The beloved British television show Doctor Who is approaching a landmark era of change. It’s the last season for lead Peter Capaldi, as well as the last season for showrunner Steven Moffat. But even as Capaldi’s Doctor becomes comfortable with viewing himself as the good guy, and produces some great commentary on true heroism, the show also devolves into socially progressive virtue signaling, and box checking.
Warning: Major spoilers for the Season 10 are below.
This element first presents itself with the introduction of Bill. In nearly every way, Bill is a recipe for success in a Doctor Who companion. True to the form of the show since its 2008 reboot, Bill is adventurous, curious, and a great source for both comic relief and emotional turmoil. Companions reliably serve as the reminder of humanity to the Doctor’s conscience, which can tend toward thinking in too grand of terms, and not enough of the simplicity of the commoner. In all of these ways, Bill is a terrific companion – not only is she fun, but she works serving chips (french fries, for us Americans) in the cafeteria of a university, which is about as common as you can get.
But on the other hand, the inclusion of Bill brings with her something deeply tied to her identity as a character – she’s a lesbian. This is not the first time the show has included LGBT companions (Jack Harkness from Season One is bisexual, and occasional companions Madame Vastra and Jenny are an openly lesbian couple). It is, however, the first time it has been treated as such as signature element of the show. Rather than being another aspect of the character, as is the case with the aforementioned examples, the show constantly finds excuses to bring this into the plot. This includes making the villain a crush of Bill’s (“The Pilot”), rejecting male Roman soldiers (“The Pyramid at the End of the World”), and culminating in a kiss between her and another woman (“The Doctor Falls”).
This is not the only LGBT element of the show, either. Much is made of the fact that the Doctor’s nemesis Missy used to be a woman, and it’s referred to that the Doctor could become one as well (through regeneration). When Bill mentions the openness of the Time Lords in this respect, the Doctor says, “We’re way beyond your petty obsessions with gender.” The Time Lords, because they are an older and more enlightened race, embrace gender fluidity.
Certainly these are elements that conflict with a Christian worldview. I won’t delve into a long defense of that fact here (although I do that elsewhere), but suffice it to say for the moment that Scripture is clear on the matter of homosexuality, as it is (implicitly) in the matter of gender. That said, I don’t believe that the inclusion of a story element that is contrary to the Christian worldview is necessarily a cause for great outrage – we don’t expect non-Christians to have Christian standards of morality, generally speaking. But the most troubling thing about this particular trend is that it not only goes against more than 50 years of Who legacy (the show has never been about endorsing progressive sexuality, certainly not in a way that makes it a primary theme), but it overshadows, even hijacks, a much more Christian idea that is explored in Season 10: redemption.
Plot-wise, the primary thing that is building in Season Ten is the Doctor’s attempts to reform Missy, previously known as The Master. Setting aside potential concerns for ideas about gender, her arc is something that truly is remarkable. This story is very well written, such that we want to root for Missy to turn out well, but also being terrified that a known psychopathic murderer is sharing the screen with Bill – in one notable scene without the Doctor being physically present.
Relapses do happen along the way. But the greatest payoff of all is that Missy ultimately comes to the Doctor’s side – and ends up sacrificing her own life in order to do so. In a phenomenal scene that is rich with spiritual applications, Missy is killed in her effort to save the Doctor, by a former regeneration of herself/himself because, you know, time travel. Herein we have a beautiful picture of redemption – one in which an unquestionably evil character does make the decision to turn good, obviously without paying for past wrongs herself, and does so to her own death. This gives great meaning to the Biblical phrase “dying to self.”
While this season is certainly not family-friendly in the aforementioned ways, this element of the plot is worth watching for. It’s unfortunate that no one is now talking about this plot element, because the show unseated its focus with one that would earn goodwill from socially progressive audiences. They’ve checked the token gay character box, the gender fluidity box, and have now solved some imagined over-masculine emphasis by introducing the first female Doctor (an actress who, to be fair, is very talented and will likely do an excellent job with whatever material she is given). In addition to the disappointment that I cannot feel comfortable watching this show with my kids, I am concerned for the future of the show. While this season featured some of the best adventures we’ve seen on the show in recent years, ideas that could have been thought-provoking and challenging were overshadowed by gender identity politics. Will there be any thought-provoking ideas left if this trend for the show continues? Or will the pandering end now that the boxes are checked, allowing them to move on to the kinds of stories that have made the show great? Time will tell, but I fear the former is more likely.
But I don’t primarily blame Doctor Who itself. Not really. This is becoming the cultural trend. What we can learn from this, more than anything, is the saturation that these ideas on gender and sexuality now have in Western culture. It means that no show is “safe” for our children (although I would venture to say this was already true, just about certain sins we don’t treat as equally dangerous). It means that these things are going to come up more often, and they’re going to come up earlier in the lives of our children. More than anything, this is a sign that we need to get out in front of the issue and educate our children.
More than anything, it’s a sign that we need thoughtful engagement with and response to stories coming from the secular culture, perhaps now more than ever before.