Archive for Torchwood

TV needs diverse queer characters: John Barrowman

This guest post was written by Sheena Goodyear, a reporter, blogger and copy editor for Sun Media. When she grows up, she wants to be Special Agency Dana Scully. You can read her thoughts about TV at Rabbit Ears, her video game ramblings at Button Mashers and her news stories at the Toronto Sun.

Capt. Jack Harkness, bisexual superhero.

John Barrowman — known for playing Captain Jack Harnkess, possibly the first and only queer sci-fi hero on a children’s TV show — says LBGT people deserve to be represented on television all their diversity.

Capt. Jack originated on BBC’s Doctor Who and later got his own spin-off, the more adult-oriented Torchwood. The roguish, bisexual con man-turned-hero with a flirtatious charm that rivals James Bond’s is one of the best things to come out of the Russell T. Davies’ run on Who. 

In response to  question about queer representation in science fiction at a Fan Expo panel in Toronto on Sunday, Barrowman admitted mainstream  TV has more gay characters. But those characters, unlike Jack, tend to be reduced to stereotypes.

My big this is — and this is where I’m so proud of Capt. Jack and proud of what Russell and Steven and July Gardner and the BBC allowed me to help create — was the fact that I’m a hero. I’m not a flouncing queen — and there’s nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong — but there’s a very diverse group of gay men and women out there. And we need to be represented on television in the proper way. We don’t need to all be stereotyped on television.

That’s what happened in the mainstream. And unfortunately, certain audiences around the world only identify with types. For writers and people that are creating new shows and doing things differently and not just writing stereotypes, those are the shows we should stand up for and watch and be proud of.

There’s no doubt that Capt. Jack has been a huge role model for many a young LBGT geek. Take this blogger who says watching Jack on Doctor Who as a teenager helped her feel OK with who she was. Or the fans at Barrowman’s panel, many of whom stood up to identify themselves as queer and thank him for his portrayal of Jack.

But Barrowman himself is also a role model, putting a bit of himself into Jack and never shying away from his own sexuality in the spotlight. He speaks often about his longtime partner Scott Gill, despite industry pressure to keep quiet.

In fact, someone said to me, and this producer was gay himself, and he said to me, “You can’t say ‘your partner’ and you shouldn’t talk about this you shouldn’t do that and you shouldn’t be who you are.” And I went back to Scott and I said, “Look what should I do?” And he said, “Well, what do you want to do?” And I said, “Well, I’m not gonna ask you to hide and pretend, and go to a function and then pretend to have a girl on my arm because some people aren’t comfortable with it. That’s not my problem. So I’m gonna be who I am.”

You can catch Barrowman this fall on Arrow, which premiers Oct. 12 on the CW.

This post is cross-posted from Rabbit Ears.

The Importance of Being Harkness

Re-reading through prior posts involving this companion, I see and enjoy the happiness and gratitude at the portrayal of a bi-sexual character in mainstream media. I have to admit I fell instantly in love with Captain Jack and followed him to Torchwood with reckless abandon.

I’d like to take a look at this companion from outside the box AND outside my comfort zone. This blog is a place to start educated debate and illicit discussions on views and ideals. I don’t even want to focus on Captain Jack’s sexuality or his importance in popular culture.

My point in this post is to show that Captain Jack Harkness is the ying to The Doctors yang. He is the necessary roughness, the doer of bad deeds, the man that gets what needs to be done, done. When The Doctor is unable to pull the trigger due to his conscience or the stance of values he must follow. Captain Jack is behind him taking care of business.

In contrast to The Doctor, Harkness is a man of extreme action more than willing to apply a hands on solution to a problem. This is the companion that brings his moral ambiguity to the forefront.

Captain Jack wears the cloak of Byronic heroism, with that ever present glint oozing the fact he will hurt you to protect whats his. Through this he creates a new character archetype, allowing us to embrace the Devil’s Advocate. Captain Jack holds a pivotal place in the change an evolution of modern science fiction heroes.

