The Doctor has been known across time and space. This incredible adventurer who can vanquish great armies that threaten the galaxy or modern-day London (or Cardiff, or Sheffield) should be both feared and admired. In more recent seasons of the show, The Doctor has been linked with various female partners, so why when it came to the Thirteenth Doctor did the BBC suddenly turn coy?
It’s important to note that every single modern Doctor, starting – controversially – with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, has kissed women, and enjoyed it. This shouldn’t be something that has to be entirely relevant for the show as a whole – Doctor Who isn’t about kissing girls (it probably wouldn’t have read as quite so flamboyantly queer-coded for a generation of gay men had it been), nor is it about The Doctor finding love and happiness with a romantic partner.
That scenario was fitting for Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor – his time on Darillium with his wife River Song (Alex Kingston) was a great fairytale ending for the pair in the bittersweet 2015 Christmas special, ‘The Husbands of River Song’. But no, it is often more about The Doctor spreading hope across the galaxies, and that is something that audiences old and young can look up to.
What if we were to ignore all that for a minute? If we were to look at the Doctor as a character and wonder who they were attracted to, that answer would be a lot to unpack.
Sexuality and the Doctor
For starters, it’s important to note that who The Doctor is attracted to can vary a lot. The Doctor as a person is somebody whose gender and sexuality are extremely fluid – as they are an alien whose form can change, human definitions of these things really don’t apply. I mean, Eleven (Matt Smith) was shown to have borderline romantic feelings for his TARDIS, so a woman kissing a woman hardly stretches the bounds of credibility.
And that ambiguity is actually a positive – it means that there is potential for the Doctor to experience romantic attraction in an infinite variety of ways, and that should be celebrated.
Doctor Who has seen LGBTQ+ characters before, but the only regular has been Pearl Mackie’s Bill, who traveled with the Twelfth Doctor in his final season. (Shout out also to John Barrowman’s Captain Jack and Neve McIntosh’s Madam Vastra who were recurring rather than regular). When it was announced that there would be a gay companion, the press went wild, and then showrunner Steven Moffatt had this to say at a press conference:
“We’re not expecting any round of any applause or pat on the back for that. That is the minimum amount of representation that she has on television, and the correct response will be ‘What took you so long?’”
What took you so long, indeed? It's a good response, of course, but it does leave viewers thinking what did take so long, especially when the opportunities are endless.
As for the Doctor, it is most likely that they are, at the very least, pansexual. Throughout the show, they have been seen embracing sexual tension with all manner of human, alien, and time machine. Whether it’s the Twelfth Doctor and River, or the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Roger Delgado’s Master, or the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)’s undeniable chemistry with Romana (Lalla Ward, who went on to marry Baker in 1981) there is ample evidence to suggest that the Doctor likes people of all types.
So, why is it that the most recent Doctor – Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth – has almost a lack of sexual attraction to anyone whatsoever? It isn’t necessarily a bad thing – having a female protagonist not be defined by her pursuit or rejection of romance is something we don’t often see – if they were to opt for no romantic storylines whatsoever, that would be a change of pace from previous Doctors. (Even if it would upset a lot of fans craving gay content.)
It does beg the question of why shouldn’t the first female Doctor have a love story? If it’s well written, it shouldn’t be a problem. And it’s interesting because her way of interacting with companions almost feels like how the First Doctor (William Hartnell) was with his own TARDIS team – strictly platonic (albeit less abrasive…). With the odd exception here and there, it really does seem like Thirteen just wants friends.
It could be interpreted that Thirteen is not as interested in romance as her more recent predecessors and that she’s more in kinship with her earliest selves, who focused more on adventure than romantic partners, aside from the odd romance, such as the First Doctor with Cameca (Margot Van der Burgh) in the sixth serial of the very first season, ‘The Aztecs’ (S1, Ep27-30).
