LGBTARDIS: 10 Queer Doctor Who Companions

Doctor Who, the BBC's long-running sci-fi adventure series about a time-traveling alien fighting evil throughout the cosmos, has long had a strong queer fan base, but the Doctor's traveling companions have almost all been exclusively straight. Almost all. Let's take a look at 10 of the Doctor's companions who sit somewhere on the queer continuum. In proper timey-wimey fashion, we'll start with the most recent, and move backwards.

Clara Oswald

Which Doctors? Clara traveled with the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and the Twelfth (Peter Capaldi).
Who is she? Clara Oswald (played by Jenna Coleman) was a schoolteacher from contemporary Earth who began traveling with the Doctor after he encountered mysterious doubles of her in other times. She saved his life by splintering into multiple copies of herself spread throughout his timeline. She was with him when he regenerated into his twelfth incarnation, helping him adjust to his new body while she adjusted to her friend’s profound change. She continued balancing her life as a teacher at the Coal Hill School with her travels in the TARDIS, until her time with the Doctor came to an abrupt end.
How queer is she? Not queer enough, if you ask me. We got a few meager hints that Clara might possibly be bisexual, or at the least hetero-flexible, and that was it. In “Face the Raven,” she said she loved 18th-century novelist Jane Austen, and said she was a phenomenal kisser in "The Magician's Apprentice," but Austen never appeared on-screen, and the true nature of their relationship went unexplored. Oswin, one of Clara's fractured-timeline duplicates from "Asylum of the Daleks," once fancied a woman, though she said it was "a phase." Clara's strongest romantic relationship was a heterosexual one, with fellow teacher Danny Pink.

River Song

Which Doctors? River has encountered the Tenth (David Tennant) and Twelfth (Peter Capaldi) Doctors on television, and the Eighth (Paul McGann) in a series of audio plays, but she’s most commonly associated with the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith).
Who is she? Well, that's the question, isn’t it? Most of River's story is about unraveling the mystery of who she is. River (played by Alex Kingston) first meets the Doctor and Donna Noble in the 51st century on a planet known only as the Library, where River seems to meet her final fate. The time-traveling archaeologist turns up again, later in the Doctor's timeline and earlier in hers, beginning (or continuing) their tumultuous relationship.
How queer is she? According to showrunner Steven Moffat, River is bisexual. Which is great, except he said this in a tweet, rather than in an actual script. Within the series itself, all we have to go on is an off-hand reference about having two wives in "The Husbands of River Song," but given that she's married her husband King Hydroflax for money rather than love, we can't say with complete certainty that her same-sex marriages weren't similarly aromantic. The only thing we can be absolutely sure of is that River loves the Doctor, so, like Clara, River's queerness remains open to interpretation.

Captain Jack Harkness

Which Doctors? Jack traveled with the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), and later the Tenth (David Tennant).
Who is he? Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman) was a 51st century con man and former Time Agent who met the Doctor and Rose while trying to pull of a swindle in 1940s London, during the Blitz. He saved their lives, they saved his, and the three traveled together until Jack was exterminated by the Daleks. He got better, becoming immortal in the process (bonus!) and went on to get his very own spin-off, Torchwood.
How queer is he? It would be easier to list the ways in which Jack isn't queer. He's gleefully pansexual, attracted to any and all genders the universe has to offer. In Doctor Who, we see Jack flirt with men and women equally, and even plant a goodbye kiss on the Doctor himself in "The Parting of the Ways." In Torchwood, Jack had a number of deeply meaningful romantic and sexual relationships (as well as some quick flings) with men and women. Under the revived series' original showrunner and Torchwood creator Russell T Davies' stewardship, Jack quickly became Doctor Who's queerest character, by a wide, wide margin, and he remains the only television companion to be unambiguously not straight.