When The Doctor scolded Jack for joining Torchwood, an organization he views as xenophobic and aggressive, Jack shrugs and explains he is doing what must be done to protect the human population they both care for.

We see this companion evolve from a selfish egotistical prat to one of self-sacrifice. On his journey of discovery he studies the value of life. He looks beyond his narrow view and explores the complexity of negotiating different world views, cultural values, beliefs and moral codes through a framework established by The Doctor.


This does not mean that Captain Harkness will not make the hard choices and bring destruction or death to his enemies when needed. It is that spark of darkness encased by the teachings of The Doctor that keeps Captain Jack close to my heart.


This companion shows his humanity in every gray decision made, every secret kept and each manipulation. He wields his flaws as effectively as he wields his weapons against all enemies. Like all of us in the Whovian fandom he sets The Doctor as his North Star and futilely attempts to steer that same strict and often angelic course. Most often he fails, like the rest of us, but still uses the principals to navigate the wreckage.


Am I grateful Moffat chose to create the first openly non-hetero sexual character in the history of televised Doctor Who? Am I over the moon about the ongoing depiction of bi-sexuality in mainstream TV not too laced with stereotypes? ABSOLUTELY!

I just want to point out that Captain Jack Harkness is not just the sum of his parts; he IS a VICTORY of his parts. He is the culmination of flawed, messy, dark and lovable humanity.

The 51st Century and The Future of Sex

“You people and your quaint little categories.” – Captain Jack Harkness

I don’t get to see a lot of bisexuals/pansexuals/queers who love people of multiple genders on television. Usually, even if a character takes up with a person of a not-heretofore-preferred-by-said-character gender, the typical reaction is “Oh, so you’re gay now?” or “I knew you were straight all along!”. If the possibility that someone can be attracted to more than one gender is raised, it’s generally scoffed at.

Captain Jack Harkness is different. A consummate “omnisexual”, Jack is shown in Doctor Who and Torchwood to flirt, have sex, and develop romantic relationships with men, women, and non-humans. He is believable when he grieves for the wife he watched age and die every bit as much as he is swooning over The Doctor (and nearly everyone else on screen). Amazingly, the rest of the Torchwood team all more or less join him on the middle of the Kinsey scale. The Whoniverse avoids suggesting that these people are fooling themselves, confused, or doing it for attention. I cannot think of any representation of my sexuality in pop culture that compares, and I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciate it.

But there’s still something that bugs me. See, it’s not just Captain Jack who flies the pansexual flag; It’s stated several times that his attitudes and behaviors are typically 51st Century. Add to that the fact that the present-day Torchwood team is on board too, and all this seems to reinforce the old “everyone is at least a little bisexual” Kinsey-inspired cliche.

Which really, everyone is not.

In the queer community, the polyamorous community, the BDSM community, it’s easy to give in to the attitude that these orientations are more evolved, that their members have grown beyond the need for the more traditional “quaint little categories” that populate mainstream culture. The implications of the 51st Century attitudes presented in the Whoniverse seem to be that the human race is destined to outgrow heterosexuality, homosexuality, and quite probably monogamy, in favor of sexual expression that is more or less exactly like Jack’s.

Is a future that has eradicated our current diversity of sexual identities indeed a more mature one? Many portrayals of our species’ distant future, most notably those playing with utopian themes and their deconstruction, involve humanity moving toward–or being forced into– homogeneity. But wouldn’t true evolution and social progress involve social pressure to embrace increasingly different otherness? Of course, the 51st Century is not portrayed as the pinnacle of human evolution by any means, but with their 30,000 years on us, the message is right there: one day we will be beyond such petty things as sexual orientation, which is clearly a cultural construct because deep down we’re all omnisexual, obviously. Oh, and we will also smell fabulous.