The writing team may have wanted to focus less on a love storyline and more on family since that has proven such a prominent subtext of most of Thirteen’s run. However, it’s no secret that the writing in Chris Chibnall’s era has been questionable at best – characters were rushed, arcs were poorly written, and viewers were left questioning the plot multiple times. If there was some sexual tension between Thirteen and Yaz (Mandeep Gill) – and we firmly believe there was – it’s possible that it could have been lost in the flurry of everything else that was going on in stories that featured multiple companions and recurring quasi-companions such as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and Vinder (Jacob Anderson)
Thirteen and Yaz (and Their Chaperone)
The problem is that the previous seasons didn’t flesh out the characters. Too many companions were a downfall, and we were left with half-developed people who, under better management, could have been much more.
It’s possible that the writers wanted to reduce the possibility of Thirteen and Yaz being “shipped” together by the internet, due to their close friendship – or because they’re both women. In part, it might explain why the dynamic around the Thirteenth Doctor seems to demand the presence of a middle-aged light entertainer (Bradley Walsh’s Graham originally, and then John Bishop as Dan) to act as a sort of chaperone – like your dad sitting three rows behind you in the cinema on a first date.
It’s happened before where writers have desperately tried to halt audiences from shipping two people of the same gender by bringing in romantic partners for them. But that doesn’t happen here – both women are single.
Or they’re dating each other, or are all but a couple in some non-conventional way. It’s hard to say, but the end result is the ‘ship beloved by fans as ‘Thasmin’.
When the Doctor regenerates, the broad characteristics that they have are kept the same. Their need to defend the galaxy from monsters, their undying sense of hope, and their desire to explore. Every previous “NuWho” Doctor has had something extra as well – they’ve liked kissing girls – and this is something that has carried over for many of their regenerations.
The Doctor’s sexuality, as mentioned earlier, is hard to define. The Doctor is beyond human norms, and only certain regenerations have wanted to pursue romance, but the odds of her falling in love with Yaz are greater than any other Companion of the Thirteenth era, given her track record.
Mandip Gill, who plays Yaz, has weighed in on a potential Doctor/Yaz pairing a few times. Most recently, in 2021, she told SFX magazine:
“Me and the Doctor? I love it. The fan art is just out there… You want a character and a storyline – even though that storyline wasn’t there – you want people to be talking about it. I don’t want it to just stay on-screen, I want people to relate to it or have seen something in our two characters that they think could go on a different journey. So to me, I’m here for it.”
There’s been a lot of instances in Thirteen’s run where other Doctors in the same situation may have had romantic feelings, such as Ada Lovelace (Sylvie Briggs) in ‘Spyfall, Part 2’ (S12, Ep2) or Mary Shelley (Lili Miller) in ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ (S12, Ep8). The Doctor meeting a woman of the past and forming a strong connection is very reminiscent of the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) with Madame de Pompadour (Sophia Myles) in ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ (S2, Ep4). If it were Tennant’s iteration of the character, would they have ended up snogging?
There’s not actually anything wrong with Thirteen wanting less time on romance and more time on other things, but it certainly would be nice if they decided to make her want to kiss her female companion, who happens to be queer as well. Yaz’s mum Najia (Shobna Gulati) asked the immortal question “Are you two seeing each other?” in ‘Arachnids in the UK’ (S11, Ep4), which was our first strong indication that Yaz was a canon member of the LGBTQ+ community, or is curious to the extent that her mum picked up on it.
And if Thirteen had kissed Yaz, would it not follow in the footsteps of many other times that the Doctor fell for a companion? The first example of this, excluding audio adventures and books, would be the Eighth Doctor with Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook). The Ninth (Christopher Eccleston) and Tenth Doctors were in love with Rose (Billie Piper), although the Tenth Doctor seemed to kiss basically everyone. The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) had quite a few kisses as well in his time, and the Twelfth Doctor seemingly validated decades of Doctor/Master slash by serving up sizzling chemistry (and locked lips) with Missy (Michelle Gomez).
So, it’s established that every single Doctor since 1996 has kissed a few girls – and a few boys such as Captain Jack in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ (S1, Ep13) and hapless Rory (Arthur Darvill) in ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ (S7, Ep2) and ‘The Pandorica Opens’ (S5, Ep12) – so why should the Thirteenth Doctor be any different?