Cinder

Which Doctor? Cinder was briefly a companion of the War Doctor (John Hurt).
Who is she? Cinder appeared in the tie-in novel Engines of War by George Mann, which told of an adventure of the Doctor during the events of the Time War. Cinder was a young human resistance fighter from the planet Moldox who assisted don't-call-me-Doctor (he wasn't using that name at the time) in preventing the Daleks from utilizing a terrible new temporal weapon.
How queer is she? Very. Although the nature of this Time War tale doesn't allow for a lot of romance, author Mann takes a moment to describe Cinder's first love and first kiss with a girl named Stephanie. In a message board post at the forum Gallifrey Base, he said that his intention was for Cinder to be a lesbian.

Fey Truscott-Sade

Which Doctor? Fey was an on-again, off-again companion of the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann).
Who is she? Fey Truscott-Sade was already an old friend of the Doctor's when we first meet her in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip story "Tooth and Claw." She's a spy, working for British Intelligence in the early days of World War II. At the end of the story, she goes on to travel with the Doctor and his companion Izzy for a time, and makes occasional return appearances after her departure from the TARDIS.
How queer is she? Fey is coded as a lesbian, by the conventions of the thirties and forties, with her stereotypically mannish attire, manner, and haircut, but her actual sexuality goes unstated for most of her time in the TARDIS. She does make a passing reference to having dreamed about being Peter Pan when she was a child, complete with fantasies of rescuing mermaids, but nothing is explicit until her final appearance, when she shares a kiss with fellow companion Izzy. Speaking of which…

Izzy Sinclair

Which Doctor? Izzy was a companion of the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann).
Who is she? Izzy was a seventeen-year-old sci-fi fan from Stockbridge, England, and a friend of the Doctor's occasional ally Maxwell Edison. After helping the Doctor and Max fend off a sinister plot by the Celestial Toymaker, Izzy came aboard the TARDIS, and became the primary companion during the Eighth Doctor’s run in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips. She also made one appearance in an original audio play by Big Finish productions, where she was played by Jemima Rooper.
How queer is she? There's no particular mention of any kind of sexuality for Izzy until her final regular appearance in the comics, in the story "Oblivion," when she and fellow companion Fey share a kiss. It's not a particularly romantic kiss — it follows Fey suggesting that Izzy stop being frightened of who she really is, and is more meant to show Izzy’s acknowledgment of her attraction to women than any amorous relationship between the two. It's the first time we learn that Izzy is a lesbian, but a few pages later she's back in Stockbridge and out of the strip. It feels like a bit of a tease — "Surprise! She was gay all along! Now say goodbye forever!" — and I wish the revelation had happened earlier in Izzy’s story. But it still means that for most of his comic run, the Eighth Doctor had two lesbian companions — even if we didn't know it.

Chris Cwej

Which Doctor? Chris was a long-serving companion of the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy).
Who is he? Chris is a character from Virgin Publishing's New Adventures line, a series of novels published in the 1990s which picked up where the original television series left off. He was an Adjudicator — a sort of policeman — on 30th century Earth. After assisting the Doctor and his companion Benny against an old enemy in the novel Original Sin, Chris and his partner Roz joined the TARDIS crew. Chris stayed with the Doctor until the New Adventures line was discontinued. He's made some recent appearances in Big Finish's adaptations of the novels, where he's voiced by Travis Oliver.
How queer is he? Not particularly, to be honest. Chris is almost exclusively heterosexual throughout his entire run in the novels, until Russell T Davies gets his hands on him in Damaged Goods. Davies explores the idea of sexual identity being more fluid for future folks, something he’ll come back to when introducing Captain Jack years later. While on a stake-out on contemporary Earth with a gay man named David, Chris decides to satisfy his own curiosity and indulge David's crush by having sex with him in a parked car. Chris seems perfectly at ease with the encounter, although his curiosity must have been good and satisfied, as there's no reference to any further same-sex fun for the character afterward.

