Doctor Who: Why Yaz’s gay awakening isn’t too little too late

Are The Thirteenth Doctor and Yasmin Khan finally a canon Queer romance?

Mandip Gill and Jodie Whittaker on the set of Doctor Who

After months of teasing fans with long-simmering chemistry between Doctor Who’s Yaz and the Doctor, and not canonising that they’re totally gay for each other (even after that hologram scene), fans were ostensibly given what they’ve been asking for in the Doctor Who New Year special, titled Eve of the Daleks. In Jodie Whittaker’s latest episode, Yaz finally admitted her romantic feelings for the Doctor. But, as Yaz’s gay awakening aired, accusations began flying that, given we’re approaching the end of days for this Doctor now, it was simply too little, too late.

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Stuck in a time loop with a handful of vengeful Daleks in a storage unit, Dan spotted Yaz pining after the Doctor. “Have you told her?” he asked. “I don’t know what you mean,” Yaz said, before adding: “Is it that obvious? I don’t know what to do, Dan. I’ve never told anyone. Not even myself.” And that was kind of it, though Dan did later tell everything to the Doctor, who insisted she had no idea what he was talking about.

It’s easy to see why such a last-minute development could be seen as tokenistic – a way of keeping Queer fans happy without having to depict an actual romance between the pair, because there simply won’t be enough time now. But could it be that a romantic attraction between Yaz and the Doctor was never planned by writer Chris Chibnall, and that it just emerged from natural chemistry between the actors? And if so, is that such a crime?

Let’s not forget that Doctor Who has a good track record when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation, and it seems unlikely that the show would shy away from creating positive gay role models when it’s done exactly that before. There have been a handful of Queer characters over the years including bisexual time traveller Captain Jack Harkness, lesbian lizard-woman Madame Vastra and, most notably, Doctor Who’s first openly gay companion, Bill Potts, who was introduced during Peter Capaldi’s final season as the Time Lord.

Of course, strong representation on a show once before shouldn’t give it an easy ride forever. But we’re forgetting something else: there aren’t supposed to be any shenanigans aboard the TARDIS. Haven’t all incarnations of the Doctor tried to rise above earthly desire? One thing is for sure: when they haven’t, they’ve been woefully bad at navigating their emotions. Things might have got complicated (though they remained celibate) between Rose and her Doctors, but since then Martha and Amy’s adorations were unrequited and Donna and the Time Lord were no more than squabbling friends. When you think of it this way, Yaz and the Doctor aren’t getting such a bad deal.

Doctor Who

LGBTQ+ fans are always going to be on guard when it comes to Queer narratives – and understandably so. Beyond queer-baiting, the gay characters we do get on mainstream TV are usually designed for a straight audience who may not be comfortable seeing gay people prosper. As a result, queer characters often lead miserable lives, struggle for acceptance from their straight counterparts, or even wind up dead.

So of course, it’s unfortunate that Yaz’s gay awakening for the Doctor didn’t happen earlier on in their storyline arc – and that we weren’t given time to root for a full-blown Queer romance. But what was the alternative? To continue depicting their relationship as a platonic friendship with romantic subtext? Instead of being criticised for what it doesn’t do, Eve of the Daleks should be praised for what it does do on the page – acknowledging Yaz’s queerness and feelings for the Doctor (whether requited or not) and, in doing so, steering the ship away from queer-baiting. Because that is a step in the right direction, even if it isn’t as progressive as some may want.

So even if Yaz and the Doctor don’t have time to explore their feelings any further in the upcoming spring special because the Time Lord is fighting off Sea Devils or, I don’t know, saving the planet, believe me – I won’t even mind.

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