The Very Real #Thamsin Dynamic
One person the Doctor has kissed a lot is their wife – no, not Queen Elizabeth I (Joanna Page), but River Song. River has had experiences with each of the Doctor’s male incarnations beginning with her first/last appearance in the two-part ‘Silence in the Library’ (S4, Ep8) and ‘Forest of the Dead’ (S4, Ep9), and has varying romantic outings with them all. Her bond is most tied to the Twelfth Doctor, and when he regenerates, his wedding ring ceremonially falls from his finger and onto the floor of the TARDIS. But this is not to say that this means that Thirteen is not still married to a woman because every other iteration of The Doctor is still technically married to her – time is complicated, after all.
So, our female Doctor is married to a woman, but it’s not something that the writers have chosen to bring up. It’s a hollow victory for fans, as while Thirteen has a wife, we have not seen or heard from her since.
But Yaz is very much real. And while she hasn’t had the most compelling storyline of a modern companion, Yaz has certainly shown her affection for the Doctor. When Thirteen was in prison (‘Revolution of the Daleks’ – S12, Ep11) Yaz was the one working the hardest to save her. She was in awe of the Time Lord from the beginning, calling her “the best person I’ve ever met,” and, more recently, she began living her life under the motto: “What Would The Doctor Do?”
So, we have had hints that Yaz has feelings for The Doctor, such as calling her “my person” in ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ and her heavily coded admission in the first of three 2022 Specials, ‘Eve of the Daleks’ (S13, Ep7), but what about The Doctor? Since the dark revelations that came with Series 12, she became more closed off this new season, maybe to protect Yaz, or herself, but Yaz is always trying to break down those barriers. We’ve had knowing looks and then we had the achingly ambiguous confession in ‘The Legend of the Sea Devils’ (S13, Ep8):
“You know what I said earlier, about not being a bad date?Dates are not something I really do. I mean, I used to – have done. And if I was going to, believe me, it would be with you. I think you’re one of the greatest people that I’ve ever known... If it was going to be anyone, it’d be you. But I can’t.”
Then there are Thirteen’s final words in ‘The Power of the Doctor’ (S13, Ep9):
“I have loved being with you, Yaz, and I have loved being me.”
It’s an echo of Nine’s last words to Rose in ‘The Parting of the Ways’ – and we know how that wound up: “You were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I.”
At the end of the day, it can take years for people to believe a gay relationship can exist, but only seconds for people to see a straight couple as a potential romance.
People will not always instantly jump to seeing romantic chemistry between two people of the same gender. Chemistry is often played off as a powerful friendship, and while strong female bonds are of course wonderful in TV, especially when in the past, not every female friendship was written as healthy, if these two characters were male and female, it would by now be assumed that they would end up together, or that Yaz was on course for a Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman)-style unrequited love.
Bonds between two female characters aren’t always friendship. A lot of the time, there is something more going on. The Doctor and Yaz had the potential to be a great couple, but only if the Doctor was prepared to take Yaz on, and be more open about her problems, if Yaz was given better character development, and the writing staff hadn’t resolved to be so coy about their potential romance.
Put simply, the Doctor likes girls – this is an indisputable fact. If this Doctor was destined to never find a romantic partner, that isn’t the end of the world (that is, in fact, a 2005 episode with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper), but it would have been wonderful to see two women taking on the dangers of the universe together. Big Finish, it’s up to you now.
If that is destined never to happen, then so be it. Both characters are strong on their own – they don’t need to be brought together, it isn’t essential. But it would definitely bring joy to fans who have been craving that gay content. A lesbian TARDIS team pairing would hold enough power to defeat all the Daleks in the universe.
This article was first published on November 28th, 2021, on the original Companion website. It has been updated to take into account the 2022 Specials, ‘Eve of the Daleks’, ‘Legend of the Sea Devils’, and ‘The Power of the Doctor’.
The cost of your membership has allowed us to mentor new writers and allowed us to reflect the diversity of voices within fandom. None of this is possible without you. Thank you. 🙂