Hannah Bartholomew

Which Doctor? Hannah was a companion of the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison).
Who is she? Hannah (played by Francesca Hunt) traveled with the Doctor and Nyssa in three original audio plays by Big Finish Productions. She was a hunter and adventurer in 1911 England, as well as a devout member of a religious sect called The Order of the Crescent Moon. After her first adventure with the Doctor she stowed away aboard the TARDIS in order to seek adventure among the stars.
How queer is she? Not explicitly so, but she'’s clearly intended to be read as a lesbian. She dresses as a man, insists on being included in the men's activities, and prefers to be addressed as “Ms.” at a time when the honorific was most popularly used by lesbian communities in Boston (according to Hunt in an audio commentary accompanying Moonflesh, her first appearance). Hannah's a terrific character, a strong foil for the Doctor, and her strength and spirituality mark her out as a fascinating member of the TARDIS crew. Sadly, the trilogy of stories in which she appears don't really make the most of her, and her third appearance sees her leaving the Doctor behind. The door is left open for a possible return, so perhaps we'll get to see a bolder writer clarify Hannah's sexuality some day.

Mike Yates

Which Doctor? Mike was an ally and semi-companion of the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) on television, and of the Fourth (Tom Baker) in a series of original audio plays.
Who is he? Captain Mike Yates (played by Richard Franklin) was a member of UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. When the Doctor was stranded on Earth and working as UNIT's Scientific Advisor, Mike was part of the core team assisting him in his adventures. Mike betrayed the Doctor in a misguided effort to save the world and was expelled from UNIT, but he later returned, earning redemption by helping to save his old friends from the machinations of the giant spiders of Metebelis Three.
How queer is he? That depends on which medium you're talking about. Mike was apparently heterosexual throughout his time on the program, occasionally dating the Doctor's assistant Jo Grant. When Jo was married off to someone else, Mike's disappointment was…let's be charitable and just say, not entirely convincing, leading close queer readers like me to think there might have been a hint of denial behind that butch soldier façade. In the novel Happy Endings, author Paul Cornell follows up on this, and has Mike settled down with a man named Tom and happily speaking fluent polari, an old British slang which was seeing a resurgence in the gay community at the time this book was released in the 90s, with a couple of camp Silurians from the future. (It's an odd book.)

Oliver Harper

Which Doctor? Oliver was a companion of the First Doctor (William Hartnell).
Who is he? Oliver (played by Tom Allen) was created for a series of original audio plays from Big Finish Productions. He was a trader for a financial firm in 1966 London who assisted the Doctor and Steven in foiling an alien invasion, then joined them aboard the TARDIS.
How queer is he? Completely. Oliver's homosexuality is a major plot point of the trilogy of stories featuring him. Oliver left Earth with the Doctor because he was facing arrest for his homosexuality, although he kept this a secret, fearing the Doctor and Steven would not accept him. When he confessed the truth to Steven in The Cold Equations, the space pilot from the future assured him that by his time, there is no longer any stigma attached to homosexuality, and same-sex relations are commonplace. Oliver is a fantastic character, and there's something very satisfying in giving the earliest Doctor a gay companion and having the Time Lord explicitly state that it's simply not an issue. Doctor Who has been hit-or-miss with its inclusion of queer characters (you may have noticed there are no gender-nonconforming characters on this list, for one thing), but Big Finish deserves credit for declaring that the Doctor has been a queer ally, retroactively, from the start.

There have been other LGBT characters in the extended Doctor Who universe, of course, from major recurring characters like Madame Vastra down to minor spin-off characters like Peter Summerfield from the Bernice Summerfield audio adventures, but these ten are the only companions in more than fifty years of stories who might identify as queer. Unless I'm wrong? Did I miss anyone? Are there any other queer characters — maybe trans, or asexual, or gender-fluid — who fit the bill? Tell me your favorite in the comments, or you can tell me how very, very wrong I am on Twitter at @brianolsenbooks or at www.brianolsenbooks.com.

Brian Olsen's picture
on July 1, 2016

Brian Olsen is a NYC-based writer of sci-fi novels and is trying to convert his apartment into a Zero Room. Find his books at www.brianolsenbooks.com, and find him on Twitter @brianolsenbooks.