic, rather than complicated and messy.

The Fourth Doctor and LeelaAs was the tradition back in the 1960s, the Doctor’s sexuality is never depicted on the screen explicitly. But in an introduction to a 1970s Doctor Who novel called Doctor Who & The Loch Ness Monster, Harlan Ellison postulates that the Doctor was totally sleeping with his companions during the commercial breaks and in between episodes. In the contemporary version of the show, we get certain hints that this might indeed be the case. In “The Runaway Bride” Donna discovers a t-shirt in the TARDIS, left behind by the recently departed Rose. Though we don’t see the Doctor and Rose reunite and kiss for another two seasons, it was clear she’d taken her top off in TARDIS, and maybe in front of him.

Captain Jack Harkness

But sexy Who action isn’t limited to just heterosexual innuendos on the part of the Doctor. Perhaps the most lasting impact formed show-runner Russell T. Davies had on the series was the introduction of Captain Jack Harkness, that immortal man originally from the 51st century who takes sex any way he can get it. In “Journey’s End” when a human-timelord meta-crisis creates two Doctors, Jack quips, “You have no idea what I’m thinking right now,” conjuring up unseen images of an interstellar three-way. In the same vein, tensions between the Master and the Doctor seem to have a bit of a homoerotic vibe. The Doctor is seemingly SHOCKED by the notion that the Master would have a wife in “The Sound of Drums.” This notion is taken one step further in “Time Crash” when the Fifth Doctor asks the Tenth Doctor if The Master still has a beard, to which the reply is “no, well…a wife…” implying the Master is gay, and pretending otherwise. Davies, the originator of Queer as Folk, firmly grounded the motivations of most characters in the new Doctor Who with sexual subtext, a move that makes the characters not only more appealing, but also more believable. While the various motivations from companions like Rose, Martha, Madame De Pompadour, Astrid, and most recently Amy, are totally loaded with sex, perhaps the most telling example is with the Doctor himself.

The Tenth Doctor and Rose kiss

When the Ninth Doctor regenerated into the Tenth, he immediately became a flirtier, more conventionally sexy person. The one thought on the mind of the Doctor when he regenerated was his affection (and attraction!) to Rose, and then, whaddya know? He physically becomes a man that Rose would find attractive. The fact that recently the Doctor has once again regenerated into a young, good-looking body can be seen as indicative of not just his vanity, but more likely, his sex drive.

Yes, fans and creators of the show go to great lengths to remind us the Doctor is a mostly asexual character. There are certain perspectives that would claim Matt Smith’s current portrayal is significantly less sexualized than David Tennant’s. However, as any good Freudian will tell you, the more you pretend like everything isn’t about sex, the more EVERYTHING is about sex. I mean, Matt Smith’s sonic screwdriver is BIGGER than Tennant’s. Not to mention, when Amy comes on to the Eleventh Doctor in “Flesh & Stone,” he doesn’t tell her that he doesn’t want to, he simply says things like “you’ll just get old while I change.” This isn’t an asexual person, but rather someone trying to talk HIMSELF out of casual sex mostly out of guilt. In subsequent episodes the Eleventh Doctor goes out of his way to make sure Amy and Rory’s relationship gets back on track, one could say that he goes even further than he needs to. Is this guilt? You bet. He even admits in “Vampires of Venice” that Amy is a good kisser.

The Eleventh Doctor and Amy kissThe contemporary versions of the Doctor are great conversionalists and we all know good conversation is much sexier than looks, style, or Cosmo’s hot tips. This is where Doctor Who is truly sexy. Like a good conversation on a date, the stories are desperately NOT about sex, and so, the show is sexy. Many episodes feel like a Shakespeare comedy; a series of zany events designed to redirect you away from the romantic narrative.

And it doesn’t look like the sex influence on Doctor Who shows any signs of slowing down. In terms of show-runners, the departure of Queer as Folk’s Davies was succeeded by Stephen Moffat, the creator of Coupling, a show most definitely about sex. Before becoming the Doctor Who showrunner, Moffat’s stories featured romance at least half the time. Whether rescuing Madame De Pompadour from a gang of steampunk robots or trying to unravel the mystery of his unstuck-in-time (maybe) lover, River Song, Moffat’s brand of Doctor Who is firmly rooted in the romantic.

So even though Amy handcuffed the Doctor in “The Eleventh Hour” and threw herself at him in the episode “Flesh & Stone,” these are NOT what makes Doctor Who sexy. And it wasn’t those buxom vampires (fish from space!) from “Vampires of Venice” either.

The show is sexy because it’s a good conversationalist, makes us laugh and has an abundance of heart. The innuendos are nice, too. Like Jackie Tyler says, is there anything else he’s got two of?


Ryan Britt’s writing has been featured in Opium Magazine, Clarkesworld Magazine and elsewhere. He has also contributed to the sex and culture web magazine Nerve.com, where one of his essays was nominated by readers as editors among the 10 best of 2008. He lives in Brooklyn.

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