But back here in the 21st Century, who are we to claim that pansexuality or any other specific orientation is more evolved? Limiting who people love and have sex with is, as we can hopefully all agree, backward. But pretending that whatever limits a person’s own attraction may naturally fall within is atavistic and closed-minded is equally flawed. Personally, I’m waiting for a future where we all celebrate and embrace one another’s identities and categories, no matter how unlike our own they may be. Captain Jack would deliciously fit into my future, but so would straight people, gay people, asexuals, sapiosexuals, queers of every stripe, people who prefer missionary position with the lights off, and every other permutation of loving, not-loving, shagging, not-shagging, and being ourselves.

Let us outgrow none of our amazing shades of love, not ever. Only our present day’s pathetic shades of fear.

Jack Harkness and How We Judge LGBT Characters

If some passages sound familiar, it’s because they appeared in an early version of this post that was published at in November 2010.

It’s that time of year again. That time when I – and the rest of the world, for that matter – am out of new Doctor Who episodes to watch. I guess it’s something we can live through (if you can even call it living). But even more tragic is the lack of Torchwood, Doctor Who‘s more mature and tortured cousin. » Read more..

Femme Doctors and crossplayers: Not that different

Cross-posted at Geek Feminism.

Post-Gallifrey, I was interviewed at i09 about the phenomenon of femme Doctor cosplay. If you’re not familiar with it, femme cosplay is when female cosplayers alter the costumes of male characters to make them feminine. Femme cosplayers add ruffles, lace, heels, alter the silhouette of a costume (often with a corset), etc.

A femme Jackson Lake A femme Jackson Lake sports a corset and long coat. Photo by Alex Halcyon.

This trend is often contrasted with crossplaying. Crossplayers are usually female cosplayers who alter their bodies to costume as male characters. (Male crossplayers dress as female characters.) Unlike their femme counterparts, they will bind their breasts, wear men’s wigs, and wear makeup designed to mask feminine features. Generally, people think these trends are at odds; they believe that femme Doctors and crossplay Doctors are doing very different things.

A femme Eighth DoctorsquirrelyTONKS is a bit of a femme Doctor superstar at the Gallifrey convention. Photo by Alex Halcyon.

A snippet from the interview:

Both crossplay and femme cosplay draw attention to gender. Women passing as men are destabilizing gender by illustrating how easy it is to perform the opposite gender, by showing that all gender performance is performance, since cosplay is fundamentally performative. Femme cosplay does the same thing: it draws attention to the performance of gender, but this time femininity. […]

So really, crossplay and femme cosplay are not that different. Both alter their bodies, showing that no matter what gender they are playing, their bodies often don’t match any ideal. While crossplayers wear binders, femme cosplayers wear corsets and heels. But their motivations are the same: they emphasize the performative nature of gender, and thus destabilize it. Women do this more because they have more to gain by destabilizing gender, being at the bottom rung of the gender hierarchy.

I have quite a bit more to say about how I think femme Doctor cosplay (and crossplay) is a feminist critique of Doctor Who and its fan community, so go read it!

two femme fivesTwo femme Fifth Doctors with cropped jackets…and celery! Photo by Alex Halcyon.

Welcome to Doctor Her!

Doctor Her is a blog about all things Doctor Who, from a feminist perspective. While Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Sarah Jane Adventures have all been written about by feminists online, there are very few spaces where Doctor Who and feminism are the focus. This is one of those places. Here you may find reviews of Torchwood books, discussions of politics in the old series vs. the new series, feminist critiques and praises of Moffat’s time as showrunner, analyses of Doctor Who comic books, discussion of the fan practices (fanfic, cosplay, crafting) in the Doctor Who community, and write-ups of Doctor Who conventions and Doctor Who panels at science fiction conventions, all from a feminist perspective. We hope that we may be a source of material for feminist fans, as well as contributing to a long and productive conversation about feminism within the Doctor Who franchise. You can read more about our mission at Doctor Her on our About page. Cheers, and enjoy!