Wait, Queers Dig Time Lords? But I thought Chicks Dig Time Lords! Who else digs time lords—small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri? Soon there won’t be any time lord left for straight, white men! Think of the menz!
Seriously though, having read three of these fandom-celebration books from Mad Norwegian Press already, I was looking forward to Queers Dig Time Lords. I should note that since reading Chicks Dig Time Lords three years ago, I’ve watched a lot of the old Doctor Who. I’m much more familiar with the previous Doctors and many of their companions. Although I didn’t feel lost at sea with the previous volume, I think this familiarity helped a great deal in this book. Many of the authors discuss the developments in their sexualities in reference to the on-screen relationships among the Doctor and his companions at those times, and it helps to know who Adric or Romana are.
The majority of these essays are very personal accounts of how Doctor Who has helped, influenced, or inspired the authors. Some address queer subtext in the show; others merely use the episodes in the show’s history or the show itself to parallel their own realization about their sexuality or their coming out. (It’s interesting to note how many found themselves more comfortable with being labelled a nerd/geek for liking Doctor Who than gay, and how their fandom/nerdiness became a convenient excuse, in the heteronormative context of society, for their lack of interest in women.) Some heap praise on the show for its portrayal of a sometimes-asexual hero and the absence, largely, of romance between the main characters. Some criticize the shallowness of the queer relationships onscreen, particularly in Nu Who. This is encouraging; as with the previous fandom books, this is not merely one big fangasm about Doctor Who. Largely, Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas have succeeded in canvassing a variety of opinions among queer writers about their relationship with the show.
Because, let’s face it: Doctor Who can be terrible sometimes, to an embarrassing extent (even if we agree from the first to ignore the 1996 movie). Paul Magrs acknowledges this in the first essay, “The Monster Queer is Camp” when he says:
I think that the great romance in Doctoroo is between the fans and The Show itself. They want to love it. They want to love all of it, unreservedly. They want it to be a good science-fiction TV show. And they know some of it is embarrassing.
This is so, so true. Doctor Who has been one of my favourite shows since I discovered it in its latest incarnation, and I love it so much. Yet I’m also embarrassed by it, to an extent I’m not embarrassed by the campiness of original Star Trek or the early seasons of Stargate SG-1. To this day I have a hard time thinking of a platonic, ideal “favourite” episode of Doctor Who. I have favourite moments, favourite lines and scenes and even maybe story elements. But every episode seems lacking in some way. (I suspect this is because, at the end of the day, I am fascinated as a writer/reader by the character of the Doctor rather than the adventures of the show.)
Magrs makes this observation in the course of a larger discussion of camp in Doctor Who and the way fans shy away from it, or try to ignore the most egregious elements of it. And his point is that these very elements that many fans want to ignore and hide away appeal to him, as a gay man who loves camp. Moreover, the campiness isn’t going to go away, ever. Because at its core, Doctor Who is queer.
Some of the authors in this book are reluctant to make this proposition, preferring instead to talk about “queering Doctor Who” or a “queer reading” of the show. And that’s a valid critical decision. When I claim the show is queer, I don’t mean that it has a hidden gay agenda. Queerness is more than that, as this book shows: it’s gay, transgender, asexual—everything that doesn’t, in other words, conform to the boring binaries of heteronormative discourse about sexuality. And how can a show about a mad man travelling through time in a police box be anything but queer? Yes, as many of these essays point out, at times Doctor Who is frustratingly hidebound in its compliance with traditional depictions of relationships, gender, and sexuality. But more often than not, the show is fraught with an obliviousness. And I come down on the side of those fans who view the show as one that promotes and encourages a type of nonchalant, unremarkable tolerance that even the optimistic Star Trek has trouble portraying at times.
As someone who tends to play on the lowest difficulty setting in life, it was fascinating to see how people who identify as queer perceive the show’s handling of queer themes and subtext. This is a valuable discussion to have, because everyone deserves to see themselves in our media and culture and entertainment, to identify with the characters we put on TV and in books and movies. It bothers me a lot when others want to shut down discussion of diversity simply because they’re uncomfortable with admitting that they are part of a system of oppression, even if as individuals they are perfectly nice people.
Martin Warren addresses this in his essay “Bothersome Otherness”:
If we accept that Doctor Who is a text to be enjoyed and “read” by everyone, then the answer is “yes.” Yes, it does matter. The views and relationships of its gay fans are as important (or not) as anyone else’s. There is room for all; another point of view isn’t going to diminish others.
And if you don’t accept that premise, then you might as well go and make a cup of tea and return this book from whence it came, because you’re not going to have a very happy time reading it.
The last sentence of that first paragraph, for me, is key. There is plenty of room in this world for everyone to be happy. Gay people marrying doesn’t somehow steal happiness from straight couples. Gay perspectives of Doctor Who neither invalidate nor diminish the perspectives and enjoyment of the show through other lenses. Rather, such critiques enrich the show. And if you love something, you should criticize it, and make it even better.
In his essay Warren addresses the Otherness of the Doctor as a character. He begins by acknowledging the Doctor’s historical presentation as asexual, or at least, as largely clueless about sexual relationships. Indeed, this is an aspect of the Doctor that has always appealed to me, for although I identify as straight, I am not all that interested in sex or a heteroromantic relationships. The Doctor’s rejection of these qualities as an essential component of “the hero” is heartening, and like Warren, I can identify with that more easily than the aggressive heterosexuality of action heroes like Kirk. With regards to the Doctor’s more recent instances of romance, Warren adds, “the fact that he’s now had a few lady kisses and been demonstrably in love with a woman doesn’t repel me, it’s not his sexuality that appeals to me—it’s his character, his intelligence, his difference [emphasis original].” He makes an important point. It’s not just a matter of having more openly queer leads (though that helps—see the outpouring of admiration for Captain Jack!). It is also necessary to deconstruct the traditional notion of the male hero as an imposing, masculine figure who pursues women for sex and romance in addition to saving the world/galaxy/universe. You’ll get no argument from me that love is an important part of storytelling and characterization—but it should be love in all forms, warts and all, rather than the narrow, hetero -normative and -romantic depictions that continue to dominate most media.
There were times when I wished Queers Dig Time Lords was a little more critical than personal. Then again, that’s personal preference on my part rather than something that objectively detracts from the book. If what you want are a series of very personal essays, then this is going to be very fulfilling. I found it slightly less satisfying than the other fandom books in this series, though. The perspectives on Doctor Who and its queerness were interesting. After a while, however, the various essays began to blur together. It’s hard to pick out any as stand-out highlights. I’d still recommend the book to Doctor Who fans—as you can tell from the review above, there were enough points that resonated with me to make reading it worthwhile—but I can’t gush about it as much as I would like to.