For those of you who aren’t familiar with Doctor Who (my sincerest condolences – you are missing out), it is the longest running sci-fi TV show ever, having started in the early ‘60s. It is the greatest TV show ever. Full stop. In addition to its general wonderfulness, Doctor Who (the new generation) is also the most feminist show ever; from bad-ass companions to nonchalant mentions of same-sex couples, there is just everything good with this show.
The Doctor’s companions are an integral part of the show’s dynamic. Now, at first glance you may think that an attractive young woman flying around in the TARDIS with a Time Lord and helping him save the universe is hardly the set up for a feminist plotline, but clearly you’ve never met Rose, Martha, Donna, or Amy. All of the companions are strong, well-rounded female characters who more often than not sass the Doctor back just as much as he sasses them. Donna, for example, is a hilarious woman who frequently tries to wander off, causes the Doctor a lot of grief, and also berates him mercilessly when he does something stupid. They are equals, partners in crime wandering across time and space, instead of a hero and his eye-candy sidekick. Amy Pond – my personal favourite (though Rose will always have a special place in my heart) – is arguably the most strong-willed companion of them all. The first time we see Amy as an adult, she’s dressed up as a police officer and handcuffs the Doctor to a radiator, and then proceeds to berate him for taking so many years to come back for her. Amy, and really none of the companions for that matter, is never one to sit back helplessly and wait for the Doctor to tell her what to do. Granted, she does defer to his expertise (he’s a 900-and-something-year-old Time Lord who travels through time and space for kicks; who wouldn’t listen to what he has to say?), but the Doctor never condescends, never treats her as expendable; he needs her and he knows it and Amy knows it.
There has been some kind of love interest with all the companions at one point or another, but they’ve taken a very different track than what you would expect. Rose was the only companion who the Doctor actually fell in love with (David Tenant at the end of season 2 breaks my heart every time), and even that takes an unusual twist. Martha falls in love the with Doctor, and after a season of her obviously pining after him, she finally decides to leave because she knows that he doesn’t feel the same way and there’s no use trying; she deserves more than that. When she gave that speech before she left, my only reaction was ‘go you!’ And well done, writers, for having a woman who doesn’t base her entire life on relationships and turn into a mindless wreck over unrequited love.
Speaking of love interests and strong women, we cannot forget River Song. She is probably the character that makes my brain hurt the most (wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey…stuff is the only way I explain it to myself), and also possibly my favourite character ever. She waltzes in and out of the picture, popping up in unusual places, and always, always leaving the Doctor stunned and a bit miffed at being out-done. You think Donna was sassy? River Song tells the Doctor that he’s flying the TARDIS wrong and does it herself. She graffiti’s the oldest cliff face in the universe to get the Doctor’s attention, jumps out of space ships and expects (correctly) the Doctor to be there when she calls him to pick her up, comes and goes from her uber-high-security prison like she owns the place, leaves the Doctor speechless and flustered with her flirting, and somehow knows his name (how? When? Why? What is it?!? Steven Moffat, you’re killing me here). River Song is a character unto herself, one who needs no saving, no male character to support her. The fact that she outdoes the Doctor – the main character – on many occasions says a lot.
As for how the show addresses same-sex relationships, I take my hat off to the writers. Frequently, same-sex couples or non-heterosexual characters show up, and while they are not a major part of the storyline, they are included in the storyline just like any other character. There is no neon sign saying, ‘hey look, we have a gay couple! Aren’t we so diverse and accepting?’ For example, in season six, we are casually introduced to the self-proclaimed gay Anglican couple. They’re only on-screen for a few minutes, and the context is a casual conversation between them and another cleric, but that’s the whole point – it’s not a big deal. It doesn’t matter that there’s a gay couple, it doesn’t matter that Captain Jack Harkness tries to hit on anything with a pulse (or two, in the case of the Doctor), and it doesn’t matter that the Doctor himself has no particular preference for gender or species. The way the show presents it is that it doesn’t matter who or what you’re attracted to because that’s not what defines a character, and to me, it doesn’t get more feminist than that.